A mad pillion-ride adventure to Goa’s most famous waterfall with the Dudes of Dudhsagar. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY live to tell the tale…
The slush and blur of the monsoons in Goa fogged our windows as the windscreen wiper waved frantically to no one in particular. The roads had been washed clean to a shiny black and the trees and grass wore a new shade of green. Suddenly the rain stopped and we found ourselves in Kullem, a small town that seemed unaccustomed to being woken up by visitors at 9 am. Most shops were still shuttered and a few were being opened. We cruised to a stop at a chowk to ask a bunch of ragtag local boys astride motorcycles, “Dudhsagar?”
Even a 4X4 can’t go there now, they said with a derisive glance. OK, we’ll hire bikes then. No hire. We will take you. No, we’ll manage. They laugh. How many of you? Four. So you need four bikes! No, we’ll ride 2 to a bike. You’ll ride? They laugh louder. What’s so funny? Too much ‘riks’, they chorus with the tiredness of parents chiding an errant child for the 500th time. Displaying the wily ways of city slickers striking a bargain, we offered to take one of them as a guide. But all our permutation-combinations were rejected outright. Their stance was non-negotiable. “Four people means four bikes – we ride, you sit behind. Rs.300/head. Take it or leave it.
For someone who’s done Ladakh, Himachal, Kerala, even Delhi on a bike, and sourced two-wheelers for Rs.100 a day in Goa, this seemed a humiliating bum deal. They even instructed us to eat before setting out, lest we complain of hunger later. We crawled into a tiny stall to foment our battered egos with a breakfast of hot poories and tasty usal before hopping on to their bikes. Still sore with the unfamiliar emotion of being bullied into submission, their final order stung like a slap, ‘Hold tight, and whatever you do, don’t put your feet on the ground.’
Clinging to the shoulders of a band of renegades in slippers, football shorts and Che Guevera t-shirts, we set off with nothing else but a pack of biscuits, chips and a bottle of cheap port wine. No helmets, no boots, no waterproof jackets, no nothing. Call it ill-preparedness or being downright foolish, we had thrown caution to the winds. This was as unprotected one could get in Goa.
To an onlooker, we were on a deathwish, revving up the mountainside, as we swerved towards a railway track. The convoy rode parallel to the tracks down an imaginary path on a bed of jelly stones. It was a veritable obstacle course of metal railtracks, ballast, rods and thick iron hinges blocking our way. The electric poles flashed past our faces like signposts from our lives, prior to an inevitable crash. A train hurtled towards us, as we clung on, knees tucked in. We were clearly a metre apart, but it felt as if we were moving from the stream of consciousness to the slipstream of unconsciousness. As if on cue, perhaps signaling the completion of Round 1, we survived the train and were deposited on a slushy jungle track.
This is the main jeep access but in the rains, it gets closed as two large streams run across it. So we took the bypass, we were informed. These few months are exclusively our domain before the *%$# jeeps take over by October. They beamed. We smiled politely. Let’s move, the tough part lies ahead. Our smiles vapourised. In the beginning we tried not to get slush splattered on our jeans… but by the time we reached the first river crossing, soaking wet with mud stained clothes, we were praying that we reached home with no bones broken.
It was surreal. Water ahead, water behind… us astride 100 cc bikes. Don’t put your feet down, shouted Bindesh, the wild rider battling the force of the current, negotiating the wheels over slippery rocks midstream. The rear wheel skidded off a boulder and water-clogged exhaust pipes gurgled excruciatingly. It was man versus machine versus nature. An Ophelian end drew near, but the bike surged ahead and reared out of the river. One down, three to go and none were as lucky. The others had to hop off and wade through swirling waters. Meanwhile the bikers put some elbow grease to lift, push and heave their machines out with a healthy exchange of expletives and accusations if a bike stalled midway. Soon, we all got to the other side safe but not quite dry.
Our sighs of relief were short-lived as the 19-year old Bindesh announced, This is just the first one! We ask him how long he’d been riding. I learnt how to ride a bike when I was 12. Two years ago, I wasn’t ready for this track. My hands would shiver and I’d lag behind. Now I can close my eyes and ride as I know every curve, bump and pothole on this route. You ought to be in the rally. I am. My speciality is wheelies. Really? How long can you stay on one wheel? Bindesh turns and quips, How long do you want me to? Should I do a wheelie now? Wrong question. The bike braked in a splash of water.
At the second stream we were asked to paddle across a swift flow of knee-deep water, while the riders got off their bikes to push them across, engines running! The terrain got steadily tougher and it felt as if we were onto the next level of Road Rash. The bikers navigated steep muddy inclines and swooping trails of loose rock and water laden tunnels with Playstation panache. The subsequent crossing was so turbulent, it took three guys to heave a single bike across. It was like holding onto a bull in a giant washing machine.
A clearing in the path allowed us a glimpse of why we were undertaking this penance. In the distance we saw Dudhsagar Falls, India’s fifth highest waterfall, pouring down in milky torrents. Itching to get closer, we finally reached a parking lot from where our trek began – a tricky descent with slimy rocks giving way under our feet. We formed human chains and helped each other across boulder-ridden streams until we reached a viewpoint with an uninterrupted sight of Dudhsagar. Created by Khandepar River, a tributary of the Mandovi, the waterfall plummets 310 m off a lofty ridge bisected by a railway track and a bridge. Simply put, it is a tiered display of terrifying beauty that possesses a humbling, reverential quality.
The river gushed incessantly beneath, lulling us into sloth. The sun lit up tree trunks filmed by moss and dragonflies flitted like fairies over our dangling feet, alighted now and then to dry their wings. We lounged like sea lions on boulders shaded by trees, sipping wine and gazing at the spectacle above. Like the Lost Boys and Wendy in a missing scene of Peter Pan, we saw a giant milk kettle left to boil and spill over carelessly, for eons.
Our return was trickier and the river crossings more perilous due to a heavy downpour. Two boys slipped and dunked into the swollen stream and were saved from being swept away. But like true comrades, the bikers look out for each other. We move in groups. If one runs into trouble, another can help or inform others. The forest area is desolate with only one house enroute. It belongs to the priest who looks after the small forest shrine.
We encountered a bunch of youngsters trekking. Desperately apologetic they plead to our riders. ‘Sorry we made a mistake. Please can you send your friends with bikes? There are 11 of us’. Our boys give them a sour reminder ‘Hum jab bolte hain na, experience se bolte hain. You people don’t believe us. Raasta mushkil hai. Ladies bhi hai.’
We hum past the same unnamed landmarks with a brief sense of déjà vu… realizing how they’ve honed their skill by doing the route everyday, sometimes thrice on busy weekends. Back at the starting point, we tip them generously. They smile. So, still think you can do it on your own? We grudgingly shake our heads. The tour was not just about a spellbinding waterfall. The bike ride to Dudhsagar from Kullem with a desi band of Hell’s Angels was about learning to let another man take charge and prove that you are not as macho as you think you are.
Located on the south-east corner of Goa near its border with Karnataka, Dudhsagar is accessible from two points – Collem (6 km from Mollem) off NH-4A (Goa-Belgaum highway) or via Castle Rock (near Anmod/Tinai Ghat) in Karnataka. There are different ways to access the falls – a kachha jeep track which passes through two streams, a railway line connecting Vasco-Madgao- Londa passing right next to the falls and trek along the tracks. 4 wheel drive Jeeps charge Rs.300/head for a return trip from Collem to the falls or Rs.1800 for the entire vehicle.
When to go
As with most waterfalls, Dudhsagar is at its best during and after the monsoon. Between July-September, the jeep track gets cut off by two streams and bikes ply the route till the season opens in November.
The Delhi-Goa express (2480), Pune-Ernakulam Express (1098) or Miraj-Castle Rock passenger train takes one closer to the falls besides the trains from Goa (Margao-Sanvordem-Colem-Dudhsagar) and Karnataka (Londa-Castle Rock-Dudhsagar). A tedious journey by road or a hard trek (12 km from Kullem or 17km from Molem National Park) is another option. There are also ‘engines’ which, apparently, convey persons along the line.
Tourist Information centre, Panaji Ph 0832-224132
Dudhsagar Resort, Mollem Ph 0832-2612238