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Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary

India, Day 34 – Margao, Molem, Colem

As noted yesterday, my intention today was to go to a wildlife sanctuary. There are a few of these in Goa, and, Goa being a small place, they’re all in reasonable reach. The one I decided to head for was the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary. Lonely Planet says that to get there you get a bus to Ponda, then another to Molem, from where you hire a taxi to take the five kilometres to the reserve’s entrance.

I got an autorickshaw to the bus station in Margao (which cost me 40 rs) then after asking various people, I got on to a bus heading for the neighbouring province of Karnataka, which stopped at Molem (this cost 22 rs).

Not wanting a repeat of my Tundla trip (where I’d missed the stop and had to go to the town at the other end of the bus’s route and come back), I asked the conductor when we’d arrive there; he said 11:30. At 11:25 we came to Usgao Tisk (I could tell because a lot of shops have their addresses on their signs); Usgao Tisk is on the LP‘s map of Goa, and from there there’s a way to go before Molem. We carried on, and, around midday, the bus chap told me this was my stop and I debarked the bus.

I hovered uncertainly for a while, asked a few people if they knew where I could find a taxi or the sanctuary. I was directed up the road and after a short distance came to an entrance for my destination. I walked in, bought a ticket (a basic ticket was 20 rs, but I paid 50 for having a camera), was given a map and sent on my way on foot. There was no sign of any other tourists or jeeps for hire.

So I started walking. Immediately, there were a few animals – some cows, some langurs. I took photos and kept walking. The road through the sanctuary was a dirt track of the type with a central line of grass – ie, the track is made by vehicles. But there was still no sign that there was anyone at all around. I felt as if I had the whole park to myself.

The walk began very pleasantly. The sound of traffic died away leaving only birdcall, the occasional buzz of a fly, and my own footsteps. The sun was bright and hot, but the forest provided lots of shade.

Memorable moments from the walk include, seeing a troop of langurs swinging through the trees (I didn’t have a good enough view to take photos, unfortunately), climbing down into a rocky gully with a stream and having a frog or two jump away from me and hide in the water, waiting several minutes while a small herd of cattle ambled past me.

cows.jpg

I walked and I walked. Foolishly, I had only brought a little water with me and had been too preoccupied with finding where to go when I got off the bus. I sweated and wondered how long my walk was going to take (the map had no scale). Shortly after I passed the cattle, I encountered some signs of civilisation. A little later, a signpost told me I’d walked seven kilometres. I turned right towards Devil’s Canyon and Colem. Earlier on, I’d thought I could nip out of the sanctuary at Colem and get some water and continue on towards Dudhsagar Falls. By this point, though, I was ready to just exit and head home.

When I took the turning for Colem (I didn’t see much evidence of this Devil’s Canyon and wasn’t up for searching for it) a series of jeeps and minibuses passed me. Once out of the sanctuary I walked along the road beside a river that swelled into a series of pools where a few kids played and an old man with two boys did some laundry. I had to walk through a couple of streams running out of one of these little lakes in order to get to the village.

The first building I encountered in Colem was the Jungle Café. I gratefully stopped here (walking past a pair of elephants – one young, one old – standing next to a big step-ladder thing for mounting) and had a couple of drinks and something to eat (a lemonade, a tea, and some Goan ‘chilly chicken’; all this came to 150 rs and I left a 20 rupee tip). Rested and partly rehydrated, I decided to get the train back to Margao as the line conveniently ran from here to there. The ticket cost a massive seven rupees (nearly ten pence). I made sure to ask when the next train was due, how long it took and which platform it went from.

I sat and read a chapter of I’m OK – You’re OK and drank a litre of water. Then, with an hour still to go before 5:15 when the train was due to leave, I wandered down the platform to where the Vasco-Kulem-Vasco train had been waiting. I was greeted with a handshake by a man waiting with his family. He invited me to sit with them and I reluctantly agreed. He asked me a few questions, which often I didn’t understand.

As my awkwardness faded a little, I asked him a bit about himself. He was on his way to Mumbai, having been here for some reason to do with his job; he showed me some watches, clocks and a calculator, which I gathered he sold. With him were his mother a couple of sisters, a nephew and a pair of nieces – and probably some others. One of the sisters got out some coins, passed them to the man, who then passed them to me. They were one rupee coins from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, bearing the heads of Queen Victioria, Edward VII and George V. I was a little jealous. I took out my money belt (which has been in my laptop case the last couple of days) and showed them a fiver and a tenner (and a 50 dirham note). The bloke wanted the fiver (worth, I told him, 400 rupees); he offered me 20 rs, but I turned him down. I also turned down the chance to clean my teeth with ash.

The mother got out a gas burner and proceeded to make chai. Chai is milky, slightly spicy, very sugary tea (and how often do see five words in a row all ending with Y?). Possibly to my shame, I was conscious of the things I’d read in Lonely Planet about people being drugged on trains, so I shifted my position so I could watch her making it. It was very nice, actually, but on the whole chai is far too sweet for my liking.

making-chai.jpg

I hadn’t quite twigged about them going to Mumbai – they were waiting beside my train, so I assumed they were going to get on. But they weren’t. I said goodbye, shook hands with everybody and climbed on board. Where I almost had a carriage to myself. At the next stop some labourers got on with their shovels. One stop further on, they got off and a bevy of young women got on (probably secondary/high school pupils). After a wait just outside the station, the train pulled into Margao at about 6:15.

Here, I thought I could easily walk back to the central part of the town (the LP map isn’t very big and has an arrow at the bottom saying ‘To Madgaon Train Station (400m)’). I remembered that the autorickshaw yesterday had turned left out of the station, so, like Aerosmith, I walked that way. I kept walking even though very quickly none of the streets seemed familar. After making a few turnings and wondering whether I should ask for directions and who I would ask and what I would say, I caught sight of a familiar building – the crimson and cream Secretariat – and from there shortly arrived back at the hotel.

The day was an interesting and pleasant one, its challenges were minor and I overcame them easily and calmly. My experience of Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary was fairly underwhelming compared to what was possible. If I’d found my way to another entrance, the experience would have been very different. But the peace and quiet of the walk was quite rewarding – and I wouldn’t have had that experience if I’d been rumbling along in a jeep with a group of strangers. And meeting the family at Colem Station was an unexpected and amiable event.

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  1. Drew
    14 January 2008 at 8:46 am

    That sounds like a really nice day actually.

    I love it when you can meet some random locals for a while when traveling. Gives you a different perspective on the place.

  2. 14 January 2008 at 3:19 pm

    It was a nice day. We’ll just have to see what my remaining few days hold.

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