WildZests: A Wild Sojourn in Goa

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Wild Sojourn in Goa

This year the Dasara holiday and Gandhi Jayanti were two events that most of us were eagerly waiting for. It opened up a lot of possibilities for travel with a 4 day weekend and more interestingly a 9-day vacation with just 3 days of leave. Pozu had a week long vacation from school that week anyway. As the days approached, we realized that we hadn't taken a big vacation in this whole year and it may be good if we just take the whole week off and be at home even if we don't end up going anywhere.


Being a super long weekend, almost everything had already either been booked or was turning out to be a super expensive affair. Moreover, we were certain to find hordes of people anywhere we land up and that's something that I usually don't like. We prefer to visit places where we simply don't see too many people. Although I must call out that in India, it's all in relative terms coz there are people just about everywhere. And the other agenda is usually to find a place with some wildlife so I could sit around a practice some photography as well.


After reviewing all available options from the hill stations of Ooty and Coonoor, to the beaches of Goa, we still hadn't zeroed down on a place. Finally, after a lot of discussions it was either going to be some remote places around Sakleshpur and/or Coorg or a trip to the unseen forests of Goa mainly with a birding agenda. We still weren't sure about the accommodation and food etc since there were no bookings made. But that's the good part about our trips, we like to go places where we don't know what's in store for us. We've figured that in the end, everything can either turn out to be okay or go horribly wrong, but in any case, these experiences create long lasting memories from such trips and help you become a better traveler.


Not being able to decide which place to go, we just packed our bags and loaded the car. It was now left to fate to decide where we end up eventually. Pozu was all charged up with the idea that we were going out, a darling that she is, she didn't care what place. For her anyplace that's not home and has place to play around is good.

We left around 3AM as usual and soon we were out of the city and cruising on the NH4. Before we realized, we had already overshot the turn to Sakleshpur. Whether it was good or bad I don't know, but it meant one thing for sure. Our destination was now finalized, we were headed to the forests of Goa!


Now it was still early October and the birding season was yet to begin, but I was hopeful that the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and the Zuari river would be enough to keep me partially busy at least. The plan was to find a stay near Mollem so we could visit the sanctuary and do a trip to Dudhsagar falls. So, instead of taking the Hubli-Karwar route, we took the Dharwad-Londa-Ponda route to get to Mollem. Previously when I had taken this route, the roads from Dharwad till Londa were in really bad shape, but this time I was surprised to see that the roads till the Karnataka exit were actually pretty good. However, the road after Londa is where it starts getting rougher so much that it becomes difficult to distinguish between the road and the potholes in some places. The Fortuner took all of it in its stride, although I couldn't help commenting that our Safari would have done the stretch at 20% higher speeds without any discomfort inside the cabin.


It was still Sunday morning when we reached Mollem where we found the Dudhsagar Spa Resort right next to the gate for the sanctuary, barely a 7 hour drive from home. Now, I had other things in mind when it came to our stay options, it had to be minimalistic in order to keep the costs down. However, when you're traveling with family, it's always good to make subtle compromises in order to keep them happy else my photography life will become really tough.


Both Gozu and Pozu had already pictured themselves having fun at a place like that with nice lawns and children's play area etc. So I went in and enquired about availability, good news was it was available but bad news was it was not in my desired budget. A round of negotiations helped finalize a deal that was reasonable and we were settled. We had secured bookings for the next 4 days until the mad rush begins from Thursday onwards when we were planning to head back and enjoy the long weekend at home while everyone's out.

The Pols in the Jungle

Over the next 3 days we spent a lot of time inside the sanctuary, just sitting around in the forest and enjoying the absolute quietness. We also visited the Tambdi Surla temple, the Bondla wildlife sanctuary, Salim Ali Bird sanctuary etc.

Tambdi Surla Temple

All my birding plans had to be shelved since most of the activities had not started yet and some places needed a long trek which wasn't possible with the two ladies along. But I wasn't complaining, being in the wilderness was good enough. Best part was, there were no people around at all, not a single soul to be seen for hours together.


The fourth day was reserved for our trip to the Dudhsagar falls. The jeep trail through the forest that leads you to the falls hadn't been opened yet and so the options available were:
  1. Take the train from Castle Rock or Kulem, both ways train available only on Thursdays from Kulem
  2. Hire a bike taxi who'd take you through a mix of forest roads and paths along the railway tracks, 
  3. Walk up for about 14-15kms from either Castle Rock station or the Kulem station,
Option 2 and 3 were out of question with Pozu along with us. So it had to be the train, and Thursday was the only day we could get a train that will take us in the morning and bring us back to Kulem at around lunch time.


Overall, it was a nice trip, although it was a very hot day and a little bit of rain would have really helped. I was happy that I managed to capture the beautiful falls along with a train on the bridge, so mentally that one thing was off my checklist. The return train was a bit delayed and it was almost 2.30PM by the time we were back at Kulem.



The trip to Dudhsagar was the official end of our trip plan and we were supposed to be heading back home. But fate had other things in mind.


On Wednesday, our gang of friends from Bangalore announced that they are coming to Goa with their families and asked us to stay back. The only issue was that they were going to reach only on Friday morning while we had to checkout on Thursday from Dudhsagar Spa Resort. There were no bookings available for the following day, not at Dudhsagar and not anywhere else in Goa as well. It looked like more than half of Bangalore and Mumbai/Pune was in Goa for that weekend. From the smallest of places to the 5-star resorts, every place I called, I got the same response, "Sorry Sir, we're fully booked until Sunday!"


I was pretty sure that we'd find something or the other if we just landed up at places rather than searching on the internet. Just then, I managed to find one lucky room at the Grand Hyatt that may have opened up due to a cancellation. Now, this was absolutely not in our plan or budget, but then we didn't really have a plan to begin with. So from a moment ago where we were wondering what kind of place we'd get to stay, we had landed ourselves with one of our most luxurious and comfortable stays of the trip.


The Grand Hyatt is a really big and beautiful property, no doubt on that. But never ever have I seen a 5-star property as crowded as it was on that day. The swimming pool was filled with people, there were people walking in the gardens, even the breakfast place was full on the next day morning. It just wasn't quiet anywhere unlike our stay at Dudhsagar. The good thing was that since we were now closer to the city, we got a chance to spend the evening with our friends Anil and Deepa while Pozu was super excited to see her friends Aarna and Ayira.

For the next two days, we were joining our crazy group of friends for a nice and comfortable stay at the Skylark resort in Colva. Luckily enough, we somehow managed to secure 7 rooms as a last minute booking, all thanks to the group that had cancelled out. The resort was quite good and food was equally amazing, most importantly, they had a nice big pool for us to have fun. 


Time just flies when you're having a good time, it was already Sunday before we knew. It was time to head back home, and this time it was for real!

What happened after that, I'm sure nobody's really interested in. It was Monday!

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