The monophonic sound coming from out of the window became clearer with every step I took towards the exit. A crowded platform waited for me outside, packed with people looking forward to make the most of the long weekend ahead. Most of them carrying everything you need to camp for a couple of days. From neatly packed sleeping bags and tents in their respective bright-colored covers to bananas to a bags full of eggs and breads. Just like I said, everything you need to be on your own for a while. A little ahead, a crowd surrounded two khaki-clad men with a PAS (Public Address System).
The one on the left holding the loud-speaker as the other spoke through the microphone, trying to convey something to the impatient crowd while maintaining a stern demeanor.
I have just alighted from the Vasco Express at this idyllic station of Castlerock which falls on what is called the Braganza Ghats, a stretch of the hill-section of South-Western Railway zone not far from the Karnataka – Goa border. An eleven kilometer trek (read walk) along the train-tracks from here will take me to the Doodhsagar waterfalls in the state of Goa.
A four-tiered waterfall, the Doodhsagar lies in the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park and forms the natural border between Karnataka and Goa. The onset of monsoons transforms it into a majestic sight. Roaring its way down as it diverges into multiple streams before converging again.
“No one will be allowed to go to the falls or alight at the Doodhsagar station. The train will stop only at Kulem (the first station after the waterfall) once it starts from here.“, said the RPF Jawan through the PAS.
Access to the Doodhsagar falls has been banned, I learn after some asking around. Even though this meant that my entire trek was now in jeopardy, I was not surprised by this to be honest. With the kind of reckless activities that have been going on in and around the falls since some time now, leading to multiple deaths due to drowning, a ban here was just a matter of time. Sadly.
The quaint station of Castlerock hardly sees a handful of people at a time so with hundreds of people at once, the place looked very much out of capacity. Staying there was not something me and my travel-mates wanted to do. Neither did we want to go back, not that there was any option anyway. So we decided to take our chances and began our walk without any further ado.
Minutes after we had started it was calm all around. Most of the crowd seemingly did not like the idea of walking for hours and stayed behind, much to our joy. You see, fewer people means you can take-in the beauty around you without the shrieks and shouting of the over-excited ‘tourists’. Very soon walking along the tracks which snaked away into the greenery started calling for more attention. The trails on both sides of the track became narrower as we moved ahead and coupled with the slippery surface, we were just one slip away from falling in the jungle below most of the time.
As we trudged along mostly balancing ourselves on the tracks and rarely off it, the rains kept playing hide & seek with us. No sooner had we put-on our rain coats to save us from the unexpected heavy showers, the bright sun would come right up. Then, as soon as the perspired us were done with the painful process of unloading the back-pack, taking-off the rain-wear and putting it back in the bag, the rain gods once again used to smile mischievously. This kept on repeating until we finally decided to walk with our rain coats on, whether it rained or not.
Walking through the lush greenery on both sides, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the beauty of the these deep forests. The monsoon clouds kept us company as we walked past numerous milky white streams flowing below the tracks at random intervals.
Except for the occasional trains which showed up from one side of the deep forests and got lost in the other in no time, the only things that broke the monotony of our walk were the age-old tunnels and bridges. They always made us excited. Their rustic nature and rickety look was like a glimpse of the olden time and we always spent sometime to take-in their beauty at such places.
Crossing the dark tunnels were fun and scary at the same time as well. Even more so, when a train came along while you are just half way through a 200 meter long tunnel. This is what happened to me.
I was almost 100 meters or so inside one of the tunnels when I heard the loud blare of a train entering as it entered the tunnel. Not sure about what to do and being sure about the fact that trying to race the train was not a great idea, I decided to turn around facing the wall and stick to it. Standing on whatever narrow space that existed between the wall and the track I waited until the train passed.
We were not allowed to walk beyond the nondescript station of Caranzol, a station where hardly any trains stopped. As we re-traced our steps back to Castlerock, I couldn’t help but notice how different the same forests which we crossed just few hours back looked under different colored clouds and even more over-cast sky. A darker shade of green with hovering gray clouds above.
Have you been on a trek in the Western Ghats or been planning to do the Doodhsagar trek? Drop me a word in the comments section below, I would love to hear from you.
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