Sunday, April 3, 2016

Glimpses from my National Trekking Expedition Goa

Glimpses from my National Trekking Expedition Goa
99% of travelers visit Goa for its- luscious beaches, still lingering Indo-Portugal aura, byzantine architectures, water sports or simply boozing around to soak the Goa vibe. I belong to that remaining minority of 1% lucky wanderers who travel Goa to join some trekking expedition, and that too in Christmas eve! Before commencing my journey, with whomever I had shared my excitements, their reactions were more or less same: “Wow Goa!!!... but trekking?”, i.e. thumbs up, followed by letdown. It is only after the windup of my trip, as I left Vasco-da-gama on the last day of 2013, idling over my side lower berth of Amaravati Express I realized that I had enjoyed Goa in almost all the ways a normal tourist do, and added to that I had even experienced those pristine corners of it which are hardly napped by regular travelers landing on Goa! 

As a proud participant of the national trekking expedition Goa, I closely witnessed some remote breathtaking trails through Western Ghats, Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary, the 'Chennai express' view of mighty Dudhsagar Falls and of course few of those unspoilt golden beaches which are too glamorous for unsensitized Indian eyes (for heaven's sake don't pretend now). On 23rd Dec morning, I reached our base camp at the Sports Authority Ground (near Miramar beach), Panaji, when the breakfast was almost consumed by my fellow campers. The mere sight of more than two dozens of green tents populating the ground along with banners of National Trekking Expedition Goa welcoming trekkers at the entrance was enough to rejuvenate my momentarily low spirit shrunken by the grueling train journey I had just concluded couple of hours back at Vasco.
Glimpses from my National Trekking Expedition Goa
An enthusiastic co-trekker crossing a waterway.
Our eight days trekking program organized by the Goa state branch of Youth Hostels Association of India (YHAI) in collaboration with Sports Authority of Goa and Directorate of Sports and Youth Affairs, had the first day as reporting day, second day as orientation day and next six days of actual trekking. The itinerary of our roughly 80 kilometers trekking trail of six fun filled days of trekking can be summarized as: 

Base camp at Panaji to Mobor beach by bus – Mobor beach to Benaulim beach by trekking – Beanaulim to Velsao beach by trekking – Velsao to Collem by train – Collem to Dudhsagar by trekking – Dudhsagar to Caranzol via Dudhsagar waterfalls by trekking – Caranzol to Nandran by trekking – Nandran to Tambdi Surla by trekking – from there return to base camp by bus. 

In this post I won't go into details, rather I'll jot down highlights of my entire Goa trekking trip, so that you get an idea of how it was like and whether you should plan such trek to celebrate your Christmas.
Glimpses from my National Trekking Expedition Goa
Old Goa with her picture-perfect Churches.
As I said earlier, 23rd December was my reporting day at base camp. The reporting turned out to be a small official formality of showing my admit card (invoice of trekking package fee) and YHAI membership ID to obtain the trekking identity card, beddings, rucksack and tent allotment. There are too many things to narrate about the ambiance of the base camp but for that a separate article shall do the justice. After a brief scanning of the new biosphere and a quick breakfast I caught up with a fellow trekker from Bangalore who had contacted me few days earlier through an online travel forum. We had just that one day to explore Goa on our own. Decisions had to be made in a jiffy. Despite the scarcity of rented motorcycles/scooters I managed one rickety gearless scooter and left in hurry to explore the much hyped archaic grandeur of Old Goa.  

Till late afternoon time flew swiftly as we hopped from one majestic architecture to the other in the UNESCO listed World Heritage Site of Old Goa. In our half day slot we could cover- the Basilica of Bom Jesus, Se' Cathedral, Church and Convent of St Francis of Assisi, Archaeological Museum (Archiepiscopal Palace), Chapel of St Catherine, the Tower of the Church of St Augustine and the Church of our Lady of the Rosary. Apart from the ruins of St Augustine complex, all of those monuments boasted silently of their historical glory and unparalleled combat against vindictive time! We could easily keep obliging our cameras with such unique captures for few more hours but we had a sunset river cruise to join at Panjim.
Glimpses from my National Trekking Expedition Goa
A wild spider somewhere in Mahaveer wildlife sanctuary.
The brief physical drills, artificial-rock climbing and rappelling on the morning session of orientation day (24th Dec) exposed before me my real physical standard attained through years of sedentary lifestyle! After the breakfast, as a rehearsal, we trekked with our own water supply and dummy luggage in rucksack from Miramar beach to Dona Paula. It was not so comfortable walking under the sun in late morning hours but the sight of abundant jelly fish ornamenting the beach trail and the continuous “Let's move/ Move fast” reminder of our camp leader kept us moving till we reached the famous site of Dona Paula. The camp leader conducted a short introductory session for group members and recruited a group leader and an environment leader for our trekking group (G9). 

Our physical activities for acclimatization was over for the day. After the lunch at base camp there was orientation lecture by the field director. His briefing included what we were about to see, going to do and should stick to in following six days. After the tea, weight of our rucksacks were checked by YHAI volunteers/officials to keep them optimum for carrying. Extra luggages were deposited. A snake show was organized before the dinner to acquaint us with different snakes prevalent in forest region of western ghats. The dinner and routine campfire followed before we fell asleep.
Glimpses from my National Trekking Expedition Goa
Statue at Dona Paula, sculpted in 1969 by Baroness Yrse Von Leistner.
Contrary to my intention, this article is getting lengthy in spite of my best efforts to include only essentials. Kindly bear with me. On 25th morning a bus dropped us to Mobor beach from where the real trekking commenced. The moment we caught up with the coastal trail, we came across a huge number of foreigners over the sunny beach. They were swimming, playing or sunbathing in their own ways. Unfortunately plenty of our male trekking mates who were not sensitized to such splendid panorama, lost their minds and kept staring and clicking anything on the way. If you find my tone sarcastic I must admit that I was deeply ashamed for such grossness we exhibited and by now I'm fed up of criticizing! 

Hardly did I know, 12-15 kilometers of walk over the sand can drain out all our energy for the day. It was freaking fun pulling each others' legs, pushing tired fellow trekkers off their lethargy, gulping little drink in shacks, boosting self morale by lying “we're almost there” and asking for direction from locals more frequently as the day progressed. In the late afternoon we reached Benaulim beach camp. Before the sun could take his hide down the horizon, I with my group of 7-8 friends took bird's eye view of the Benaulim beach by para-sailing. I dragged some of them for water scooter ride too. I had enjoyed the same bouncy thrill a week before in Andaman and I tell you, go for it unless you're a heart patient or have serious panic disorder. At night we enjoyed the live music by a western lady in a shack. After all it was ChirChristmas night!
Glimpses from my National Trekking Expedition Goa
Para-sailing at Benaulim Beach and it was fun!
The following day was more or less similar as it was also a pure beach trek up to Velsao beach. The mentionable part is where we opted for banana ride in the middle of the day. In banana ride, an air filled banana shaped canoe will carry 6-8 people which will be pulled by a motor boat. After entering some considerable meters into the sea, one of the boatmen will topple the banana boat with a sudden jerk. All will go down the sea (don't be scared, you'll be in life jackets!) for few seconds before the buoyancy of life-jackets pull them up at the surface. Being a non-swimmer, I drank a gallon of salt water in my first fall but later I learnt the art to survive. Oh yes, the banana ride was one of the best highlights of my Goa trek! 

We boarded a passenger train at Sankval (railway station near our camp at Velsao beach) and reached Collem (the station read 'Kulem') in less than two hours. Soon, we entered the reserved area of Bhagwan Mahaveer National Park. Apart from its rich biodiversity, this 240 square kilometers of protected area in Western ghats has few more possessions to be called a perfect tourist magnet. Few attractions inside the Mahaveer wildlife sanctuary are- Dudhsagar falls, Tambdi Surla Temple, Tambdi falls, Devils canyon, sunset point etc. Other than the usual entry fee there was separate fee for the camera.
Glimpses from my National Trekking Expedition Goa
If you need the adrenaline rush go for the Banana Ride!
A gang of monkeys greeted us at the entrance. A forest department staff escorted us up to a certain point from where we were on our own. At least 30-40 jeeps and MUVs packed with tourists (predominantly Russians!) passed by us now and then, throughout our forest trail. Their destination was colossal Dudhsagar Falls. Apart from resistive roots on the path, plenty of unpredictable waterways challenged us on our way to Dudhsagar camp. They were quite fun to cross on barefoot unless you have tender flat foot issues like me. On our first day trekking in the woods there was no steep slope to ascend. So, by mid afternoon we accommodated ourselves in our respective tents at Dudhsagar camp. Yes, it's the next day, on our way to Carazol we sighted the famous waterfalls in all its glory.

Dudhsagar Falls, located on Mandovi River in the state boundary between Goa and Karnataka is a four-tiered waterfall and boasts of being the fifth tallest waterfall of India! Being around 60 kilometers away from Panaji it is easily accessible by road. Or, you may take the real fun of forest cum rail route trekking by getting down at Collem station or Castle Rock station and then taking the path to Dudhsagar. At first we trekked to its base where tourists usually flock around. By morning eight the place becomes so crowded by foreigners that you'll struggle to walk your way in or out of the site, leave aside photographic opportunities.
Glimpses from my National Trekking Expedition Goa
It's difficult to capture the entire Dudhsagar falls in one frame!
As the tourist influx intensified we left the base of the Dudhsagar Falls and climbed some steep slopes to reach the Konkan railway line passing by the breast height of charismatic Dudhsagar. If you've watched the awful movie Chennai Express, you'll surely remember that scene where the train passes by the mighty waterfall. The rail line was really at a commendable height. From there, the huge population of tourists gathered at the base looked like colorful ants! After passing through a tunnel we left the rail route and entered forest area again. In our mind we all knew that the climax of our trek was just over. 

For next two days similar trek inside the jungle continued. Sometimes the terrain was too irregular, sometimes too bushy, but all together those mild to moderate challenges posed by nature gave us immense joy and reasons to push on. Flora and fauna throughout our forest trail was precious treat to our eyes and camera sensors. Spending nights inside tents at jungle camps of Dudhsagar, caranzol or Nandran were all unique experiences and worthy to preserve for sweet travel nostalgia.
Glimpses from my National Trekking Expedition Goa
13th Century AD old Mahadeva Temple at Tambdi Surla.
On the last day we trekked from Nandran camp to the Mahadeva Temple (a 13th century AD old religious structure!) at Tambdi Surla. From there, we were received by a bus to drop us at our base camp at Panaji. Our trek although ended, official conclusion was due till post dinner campfire time when we're awarded with our trek completion certificates by YHAI. At that very evening I had bought some feni and red wine as Goa souvenirs for my friends. 

I must mention I made few friends from Gujarat with whom I wish to plan treks or biking events in near future. My return train was scheduled from Vasco-da-gama station at morning seven of 31st Dec. It was almost impossible to invite sleep with so many excitatory stimuli, so, I called for a taxi at late midnight and left the base camp when others were blissfully asleep. Oh yes, I express my sincere gratitude for being a part of my trekking tale!

4 comments:

  1. Amazing ...Goa for trekking. You seemed to have a wonderful trekking expedition...a seemingly unexplored side of Goa Tourism. Great!

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    1. You're so right Bushra... It was much different than how we usually anticipate a Goa trip... Thanks for reading the trekking tale :-)

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  2. Good stuff man! i will be heading for Goa Trekking expedition in this month itself. I just came across to ur blog...it indeed helpful info for me. My reporting date is 27th December. I have few questions if you can be able to reply
    1) Does YHAI provides Rucksaks for this trek?
    2) Shall i carry proper trekking shoes or sport shoes will do?
    3) Hows much temperature can we expect during the night time? specially in december end? will it be too cold?

    Appreciate your response
    Thanks

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    1. Hi Mehul,

      that's a great Christmas travel plan! I'll try to answer your queries:

      1) Yes they'll provide you. But if you have a good quality one with proper back support then you can use that in place of the simple generic rucksack they provide.

      2) I would suggest a pair of dedicated hiking/outdoor boots. They can better protect your ankles and soles over rough patches, especially over gravels. Before buying your hiking boots ensure that they are not very heavy.

      3) Fortunately it won't be too cold. In day time you'll be mostly walking with your tee on and at night, the blanket provided by YHAI usually can suffice.

      Wish you a joyful trek. It'll be awesome if you can share your trekking tale and photos right here after you return :-)

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