The rocks around the pool’s edge are slippery. I sit down, slide into the cool water and swim over to the waterfall. At the height of its rage, the torrent races down the mountainside in an overpowering, deluge. Despite it now being the end of Goa’s dry season when the water is much reduced, it is still an impressive sight – a four tier waterfall which flows beneath a train line on a 603 metre journey tumbling towards the pool I’m now swimming in.
Earlier that morning our driver, Arun, picks us up in southern Goa and we head inland to Mollem, near the border with Karnataka, stopping off briefly at the Jungle Cafe (pictured above). The streets are hectic compared to the laid-back Goa I had as yet seen. Ladies are selling nuts to feed the monkeys and I’m sad to see elephant rides are being advertised. While I won’t be feeding monkeys or riding elephants – both big no goes when it comes to responsible tourism – I’m more than happy to buy a glass of freshly squeezed sugar cane from a roadside stall. It looks a little odd but tastes just fine.
Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary
The entrance to the reserve is not far and, having changed cars and drivers, we make our way through the jungle, along a bumpy, dusty track, fording rivers that are impassable when the rains come and snatching glimpses through the trees of the lush green scenery of the largest nature reserve in Goa.
Parking up we walk the rest of the way through the jungle, passing streams and dense foliage. We are in the part of the reserve that is the Mollem National Park, reputedly home to giant squirrels, bison, leopards, deer, pythons and cobras but the only wildlife we spot are the monkeys (Indian macaques) which are so used to being feed by the tourists that they are quite habituated to humans. Personally, I would much prefer wildlife to remain just that but my guide has come prepared and, despite my protestations, eagerly hands out slices of white bread to every greedy little hand we pass. Not the healthiest of meals a monkey could have and feeding them like this can cause malnutrition, especially for expectant mothers.
The Dudhasgar Falls
Climbing over some rocks we catch our first sight of the Dudhasgar waterfalls. Literally the name translates from the local language of Konkani as ‘ocean of milk’. Legend tells us of a beautiful princess who used to bathe in a lake here, after which she would refresh herself with a jug of sweetened milk. One day, realising that she was being watched by a handsome stranger, she poured the milk in front of her to form a curtain to protect her modesty while her maids rushed to fetch her clothing. The milk has flowed down the hillside ever since.
I’ve often dreamed of visiting a place like this and in my mind’s eye there’s barely a soul in sight – just me, a companion or two perhaps, the pool and a waterfall. Reality is somewhat different. The falls are at their driest, it being just before the rainy season, yet the rocks around the pool are thronged with people. The swim is never-the-less a joy and all too soon our guide is beckoning us to return and we make our way back to the now full to bursting car park. Our car is completely hemmed in but, while it looked to me impossible, with various vehicles nudging this way and that we somehow manage to squeeze out. Driving back along the bumpy track we head towards Mollem, passing more and more cars on their way to the falls. The earlier in the day you can possibly get here, the better.
The tourists’ entrance fees to the park no doubt provide useful income to maintain the reserve but I do hope the numbers don’t get out of hand thereby damaging the eco-system here, not forgetting the potential harm feeding the monkeys is doing, from malnutrition to encouraging aggressive behaviour and a whole host of other reasons which you can read about here, Ten Reasons Not to Feed Monkeys.
Despite the number of visitors it is still a trip well worth making, from the bumpy ride through the jungle, followed by the short but beautiful hike and the falls themselves, even at this time of year, are lovely to see.
Disclaimer: I was visiting Goa while working for The Goa Experience a soon to launch tour operator from the Serenity Holidays group.