She wore the skimpiest of bikinis and was gushing around, holding a banana in her hand. Her friends were all excited as they screamed, in an unknown language, gesturing to a man holding a camera. The photographer turned and the girls squealed in delight as they posed on the rocks. A monkey standing amidst them looked all puzzled, but greedily swallowed the bananas handed by them.
I was standing there, watching them in amusement, when another bikini-clad girl said “Move” in accented English and joined her friends for another photograph. “These Russians, I tell you – they just can’t read English,” muttered another foreign tourist to her companion as they walked past us. I looked around and saw a board dangling on the rocks: “Do not feed monkeys.”
I wondered for a moment if I was in India or somewhere abroad. In any case, the entire setting looked out of the world. A dense forest hemmed in with rocks, while little streams and rivulets flowed around them. Tiny wooden bridges sprouted in the middle of nowhere. The trails led me towards one of the most spectacular water falls that I had ever seen in India. A railway line cut in the middle of the cascading waters as the roar of the falls silenced that of the moving train.
I was gazing at Dudhsagar Falls, supposedly one of Goa’s best kept secrets; but like many other secrets, the destination was known to a handful of Indian tourists and a barrage of foreigners. This is where the Mandovi plunges to the depths from a height of 600 m, forming a milky cascade on the Karnataka-Goa border. The entire scene was a dramatic riot of colours. Bare bodied men and women were swimming in a massive pool of blue-green waters formed by the creamy white foam.
The journey to the falls was in itself an adventure. The jeep took us through the dense jungles of the Mollem National Park, where we crossed two full bodied rivers with no bridges or roads built on them. And while we drove on the bumpy, almost nonexistent mud roads, our driver told us the legend of Dudhsagar.
The mountains were once home to a king and his beautiful daughter who lived in a palace made of ivory. The princess’ regular haunt was a lake where she sipped honeyed milk before having her bath. One day, a prince happened to interrupt the women in their private moments. The princess immediately shrouded herself behind a cascade of milk that she poured from the jug. The milk, symbolic of the chaste maiden, is said to have fallen from the mountains, plummeting down as the waterfalls.
“If you believe in fairy tales, you must also believe in the devil,” said our driver. The jeep suddenly veered into a detour as we saw a board that said ‘Devil’s Canyon’. We encountered a turbulent river flowing in a deep gorge with various rock faces staring right at us. The silence was eerie. There was not even a monkey around. Our driver volunteered to tell the story.
A devil reigned over the canyon, having complete control over all the lives, including the fish. A local who was tempted to eat the fish sought the devil’s permission, lying to him that he had some guests at home. The devil was hoodwinked many a time, but finally he caught the villager munching the fish. In a fury, he cursed that no one will be able to fish in the waters. Several swimmers are said to have drowned in the treacherous undercurrents of the river.
The trees cast long shadows on the path as the sky suddenly grew overcast. Our driver suddenly lost patience and insisted that we head back, fearing an ill omen. We humored him as we crossed the river, which was in full force, and just as we reached the safety of the bank, another jeep behind us was stuck in the waters. Our driver looked at us a bit severely as he parked the car and reached out to help the other vehicle. We watched the rescue act wondering if there was a bit of truth in superstitions and myths.