Some of my friends who are regulars for the morning 6.30 batch in our swimming pool decided to test their capabilities on land and planned a trekking trip.
“We are trekking to Dudhsagar water falls from Kulem railway station doctor. It is twelve kilometers. Coming?”
I accepted the invitation and a few eyebrows shot up. “Twelve kilometers ONE WAY doctor. Nearly twenty five kilometers up and down. It is like walking from your house in Ponda to Margao railway station.” Some of the members who feared that they may have to carry me most of the distance tried to make me see sense. They calculated the full distance for my benefit and also gave a comparison so that I fully understood what I was getting into. I am the oldest member in our batch and they had probably asked me to join them, out of courtesy. My acceptance might have put them in a quandary.
If my performance in the swimming pool was any indication, they had reason to worry. In the recently concluded swimming competitions, the time I took to swim fifty meters was ninety seconds ( I was last, obviously) while the second last was thirty five seconds. If I performed equally well during the trek, they will need to carry camping gear and prepare for a three day trek. But being sportsmen, they did not express their feelings, encouraged me saying that I will surely make it and said that they would pick me up at quarter to six from my house.
The plan was to drive to Kulem railway station, a distance of little more than thirty kilometers from Ponda and then trek to the falls. It involved walking on/along the railway track for about four kilometers and the remaining on a mud path. We had planned to leave Ponda at six in the morning, stop briefly at Kulem for breakfast and begin our trek by seven and to the credit of everyone in the group we were on the railway track by twenty past seven on 26th January.
Walking on the railway track, which apparently had been built with only trains in mind, was not easy but we managed the four kilometers without tripping and falling or twisting and dislocating ankles and were happy to see the mud path running parallel to the track. With relief we descended on to the path but it did not take us long to realize that we were better off on the railway track. This mud path was a cross between a path and a crude road. Some small boulders and assorted stones had been strewn on the path in the hope of calling it a ‘motorable’ road but in the process making it unfit both for legs and wheels.
But we had decided to walk to the falls and walk we did ignoring the continuous flow of jeeps carrying tourists to the falls, bringing up clouds of dust and pushing us off the ‘road’ every second minute. It took three hours to cover twelve kilometers and we were at the falls by half past ten.
At the falls we met some of the tourists who had been clever enough to hire the jeeps and were regretting our decision to walk, when a lady hailed us.
“Are you the group whom we saw walking on the way?”
“How smart! I wish I had come walking too. This horrible ride has separated all my joints. I am dreading the return trip”.
After the experience of walking twelve kilometers we were dreading the return trip too but at that moment we had decided not to think about the return trip and make the best of the falls. At the base of the falls is a natural pool almost the dimension of a swimming pool, surrounded by rocks and the water is cold, fresh and inviting.
We dived into the ice cold water, hurt our legs on the submerged boulders while trying to swim, slipped on the rocks when we tried to stand, got muscle cramps because of the cold and managed to swim to safety after enjoying the falls and bruising our limbs as much as we could. We ate the lunch that we had carried and headed back with a lighter load on the shoulders- food consumed, but a heavier load on the mind - the return walk.
We decided not to walk the full distance at a stretch but to divide the distance into parts to gain some psychological advantage. To start with we only had to reach the temple which we had seen on the way quite close to the falls, then the stream only half an hour’s distance from the temple, then the lonely house, then the big tree with monkeys and from there the railway track was just another kilometer! But the legs were not prepared to listen to the lesson in psychology and protested every step. We managed to ignore the legs and kept ourselves busy chatting, singing and making fun of one another. It felt as though we had been walking for two days but actually in about two hours we had the railway track in sight again. Once we were on the track we told ourselves that since we had successfully covered twenty kilometers, the remaining four, that is less than a quarter of the whole distance was no big deal and in another hour we had the railway station in sight.
I have passed through Kulem station on every trip from Bangalore to Goa and have always felt happy on reaching there as it meant the journey’s end but I had never been as happy to see Kulem station as I was on 26th January 2012. We had a brief halt in the local tea shop which served the best tasting Bisleri water and even tastier ‘Limbu’ soda and then we got into the most comfortable ‘Swift’ and ‘Innova’ ever built, for our return trip. We were in Ponda by five in the evening after a ‘trek to remember’ as my friends put it.
I was under the impression that the old bones may not make it. But the old bones managed to take me to the falls and bring me back too. Only the old muscles and ligaments connecting them were complaining. I pacified them with some Brufen and Crocin and was even able to put them to work the next day to earn my living and prevent the old stomach from growling.