On second thoughts and considering it was last day of 2007 we felt it right to check in at Mollem itself(we doubted that the resort at Anmod might be booked for New Year celebrations) and then go on our explorations.
We spent 2 and half hours and pedaled 20Kms in search of accommodation and finally at 12noon we managed to check in at "ARANYAK' a nature camp run by Goa Forest Department, the camp is set at the border of Mollem National Park (Bhagvan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary).
ARANYAK has 8 tents in two categories 1) Rs.200 and 2) Rs.300 the later has attached latrine and bathroom and a small veranda. We opted for the later which is designed in Swiss Cottage style. The lunch at 1.30 was a decent dal, rice, sabzi, pickle, papad package, the dinner and the lunch next day would be the same with dal as a variant.
After resting for an hour we hit the dirt trail taking us into the sanctuary, the trail passed through thick woods and we had good share of ups and downs all through 7Kms. I realized that it took double the efforts on such dirt tracks as compared to tarred road. Half way through the trail I had disheartening revelation that, one cannot watch the birds and photograph them while cycling on the trail, the cycle tires made high decibel chattering sound on the track and by the time one braked and came to a stop after spotting a bird the bird would be gone. The best way for birdwatching is, I feel, walking! On the whole we managed to shoot one Hawk Eagle.
We returned to the camp at 6.30pm, washed and hung around the camp till dinner time at 8.30. After dinner we sat under the sky on the lawn near the tent wondering what other people might be doing, probably they were drinking to their glory while listening the blaring music! At 10 we decide to go to bed, for the next day was going to be tough pedaling 12Kms one way to Dudh Sagar water fall on dirt track and later pedaling 38 Kms back to Ponda.
After early morning breakfast of upit and chai we hit the dirt trail once more, just outside the camp we were greeted by a mixed party of birds, there, right in front of us was a beautiful Paradise Flycatcher, gracefully making sallies after the flies and bees. By the time I could get off my bike and aim the camera, the bird had gone deeper into the woods. However further up the trail I managed to catch one in the digital trap.
As we cycled trough the woods we spotted Asian fairy Blue Bird, southern Trogon Female, Heart Spotted Wood Pecker, Pompadour Green Pigeon, Golden Oriole and many others zipping through the dense canopy.
The trail again had many ups and downs, sometimes running parallel to the stream; we had to cross the stream twice. We were eager to reach the falls before the Jeeps ferrying the tourists began to ply on the dirt track. Every day at least 25 Jeeps pass through this National Park. I do not understand why this is allowed, already there's a south central railway track passing through. The Jeep business certainly provides the employment to the locals, but there could be other better options, like trekking, hiking or cycling, the locals can be trained to be ‘Nature Guides' .
We reached near the falls at 9.15, with one break for a quick snack of pav, butter and banana. After parking the bikes we walked through the rocky boulders to the falls, two guys at the parking lot were their snack stalls ready. We spent half an hour at the falls; the forest guards present at the falls informed us that, last night (31st) a boy drowned in the reservoir there. At least 3 to 4 deaths occur per year by drowning at the falls.
As we returned to the parking lot, two jeep loads of tourists had arrived. A chat with the jeep drivers revealed that, the charges for the trip were Rs. 350 per head with 6 passengers per vehicle, which means the operator earned Rs.2100 per trip and some drivers managed two trips per day.
On our way back we counted 8 more jeeps going towards the falls and it was just 11am, the vehicles are allowed in till 5pm. The forest department charge Rs. 20 per head as entry fee, Rs. 40 if you are carrying still camera and Rs. 150 for the video camera.
At 12 noon we were back at the camp, the lunch was served at 1pm. After resting for while, we started on our return journey at 3pm. riding for 8Kms we hit the Belgaum-Panaji highway. For the next 2 hours we had to face the rude, rash mine trucks. We reached Ponda, sweaty and covered in red dust. We had pedaled 120 Kms of which 36Kms was dirt track with lots of climbs. The whole experience was worth it, giving us confidence to do more challenging rides in the future.
Days - 2
Distance covered on Tarmac road - 84Kms
Dirt track distance covered - 36Kms
Total distance - 120Kms
Birds we spotted - Hawk Eagle, Heart Spotted Wood Pecker, Shama, treepie, Paradise Flycatcher, Pompadour Green Pegion, Golden Oriole, Great Indian Black Woodpecker, Female Malabar Trogon
Lizard Basking in morning sun
Donald Crossing the stream
Me (right) and Don
Don cleaning the bikes
Me going down hill
Me going down hill