The River Sutra of Olaulim

Visiting the other side of Goa, Prathap Nair finds that time has a rhythm different from the crowded beaches

Published: 22nd December 2013 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st December 2013 02:25 PM   |  A+A-


In Mobor beach in South Goa where the river Sal meets the sea, the sun was at its peak. Goa’s popular beaches are claustrophobic with commercial establishments and tourists, but all is not lost for those who look to travel off the beaten path.

In the estuary where the tiny river flows into the Arabian Sea, fishing boats are moored and fishermen go about their daily business, —to set out to the sea, constructing boats, varnishing strips of wood while some take a leisurely bucket baths under the green awnings of cashew trees.

I find refuge in a cove, a semi-beach on the opposite side. Huge pieces of driftwood are washed ashore. The laterite-concrete parapet wall along the ridges of the shore and the amply shaded tiny patch of sand engender a feeling that I am tucked away in a hideaway with a difficult access for anyone to intrude into my private peace. Later, it turns out that there is no way to cross over back to the other side and the fishing boats setting out to the sea are not amenable to give me a lift. The only option is to ride down for a few kilometres and get to Covalessim and take a ferry to Betul village.

Betul’s roads have no signboards and Google maps are the only trustworthy guide. Betul wears the signature look of a Goan village—children play on the road, local bars announce fish curry and rice, a front yard of the church is being cleared up by volunteers for an upcoming feast and just as you steer into a tertiary road, the crowded living quarters constrict your navigation.

At the bay, as the day progresses, the number of men who gather for fishing multiplies. They share their small catches with each other as bait for bigger ones. Many of them good heartedly laugh at each other’s jokes in their alcohol-exalted congeniality. One tells me how it was not a great day and brags about his big catch just the previous day. We saunter cautiously to avoid slipping or worse, getting slashed by the sharp edges of the rocks with dead shellfish stuck on their surfaces.

We spot a huge jellyfish, a recent phenomenon which is a cause of concern for the tourism industry in Goa, though jellyfish related incidents have not been reported in the country or in Goa. Bites can vary from toxic to non-toxic, so we stay away.

If you care to make inroads into Goa’s somnolent villages, you will discover a syntax of water—tarns, backwaters and rivers, many of which are monsoon fed, self-sustaining ecosystems that host numerous birds, plants and kinds of fish. We saw ponds thick with pink and white water lilies holding their chins up amid mossy vegetation of aquatic flora. We spotted the migratory purple herons, tufted ducks, fulvous whistling ducks and Indian pond herons. In green paddy fields, duck and water fowl keep men tilling the land company.

Ferries cut across the Mandovi River, the omnipresent artery of Panjim city, bearing hordes of travellers through the day. Lunch at Terrys is overpriced albeit worth it, purely for the constant traffic on the Mandovi, enroute the recently renovated Reis Magos fort.

To get to Olaulim and Savio and Pirkko Fernandes’ homestay, it is crucial to first locate  the tiny village on the map. Because no amount of careful enunciation of the name will yield any result from the locals if you choose to seek and find Olaulim using traditional methods of ask and seek. Nobody simply hasn’t heard of it. Though it is in close proximity with Panjim on the north-east and Mapusa on the north, the village has a truly fallen-off-the-map feel to it. But Olaulim is on our map. “Follow the river,” Prikko had earlier told us while sending us directions to reach her. And so we did. We passed the stately Salvador do Mundo church and other villages on the way to reach the Fernandes’ eco-homestay. Located in a three-acre property with an infinity pool built around a coconut tree overlooking a creek, it is just where you will go if you want to get lost in your travels.

Bird calls persist throughout the day, river terns dive into the creek for fish, a lone hungry kingfisher perched on a stump of a dry tree peers into the water alertly.  The creek is perfectly safe for swimming, Pirkko tells us because the catchment area is controlled by sluice gates and the water level never goes up. But we are already hooked to the kayaks invitingly floating around their tiny jetty. We strap our cameras on, land precariously into the kayaks and row away into the sun.

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