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I spent all of yesterday (All Souls’ Day) either on my way to, in, or returning from Dudhsagar. Its name literally means Ocean of Milk, but was surprised to see that there is also a local temple dedicated to Shri Dudh Sagar Prasann. So the mountain is also an object of worship, and deservedly so. I hope (to God) that the reverence helps keep the mighty mountain, its waterfalls, its streams, rivers, forests, and all God’s creatures in it free from harm and extinction. Amen.

When I say all of yesterday, that’s almost literally true. I awoke at 5.45 am, and didn’t hit the hay until well after midnight.

There were a few grumbles from the uninitiated about the fact that a lot of the trek followed the railway track. Having been here before, I wasn’t surprised. In fact, there’s such a lot to be experienced and seen as you walk along the track, that you would miss if you were in a train simply hurtling its metal juggernaut hulk forward. 

For instance, I had never EVER managed to capture dragonflies on “film” (read digital memory card). But amazingly, just a few feet away from the track, were myriad varieties, kaleidoscopic colours and very compliant in allowing themselves to be photographed. Photographs to follow soon. 

 

The crowning moment of the trek was when, during a stop for a breather, a giant red squirrel decided to perch atop a branch high up the tree canopy, and become every photographer’s dream as it munched away contentedly on a broken-off twig held between its front paws. It stared back at us fixedly, unperturbed by our clicking cameras and all the attention. And after what seemed like hours (it was just a couple of minutes) it gave one last quizzical look as if to say “Had enough?” and darted expertly through the canopy without waiting for our reply. I certainly hadn’t had enough, but those few precious moments were akin to an epiphany to me, a vindication of God’s presence not only in this particular forest, but in this world, in this life, in my life. It’s hard to put the feeling into words. It is an other-worldly feeling, almost divine, when an elusive creature deigns to grant you a darshan, a sighting. You become blessed. I don’t think I shall forget this moment in a hurry, no matter how many other even more exotic (and I hope there are plenty) ones I am blessed with. Count your blessings, they say. Well, this was one of them.

Malabar giant squirrel

Malabar giant squirrel

What I like about wildgoa events is how wide the spectrum of participants is. There was a plucky young girl who had ridden solo all the way from Belgaum on her motorcycle, just to trek with us. (Hope you got back safely, S). There was a lady from Mumbai, and the rest of us were from all corners of the state. One meets all kinds of people, doing all sorts of interesting things in their lives, professions and as hobbies. It never ceases to fascinate me. Now that wildgoa is on Facebook, I think we can look forward to participants from all over India and the globe. Bring them on, I say.

We had a great Indian Railway adventure on the way back. As there isn’t a “regular” passenger train back from Dudhsagar, we have to rely on the goodness of goods train drivers to hitch a ride back into Collem or Margao. So here we, about 50-odd, trying to flag down a ride around 3 pm but one driver declined. So we hung around, and got on an engine amid considerable euphoria, around 4.30 pm. “Hope we make it to Collem before 5.15 pm” said a fellow trekker. I had my doubts, but I couldn’t have predicted what was in store for us at the time. We had incredible bad luck with red signals along the way. Each one delayed us for anything between 20-45 minutes. And we had about four of them, so you do the math. At one of these moments, we even had to disembark (which in retrospect at least allowed us to stretch our legs, a respite from the ennui of either standing or sitting on the filthy floor for several hours)  to spare our friendly driver from embarrassing questions from his superiors, who happened to be on the train travelling in the opposite direction.

Let me describe to you how it works: As it is a goods train, there’s no seating space for passengers. Any hitchhikers like ourselves have to make do with a tiny foothold along the sides of the mighty engine, and be held in place by  (and hold on to) a railing, which is essentially a horizontal bar, with vertical posts at regular but sparse intervals. Which is fine when the the train chugs along goodnaturedly at a sedate pace. But when it picks up speed, you would do well to hold on for dear life.

At yet another red signal, this time at a level crossing, we watched enviously as road traffic flowed across the track while we marked time. Someone remarked that we had no priority of passage as ours was a goods train. I couldn’t resist, “We’re not even goods, we’re bads”. 

And did I mention the grease? Plenty of it, on the rails, on the floor, on the walls. When our train finally rolled into Margao station at around 9 pm, there wasn’t a single one of us who wasn’t besmirched, anointed with the black viscous liquid, proof, as if we needed any, of our life on the not-so-fast line. We had taken over 5 hours to get from Dudhsagar  to Margao. Could we have got there quicker had we decided to walk? I’m happy to leave that as a hypothetical question. For now.  In the future, who knows?

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