Extract from Inside Goa

“Io-Io,” our friends at the station were yelling as they waved to us...“come-come.”

Like most Indians, Goans just cannot bring themselves to say goodbye. Instead they resort to linguistic headstands and say opposite things. From the ship’s gangplank or from the door of the airport’s security-check enclosure, they will turn back and wave to their friends and tell them, “Borem, hanv yeta” which means “All right then, I’m coming” and those who have come to see them off respond with equal falsity by sating, “Io-Io” which means, of course, “Come-come”.

In the course of working on this book, both Mario and I had made several trips in and out of Goa. Mario, who is a Goan, was always at home with the refinements of the Konkan language and of Goan courtesies, but before long, I too had mastered some of their more elementary nuances; at least I could tell people that I was actually coming when I was on the point of leaving Goa, and make it sound like a promise. Not that we both came or went away together, because Mario commuted from Bombay and I, since my home is barely a hundred kilometres from Goa, drove by car. That was why neither of us had seen the Dudhsagar waterfall which is quite literally the first thing of Goa that those who come by train see. In fact, in a total reversal of the trend, we had kept it for the very last visit on our itinerary.

We could hardly have planned it better. Dudhsagar gave our farewell to Goa a dramatic neatness; the last thing we saw of Goa was, quite literally, its most formidable sight.

It breaks into view with the startling suddenness of an intercut in a mystery film. For an hour or so, the train had chugged through a dense forest such as had been artificially created in a Hollywood studio for the earlier Tarzan movies: trees festooned with wriggling vines, their top halves glistening in the sunlight, their lower halves lost in sombre gloom and a tangle of bamboo fern which looked as though they had been carved out of molten wax. The track hugged the side of the hill. Every now and then, the little metre-gauge train would give a warning toot before plunging into an unlit tunnel, and its engines — on this stretch of the climb all trains are required to have two engines — would fill the carriage with smoke and steam. It was after we had come out of one of these tunnels for air that I happened to relate to the others a bit of family gossip that I had heard as a boy, that the bricks for the construction of the tunnels and buildings on this line had been manufactured under contract by my grandfather, Sakharam Malgonkar, more than a hundred years ago. The ‘others’ in the compartment reserved for us were Mario, Karapurkar, Raghunath, the driver of the car which had been kept at our disposal, and Mr Ramnath Manerikar, a railway official at Madgaon who, after making the necessary arrangements for our journey by rail, had himself come to see that they went off as planned. They did.

Between Colem, which is now spelled ‘Kolamb’, where we entrained, and Dudhsagar, the track rises steadily, certainly a thousand feet in ten miles. Soon the forest was below us, and we could look down into a gentle valley with not a sign of human habitation and in the shape of a perfect horseshoe, the hills at its other end screening off Dudhsagar from Goa and the rest of the world. The the train rounded a corner, and there, not quite a hundred feet from its window, were the falls.

It is said that when Cecil Rhodes planned a bridge across the Zambesi river below the Victoria Falls in Africa, he decreed that it must cross the chasm “so close that passengers could see the spray from the window”. It seems that just about manage to do so if the wind is right. here in Goa the bridge is not only within sight of the spray, but during the monsoons you actually have to shut the windows to avoid being drenched by it. Indeed, Manerikar told me, there are occasions when the train has to be halted before the bridge for hours at a time to let some sudden over-flow of water which is actually falling too close to the track, to subside.

The building of the railway through this ghat, and in particular of the bridge across Dudhsagar, must have been an engineering feat of its day. The arches of the bridge are anchored squarely astride the flow of water. As such, the bridge actually cuts across the face of the falls and offers a grandstand view of them, or at least of their upper half. The lower half of the falls lie below the bridge, and is thus hidden from sight.

We sat in the shade of the bridge and ate Chicken Alberdada, and drank water from the pool at our feet... After lunch, while Mario, looking for the exact perspective for his sketches, was skidding about over the glass-smooth rocks, I lay back and admired the many faces of Dudhsagar.

It is a stream tumbling over a cliff which, if it had fallen straight down, might have qualified as being one of the highest waterfalls in the world. The height of the top of the cliff from the bottom of the valley is all of 600 metres, give or take a few...

Here the water falls in leaps, shifts course, forms pools and even potholes into the rock face, tumbles down again, separates and joins up, churns through a narrow, ten-foot gorge right under your feet, to disappear from view except as a white cascade far below, before slipping into a clear green pool in the jungle. The it emerges as a river again, sparkling as a salmon-run...

I recalled that Ram Ganesh Gadkari, the greatest Marathi playwright, had made Dudhsagar the scene of a play on the life of the Maratha king, Sambhaji. Nothing has changed here since Gadkari could have seen it, some time before the first world war, and indeed nothing has changed of the setting of Gadkari’s seventeenth century play either, except of course, the bridge thrown across the face of the cliff.

We walked along the railway track and through a tunnel and past the old Portuguese station of Dudhsagar which has now been broken up, to the new one a couple of hundred yards further. Here the Stationmaster Mr Datta Assolekar, a Goan to his fingertips, easy-going, voluble, oozing good cheer, and hospitable to a fault, gave us tea in metal glasses and in the course of filling us up with local lore, recalled how, when they had started breaking down the old station, they had found that the bricks used in its building had been all but unbreakable. At this stage, Mr Manerikar or someone piped up and said: “Those bricks were made by Mr Malgonkar’s grandfather.”

“Come, I’ll show you some of the bricks,” Assolekar offered. he led me into his office, where an enormous wooden chest had been supported on little piles of bricks. “These are from the station. No other bricks will take that kind of weight! — A ton or more~”

Our train looked as though it was going to be late, and Manerikar was actually consulting with the Stationmaster whether they should not ring for an engine from Castle Rock to take us away, when we heard a mournful whistle in the distance. The train had already left the station, and would be with us in ten minutes, which gave ample time for Assolekar to order another round of tea for us.

Barely had we managed to drink up our tea when the train steamed in and stood hissing against the wall of rock in front of the station, and thus on a track which had no platform. We were hauled up one by one by a kindly attendant, and I turned to thank Assolekar when he thrust a paper packet into my hands, so heavy that I nearly dropped it. It was one of the bricks from the old station. “Something to remember Dudhsagar by,” he was saying.

By this time, the train had already started. The brick in my hands prevented me from waving, but I yelled out: “Borem, hanv yeta,” all right, then I’m coming. But this time it was not in obedience to an artificial refinement of speech I had learnt. I had said I was coming, and I meant it, or at least that I was coming again; of that I was certain.

“Io-Io,” our friends at the station were yelling as they waved to us. “Come-come.”