A Toast To Nature
It is said that Lord Vishnu once wanted to perform rites of penance when he had incarnated as Parasurama. He chose a land where serenity of the air met with the turbulence of the seas, where the quiet of the hills tumbled down to the sandy beaches and where life added and subtracted and yet left behind no remainder it remained just as rich. He chose Goa.
Falling into the Arabian Sea to its west, the small strip of land has a long coastline of 106 km. The Goan coastal eco-system is at once the most fragile and the most threatened. Goa has two types of shores, rocky and sandy. While the rocky shores with its swampy shores have been adequately represented in the protected area network of the State the coastal stretch has not been given justice when it comes to protection. So while in one way it lends itself more easily to tourist delights in the form of five star hotels and golf courses that sit on the edge of the raging river throwing up white foams of appreciation now and in another way it also means spoiling the natural coastline of the state. Goa therefore craves for more respect to nature and also looks towards responsible tourists. The Mandovi and Zuari are the two main rivers that fall into the Arabian Sea. Mandovi is very feminine and there is great peace as you watch her. The Zuari however seems comparatively more aggressive and authoritative.
Many mangroves are found along the estuaries formed by these two rivers as well as the other five smaller rivers that run the Goan terrain. Though the mangroves of Goa are not as deep as those found east of India, they are still treasures that Goa cherishes. If you travel by meter gauge train from Londa to Marmagoa, which I suggest you do, the journey is fantastic. Little waterfalls and chirpy rivers giggle past you through the entire journey. Now and then the majestic Sahyadris pretend to be all serious but you know from the gurgle that escapes the waterfall washing it from great heights that it is only a facade.
To its east and many parts within Goa, run the Sahyadri ranges and it is here that most of Goas forest cover is to be found. In terms of districts, Sanguem, Satari and Canacona are the ones with maximum forest cover.
Stretching over 1424.38 sq. km, the Western Ghats houses some of the most fascinating representatives of the bio-diversity. The complex topography, high rainfall, relative inaccessibility of the tract and the bio-geographical isolation have helped the Western Ghats retain the biological diversity to a great extent. To give just an idea of the rich natural heritage found in these forests, it may be interesting to know that over 3500 species of flowering plants are found here, which means 27% of Indias flowering plants.
The Western Ghats also toast to our health for in the wilderness, mainly on the hilly terrain, there are many medicinal plants found. If Ayurveda, the Indian system of medicine were to be followed verbatim, then the plants collected for medicinal purposes are generally those grown in the wild. The forests that look into Goa house many such plants. Sarpagandha for example is a very popular and oft used medicine and as you enter the forests you will be able to spot them in plenty.
But of course in a forest, you should be more alert to the call of the wild! The area of the forest adjoining Goa has all the wildlife found in the region. It houses six wildlife sanctuaries and one National Park. Once upon a time there were many elephants that paced the Sahyadri, but today the few that are left have shifted southwards and with the elephant corridor broken, few jumbos can be spotted in this region.
A drive up the Western Ghats through the forest is a great experience. Wildlife apart these hills have a very quiet air about them, almost business-like, leaving all the fun and turbulence to the lashing waves of the ocean.