September 25, 2006

Time and Again to Tambdi Surla

I never attempted to bicycle to Tambdi Surla ever again. Once was enough.

And moreover the road to Tambdi Surla through Sacorda where it turns left off the national highway 4A that runs on to Mollem on its way through the Anmod ghats to Belgaum in Karnataka, demands of the cyclist a strong heart to negotiate the undulating terrain in the heat of a Goan summer. It took me a long time to pedal to Tambdi Surla that summer day many years ago. However, halfway through the journey after I had pedaled about twenty kilometres, I propped my bicycle against a mud-house in a village along the way, smiled at the owner who’d come around to see what the commotion was about, and hitched a ride on a two-wheeler to the temple. To my luck, the rider was headed to Tambdi Surla the village where the temple is located. Before I got off his scooter, he assured me that if I waited long enough at the turn in the road near the village I’m bound to find someone who would offer me a ride back the way I’d pedaled. “Then you can get off where you’ve parked your bicycle and cycle back home,” he said. Then he asked me why I had chosen to bicycle such a long distance – twenty kilometres in the middle of a Goan summer is a very long distance. I was drenched from sweat, and was wary of pausing for breath lest my legs cramp up. “I enjoy bicycling in the countryside, and thought the route to Tambdi Surla might be a challenge,” I replied.

The bicycle offered me an escape from the textbooks. That morning I started early, and stopped on the way at Khandepar for pao-bhaji at a local inn opposite the road to Opa that runs past the ancient Saptakoteshwar temple by the banks of the Khandepar River before culminating at Opa water works, the source of water for much of Goa. Years later, Ajay and I frequented the inn for mirchi-bujjiyas until the cook lost it quite inexplicably. The color of mirchi-bujjiyas turned to a consistent burnt red from the rich blend of pale yellow with a warm brown to it that we so enjoyed eating even as our mouths caught fire and eyes watered from ingesting the extra spicy green chillies cooked in besan. Later that year when my school closed for the vacations, I would return to Khandepar where I helped with paperwork at the tractor yard, getting them registered at Margao. I had a good time the three months that I cycled the six kilometers to Khandepar each day and back the same way. And, the days when there were no new tractor arrivals, I got back on the bicycle and pedaled further up, along the way to Bondla with the wind in my teeth. Those blue skies above me were irresistible.

After downing the pao-bhaji, I mounted the bicycle in the direction of Mollem, and just before the bridge over the river I pedaled past a narrow road to my left that goes up an incline before skirting a playground where a fig tree fruits in the summer and down a rocky slope where three caves cut in laterite face a fourth one in silence. They rest in the side of a gentle hill after they were excavated decades ago. Legend has it that Pandavas built it during their exile as they traversed the country. If it is true then their origin is set back by thousands of years. However, I’m perplexed by the sheer number of such caves around the country whose origins are attributed to the Pandavas.

When Jagdish and I visited the caves last April, A explored the narrow pathway cut in the banks of the Khandepar river that flows from under the bridge a short distance away, and sweeping past the bend that hid the bridge from us. Now, when I occasionally stop by the caves, I walk down the narrow pathway where it disappears beneath the river surface, and sit on the edge with my legs in the water. Invariably I spot a Kingfisher diving for fish from an overhanging branch. Usually I spot the White Breasted Kingfisher doing the honors; sometimes it is the Small Blue Kingfisher. I never tire of watching Kingfishers skimming the surface of the river at full tilt before taking up position on another of the many overhanging branches of trees that line the banks. Occasionally I spot a narrow dugout anchored to the bank with nylon ropes. If the water is clear, and chances are the water is clear in the summer, fishes are visible beneath the surface; sleek, black creatures.

Clumps of bamboo in front of the caves line the banks of the river. In spring time, Magpie Robins seek the upper reaches of the bamboo and let their melodies float in the breeze. Then the bulbuls join in and quicken the pace, letting out their own chorus. I used to try and separate the conflicting melodies in my mind but soon gave up. After a time, it really does not matter, they invariably mesh well together. Also, it was here that I saw a Tree Pie for the first time as it flew past me and into a tree to my right. Jasmine fragrances from plants that circle the caves trail me in the spring when I ride down to the laterite caves. I’ve rarely seen people visit the caves and it suits me just fine.

As I pedaled on the road in the direction of Mollem, a gentle breeze stirred in the mango trees along the route. Gulmohars were in bloom. Occasionally an Indian Laburnum (Amaltas) burst forth in golden melody in the brown hills. As I scoured the countryside for these bursts of colour, reveling in their enthusiasm, I remember thinking that I could not have been happier that summer. Ahead, a man in loin cloth herded his buffaloes to the side of the road near Usgao to make way for a Karnataka State Transport (KSRTC) bus on its way to Belgaum. It had left Panjim an hour and half ago, covering forty kilometers through the countryside. Belgaum lay 115 kilometres ahead. I slowed down behind the herd of nervous buffaloes before passing them in the cloud of red colored dust swirling in the wake of the bus where it had swerved off the road to make way for a mining truck hurtling from the opposite direction. Then more mining trucks passed us on the rutted road.

After I got off the scooter and thanked the scooterist for the ride, I walked the final stretch to the stone temple at Tambdi Surla, passing silent trees, and dodging the shadows they threw on the even quieter road. Traveling to Tambdi Surla, known to be home to the ‘only known specimen’ of Kadamba-Yadava architecture in basalt available in Goa, is a pilgrimage I’ve undertaken several times over the years. The fact that it nestles in the mountains, far away from tourist-traffic, often overwhelming, that other temples in Goa are witness to, starting with the end of monsoons in Oct-Nov, and petering off as Carnival comes around on the eve of the season of Lent when Christians fast and offer penance, makes it an attractive travel destination in my scheme of things. In two months time after the Carnival the first monsoon clouds wind their way across the Arabian Sea for their rendezvous with the Western Ghats. And I imagine the stone temple at Tambdi Surla, nestling in the Western Ghats mountain ranges, is among the first to welcome the monsoons to Goa.

The temple is situated in the Bhagwan Mahavir wildlife sanctuary. I particularly remember one trip when I was showing Jai around the place when he jumped up in alarm at seeing a Green Whip snake crossing his path. I set off in pursuit as it dodged stones and plants until I cornered it by blocking it path. Promptly it climbed up a small plant, curving up in classic Whip snake pose. As I moved cautiously in a semi circle, covering its exit, it swayed gently, as if undecided on its future course of action. It was a beautiful specimen; setting off its fluorescent green against the brown of the earth. I took pictures, framing it on the green plant. Then it left. However, photographing the Skink proved to be more difficult.

A flight of steps opposite the entrance to the temple leads to a stream below. It runs hundred-odd metres in the direction I had come before meeting a bigger stream where the road bringing visitors to the temple ends. For years, under a tree where the road draw up short, a flower seller had set up shop, selling coconuts, incense sticks, and flowers to devotees who offered them to Lord Shiva in the temple. My regular trips to the temple had induced a familiarity between us. “Visit Tambdi Surli during Mahashivratri,” he told me once. “It is quite a sight at the temple.” I nodded, and resolved to do so. Somehow I haven’t made it to Tambdi Surla during Mahashivratri. Now he is no longer the only flower seller there.

Where the road comes to an abrupt end not far from the tree, visitors cross a small bridge to get to the temple. From here, the temple unveils itself between branches of trees that crowd the cobbled path leading to the temple. In the spring of 2001, I took the flight of steps down to the dry stream bed in search of a Laughing Thrush whose call I had heard while exploring the length of the temple plot adjoining the stream. Instead, on rounded stones set off by brightly colored Gulmohar flowers blown free from Gulmohar trees on the banks of the stream, I saw several Skinks quick-stepping across the stones that littered the stream bed. It was awhile before I finally managed to take a picture of one skink basking on a stone amidst petals of Gulmohar flowers. By then I was sweating from chasing them only to find them disappear under the stones just when it appeared that I might pull off a good photograph.

Butterflies are aplenty in the wildlife sanctuary, and so are various lizard species. I particularly remember seeing a mass migration of Common Crow (a butterfly species) near Caranzol in early 2002, not far from the entrance to the wildlife sanctuary in Mollem. Philip and I had paused on seeing the sight unfold before us, dodging them lest we trample any. They must have numbered over six hundred. Three hours later when Philip and I returned by the same path there was no trace of them. On another sojourn to the temple, I managed to photograph a Common Crow as it rested under a leaf in a thicket by the temple. I suspect it was laying eggs though I couldn’t be sure in the gathering dusk. By then, Jagdish and I had spent the last daylight moments clicking a Forest Calotes on a plant near where we had gone to relieve ourselves. Talk of unlikely opportunities!

Later, as Jagdish and I sat on a large rock in silence watching several insects enact a riveting drama in a pool of water stagnating in a depression in the rock, I took my eyes off a frog that had disturbed a Stick insect in the pool to look at a Dragon fly that had landed on a bamboo shoot overhanging the small pool. Behind the Dragon fly, dusk had fallen, silhouetting it against the faint blue of the sky. An occasional noise in the jungle alerted us to life beyond the stillness where we sat on the rock, covered on all sides by vegetation, but from where we sat those noises took shape only in our imagination. Jagdish sat leaning on his hands stretched out behind him. His Pentax K1000 rested by his side. After several hours walking in the vicinity of the temple, looking for butterflies and birds we could photograph, he was relishing the drama being played out in the stagnating pool in front of us. Without getting up on my feet, I dragged myself forward, cautious not to startle the dragonfly and took a photograph.

As the shutter came down in a booming click, heightened by the silence, the Dragon fly took off.

42 comments:

anan said...

your untamed journeys give a therapeutic massage to this reader.

lovely pics

Anil P said...

To Anan: Thank you :)

Anonymous said...

The public polling for Asia Blog Awards - India Q1 has started at http://asiablogawards.com/?p=6

One of your websites was nominated and you may be interested in informing your readership (or voting for yourself).

Only one third of the contest is decided by public voting - judges and technorati rankiing decide the other components. In order to have the most accurate representation from the technorati component, we advise withdrawing sites from any blogroll alliances or link swapping schemes (sites that contain such things will be handicapped).

More details are at the site.

Best regards and good luck,

anjaly said...

simply brilliant. i always enjoy your posts! great pics too. which camera do yu use?

Anil P said...

To Anjaly: Thank you. It is nice to know that :)

I use a Nikon FM 10 fitted with a Sigma 28-110 mm lens. Occasionally I rely on a Quantaray 500 mm lens which I use with a 2X to extend the range to 1000 mm though the picture quality falls off.

Anonymous said...

ok, i dont understand much abt cams so i dont know whether the compliment goes to u or the cam -but the pics get better with each entry.. this lot's simply breathtaking.. but will be back to read the post at leisure :)

Swapna said...

Beautiful photographs.

Anil P said...

To Anon: Thank you. Both matter: the camera as well as the eye.

The light was good when I took these photographs and I could get sufficiently close to these species without alarming them. I had to get real close as I was shooting with a 110 mm lens which is not ideal to photograph wildlife.

To Swapna: Thank you :)

mental baba said...

This is an amazing blog that you have out here. I have only read this post but I guess it's just the tip of the iceberg. Great stuff and good luck for the Asian Bloggies thing!!

Anil P said...

To Mental Baba: Thank you, for your comment about my blog and your good wishes for the contest.

woman wandering said...

Hey thank you, this was a much needed journey. I can't find this in Belgium ... the land and Nature are so very tired here.

You wrote of things that made me homesick for New Zealand.

Anil P said...

To Woman Wandering: Maybe all it'll take is a bird singing outside your window to bring you home, away from home.

kenju said...

Anil, thanks so much for the visit. I hope you come back. I have enjoyed reading your posts this morning, and I wish I had more time, but I will be back. Your writing is excellent.

Anil P said...

To Kenju: Thank you.

Pauline said...

With vivid descriptions and inspired photography, you have introduced me to a new world. You show a reverence and appreciation for nature I share. Thank you.

colleen said...

The first line and photo go well together.

My husband and I once hiked 8 hours to the Havasupi Reservation in the Grand Canyon and took a helicopter out!

Anil P said...

To Pauline: Thank you. It's a pleasure to know that. Nature deserves all the appreciation and reverence we can show.

To Colleen: Thank you.

Cindra said...

anil p-that is an amazing, magical, misty image. i love it!

Cindra said...

okay, previous reference was to the dragon fly. all of your images are powerful, well composed, and of subject matter most only dream about...or haven't imagined yet. you have a beautiful blog. don't know which is more vivid in imagery...your writing or your photos! well done!

thanks for coming by my blog, too.

i'll be back!

Tanya said...

Thanks for the visit :) Great images and text.. I am going to read the rest of your site but just wanted to ask if you saw the notice about the sunrise silent film? I am looking for sunrise photographs from around the world.. see here www.sunlightsilentfilm.blogspot.com
If you are interested let me know
Have a great day
Tanya

Josie said...

Thank you for visiting my boring little blog.

What an ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS blog you have. You know, I work with a woman from Goa. Every Christmas she brings me a bebinka that she makes herself.

I would LOVE to visit India sometime. It looks wonderful and mysterious.

Josie

Anil P said...

To Cindra Jo: Thank you. You're most welcome.

To Tanya: Thank you. Yes, I saw the notice. If there're any I can pull out from my collection I'll send them in. That's a nice idea you're working on. What's the timeline before you come up with the film?

To Josie: Thank you :)

Bebinca, Oh, yes. How can I not remember it :) Very true, it's wonderful and very mysterious. You must visit it sometime. Thank you.

Britmum said...

I can't beleive you still visit my blog. Thank you......

I must spend time at yours. You have some incredible inspiring stuff.

Take care

Britmum said...

P.S. Can I add you to my blog roll?

Saffron said...

Gorgeous images! I particularly like the dragonfly - lovely!! :)

Anil P said...

To Britmum: Sure, you can. Thank you.

Saffron: Thank you. Yes, the dragonfly picture is not something I can forget for, when I took that photograph, the light was falling quickly, and it came on the back of calls of Hornbills in the vicinity as I said a silent prayer, hoping the dragonfly wouldn't move before I took its picture.

Scrapnqueen said...

You take lovely photographs. Thanks for visiting my blog.

For another photo of the river during full-on summer, see this post.

Goa is one of my absolute favourite places in the world. I hope that my husband and I can visit it again someday (sooner rather than later!)

Vijay said...

Anil,Great posts.. wonderful pics...

vibhor said...

lovely pictures...
espacially, that last one, of insect...

susan said...

I like your photos, beautiful!

Mridula said...

Tambdi Surla brings back fond memories. It was the starting point of our trek we did in Goa through YHAI. But my pictures look so pale in comparison :)

And when are they declaring that award? Or is it that I have missed it? Hving been lying low, too much work but now it seems I might have some more time.

Anil P said...

To ScrapnQueen: Thank you. The picture shows the serenity of the place well though I would've loved to see pictures of flowers growing there.

Goa is indeed a lovely destination though rampant tourism has imploded certain coastal pockets in the state, but the hinterland holds a certain mystique for the explorer.

To Vijay: Thank you.

To Vibhor: Thank you.

To Susan: Thanks :)

To Mridula: Thank you. Until the time the Goa Govt. decided that it is a waste of time and effort to plug the roof of the temple with natural mortar, the kind the original builders used or something close to it, and instead plastered it with cement like they would a compound wall of a Govt. office in India, the temple at Tambdi Surla truly looked one with its setting in the jungle. Then there is the small matter of Cement Garden benches that the Goa Govt. encircled the temple with. The choice of seating arrangement they made and the material (cement) they constructed it from could not have been more jarring with the aesthetics of the Stone temple.

As for taking pictures on a YHAI trek (I've been on one of their 5-day camp-trek programmes), it's never easy getting good pictures during a group trek, not when you've to catch up with the group who're trekking to reach a destination and back and are in a hurry to do so. And specially not when others in group hurry you up all the time. All this and more leaves little flexibility to wait for proper light, and perspectives. Then there is that 'eye for a picture' thing to take care of.

For getting good pictures go along with folks who're out to photograph, and to whom the journey is a destination in itself and be prepared to wait for the moment as they say :)

I've no idea when they're declaring it. There're several categories in the Asia Blog Awards, and once the Voting is finished for the whole lot, they'll announce the Q1 winner and the cut-off list, then they'll call in for nominations again, for Q2. Post Q4 the overall winner will be declared.

~*. D E E P A .* ~ said...

hi ... thanx for stopping by

ur travellogue made for an interesting read

and the snaps are too good

Anil P said...

To Deepa: Thank you :)

Canary said...

the pictures r some of the best i have seen!!! :)

Canary said...

the pictures are awesome.. u almost clik like a pro! or r u one? :)

chiefbiscuit said...

Thank you - an India I never knew existed ... wonderful, beautiful.

Rohini said...

Your pictures are just beautiful. Do you do this for a living?

Anil P said...

To Canary: Thank you. Nope, I'm not a Pro.

To Chiefbiscuit: Thanks for visiting. India's soul lies in its nooks, away from the spotlight.

To Rohini: Thank you. Not as of now, but it might not be a bad idea to make pictures pay for a living :)

Rai said...

I love dragonflies! This snap looks BEAUTIFUL ... and I see, you have good hands in photography ... carry on capturing such rare moments !

And hey, thanx for visiting my blog :-)

Anil P said...

Rai: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

michael said...

You have been able to capture the beauty of Thambdi Surla in words and the pics were an added bonus. It helped me relive the brief time I spent there recently. I Enjoyed reading your blog. Keep it up and continue writing about the roads less traveled in Goa.