The craggy hills covered with lush vegetation summit the skyline, below the rain forest expand as far as the eye can see. Molem, east of Goa is place that can boast of thick forest and tales of tigers that still haunt the winding ghats and jungles there.
Riding past the Goa check post into Karnataka where the highway gives way to jungles on either side. The nine o clock sun was glinting away on the steel of my bullet as I started to negotiate the ghat sections of Castle Rock. The road was bit bumpy but the breath taking scenery made up for it, I kept glancing between the road and scenic views trying to savor the feel of both. I heard a screeching sound behind me, it was a small car – overloaded with people trying to negotiate the turns with great difficulty, and yes me on my shining bullet showing them what easy really means. The eyes of envy were at large. The beautiful ghat eased out onto a winding forested road. Later on I passed a small village, took a sharp right turn which led to a forest dirt track with an idle bus stop which had “Castle Rock” scribbled on it by some good soul.
The track was beautiful with jungles heavily cladded on either side, the smell of the jungle replaced the fumes of the trucks and the peaceful easy feeling comes by. The track got difficult to negotiate, as it was riddled with manganese pebbles dropped off by the trucks, carried from the mines at Castle Rock. I reached the railway crossing that marked the old British Station “Castle Rock” here one can still see the small meter gauge tracks, one mustdisembark and wake up the sleepy attendant, who with a bewildered look opens the crossing and lets you pass by.
You are now into the Jungle, the heart of tiger territory. The area befriends tigers, as the forest is contiguous to the Dandeli Tiger reserve. The sheer thought of it got me excited and I thumped along hoping for the mighty tiger to cross the tracks and pose for a photograph, I would skip the autograph.
I reached a village shortly and after a brief discussion and vague direction set off riding on a dense jungle trail. The riding was bliss and my thoughts wandered, while my bullet thumped along happily. Cruch .. bang !! the bike shook and came to a sudden halt. The pegs of the bike were stuck between two rocks and stand had banged against the bottom. Cursed luck! I had to get down and manage the weight of the bike at the same time. Not a soul to help you after all you is now alone at the mercy of the jungle. I was inclined to look ahead of me and what lied ahead shook me up a bit, for ahead the track drop 10 feet !! into a river bed. Oooch The rocks saved me !! if it wasn’t for the rocks I would now be 10 feet under. Its was an arduous job to get the bike out and it took me a good 30mins until I was back riding, this time I made sure I was on a proper track and my wandering thoughts in check.
After Roaming and rambling the jungle tracks through out the day, 5 clock found me at tiny hamlet at a foot of the hill, the hamlet look deserted and all I saw were a few frightened face peeking through their huts. Very unusual, as I am rather used to the hospitality that is showered on a traveler from distance places. Eventually I caught hold of a lad and he related to me a ghastly tale “ lately sahib there have been some bad things happening in our jungle, our people have been found dead in the jungles with their eyes and livers and other body parts missing. Oh bad times are here, please leave sahib,’’ on later investigations I found out that these murders were a part of the racket of selling human organs which are in great medical demand in the large cities. Well the young lad also told me that there was a tiger in the area and his roars can be heard at night as he strides through the jungles. That was all I needed, got my water supply replenished and headed off to a grass piece of land near the foot of the hill, here I pitched my tent in earnest, got my warm clothing on and sat back with a peg of rum, all excited to hear the call of the tiger.
The sun dipped behind the silhouette of the hill leaving a crimson glow, the yearning call of a peacock “ meow meow ” while the lap wings cried out on their way home “did you do it did you do it”. The jungle was slowly settling down while the creatures of the night took over the realm of the dark. At last, the rising of the crescent moon broke the darkness, while I lit up a cigarette, sipped on rum and the smoke danced around in lazy circles of thought. “Hoop.. hoop hoop” my wandering thoughts were disturbed my an alarm call of a langur (fondly called the watch man of the jungles) on the far side of the hill, later a sambar answered back in excitement “honk honk” . I knew the game was a foot for the alarm calls of these animals denoted that a carnivore is on the prowl, thus warning the jungle’s inhabitants. If one listens carefully to these alarm cries, the path of the carnivore can be plotted out mentally as it descends the hill. That was exactly what I did, excitement was brewing up in the valley as a nightjar raised the alarm “chuk chuuuk chuck” I knew the carnivore (hoping it would be a tiger) was near at hand. Suddenly, in the jungle before me I heard the sawing call “har har ”, it was panther! The panther called occasionally as it finally crossed the valley accompanied by the alarms of the langur and other nervous creatures. It was simply beautiful and very entertaining; though the tiger had not made its presence yet. After a warm meal of noodles and beans I tucked away into my tent and fell asleep immediately.
Bang bang !! I jumped up, it was 3 am in the morning, what was happening, bang !! again. Well out there were the infamous poachers that plague our Indian jungles. I lit up a large fire, firstly to keep me warm and secondly to warn the poachers of my presence, just incase some trigger-happy poacher fires in the wrong direction. The embers died away and I fell asleep.
I awoke late the next day at around 10 am to an alive and chirping jungle with my eyes and liver still intact. After a quick cup of tea I was all packed and ready to leave. Once again I rode the delighted forest paths, which were criss-crossed with streams and the morning dew still trickled of the leaves and ferns. I left Castle Rock with fond nostalgic memories .. as the road ahead beckoned me .. for ahead those riding days and jungle nights will live on forever