Video credit: Wilfred D’Sa
The Salaulim Dam was constructed in the ’70s to provide water security to my small state of Goa. This dam would never have been constructed without the support of the villagers of Kurdi and Kurpem, who agreed to relocate voluntarily. Most of these villagers belonged to the farming community, and they were given land to build homes and for their farms. When you think of how many generations of their ancestors farmed the land they gave up for us, the mere act of opening a water tap in Goa reminds you of their selfless sacrifice.
Both villages now lie almost entirely submerged for much of the year and resurface for a few short weeks before the onset of the monsoons – our very own modern-day Atlantis. Ancestral land in India is sacred and worshipped in our villages. Even today these villagers return to the original site every year to spend time in solitude and relive their childhood. These are day visits as the villages are otherwise inhabitable with ruins spread all over the landscape. Portions of tarred road, some culverts and nallahs, remains of a chapel, collapsed roofs are the ghostly remains that emerge during this pre-monsoon period. The Someshwar temple is the only structure that has weathered the harsh conditions and villagers visit to worship their local deity. The temple itself has been relocated to the nearby village of Tillamol.
Xaxti Riders, a cycling group I have written about before, decided to ride to this Atlantis from Margao in South Goa. Though I often ride with them, this is one ride I did not want to do for two reasons: One, I did not want to go off-roading, and two, I did not want to let go of this opportunity to take photographs.
Fellow rider Wilfred D’sa offered me a ride in his SUV. We decided to drive along with the cyclists, quite like a support vehicle. Everyone assembled at 6 am at Margao, and the ride commenced at 6:30 am.
Driving past the villages of Quepem and Zambaulim brought us to the last leg of our journey which can only be handled by a 4WD. We had covered 35 kilometres with a pit stop for a light snack. The entire route was classic Goa in the rains. Well-tarred Goan roads seemed to be cutting a swathe through the thick foliage or lush green fields on either side, the clouds threatening a downpour.
My first sight of Kurdi was breathtaking. A few cyclists had already arrived and were cycling along the road which had resurfaced. The entire scene brought back memories of Dhikala in Corbett. The hills with the water in the foreground – everything was picture perfect, nearly. How I wished this landscape were alive with wildlife. Imagine a herd of elephants walking majestically along the path. That would have made such a perfect picture. I more than compensated with my colourful cyclists, who seem to breathe life into every space they inhabit.
Though the photographs I have showcased in this post make the landscape seem pristine, I have to admit that there was a fair bit of garbage strewn all over the place. Broken glass pieces, plastic waste and food packets. We, humans, are adept at leaving our mark wherever we go. I was deeply disturbed, but the pragmatic Xaxti riders were well prepared. They had brought along large garbage bags, gloves and tongs. Each rider participated in cleaning the entire stretch of land to the best of their ability. A vehicle was arranged to transport the garbage to a garbage processing unit. Cyclists seriously are a responsible and environmentally friendly species.