Monday, May 9, 2011


By Dr. Nandkumar Kamat


GEOGRAPHY is a wonderful and exciting subject. It has however suffered vast neglect in our country. Goa is not an exception.
Smaller the state, more the ignorance of geography. A majority of students do not have a clear mental picture of Goa's geography. One is puzzled by the disinterest of science and humanities students, who don't think it necessary to know more about Goa's geography.
In the US, the National Geographic Society revolutionised geographical knowledge of citizens of all age groups. The National Geographic magazine reaches millions of subscribers in more than one hundred and fifity countries. Many Goans who've returned after working abroad, subscribe to this magazine. Every issue is a collector's item.
Geographic knowledge is not a luxury but an economic and educational necessity in our modern world. Those who speak of globalisation seldom know of geo- globography. Those who know something about the globe, generally have poor knowledge of the geography of their state or the country.
If one were asked to make geography interesting, where better to begin than to introduce it in a compact, user-friendly form by highlighting geographical and natural wonders. Knowledge of Goa's geography could be introduced in seweral ways -- by studies of the genesis of the west-coast landmass, the western ghats, by providing a chronological sequence of emergence of today's Goa, by combining geomorpholoical hydrographic features or by emphasising on the human elements; how settlements arose in Goa.
But the difficulty is that even 36 years after Liberation, 22 years afterthe formation of the Goa SSC & HSSC Board of Education, 12 years after the establishment of the Goa University, there is still no Atlas of Goa, neither a good (1:50,000) wall map with standard geographic details available anywhere.Government officials, teachers and students are managing with tourist-maps of Goa!
The Survey of India maps are classified and are not available to the public. The best map is the regional map of Goa, which is a colour-coded, foldable wall map, stressing on the land utilisation pattern as envisaged in 1989. There are no contours or hydrographic or physiographic features in the map. Even then, for Rs 30 it is a buy.
With all these difficulties in mind, I decided to compile at least one thousand geographically interesting facts about Goa. This article deals with seven. These have been selected not necessarily because they are the best natural wonders of Goa. Many of these "wonders" are everyday features, to the people who take them for granted.
Let each of these wonders tell you an interesting story. Each wonder has its secret. Let us explore these wonders, one by one: MARINE FOSSIL DEPOSITS OF CHICALIM
Some 10,000 to 25,000 years ago, the sea-level must have been higher than it is at present. As you travel by the Cortalim-Vasco road, after crossing Sancoale, wherever the road has been widened by cutting the laterite, a continuous winding deposit of white marine shells is seen exposed.
This marine fossil bed is sandwitched between two layers of lateritic soil. The upper layer seems to have been formed recently. Similar fossils are found on the other side of the Zuari river at Siridao on the paddy fields, which are at almost the same level.
These marine fossil-beds are not only interesting, but could also tell us much more about ancient climate and sea-recession. The best of these deposits are exposed at Chicalim. SOUTH-GOA'S STRAIGHT COASTLINE
A look at the map of South Goa district with draw your attention to the peculiar liner shape of the district's coastline from Majorda to Betul. Such linearity represents uniform seaprecession and a young coastline.
As compared to the interior areas of Goa, this coastal stretch seems to have been formed recently (6,000-15,000 years ago). Majorda, Varca, Betalbatim, Colva... many famous beaches are located on this linear coastline -- a trekker's dream- stretch.
This linearity was a function of protective sand- dunes which are today getting demolished. Once the dunes disappear, this linear-wonder will become a zigzagging nightmare, due to change in the coastal geomorphology under tidal action. KERI-PERNEM'S MAJESTIC ROCK-ARCH
This writer noticed this striking feature while trekking the Pernem coastline from the Keri-beach to Morjim many years ago. There are two routes to reach Arambol beach from Kerim along the coastline. One is via the coast and the other via the hillside.
The rock-arch forms a cave-like shelter near the hillside. When you enter the cave-like structure you realise it to be a massive arch which allows you to cross to the other side of the beach in a few minutes, while your colleagues walking along the coastline may need half an hour.
On closer inspection, the arch was found to be architectured by wave action. It is perhaps the only such passage in North Goa, but still it is less- investigated. WELL-OF-THIEVES AT BAGA
An interesting, layered rock formation is projected in the sea, just below the famous Baga Retreat House, looked after by the Jesuit Fathers. A deep, well-like structure, fully surrounded by massive rock-walls, except for a small opening, is known as "Choram Baim" (or, the well of thieves).
Sea-water gushes in this hollow, emitting a peculiar, metallic sound, which is so haunting and transfixing that it glues one to the site instantly.
These rocks are very old and may be remnants of the continental drift, which separated Goa from Madagascar and Antarctica. According to one tradition, thieves used to hide valuable items in the hollows of the rocks near the well, and thus it came to be known as choram (thieves) baim (well).
My interpretation is that 'choram' means a deep ditch, and hence the local name indicates a ditch- like deep geological formation influenced by the sea. THE TWIN HISTORIC HILLOKCS OF PARODA
One of the interesting topographic features of South Goa is the centrally-located, strategically formed Chandranath hill. Actually, there are two hillocks, with almost uniform contour lines and a triangular majestic elevation.
One hillock is 300m and the other is 350m high.
Originally known as Parvat, Prithviparvat or Paroda hills, these two magnificient peaks command the massive, fertile plains of Salcete and Quepem talukas between Mulem to Ambaulim and Talavardem to Sarzora.
Molem hill(175m) on the north, Adnem hill(161m) on the south, and Cuncolim(100m) hillock at the south-east form a triangle around this plain.
A meteorite fell on Chandranath mountain during the pre-historic period. A temple was built at that place during the Sata-Vahana period. The Bhoja kings developed this temple when they were ruling from Chandrapura -- today's Chandor at the foot of Paroda hill.
These hills are unique central watersheds of the Paroda river. There are no comparable landmarks in South Goa. In terms of location, topography, antiquity and natural charm. 'Chandrashila', the iron-meteorite worshipped in the temple, further adds to the mystery of this place. PARTAGAL-CANACONA'S GIANT BANYAN TREE
Goa boasts of some huge banyan (Ficus) trees. The one at Parcem-Pernem spellbinds you due to its height. But the giant banyan tree near the Vaishnavite Partagali Math (religious centre) at Partagal-Canacona standing close to the Talpona river bank is a charming creation of nature's phytoarchitectural skills.
It is a horizontal foliar-wonder. This tree, believed to be at least 2000 years old, is spread over a vast area which can encompass about one thousand people in its shade. The site selection for the Math, a local religious centre of prominence, in the fifteenth century might have been influenced by the presence of this banyan tree, regarded as being holy. It is a tree not to be missed. THE SACRED GROVE OF MORPILA-QUEPEM
Sacred groves are ancient, untouched, virgin, protected forests. There are hundreds in Goa. Some are small -- comprising just one giant tree, mostly banyan. Some are huge, like the 'Nirakarachi Rai' near Valpoi. But the most interesting of all is the sacred grove of Morpila in Quepem taluka.
It protects the source of a mountain stream called 'Paikacho Vhal' (stream of the forest-spirit Paik). To reach it, one has to remove any leather sandals, climb a steep gradient, enter a long tunnel of bushes, walk on fours as the tunnel gets narrower and narrower and then come out to witness a cascading spring emerging out of the heart of a dense forest.
Not a leaf has been lifted from this area for thousands of years. This makes the grove a repository of ancient, untouched biodiversity.
During our last visit, Dr. Jairam Bhat found new species of aquatic fungi in this place, not known to science. The (tribal) Velip community has zealously tabooed and guarded this place for centuries. It is not a picnic spot, so visitors will be turned back. Morpila's sacred grove is a wonder of nature because of its pristine habitat and undisturbed biodiversity.

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