READY. SET. JUMP!
Words: NOLAN MASCARENHAS
Photographs: SAMEER MANGTANI
GREAT FROM Panjim, Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai
GREAT FOR Adventure-seekers
“Welcome to the jungle,” said the spider to the fly. Nestled deep in the heart of South Goa, the Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary has an eclectic range of flora and fauna. Painted billboards along the way inform you of the creatures inhabiting the jungle – the king cobra, the krait, the Russell’s viper and the common rat snake, the elusive leopard and many species of spider and scorpion. And, hidden deep within the forest is an extreme sport – canyoning. An exhilarating technique-oriented sport, it involves walking, abseiling, wading and swimming through waist-deep and open waters, scrambling, jumping and sliding down natural slopes. Imagine Indiana Jones’s wet dream.
Experienced guides direct each expedition. Being a moderate-risk activity, safety is paramount. Medical kits are on hand, helmets, harnesses, wet-suits and bottles of water are provided. After signing a consent form that’s more dissuasive than persuasive, you’re given instructions. One must be moderately fit, not afraid of snakes or spiders, and have no fear of water or heights. The jeep meanders up a road, and, a few grunts later, arrives at the destination. You tread a path of loose gravel, strewn with spider webs, no more than a few feet wide.
There are 75-degree inclines that get you huffing and puffing and the entire experience gives you the sense of a quest for lost treasure. The Upper Sauri Canyoning trail charts a distance of 3km in total, yet having barely crossed a kilometre, you can feel your legs starting to give way. You’re allowed multiple breaks, and the guides – Clement, Vlad and Philip – are a laugh riot, their jabber making the trek bearable.
When you finally make it to your jump-off point at the cliff’s edge, you realise there’s no turning back. The canyon puts you to the test, but the chances of conquering it are high, albeit with minor nicks and scratches and many stumbles. Below, the Sauri River makes its way over rocks and boulders. Deep in a cove resides Brian, the water snake, whom you might meet if you’re lucky. The guides will catch the irate reptile and make a formal introduction if you so fancy.
The end of this beginners’ course is far more theatrical, to say the least. As you tackle the last rappel against the gushing water from up above, you’re informed that the rope is a few metres short. The only thing you can do is let go! Don’t worry, the water embraces your fall tenderly, much to the impish grins of the guides above. A sense of accomplishment seeps through your tired bones and aching muscles and you feel like you could do it all over again. Maybe it’s just the adrenaline talking.
A great place at which to bed down on this trip is La Mangrove. A blink-and-miss eco resort in Katebag, it offers a modern tipi near a mangrove with only the occasional egret and Brahminy kite for company. The view transcends your senses to an alternative realm of peace and calm. The tipis come with open-to-sky bathrooms and thatched walls, with a common meeting and dining area right next to the mangrove. There’s free wi-fi and a delectable organic menu to choose from. This place is perfect for early risers, who can watch the sun rise from behind the riverbed far ahead with a cup of hot tea in hand.