Sanjeev V Sardesai
There is an old saying that ‘Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder’. This could not be more apt when we talk about the Ponda taluka – a huge basin of myriad forms of art – man-made and natural. These lands have accumulated the traits of the various entities – right from Mother Nature to every dynasty that held these lands under its sway.
The temples and their fascinating history and architecture; the churches and chapels; or the dargahs and mosques along with the artistes and artisans shine brightly – every aspect of the tangible and intangible heritage of Ponda is awe-inspiring and mesmerising.
One such structure is the fort of Mardangad that now lies in ruins. It was from here the committed army of brave ‘Mavlas’ under Sambhaji Maharaj, the Maratha king and son of Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj defeated the Portuguese forces led by the 33rd Viceroy of Portuguese India (1681–1686) Francisco de Tavora, who had to beat a hasty retreat, and was extracted by his forces to safer Tiswadi in an injured state, via Durbhat jetty.
But what really takes the cake is the Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary and Mini-Zoo (8 square kilometres). This sanctuary has been developed by the Forest Department, Government of Goa and is situated in the jurisdiction of the village panchayat of Usgao – Ganje, amidst the naturally bountiful hinterlands of Ponda.
This is a good destination for school children as they can see many wild animals, reptiles, amphibians and some exotic species, held in enclosures and at a safe range.
It is about 52 kilometres from Panaji via Ponda; or 38 kilometres from Margao via Ponda. From Ponda the sanctuary is about 20 kilometres.
If you have the time for an over-night outing Bondla can be a heavenly place to stay. You can opt for stand-alone eco-tourism cottages; there are dormitory accommodations also available for groups. However, do book in advance at the office of the Forest Department at Junta House, Panaji.
There is a wide range of wild animals held under large enclosures here which allow them to almost feel like they are in their natural habitat. While you can see the caged silky skinned spotted leopards, a Bengal tiger, the Indian bison or the gaur – the state animal of Goa, you can also view the wild bear, a hippo and an elephant, in their huge enclosures. It is amazing to see a large king cobra of almost 20 feet long, resting peacefully in his glass cage. So also the deadly Russell viper and the muscular Indian rock python are a treat to watch.
The other animals that you can see are the Malabar giant squirrel making its way slowly amongst the branches, and the common grey hornbill with his long beak and beautiful plumage. If you are lucky, you may even spot the state bird of Goa – the ruby or flame throated yellow bulbul, which has a very quizzical zoological name – Pycnonotus melanicterus gularis.
Out of around 1375 species of birds in the Indian sub-continent, Goa has sightings of almost 475 birds. Tourism entrepreneurs must, while respecting the laws of nature, promote ornithological tours, butterfly watching, nature photography and also organise nature walking trails in these sanctuaries. However, all care must be taken to procure the required mandatory permissions from the Forest Department, before venturing into these sanctuaries.
Do set out time around 12.30 noon to 2.30 p.m. to go to the enclosure where the deer are fed. You will be amazed at the variety of deer that make an appearance here, as they know the time of their feed. You can see spotted deer, sambar deer, the barking deer, and if lucky a mouse deer. One must however take care to respect the privacy and freedom of these wild animals and not make noise or be over adventurous to go too close. Besides being possibly gored fatally, you may also be liable for prosecution under the Forest Department’s stringent laws.
One can also see, touch and experience the state tree of Goa – Terminalia crenulata or tomentosa, which is locally called as the ‘matti tree’ or the ‘crocodile bark tree’. This tree holds potable water within its bark, just like the baobab tree of African origin.
Overall, a visit to Bondla can be a refreshing and a beautiful family experience, especially for children.