We all know that an island is a piece of land surrounded by water. Whenever we talk of any island, the first thing that comes to mind is the blue sea and the piece of land within it. Which is absolutely correct if we go by the definition and the classification of a true island. Though we must not forget the other contenders in this category found within the river waters formed by various geomorphic deposition. This post is on two such islands on the river Mandovi in Goa.
Mandovi river is also known as Mahadayi or Mhadei river. It originates in Bhimgad in Karnataka and flows West to enter Goa, traverses through the state before draining into the Arabian Sea. In its final course of flow before meeting the sea, it gave birth to three isles known as Chorao, Vanxim and Divar. I wished to visit these islands since I came to know about these isles and see the other side of the state which is known for its beaches.
Finally, the opportunity arrived and I was in Goa and these islands were all that I had in my mind before traveling. While devoting my attention and time to several other things, I missed doing my homework before reaching Goa. So I was there with no proper plan, just an ardent wish to see the islands.
All that I could recollect from my knowledge was that I had to take the ferry from Ribandar jetty to Chorao and Divar islands. Just to confirm, I did a quick Google and then we drove straight to the Ribandar jetty. On reaching the Ribandar Ferry wharf we came to know that there is another wharf a few meters ahead known as St Pedro Ferry Terminal, that connects the mainland to Divar while this jetty ferries to Chorao.
We decided to visit Divar island first and went to St Pedro wharf. The vessel arrived and along with other vehicles, we too boarded. The ferry service is operated by the River Navigation Department of Goa to connect the islanders to the mainland. No tickets are required for people and two-wheelers while a meagre amount of Rs 10 is charged for the four-wheelers. The ticket collector comes to every car and collects the money and hands over the ticket in the vessel itself.
There is a ferry service every at an interval of 10 mins. We could see the small wharf on the Divar island. It was a journey of 10 minutes and soon we reached the small isle. I thought of moving through the streets of the isle and see whatever attracts me as I missed doing my homework and chalk out the route. No worries, I am much more inclined to such aimless loitering than to cling on to a planned route to a definite place.
Strangely our internet stopped working and we were all by our own to navigate through the lanes of this peaceful isle. I welcomed this opportunity to get lost roaming in the narrow streets of this small island. I met a resident, Mr Chandrakant, waiting near the jetty for her daughter who was supposed to come from the mainland in the next ferry. He told us about the peaceful life the locals live here and how much they love their isolation from the outside crowd. They are also against the construction of any bridge to facilitate movement from the mainlands which may in turn increase the crowd flow.
The traffic-free empty lanes seemed to be the perfect getaway to get lost in the greens of the hinterland. The greenery is dotted by pretty bungalows and villas built in the Portuguese style of architecture; most of them were well maintained while a few looked to be abandoned. The affluent villages had a considerable amount of both Hindu and Christian population. A group of three villages; Piedade, Malar and Naroa initially constituted the island of Divar, later Piedada was subdivided into Goltim and Navelim.
The original inhabitants of this island were Konkani Hindus. With many temples like Sree Ganesh, Sree Mahamaya and Sree Saptokeshwara, this island was an important pilgrimage centre for the Hindus and was known as “Porne Tirth”. With the Portuguese colonisation of Goa in the 16th century, this island was one among the first places to be Christianised. In this course many temples were destroyed meanwhile the idols were removed by the Hindus to the safety of other places in the mainlands, later the new temples were built in those sites.
The word Divar came from the Konkani word ‘Divadi’ (which originated from the word ‘Dipavati’ meaning small island.) The ferry is the lifeline of this island as there is no road connection. Although the Konkan Railway line passes over this island there is no railway station and the residents have to travel to the nearest Carambolim railway station to board the train. Divar is served by four ferry terminals – Goltim terminal connects to Old Goa, the other connects to St Pedro in Ribandar, the Naroa terminal connects to Narve and the last one called the Amboi terminal connects it to the neighbouring tiny isle of Vanxim.
With the lack of planning and the loss of the internet, we were kind of lost. There were not many people around as we moved through the streets so getting any human help for navigation was also difficult. We reached ‘Our Lady of Compassion Church’ on the hilltop of Piedade village. This old church was the first Christian religious establishment on this island. It was built on the site of an ancient Hindu temple from the Kadamba dynasty. The chapel within the church cemetery is said to be the remains of the Hindu shrine.
There is a small story associated with the bell of this church. The captain of a sinking ship once pledged to donate the bell of his ship to the church of the place where his ship sails into. He reached Divar and thus donated the bell to the church. It so happened that whenever the bell was struck, the glass windows of the church and the nearby houses were shattered by the sound vibration. Finally, this large bell was exchanged with that of Se Cathedral in Goa. One can still find the bell in the Se Cathedral in Velha, Goa.
The church offers a lovely panoramic view of the Mandovi meandering down below the hill with the view of Old Goa on the other side. We drove down the hill and then took our desired turns on the crossroad to finally find that we are moving round and round the same road. Then finally we asked a flower lady for directions to the other church. We reached the other church known as St Mathias church. This is another beautiful and old church within the green surrounding of a calm village.
Again puzzled we moved round and round the same roads, every turn we took ultimately brought us to the same crossroad. Finally, we decided to return back to the ferry terminal. Sadly we could not visit the Vanxim. I felt hiring a bike would have given us more flexibility to move within the island and explore it properly. Taking another road we reached the Goltim Ferry Terminal and returned back to Old Goa.
Next day we were again on the Ribandar ferry wharf to visit Chorao Island. Chorao Island is mostly known for Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary which is just beside the ferry terminal of the island. Chorao is also known as Choddnnem or Chodan which is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Chuddamanni’ (meaning precious stone in headgear.) The Portuguese settlers started calling it Chorao. The Gaud Saraswat Brahmins were the original settlers of this island and they called it as ‘Chodan’ or ‘Chodna’ going with the legend that Yashoda, the foster mother of Lord Krishna threw away diamonds from where this island was formed.
The Portuguese settlement here began during 1510 and soon a majority of the population was converted to Christianity. Gradually the Portuguese influence increased and many noblemen moved to stay on this island and it came to be known as Ilha dos Fidalgos (Island of Noblemen). Today, the island preserves the influence of both the Brahmin and the Portuguese in their culture.
The ferry arrived and we were on board with our vehicle moving towards the mangrove covered island of Chorao. In no time we were in Chorao and the gate to the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary was just beside. We went to get the entry tickets to the sanctuary where we were informed that due to high tide the path within the mangrove forest to the interior of the sanctuary was inundated and if we wish to go we could hardly go a few meters till the information centre but not beyond that. Seeing our sad faces they assured us that there are no birds this time of the year so it’s nothing to be so disheartened.
We entered the sanctuary and walked a few steps to the information centre and returned back to venture within the heart of the island. The ticket-man guided us with little inputs to move around the island. He said there are a couple of Churches and a few temples on this island. We set the Google map to Bartholomew Church and followed the direction to reach the old white church seated within the green.
With the pleasant breeze the trees kept shedding the dry leaves and the floor constantly got covers of dry leafy carpet with every gust of wind. It seemed to be a tough job for the local keeper of the Church who was seen with the broom trying to clean the outdoors. The sweet breeze and the rustling sound of the leaves beneath played a soothing music to the ears. It was so soothing and appealing that we could have spent the whole day sitting under the shade of the trees.
We drove through the streets and lanes to be on the road beside the backwaters. Far away stood a beautiful white church within the coconut groove. The sight allured us and as if beseeched us to be there. We followed the road towards the direction of the church. The road brought us straight to a ferry terminal where surprisingly a vessel was waiting. We absolutely had no idea that a river laid ahead of us and it was shocking to have the vessel waiting. We were at a point of no return as there was no place for U-turn and there was a vehicle behind ours.
Unwilling to leave the island so early we boarded the vessel. The church was still seen on the other side of the narrow river. Little did we know that the call of this beautiful church would take us out of this island. My expectation to move throughout the island came to an abrupt end. We did not know where we were heading to but only that it was towards the whitewashed church that we aimed for. After crossing the ferry we again followed the direction of the Church and finally reached our unknown destination.
Later we came to know it was the place known as Pomburpa and the narrow river that we crossed was Mapusa and our White Church was ‘Nossa Senhora Mae De Deus’ Church. We were in the mainlands and it was a strange mixed feeling of emotions – sad to leave the island too early as well as excited to explore an unknown in quest of another unknown.
Then we set our maps to Panjim and followed the road by the river towards the city. Meanwhile we came across another large and equally beautiful church facing the river. I went ahead to find the entrance of the church through the huge adjacent ground. The main entrance of the church faced the river and the narrow promenade was the only thing separating the church and the water. It seemed to be the perfect place of worship being so close to nature, resting in perfect harmony.
We reached the city as happy souls with the wish of visiting the islands fulfilled. My attempt to explore the islands of Mandovi may not be a total success and may also sound a little dull (or lacking excitement); to me it was strangely satisfying. My tale of two islands was a lovely feeling of exploring the unknown and delving into the pleasure of calm contentment.