Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, India Part VI

By Mohan Pai
Caranzol forest with a stream – Pic by Mohan Pai


Dry-throated, foaming at the mouth,

maddened by the sun’s sizzling rays,

tuskers in agony of growing thirst,

seeking water, do not fear even the lion.

Tormented by the hot sun, a herd of wild boars

rooting with the round tips of their long snouts

in the caked mud of ponds with swamp-grass overgrown,

appear as if descending deep into the earth.


A cobra overcome by thirst darts his forked tongue out

to lick the breeze; the brilliance of his crest jewel

flashes struck by brilliant sunbeams; burning

from Summer’s heat and his own fiery poison

he does not attack the assemblage of frogs.


Rivers swollen by a mass of turbid waters

rush with impetuous haste towards the seas,

felling trees all around on their banks

like unchaste women driven by passion-filled fancies.


Infuriated by the thunder of the first rain clouds,

wild elephants trumpet again and again;

their temples spotless as bright blue-lilies are drenched

by the flow of rut with bees swarming over them.


The breathtaking beauty of rippling lakes

breathed on by a passing wind at daybreak,

where lotus and lily glow brilliantly

and pairs of live-drunk geese float entrancing,

suddenly grips the heart with longing.


Fields richly covered with ripening rice

where charming does roam in herds

are sonorous with the calls of damsel cranes,

Ah! What restlessness they arouse!


Cold, cold, with heavy dews falling thick,

and colder yet with the moonbeams’ icy glitter,

it with ethereal beauty by wan stars,

these nights give no comfort or joy to people.

From Kalidasa’s ‘Rtusamharam’ translated by Chandra Rajan

“Biodiversiy” encompasses the variety of all life on the earth. It is identified as the variability among the living organisms and the ecological complexes of which they are part, including diversity within and between species and ecosystems. The Mahadayi/Mandovi river valley which is part of the larger Sahyadri ecoregion and is a major centre of diversity.

Dense Forests of Chapoli – Pic Srihari Kugaji


The Mahadayi/Mandovi river valley comprises the Western Ghats zone on both Karnataka and Goa side across the crestline of the Sahyadris including Madei Wildlife Sanctuary and Molem National Park with an area of about 750 sq km. However, the Madei/Mandovi river basin in Goa comprise a much larger area of 1,580 sq. km. about 42% of Goa’s total geographical area.
On Goa side, the narrow coastal plains lead eastward to hills ascending about 1,200 metres. The isolated peaks are Sonsagar or Sosodurg (3,827 ft.), Catlanchimauli (3,633 ft.), Vaguerim (3,500 ft.) and Morlemchogar (3,400 ft) all in Sattari taluka of North Goa falling in the Mahadayi valley region.
The coastal plains traversed by estuarine rivers of which the Mandovi river has the largest river system network with several estuarine and riverine islands. The Mandovi plains of Goa comprise an intricate system of wetlands, tidal marshy areas and cultivated paddy fields (Khazans), all intersected by canals, inland dykes, bays lagoons and creeks. The Mandovi and the backwaters in the hinterland are governed by regular tides which go up to 36 km upstream (beyond Ganjem).
While some protection has been afforded to the Madei Valley on Goa side through the creation of Molem National Park (240 sq. Km.) and Madei Wildlife Sanctuary (211 sq km.) The Karnataka side of the valley remains without any protection the area remains wide open for destruction.
Madei Wildlife Sanctuary – view from Parvad, Karnataka – Pic by Mohan Pai

Generally, the Sahyadris contain three distinct forest type – montane rain forests, moist deciduous forests and dry deciduous forest and all the three types are represented in the Mahadayi/Madei river valley.

Dense tropical evergreen forests of the valley – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

The montane rain forests support the highest level of biological diversity in the Mahadayi/Madei valley. They are extremely rich in endemic species, which occur nowhere on earth. These evergreen forests thrive in areas with high rainfall (more than 2000 mm), mostly along the western escarpment of the Ghats. The Mahadayi and its tributaries originate in these forests. At low and medium elevation, this region typically features towering evergreen trees up to 45 m tall, draped with climbers, woody vines and epiphytes. Bamboos canes and palms make up the thick, dark under story and the forest floor supports dense ground cover.

Fungal diversity – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

Like the montane evergreen forests, the moist deciduous forests occur in areas of high rainfall (more than 1500 mm). These forests contain primarily deciduous species, which lose their leaves seasonally. This is the main forest type of Goa, covering more than half the catchment area of the Madei river (Molem, Valpoi, Anmod Ghats).
Dry deciduous forests occur on the leeward side of the Sahyadris with lower precipitation and the eastern part of the Mahadayi valley in Khanapur taluka exhibit this type. Trees here grow to a height of 25 m. And the vast majority of plant species lose their leaves during the dry season. These forests may not have high biodiversity but they provide valuable habitat to large herbivores like elephants and bisons and carnivores such as leopard and tiger.

Sapium insinae – one of the most poisonus plant in the Sahyadris – Pic by Mohan Pai
The valley is a scenic treat and one of the richest reservoirs of biodiversity in the world and reflects the complexity in plant animal and bird life and is home to endangered bat species. The valley is comparable to the Silent valley of Kerala in its significance and an important biological and ecological remaining pocket in the Western Ghats.


Utricularia reticulata – Insectivorous plant. Pic by Mohan Pai

Goa’s four wildlife sanctuaries are located on the eastern flank of the state in the Western Ghats section covering an area of about 750 sq km which makes Goa the only state in India which has protected the complete Western Ghats section within the state.

Entrance to Bhagwan Mahveer Wildlife Sanctuary, Molem – Pic by Mohan Pai
While the Madei Wildlife sanctuary (Sattari – 208.48 sq km) and Bhagawan Mahavir wildlife sanctuary and Molem National Park (Sanguem – 240 sq km) fall within the Mandovi basin all sanctuaries are but a contiguous belt on the eastern border of Goa.
Molem Sanctuary – Pic by Mohan Pai

These are all thick monsoon forests that hold a great reservoir of biodiversity. The forest type include montane rain forests, moist deciduous and dry deciduous forests.

Mappia foetida – Pic by Mohan Pai
The whole area is a rich repository of medicinal plants and herbs wich are in great demand by Pharmaceutical MNCs abroad e.g. Mappia foetida used for the treatment of ovarian and colon cancers.



Mangroves are highly specialised ecosystems, which grow salt water resistant plants in the inter tidal areas along sheltered seacoasts and estuaries in the tropical region.

Mangroves of Cumbarjua Canal – Pic by Mohan Pai
Various biotic communities associated with mangroves form a complex food web and provide wide services to the livelihood of coastal people.
The most prominent and extensive back-waters with mangroves are located to the east of Panaji. The total area of mangroves along the Mandovi and Cumbhajua canal is about 900 ha. Mangroves harbours some wild life which includes otter, fishing cats, monkeys and snakes.


Mangroves of Chorao Island – Pic by Mohan Pai

More common are birds like herons, storks, sea eagles, kites, kingfishers, sandpipers, tits,bulbul and whistlers.
The dominant trees in the swamps are species of Myristica. Wild relatives of species that yield nutmeg and mace. The swamps are also richly endowed with wild relatives of other plants. Unfortunately Myristica swamps are highly threatened due to human intervention. In Valpoi there exist a few patches of Myristica swamps and this endangered ecosysyem needs to be conserved.

 Sacred Groves

Forests have been the lifeline fo tribals and other forest dwelling communities since distant past. Communities have been setting aside certain patches of land or forest dedicated to a deity or village God, protected and worshipped called Devachirai in Goa.

Niramkarachi Rai – the sacred grove at Nanode, Sattari – Pic by Mohan Pai
Goa had an extensive distribution of the sacred groves and few have survived till today. Most of the sacred groves that have survived are in Sattari and Sanguem talukas. Ranging in size from less than a hectare to many hectares, sacred groves are often the only remaining haven for plants and animals in areas with destruction of their natural habitat. Ajobachi Rai in Sattari taluka is the largest sacred grove in Goa spread over 10 ha.


Icons worshipped in a sacred grove in Sattari – Pic by Mohan Pai

Traditional Horticulture

“The main crops of the traditional horticulture of the valley are Coconut, Betel nut, Cashewnut, Banana, Jackfruit, Mango, Bhirand or Kokum, Pineapple and a variety of gourds.

CASHEW APPLE: The nuts are first removed and processed and have a large local as well as exportmarket. The cashew apple is first smashed, and then fermented to be made into the famous liquor- the Cashew Feni.

Goa is associated with a large variety of choicest mangoes. These include Mankurad, Mussarat, Fernandin, Hilario, Xavier, Bishop, Afonso, Furtad, Costa, Sakri, Rosa,Goa Alfonso, etc.

The Kadambas (1000-1350 AD) and later the Governors of Vijayanagar promoted mango orchards in Goa close to temple complexes and in their capitals. The local village associations- the gaunkaris also brought large areas under mango cultivation. Although crude methods of grafting were already known in India, the Jesuits helped perfect the art of mango grafting in Goa. Bernardo Francisco da Costa founded the first canning factory in Goa, the first in India in 1882 and exported Goan mangoes ias slices in syrup as well as in jelly form. The area under cultivation of mango in Goa is 3,700 hectares, yielding about 35-40,000 MT

Cashew is one of the largest plantation crops in Goa. They are grown on hilly sides, mixed with other vegetation or scattered on open pastures. The largest size is reported from Sattari, Bicholim and Bardez talukas. Cashew was introduced in Goa by the Portuguese during 16th Century basically as a soil conservation crop. Today a total of 44,520 hectares (28%) of the total crop area is under cashew plantation. About 10 lakh litres of cashew feni are produced annually which fetches the State of Goa around Rs. 80 – 90 lakhs / year.
The second major plantation crop in Goa is the coconut. Most families in Goan villages rear coconut trees. The staple diet of Goans being Fish Curry & Rice, coconut curries are an essential ingredient of the daily diet and Goans are generally incapable of making curries without the use of coconut. Most sweets in Goa are generally made out of a mixture of rice and coconut. The other element of the coconut tree is that the toddy is used in the production of jaggery and vinegar as well as in the manufacture of feni, another variety of liquor.Coconut is one of the nature’s wonder trees and is responsible for a sustained generation of a varied number of biodegradable products, still largely used in the villages. Besides oil and oilcakes, which are fed to the animals, the trees produce fibres for ropes and matting. Coconut tree trunk is used to make rafters for roofs. Leaves both dry and green are used for making baskets and thatches to protect Goan homes, particularly windows and balcaos during heavy monsoon. The ribs of the leaves are used to produce brooms.
The area under arecanut is around 2000 hectares and almost half of it is in Ponda Taluka. The areca palm is much more delicate than the coconut tree. It requires abundant irrigation during the hot summer months and could therefore be beneficially cultivated in kulagars. Areca is basically a shade loving tree and grows best in the company of other fruit bearing trees.

 Other plantation crops grown in Goa are the bamboo, the banana and mango. Bhirand / kokum is also an important plantation crop which forms a part of daily diet. It is used as a garnish to give an acidic taste to curries and vegetable as well as in the preparation of cooling kokum syrup during the hot summer months.

Bhinnas or Kokum is a very sourfruit which is used as an ingredientin the local curries.Picture shows‘Sollas’ (dried condiments) from Kokum, Otomb and raw mangoes.


Wildlife in the Valley


Thickly forested area of the Mahadayi/Mandovi valley cover about 750 km on both Karnataka and Goa side. The wildlife in the valley more or less represents that of the Western Ghats with some species of bats which are endemic to the valley. According to a study carried out by Belgaum Nature Lovers’ Club , the fauna of the area includes 25 species of mammals including tiger, black panther, bison and elephant; 15 varieties of reptiles including King Cobra, 128 varieties of birds like the Malabar whistling thrush and Malabar pied hornbill; 29 varieties of Butterflies and moths that include the largest butterfly in the subcontinent – the Southern Birdwing.

Theobald’d Tomb Bat is a rare species of bats found in Krishnapur caves in the Mahadayi Valley – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

 The valley is home to two rare species of bats – Wroughton’s Freetailed bat at Barapedi caves and Theobald’s Tomb bat at Krishnapur.

Krishnapur Caves, just 2.5 km from Goa border – home to the endangered Theobalds Tomb Bat – Pic by Srihari Kugaji

Wroughton’s free-tailed bat


Thomas (1913) was the first author to describe the species found only at a single site in India – Barapedi Caves at Talevadi in the Mhadei River Valley in Karnataka – Wroughton’s Free-tailed Bat which are peculiarly structured and highly specialized species belonging to the order of Chiroptera.

Wroughton’s Free-tailed Bat of Barapedi Caves – Pic by Niranjan Sant

It is a large sized insectivorous molossid bat with a stout tail projecting conspicuously and with large ears of variable forms. Its colour is rich, glossy dark brown with white border on each flank. The population of these rare and endangered bats is very low. The species has been brought recently under Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act – Schedule I and a complete ban is imposed on its collection for any academic or research purpose.

The Barapedi cave in which it resides is located at an altitude of 800 m. (2,600 ft.) And the cave itself is small – only about 40 m deep, 25 m wide and 6-7 m high with corners, permanent patches of water and high degree of humidity. These bats take shelter in small or big groups of 2 to 15 or even more individuals deep in the crevices, cracks or holes. They remain silent and hence it is very difficult to locate the groups and determine the colony size. This bat was thought to be restricted to only Barapedi habitat in the entire world but recent research has revealed the presence of this species in north-eastern India and Cambodia.

Between the 21st and 26th of May, 2002, the University of Victoria, B.C., Canada, witnessed a most significant event, the International Children’s Conference on the Environment 2002. Eleven-year old Vivek Danewale came half-way around the world from Belgaum, India with his campaign to save the Wroughton’s Free-tailed Bat.


Of the 48 species of mammals identified in the Western Ghats, the Mahadayi/Mandovi Valley has a fair share of the mammals diversity. The main species are:

Primates ( Common langur, Bonnet macaque, Slender loris, etc),

Cats: (Leopard or panther, Jungle Cat, Leopard Cat, Rusty Spotted Cat)

The Civets: ( Small Indian. Common Palm Civet, or Tody Cat)

The Mongoose (Common Mongoose, Stripedneck Mongoose, Brown Mongoose)

The Dog Family ( Jackal, Indian Fox, The Dhole or Indian Wild Dog)

The Bear Family ( Sloth Bear)

The Ground Shrew, The large Brown Flying Squirrel, The Three Striped palm Squirrel, The Five Striped palm Squirrel,. Funambulus PennantiGiant Squirrels.The Indian Giant Squirrel, The Indian Porcupine, The Blacknaped Hare

The Indian Elephant

 The Gaur or Indian Bison

 Deer: (The Sambar, Chital or spotted Dear, The Muntjac or Barking Deer, Mouse Deer)

 The Indian Wild Boar

Gaur is Goa’s State Animal


Indian Rock Python, Whitaker’s Sand Boa, Common Sand Boa, Red Sand Boa, Common Wine Snake,Beddome’s Keelback, Striped Keelback, Checkered Keelback, Banded Racer,Common Indian Cat Snake, Collared Cat Snake, Sri Lankan Cat Snake, Ornate Flying Snake, Copper headed Trinket snake, Indian Trinket Snake, Common Bronzeback, Tree Snake, CommonWolf Snake, Yellow Spotted Wolf Snake, Taravancore Wolf Snake, Banded Kukri Snake, Streaked Kukri Snake .
King Cobra

Indian Rat Snake, Indian Krait, Black slender coral Snake, Monocled Cobra, Spectacled Cobra,King Cobra, Brahminy Blind Snake, Russell’s Viper, Saw Scaled Viper, Hump nosed pit viper, Green Pit Viper, Malabar Pit Viper, Ocellate Shield Tail .

Lizards Skinks and Geckos


Chameleon – Pic by Amrut Singh
Green Forest Lizard, [Sourthern], Elliot’s Forest Lizard, Roux’s Forest lizard, Common Garden Lizard, Western Ghats Flying Lizard, Fan Throated Lizard, Bronze Grass Skink, Keeled Grass Skink, Dussumier’s Litter skink, Beddome’s Cat skink, South Indian Rock Agama, Asian House Gecko, Termite Hill Gecko, Spotted Rock Gecko, Reticulated Gecko, Kollegal Ground Gecko, Bengal Monitor.


Goa is called ‘the Birdwatcher’s paradise’ The valley has more than 350 species of birds which include jungle fowl, woodpeckers, barbets, Malabar grey hornbill and Malabar pied hornbill, kingfishers, cuckoos, owls, nightjars, gulls, cormorants, egrets, herons, orioles, minivets, thrushes, bulbuls, magpies, canaries, robins, swallows, warblers, etc.

Indian Flying Fox, False Vampire bat, Short nosed fruit bat, Painted Bat, Wroughtons Freetailed Bat, Theobald Tomb Bat.

The area is home to innumerable species of invertebrates which include ants, bees, wasps, beetles butterflies, etc. Southern Birdwing, the largest butterfly of the subcontinent with a wing span of 19 cm is commonly seen in the valley. Grass Jewel, the smallest butterfly with a wing span of 1.5 cm is also found in the valley.


Tailless Whipscorpion – This is not a true scorpion and appears more like a spider. It is an arachnid (anthropod with eight legs and 2 body parts) and a cousin to scorpion and spider. There are about 60 species worldwide generally found in warm climate


The total forest cover of the valley between Karnataka and Goa is approx 750 sq km of which more then 50% lies (450sq km) in Goa. The reduction in the waters of Mahadayi will not only decimate all these forests but will also affect the remaining forests especially in terms of the wildlife of the south eastern forests of the Sahyadris in Goa consisting of Netravali and Cotigao sanctuaries (297 sq km) as this forms a contiguous belt of forests in Goa. In other words the entire belt of protected forest areas that form the contiguous area amounting to 755 sq km will be decimated. The same fate is likely to befall the Bhimgad forests and the protected forests of Anshi National Park and Dandeli located in Uttara Kannada district just south of the Mahadayi river and valley in Karnataka and Amboli forests of Sawantwadi in Maharashtra to the north.

Environmentalists, conservationists and various groups and NGOs have been crying hoarse for decades over saving the Mahadayi River Valley on the Karnataka side. And the valley remains without any protective measures from the Government side and therefore wide open for destruction.

Non-governmental organisations and peoples’ groups in the three states proposed that the entire area along with other contiguous forests of Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra be declared as the Sahyadri Ecologically Sensitive Area as it is very fragile and under various threats. However, there are no signs of the MoEF taking any decision on this issue. There has also been proposals for setting up a biosphere reserve or designating the Mahadayi Valley in Khanapur as Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary but these proposals are also facing considerable resistance and the files are gathering dust.

At a smaller level, groups such as Paryavarni, Nature Lovers’ Club in Belgaum, the Samaja Parivarthana Samudaya in Dharwad and Madei Bachao Andolan and Vivekananda Environment Brigade in Goa have been raising concerns and so have villages like Nerse in Khanapur who have now formed the Nerse Parisara Samrakshana Samiti.

On Goa side, the Valley is protected to some extent through the creation of Bhagavan Mahavir Wildlife Santuary and Molem National Park(Total protected area: 240 sq km) in Sanguem taluka and Madei Wildlife Sanctuary(Protected area: 208.48 sq km) in Sattari taluka and Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary (Protected area: 8 sq km) in Ponda taluka. Fortunately for Goa, the entire eastern Sahyadri zone is protected through the creation of two more Wildlife Sanctuaries along the eastern border – Netravali and Cotigao. There is now a contiguous strip of protected forests stretching along the entire length of Goa which act as a corridor for the movement of wildlife.

Goa has also set up a bird sanctuary – Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary on Chorao island with an area of 1.8 sq km. The whole area has mangrove vegetation.The sanctuary has colourful resident and migratory birds and it is a habitat for plankton, shrimps, prawns and small Fish.

Protected Areas of Goa.

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