By Maria de Lourdes Bravo da Costa Rodrigues
Before either the Mandovi or the Zuari bridges were constructed, I used the ferry boat to get across the river.
The ferry boats plied from one ramp to another, across the river. Earlier, there used to be only one ramp on each side, but as traffic increased another ramp was built and the number of ferries crossing the rivers increased. Having a single ramp was inconvenient for the passengers, specially at peak hours. There were no timings to be observed and the ferries would cross, once they were filled to capacity.
The ferries were connected to the ramp by wooden planks called shigdi in Konkani. People and vehicles walked over these planks to board or alight the ferry. These planks had hooks at one end, which were used to fit and fix the ferry. The planks were left on either side of the river on the landing. When the ferry reached one of the sides, the planks were pulled using long iron rods that had hooks to facilitate holding of the planks.
Placing the planks at the right place was important and needed some skill. This was required especially when four wheelers had to move in and out of the ferry. The drivers also had to be skillful and be able to maneuver the car on the narrow planks or risk falling in the water. There was a system and discipline followed by passengers while boarding the ferry. Firstly, all the vehicles would move in - two wheelers followed by four wheelers. Last came the passengers. Similarly, after mooring, the people would move out first, and then the vehicles. However, some people who were in a hurry to reach their destination or board a bus would jump from the ferry ramp without waiting for the attendants (kalasi) to set the planks. Some of the youngsters and agile passengers would jump even before the kalasis threw the rope to moor the ferry. Funny scenes were sometimes witnessed when a person fell into the water instead of a dry ramp or he/she broke a strap of a sandal or slipper in the process.
Traveling across the rivers was cumbersome. Those who wished to travel from Panaji to Margao or Vasco-da-Gama had to first travel up to Agacaim and go across the river Zuari by ferry for an onward journey. There were bus stands on either side of the river, one at Agacaim and the other at Cortalim. Taxi owners would wait for individuals to come and occupy seats. Each passenger would pay for his or her own fare. This was a practical and viable mode of transport for those who could afford to pay the higher fare of the taxi. In return, passengers had a comfortable trip spending minimum time. Many such ‘taxi sharing’ services were available in Goa in the past. However, at present, most of these services have been discontinued as traveling regularly by taxi has become expensive. The Panaji-Mapusa route and vice versa has still got has this service and has many passengers patronising the taxis, especially during the morning, afternoon and evening (after office) time.
While traveling to the north, one had to cross the river Mandovi and take a bus or taxi from the Betim bus stand and proceed towards Mapusa and from there onwards to their destination. At every such point (ferry wharfs) the passengers would alight and rush to buy tickets to cross the river. Some regular passengers carried monthly or annual passes. Passengers would queue up to buy the tickets at the ticket counter. Sometimes when the ferry was about to leave, people would rush into it. Some even jumped in after the wooden planks were removed. I would like to relate a joke I heard years back in connection with this practice: “One man saw the ferry near the wharf without the planks. He wanted to go across and since he was in a hurry he did not want to miss the ferry. So he waded through the water to climb into it. Some passengers helped him get in and one of them questioned him “arre tum kiteak utkan budon ailea? Ferry ajun Ponje paunk nam!”(Why did you wade through the water? The ferry has not yet reached Panaji).
The ferry was also a meeting point for regular commuters. The maximum time to cross a river would be fifteen minutes. In this span of this time people could have a nice chat and meet friends and make new ones. Some love affairs also bloomed during the ferry crossings. It was even an important spot for prospective grooms, who used to stand near the ferry wharf to see girls alighting from the ferry, for a better choice.
After the Mandovi and Zuari bridges were built, the ferry at Agacaim ceased completely to transport passengers. However, the one at Panaji continues to transport residents of Betim, Porvorim and nearby localities. The charm of traveling by ferry has been lost to many as today it is more convenient and practical to travel by bridge.