Sanjeev V Sardesai
Goa has a wonderful relationship with aquatic resources from time immemorial. Be it the monsoon rains, with the state receiving about 130 inches annually, or the mighty Arabian Sea, which amorously laps the shores, along the 105 kilometres coastline – Goa is sprinkled with an immense number of freshwater wells, ponds, lakes and rivers. In fact, the internal riverine waters have been used by many dynasties for their trade from the sea to the hinterlands.
Goan rivers share a ‘salty and sweet’ relationship in their existence here. The rivers are fed by fresh water sources or springs which originate either on Goan soil, or in the bordering states of Karnataka and Maharashtra. This water flows from the higher regions of the Western Ghats and the hinterlands, passing through picturesque villages, on their way to meet the Arabian Sea; however, somewhere down these watery trails, the sweet water joins the salty sea water and creates a zone of turbid semi-saline waters.
Goa also has a beautiful amalgamation of the land and sea waters in the ‘tidal lands’ or ‘khazans’, as the local people identify them. These are low lying lands besides the riverine trails, at a slight elevation above the water levels, allowing the high tide water to enter and cover them twice a day. This high tide water covers up to a kilometre of the river bank and has generated a living for many families, who over centuries have controlled the water flow to enable fish-netting and salt harvesting.
Goa’s river banks are fraught with thick vegetation of mangrove trees, which are protected under various forest and environment laws. These trees can be life savers, in case of tsunamis and floods, as they act as barriers to break the velocity of the waves. They also protect the coastline from erosion and act as river embankment protectors.
Another unique aspect of these mangrove trees are the “pneumatophores” or its roots, which grow upward and above the river beds, defying gravity. This carpet of spiny roots sticking out of the river muck is an excellent breeding ground for the fish, which come inland to spawn their eggs. These trees thus help in maintaining the quantum of the fish in the sea and rivers, which in turn caters to the needs of us, humans.
The Goa government has developed an excellent concept, on the very outskirts of the capital city Panaji. This is a must-visit-point, for every Goan. Just behind the Krishnadas Shama Central Library at the EDC Complex Pato, a beautiful promenade has been created in between the mangrove trees, and along the Rua de Ourem Creek. The access to this ‘Mangrove Promenade’ is from the security cabin side of the library complex.
The stilted wooden track has beautiful seating arrangements and is about a 100 meters long, laid out in a geometrical design. You can walk under the shade of these mangrove trees, which have been left unharmed and criss-cross the entire wooden stilted pathway, as you walk along. If you are lucky, you may be able to view a fish catch the insects which dare to venture near the waters.
Environment is finally being given its due in the tourism agenda. Such harmoniously co-existing projects, without unnecessary harming the environment are the need of the hour.
To the East of Panaji, and towards Ribandar village, along the historic causeway, are the salt pans or ‘meeth-agars’. These areas are a must visit and can be a great experience to watch. Operating annually between November to April, these low-lying fields in the adjoining khazan lands have been converted to hold sea water, which is then allowed to naturally evaporate under the burning sun, and leave behind a coarse layer of crystallised sea salt on the floor of the field.
This process is carried out in rectangular fields like those of paddy. Earlier, salt, would be bought and stored as an annual quota since it was not available for sale in shops. Every year, during summer, the ready salt crystals were transported in bullock carts, and the ‘gadekar’ or the person riding the bullock cart, would yell a “meeeeetth” across the villages.
The salt was then bought in measures of a big metal tin and stored in a special tall, wide, wooden hollowed out barks and kept outside the house, under the firewood shed. These barrels were kept outside to avoid the draining of the monsoon humidity and the resultant staining of the floor by the salty residue. This salt was also used to keep pests and insects away from the cash crop plantations.
This occupation of salt preparation is on a decline for reasons of man-power shortage, the easy availability of rock salt hygienically packed in nearby stores and apprehensions raised about sea salt hygiene and cleanliness. However, Goans who have been raised with this taste in their cuisine will never forget the uniqueness of the food.
Another occupation that thrives on this khazan lands is net fishing. When the high tide water starts entering these low lying khazan lands, they bring along shoals of fish. The high and low tides are a 12 hour cycle and these waters rise and fall, enter and recede over the Khazan lands. The fishermen erect a mud or concrete embankment, between the river and these khazan lands, with a sluice gate which can be opened and closed called the ‘manos’. These were lands belonging to the local Communidades and these ‘manos’ fetched high revenues in their coffers, as the fishing rights were auctioned every year.
At high tide, they keep the gate open and allow all the water and fish to enter inside the Khazan lands. Once the high tide reaches its peak, they close the gate and affix a net here. Once the low tide starts, they again open the gate and allow the water from over these Khazan lands to retreat back to the river.
The water easily slips out through the net but the fish get caught in. This freshly caught fish is a prized catch and gets a higher price than the iced fish. The whole process of the ‘manos’ operation is truly awe inspiring.
Sometimes we take all these occupations for granted; but they can be a great source of excitement and also avenues for promotion of tourism.