It’s 10:30 pm. And we are on a wooden porch overlooking a river that gently snakes along in the moonlight. On my phone the flashlight is on. Kaushiq has another one. In the darkness a yellow beacon comes on. And then off again. A mammoth vessel starts moving ominously towards us. The silhouette betrays something sleek and fast. And silence.
The coast guard vessel becomes visible only within 10 meters. And it is a beauty. On board the friendly policemen only call out when they’re secured to the fishing boat off of our porch. Kaushiq walks off the porch and down to greet them. You can hear the light hearted laughter and visualize some hand shakes. Having emboldened them with a bottle of the right stuff, we wave them off. A long night of patrolling the river awaits them. We return to wind down our own party.
Landed in Kerala yesterday with Gaurav Prabhu. Had a hilarious time on the plane.
Went straight to Jellyfish, still surprising ourselves at having woken up at 4:30, and making it here by 9:30. As always, it didn’t disappoint. The morning was open to taking a nap and walking down to the local parotha place. Chicken curry for breakfast and a bridge over a river for a view.
Gaurav Prabhu or JP(starbucks) and I took a walk off the trodden path, and found a fishing boat tied in the water. Climbed in and take in the noise of the bridge overhead with its BJP flags fluttering. Out here, we are inconspicuous in the open. Joys of kayaking. You’re in the middle of it all, but you can choose to escape it all.
By afternoon we are back at the club and Kaushiq has joined us. He brings out a fun toy he’s been hiding for a year. A topper sailing boat. We have our afternoon project. Rigging it up is fun ‘cos a bunch of lines are worn out and we’re using a nylon rope for the main sheet(rope).
An hour of running around and we are up. Three kayaks and a sail boat. It’s time to hit the water. Abhinash joins us later and all that’s left is the beauty of a backwater and river meeting. The water is green and the palms hang low. The afternoon has melted away and it’s a cool evening now. You round the island and the expanse of the Chaliyar hits you. Gaurav and Tarun are loving the freedom. Kaushiq is battling the shifty wind and we track back to catch him every now and then.
I guide Kaushiq across the river where the winds are better. And when we get a tad too close, I swap my kayak for the sail boat. It’s the first time in a topper, but it handles superbly. The wind picks up and I perch myself on port side and cruise.
That’s a first. Sailing up a river. And it’s a brilliant experience. A couple of maneuvers and I’ve got the boat in the quiet shade, gliding home. On the way back, some low hanging electrical wires scare the hell out of me. But it’s brilliant fun nonetheless. Turn the corner and we are parked.
And just as easy as that, a good day has ended at Chaliyar. Back at kaushiq’s house, we have an array of food. Fried fish, beef fry and chicken biryani. Throw in a singha and it’s the perfect way to wind down.
Bringing us to our trip yesterday. Shanj has been pestering me to go Waterfall Rappelling with her. So we looked at the options, and chose the most adventurous one. 400 feet. Or 40 storeys high! We read through it, and it looked great. The group looked young and eager, they had an online presence and even had their own payment gateway. The trifecta. We booked it and I did my usual bit of inviting people to join us.
In our light hearted revelry, we looked past the trip organizer(Mr. D from hereon) getting a little hot-and-bothered when I added two numbers for one person on the whatsapp group.
Suraj Singh has never backed down from something rash and outdoorsy. Often, to his and my, detriment. Little did we know, the jinx would continue. So here we are, awake at 5:30 a.m. on our way to Lonavla. Suraj in shotgun, Sleepy Shanj staying true to her name in the back. It’s a lovely, uneventful ride and we reach Lonavla station ahead of the others.
Trying to reach Mr. D, he emerges from said station and beckons Suraj in the way you’d beckon coolies at railway stations where coolies are beckoned sharply. I’ve never beckoned anyone undeserving-ly, so I can’t empathize with Mr. D. Suraj looks like one who’s had a punch thrown at him before he’s in the ring.
We huddle in our Tata Sumos, too many pickles in a jar. We chalk it up to the thrills of an adventurous weekend and move on. The ride takes us past Della Adventures, that place you go to walk a dog for a price. I’m pretty sure the guy who used to wash my car charges money the other way around, but hey, Thrills, yes?
The road is the kind of peaceful that you’d expect in warn torn Afghanistan, but the beauty is breathtaking. Everything is lush green. Knee high grass rolls for miles on plateaus that stretch evenly on hills. Every near vertical face has a stream and the mist wafts in and out to show you the spectacle and then take it away. The light drizzle paints a nice Northern-Europe-summer weather.
We alight at the camp site, just in time to see a bunch of guys fully kitted and on a war path. Harness, helmets and selfies. They are ready to Kill it! And we’ve barely touched base. But then again, languid is a style, and we are acing it this Sunday. We reach and immediately set upon our first task – Poha. Or polishing it off. Suraj has already betrayed this is his first time rappelling and he doesn’t know the technique. I’ve rappelled when I was 13, so safe to say, I’m no one to show him the ropes. But I’m confident someone here will.
We have a small huddle, and Mr. D introduces himself. He’s filling in for someone who can’t be here for personal reasons. Then after telling us said reasons(Weren’t they personal D?), he asks us to introduce ourselves. We learn that we have a physically blind participant! Woah. It’s his second rappelling attempt too! Shortly after we’ve forgotten what the first guy said, I expect the safety briefing. Or a discussion on how to do it. Shanjali laughs. What does this mean? Is there an inside joke? I don’t follow.
What also doesn’t follow is all of us getting harnesses. Of which there are only 12. There are 18 of us. So, all that about – ‘only 15 people in a group’ that I’ve been hearing has been for my ears only? In tour-operators-with-payment-gateways we trust. Three of us, one of the girls and a couple are the only guys who haven’t suited up. Surely now we will get a little hands on training.
No. Now we march. Into the mouth of hell. Rode the 600. (Tennyson) Very fittingly, we are lost in 15 minutes. Our makeshift guide / Mr. D doesn’t know where the waterfall is. And the walkie talkie is at the waterfall. So we wait. Ours not to question why. Finally, a local points us in the right direction. Down a slipper path, where the firmness of our soles and the softness of the tush is tested.
It’s arguably the funnest part so far. A good 35 minutes later, we arrive at the waterfall. And it’s beautiful. Green hills all around, and the rushing sound of water falling 400 feet. The mist can get thick enough to turn everything around us white in seconds, and the rain makes it all the more beautiful. Then it rains. And then some more. And the 15×15 feet, slippery, moss covered, inclined patch that 35 of us are on, is turned into a gloomy, cold, wet island, cut off by the windy twigs on one end and a nice long fall on the other.
The other group have already started their descents. We are waiting for our instructions. Yeah, not happening. I was just joking. We are received by the guy who will drop us over the edge today, Mr. T (For Talwalkars, cos he is built like a rock. Like one of those big rocks, the kinds you use to crush smaller rocks. If one of those has been having a Whey protein every day of it’s big rock life.) He’s out there on the edge. I mean, literally on the edge, with no safety line, just strapping on people and sending them over. You’d have to be a different kind of brave to be out there, wedging yourself on a rock overhanging 400 feet into green nothingness and hauling rope up for 18 people a day in This weather.
Anyway, this is the part where we wait. And wait we do. Our line is moving quicker than our better prepared friends. But we do the math, and figure that we are here for a while. It’s 11 when we get there. Even at 15 minutes per person, it’s going to take till 3:30 to get us all down. And that’s a big If.
Reality Kicks in.
We have nothing to do here but lie and wait. I think it was Milton who said that. So we do. It’s sitting, shifting, standing, waiting. Raining. Raining. Cold wind cutting in for kicks and things are slowing up. While things look slow but steady for the guys to our left, I notice that we are not being efficient. A pulley used for our belay line is not being used anymore. Straight off the carabiner. That’s odd, no? As I stare at it(What do you do when you’re wet, cold and have nothing to do) I see a big knot come up. Odd place to put a knot. But no one seems to think on it, so I put it out of my mind.
But it’s taking us longer now. The anxious are standing in line. Even the blind person and his friend. For hours they’ve been standing. Metres from the edge. For the ones without harnesses, there is even less to do. We huddle, we talk about the dip in the wind, then we talk about it’s sudden rise. The rain is constant, so we talk about how cold we are. In fact not much out of the ordinary is happening when Mr. T suddenly leaves his spot and comes to check on the line. As I watch him again, he starts to use carabiners to put a slack on the rope and fasten it a little further down. I follow the slack and see it frayed. What is going on here!
But just the same, he goes right back to his job. Sending people down, business as usual. At around 3, someone shows up with a bag of packed rice boxes. The suspect contents of it are warm, and for people who’ve not eaten since 9, it’s keeping us on our feet. At this point there are 7-8 of us left. And Mr. D brings it up. He’s telling us that’s its late. He’s telling us the route up is a 2 hour climb through thicket. He’s telling us that we might be out of time to send people down. He’s telling us we are going to be left behind.
“Does any of you NOT want to do it?”
Yes, I woke up at 5:30, drove 90kms, and endured 4 hours of cold wetness to say – No, it isn’t my cup of tea. I don’t even fancy waterfalls. Heck, I don’t even like tea.
None of us back down. The blind person and his friend are sent down in the reverse order. On this suspect rope. Our harnesses are not yet up.
We tell them flat out, we didn’t come here to turn around. That’s when Mr. T tells us the rope is torn.
Yes, the belay-rope bringing up the harnesses(4) and the helmet(1) for the 5 of us, tore.
More so, it’s the second time this has happened today. Remember the pulley? The carabiner?
Suddenly going down doesn’t seem as important anymore. Did these guys just let a blind person and 4 other people down with a belay rope that was torn?
Suddenly, the wind blowing through our wet clothes wasn’t the coldest feeling I was having. What is with these guys? Thinking back, it was probably the cold and the hours of waiting that made us blind to this crazy racket. That and not giving anyone any headsup about anything going wrong. Or a basic intro into how it all works. Which lines are for pulling and what happens when things go wrong.
They discuss with the other team and tell us they can send us down on their line. Phew. Atleast those guys weren’t cutting corners. We agree.
Shanj’s health looks like it’s deteriorating, and it’s 3:45. We decide to send her first. And follow on.
Very soon, it’s easy to see why this line is taking so much time. They’re using a 10mm rope. They also seem to use more carabiners. It definitely sounds more safe, if you ask me. When she’s mid way, at 4:05, Mr. T. says that’s it. They aren’t sending anyone else in. Mr. D joins in.
The logic is sound. It’s taking longer on the other rope. With 4 more of us. It’s going to be round 6 when we are all down. A 2 hour hike through the jungle thicket with no torches(Yes, they didn’t have torches) puts everyone at risk. They were happy that one of us could make it but would have to call it quits.
There was no real point. And nothing we could do either.
To rappel down put everyone at risk.
To rappel down slighting people who send people down without secure ropes, is putting yourself at risk.
We turned around. And walked. Up the slippery path.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred. –
– Lord Tennyson
I think the similarities are uncanny. A group of well intention-ed people sent into hostile territory with no clear directions, instructions or purpose. Their numbers alone ensuring no chance of success. And they’re left to see what happens. It could have gone a lot worse for us in my opinion.
Down below, all 25 had been waiting for 5.5 hours. With no food and no water. There wasn’t someone who oversaw the last part of the descent, arguably the more dangerous part. Nor was there a mat to catch someone’s fall. After Shanj touched base, she sent up a harness and a helmet, but to no avail. Mr. T. was busy packing it all up and Mr. D. was smiling at us and chalking it up to the gods. No sir. God didn’t do this. Mr. T explain the technicals and Mr. D tells us that nobody wanted this to happen.
But I think the guilt lies a lot closer to home. It’s that oft-used phrase – Ho Jayega.
Teen aur log? Ho Jayega.
Tour Manager aa nahi sakta? Main hoon, Ho Jayega.
Rope Kat gayi? Tension mat lo, Ho Jayega.
But that isn’t adventure. The thin line between Risk and Adventure is in being prepared. Taking as many precautions as possible. To account for the regular and the unforseeable. To jump into the unknown with no plan or safety line is not adventurous, that’s flat out risky. I can’t let someone onto a kayak in the middle of a sea, toss them a paddle and see how they get on with it. And neither should these people. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when you’re caught with your pants around your ankles or your ropes cut.
It’s a pretty obvious choice if you ask anyone sane. Do you want to be in the team that starts early, heads straight to the launch point, takes on the right amount of people and does not use torn rope? Or do you trust muscle mike and a guy who sheepishly laughs away their bad planning and last minute fall backs. Ask Suraj. He still doesn’t know the right rappelling technique. He does know a bowline knot, from his years of sailing, and he knows when someone going off a cliff has been tied a slipknot instead. That’s a fun word. Slip. Not. (Try. To.)
As we try and make the most of our day, Suraj and I find a stream and follow it till it thunders down rocks into whatever fate awaits it below. Mr. D eventually finds us and copiously explains his side of the story. As we walk back, him limping from a motor accident he’s recently come out of, it comes out- ‘I hope that couple doesn’t kill me. They were the first to register.” He laughs.
In his mind, he’s completing the sentence. Koi na, Manage Ho Jayega.
Sharing some pics of the country side nonetheless –
We set out to Kayak to Elephanta this weekend. It’s a distance of 12.5 kms one way. By my reckoning, a simple 4 hour run.
Here’s how it panned out ->
Leg one. Gateway to Elephanta. 12.5 Kms. Completed in 2 hours.
Leg two. Elephanta to Gateway. 15.5 Kms. 5.5 hours for me. 6.5 hours for Shanjali and Manu.
We started out at a 7:30 am. Low tide was an hour back, and the tide was rising. We got out, and cut between the mainland and the island opposite the Navy Area. It was a quick simple run, and apart from fishing boats in the channel and running under the jetty at Jawahar Dweep, we had no real problem.
Halting at Gharapuri(It’s called that, popularly – Elephanta island), Shanj and I walked to the nearby village. We rationed some water and some biscuits. A breakfast of cornflakes would not have sufficed for what was to come, but we didn’t know that.
Launching at 10:30 from the island, we decided to round the ship at the jetty, currently offloading it’s crude cargo, and make a beeline for Gateway. We knew there was a high tide coming, but we grossly underestimated it. In the first hour, we had covered 2 kms! Going was slow, and I wasn’t keen on leaving them out of sight, despite mine being a faster kayak. Standing still, you’d drift back towards the island in minutes. Jokingly when they caught up, Shanj said – no more chit chat till we reach the ship.
It wasn’t till I reached the first anchored boat that I could gauge how fast the tide was. You could start a sentence at the bow of the boat, and finish it at the stern. I reckoned it would change once we got to the channel. It took us 2.5 hours to get to the ship alone. By the time I reached it, the wind had picked up. The ship loomed large over me, and a barge attached to it, threw me a line. I tied it down to my kayak, but between the drift, the wind and the waves, it was more of an effort than kayaking to stay still.
Panic kicked in, because I had reached here ahead of the others. Craning my neck, I could not spot them, and I didn’t want to turn in these choppy waters. I asked the crew onboard the ship if they could spot my fellow kayakers. They could not, and I started to worry. I kayaked ahead to look past the big ship, incase they had slipped under the bridge / jetty. Highly unlikely as the high tide was almost at it’s peak.
After tossing and turning and waiting for 30 minutes, I turned around. This was increasingly difficult, and the waves were pretty choppy by now. But luckily, barely had I turned it around, and I spotted them. A million thoughts of capsizes had gone through my mind.
I paddled out to them, and told them we are staying together. We regrouped at the barge, and I gladly accpeted Manu’s snickers. It was 1 o’clock and we were still atleast 7 kms out. I was hoping things would be clear now with the tide taking us out again. I was wrong.
The channel, commercial channel, with all the big ships, barges, fishing trawlers and police boats was choppy. As the waves rushed in from all sides, my rudder started jamming. I had to rely on corrective strokes to keep her into the waves. With a kayak as big of this, and getting hit on multiple sides, it was becoming difficult to keep her steady. I had more capsize moments here than on my Goa expedition. I would later learn, that my stern storage compartment and my day hatch had filled with water. So not only was the rudder gone, my butt was heavier than my front.
I had imagined stopping for Shanj and Manu every 5 minutes, but it quickly became imperative that I constantly paddle. Thanks to an internet outage the day before, my GPS couldn’t direct me to the right spot. The sun was out, and made it difficult to be sure of there Gateway was. Luckily, I guessed wrong. I directed everyone to a spot north of Gateway. In hindsight, this let the retreating tide guide us south to Gateway, saving us a big deal of trouble.
On the choppy water, I got into a familiar situation of not being able to spot the others. Shanj would tell me later that it was slow going, and their kayak really bobbed up and down in the big swells. But they kept paddling. It was a comfort to know that she had Manu as company and I’m super proud of how they held up.
By the time, I got to the end of the channel, the current had grown super strong. I would point my kayak to the front of a big container ship, and by the time I reached it, I slipped around the back. When I finally came to the Navy area, I considered slipped in between the island again, but the tide decided against it.
I finally slowed down my paddling 750 metres out of the gateway, under a false sense of security. I was brought back to my senses when a small dinghy ferrying three foreigners, presumably back from a sailing race, started waving to me. It drew parralel, and then before we knew it, we were both stuck.
We were now parrallel to the Gateway, me paddling furiously, and he with his engine on. And we were both standing still. Next to us, an achored boat smiled on. Finally the dinghy got past the boat, and found a patch to coast in. I followed pursuit, heaving a sigh of relief when the tide finally gave in. Once I was amidst the achored boats, things got better, and for the last 300 metres, it was smooth sailing.
But the day was not over. My mind had been on the two kayakers still out there. I brought the kayak up the ramp, ran to the car and reached my phone. I wanted to alert Manu to point north and directly for shore, letting the tide do the rest of the work, but he didn’t pick up. But the call went through, and that probably meant they hadn’t capsized yet.
I decided to be ready to get them, and swung my car around to secure it. Driving past the Taj, me left lens just popped out. Dehydration? Tired of my general existence? So here I am, two friends lost at sea, driving half blind in one of the most crowded saturday haunts of the city.
By the time, I get to the jetty, it’s 4:30. Still no sign of the guys. I imagined them to be 30 minutes behind me, but it was already 45. Rakesh Madiye helped me hoist the kayak atop the car. While loading I recognized how heavy it was, and found about 10 litres of sea water trapped inside.
I secured the kayak and dialled manu’s number again. He picked up this time, and told me they were right outside the harbour. I was greatly comforted. I could not spot them, and after 10 minutes when I called he said – I think we might need some help.
At this point, that familiar feeling of worry came swarming back. I could not spot them, and it had been more than 6 hours they were paddling, with a strong tide now taking them out to sea. I discussed this with my sailing friends, who were fresh out of a sailing race.
Rakesh Varadkar was the first to respond. Barely had I explained the situation that he understood the severity. His boat was achored close, and we hitched a ride to it. I called Manu to confirm his location. Just outside the harbour was still the reply, though he tried to give me a line to take getting out of Gateway. When we finally got there, they were no where to be found. Rakesh’s presence of mind saved the day here, and he asked for the phone. He enquired what was closest to them. Manu said a single sail boat. Most of the sail boats had returned to harbour, and while I scanned them, Rakesh looked out. And he spotted them. I couldn’t spot a soul to be honest. But he was right. Way off course, almost 3 kms out of harbour, I saw them valiantly paddling. We reached them and you could see it on their faces. Manu had almost given up, and Shanjali, though cheerful, looked tired. She later told me she always knew they’d make it back, but given the drift, I wasn’t so sure.
We tied the kayak up, after letting the water out. Then, as three tired souls, we were ferried back to shore. On land, Rakesh refused our offer for a beer citing that anyone would do it. I don’t know for sure about that, but I am a 100% sure that without his help, it would have been a Long Long day. (And that’s me euphemising)
As we dug into our lunch at 6:30 in the evening, we laughed about it, but we all knew that we’d just averted a minor disaster.
Comic Relief: I spoke to mom just before the food arrived at our rooftop lunch, and told her that I had just gotten off the water, and we had been beset by tides, strong waves and had kayaked for about 8 hours to cover just 27 kms. She heard it all and then said – Ok, now listen, I have made chicken Dilbahar and there are chapattis. You better come home and have it.
Day Starts at 4:30.
The alarm is shrill and alien. I just went off to bed! It can’t be time. But then ofcourse, this is how the last expedition started too. So this one can’t be any different.
Yesterday, Shanj and I said to ourselves that we would do better this time. And get to bed and sleep well before the expedition. Yeah. Like that’s ever worked.
So I wake up shanj. She’s groggy and mostly out of it. I start packing my stuff as she goes out to find her charged phone. I pack all the gear in and mom is awake. I told her not to wake up and trouble herself. So she troubled herself and is now awake. She asks about tea. Mom thinks tea solves everything. That and timely meals. I’m sure she would throw a pot full of tea at the JNU crisis or the US Election. Refusing the food, we finish a banana and some dates. Mom has cooled the water for our trip. Tarun, from Frodo cam, has very sweetly dropped off some GoPro batteries and supplies to ensure this trip is well documented. I swing by the first floor to pick it up. The bags are lighter than I anticipated, and even Shanj dropped a bunch of extra clothes to make her cycle lighter. Tie it up, adjust the weight a couple of times, head out the gate.
Look back up to wave bye to mom and dad, and we are off. After a small photo session, obviously. By the time we reach IIT, we’ve stopped once to adjust Shanj’s bags and are now content we can reach Goa. Obviously.
Chintan has already taken off from his house. While we are trudging along the highway, he’s having a cup of freshly made coffee at the cyclewallah at Chembur. Meanwhile we are busy hurtling down Kanjur flyover. At the first bump, my spankingly new blue bottle goes flying. A truck comes to a screeching halt to save it. At 5 in the morning, Bombay is generous. I run back to save what’s left of it, and Shanj goes speeding by. Facebook would later tell us, it’s been just a year since Shanj has been cycling. And now we are headed to a 600 km run. It’s been a good year.
At the eastern express highway, we have to stick to the mainroad, as a local marathon / running championship has cordened off the service lane we normally take. As the sun yawns it’s way over the horizon, a 100 strong boys(& girls) stretch, bend over, and guzzle free energy drinks being given away. Policemen run havoc and almost run me over. #Regularday
At Chembur, we are all feeling a little risky, so we take the freeway. A no-no for cyclists, but it’s my city, so… The road is mostly easy, with some steep inclines that tests our backs a tad bit, but it’s mostly smooth sailing. When we hit the tunnel though, I hear Chintan scream out over the roaring sound of trucks running past. I look back and spot the policeman. He’s not just not concerned, he’s mostly vacantly staring into space. By the time his languid lordship comes to a halt, I’m already smiling. I’m headed to wadala – in my choicest marathi. He’s smiling, or in my head he is, – Ok, great stuff, but get off of the freeway – in his choicest marathi. When he’s gone, we reckon there is a lot probability we see him again, and we can run the freeway anyway. But we decide to not tempt fate, and exit stage left. Down from Wadala we are cruising under the freeway. With ample shade and sparsely populated roads, I’m thinking this policeman probably knows his cycle routes. Good stuff – in my choicest marathi.
We run past parked trailers, and Indian Oil. We run through a small village-ish locality with chickens. We pass big traffic held up by a rickshaw being washed. We cycle past railway wagons lying in disuse. By the time we reach the end of the freeway, we forget to check if our helpful policeman was keeping track of our honesty. But it’s almost 8 and we are hungry. We stop by Yahzdani Bakery for a quick breakfast of Brun maska chai and then down to the gateway. The guard at the gate, asks me how much I got the bike for. I think in their free time, all the policeman in Bombay are cycling up and down the freeway. Running havoc to their bellies.
We make it in time for the 8:30 Maldar to Mandwa. On the ferry, we are in the usual place of staring at gateway over the water. We do our stretches, and relax watching the gulls chase after us, waiting for their benefactors to throw chips bought on board, offboard. It’s a curious ritual.
Down at Mandwa we have our customary Neera and set off. The roads are calm, winding and green. It’s 10 but the sun has no effect on us thanks to the foliage all around us. We cruise along, and about 8 kms in, we stop to adjust Shanj’s handlebars. After it, she’s sitting a lot straighter on her bike. Better for her back and hands that were taking a hit. A lime juice stop later, we are on the road again and we hit Alibaug. On the road, a woman stands with two bags. Using her hands she’s collecting rice fallen in the dirt into her second bag. We cycle by, understanding her rice bag tore. Shanj is first off the cycle and helping her scoop the rice back in. The ladies nephew arrives, and they point us in the direction of a good restaurant in return for the help. Shanj is a sweetheart.
We settle in, after 55 kms at Sagar Savali, for a surmai fry and palak paneer lasuni, with jeera rice and dal fry. Feeling a little full, and pretty happy with our day so far. We are stretching our welcome here, and after a second round of cassata, lassi and sprite, we are now hitting the road again.
We will attempt to do another 30 kms today.
“Kaustubh is a firm believer that sport can be used for change.”
As the compere finishes his introduction, I leave my chair, and take the dias. The convocation hall at IIT Roorkee is filled with 500 students, packed in, after 3 days of exertion on the field.
There are a number of things one could tell these student and time is of the essence. So I give them the advice I think they can relate to – “Pain IS Good”.
But let’s dial it back a bit. How did I get here? I guess you can date this story as far back as you like but the immediate truth is not even a week old. A good friend, Vivek Pateshwari (who runs www.invitemyguest.in) had a request regarding a position for chief guest of IIT Roorkee’s sport festival, Sangram. He thought of me. I was flattered. This being an IIT(my alma-mater) I said yes without getting into the details. A couple of days later, flights were booked and arrangments for transit cabs done.
Where this story might find bedrock, however, is in my second year at IIT Delhi. My hostel had won the right to host the sports festival, The party that had won, was not the one I voted for(long story..) but all my friends were in the football team. Thanks to compere-ing the hosel day at the end of my first year, I was asked to ‘touch-up’ the sponsorship collateral. I built a story around each sport giving emphasis to the ‘grand’ football championship & taking the shine off the cricket games. (Yes, I was partial back then too.) Fast forward to the final date of the sports fest. The secretary of sports calls in a favour and someone tells me to run on over to the football ground. On the way over, they explain that I am to compere the event. Boom.
An Arjuna award winner is our chief guest. I’m shivering. That’s real gold. Someone who’s sweated & bled for sports in our country. In that moment, I cared for nothing but thee pride of our college and holding it’s own in the presence of a sporting great. I remember the introductions and vividly recollect taking the mike when someone fumbled the national anthem.
Back to the present, and here I am. Ready to address an audience that in all likelihood didn’t know me. But sitting here in the cushy chairs, or up on stage compere-ing there was a younger me. One day he will be on stage and thinking the same thoughts.
I eased them into my presence with a joke. I told them of their privilege, not at hearing me talk today, but of being in such august company as the sportsmen to their left. I spoke of the importance of their pain and why years from now they should never forget why they do what they do. Pain differentiates us, it is the reason we will go further, work harder & truly embrace the pleasure of victory.
As I take my seat, I know that for that future Kaustubh Khade, my making this trip was worth it.
It’s 3:45 in the morning. And my alarm is wrecking all kinds of havoc. I’ve slept 2 hours and it’s time to go to work.
The good people at Frodo Cam are launching their camera campaign this monday and they’ve asked me if I’d like to be a part of their campaign. Tarun is an old friend of mine, and built my pre-expedition video, so as I drag myself out of bed, I’m gearing up to a day of paddling hard.
At 4:15, Tarun is home, and we head down to strap the kayak atop the car. It’s tedious work and you don’t want drowsiness to get in the middle of securing the kayak. When that happened the one time, I was driving with a 19 foot long kayak hanging sideways over the car with trucks missing it by whiskers.
Thanks to a really tight schedule, I’ve not topped the car off with petrol, so at 4:30 in the morning I’m driving into a petrol pump to sleepy, confused stares at a white kayak atop a car with two rough-ish people in it. We pick up another frodo-ian who will be coordinating the shoot today.
Enroute, it’s talk about kayaking and exploration. Our experiences and building campaigns online.Bombay is awake at the oddest hours and there is a stream of steadily moving traffic even at this hour. Finally at 5:30, the car(&kayak) is safe at Marine Drive. I plan on launching from Chowpatty beach, but decide to swing by H2O and check if old Pandey ji would let us through for a quick video. I’m stunned to know that let alone Pandey ji, H2O doesn’t stand there anymore.
We bring the kayak down and start setting up. I’m ready moments later with my skirt, paddles, water and gopro. Tarun is against having a competitor product in the frame, so bye for now go pro. As the team lines up, I’m left to take in the beauty of bombay in the morning. It’s 6 o’clock and the evening lights that adorn queen’s necklace are still on. You can hear the hum of the city waking up as the trains run past marine lines. The darkness turns to blue to shades of light orange in the sky. People walk past us in the busy-ness of Marine drive. Joggers, cyclists, morning walkers. The people who clean our streets are already at work. And I will be too.
Frodo’s founders join us, and we chat about our work. We share a college, so there are many questions about how either of us are doing what we are doing. The director of the shoot takes over, and at around 6:30, we start lining up our first shot. It’s the take-control shot, where I pick up the kayak by the bow and drag it down to the water. Frodo is this lovely camera mounted onto a wrist strap like a watch and it’s in a uniquely yellow form. The take is easy, but many a slip between the cup and the lip, so we rehearse.
After 8 the water will turn into a mirror for the sun. I express this to the team, and I’m on the water. For a simple pass by the camera. We do about 10 takes of this before the team is happy with the outcome. I’ve been keen on taking this particular shot of a back profile kayaking, and after a little playing around with a selfie stick, we have Frodo planted where we want it.
And finally, it’s time to head out. I jump into the kayak. Legs in, skirt cemented and paddle away. The first stop is the police vessel. Pradip, my kayak instructor and guide, tells me we can spot dolphins just off the police vessel. As I approach, the night shift is just finishing and I watch about 7 officers jump aboard a small dingy clearly not made for as many. With no life jackets, the eternal optimism of bombay makes me smile. No dolphins, so I decide to capture the second most beautiful vessel out here today, Godrej’s yacht parked out 1.5 kms from shore.
I approach and with the shifting wind, the boat shifts to greet me. As I drift alongside, the crew on board views me. I wish him a good morning. My lack of sleep means I’m probably not my most chatty self. But as I sit there, he asks me if I need water, clearly worried about the sun taking a toll on me. I’m touched, but I have my own supplies. I ask him about the dolphins and he points me in one direction. I take off, and it’s a great decision.
I’m rewarded by waves and wind. The kayak is drifting along nicely now and there’s more urgency in paddling. Nothing trumps a shot of adrenaline. And I’m having a good time. In the middle of all this, I spot a lone red flag, propped up on thermacol. Probably the work of some fisherman, but bobbing up and down, it’s a sight.
I spend some time at it, and then turn around. The waves are behind me, and I can feel the morning air strong on my face. It’s a good run. But it’s made better, by the solitary fin that rises gracefully out of the water. And then just as gracefully completes the arch and slides back in. Dolphin spotted. I point and stare. Then I try and follow it’s intended path. But nothing. The water has gone back to it’s natural state and this dolphin doesn’t want to be seen. Not today. I don’t take it personally, and kayak back to shore. I’ve been gone almost an hour, and one of the founders remarks that I’d gone pretty far. Sometimes you just have to.
Back at shore, there are a couple of shots that need to be redone, and one closeup of me using the camera. And then, the fun bit. We load up the kayak on the car, and barely have I finished when the fun part of my outings begins. Talking to cops. The one at marine drive flat out refuses to let me go, citing public nuisance. Eventually, after a fair bit of talking, he lets me through.
At JVLR I meet two more of them. I dish out to one and refuse the other. A small price to pay for a glorious day.
If I stand still, two brahminys eagles will sail overhead, talons out to attack each other. The white heads screech out and swoop down over the clear green water.
If I stand still, as the river bends, the golden glow of the setting sun will crawl over the water to reach me. But before it’s piercing rays start their work an idle cloud blows in it’s way & sends crimson across the sky.
If I stand still the sea wind blowing the cloud, dissipates the heat of 12 kms of kayaking up river. Palm trees rustle in the wind and sway shadows in the water.
I am kayaking in the Chaliyar river in Kerala & everything here is crimson, green, blue & yellow. As I explore Kerala, the way I know best, I ponder on my love for things swift. Racing, with the wind in your face, is my rush. Still & I aren’t found in the same pincode. And yet, Kerala has brought that out in me. Locals call you over to their boat, or the riverside to simply chat with you. The language barrier melts as I explain the speed of my kayak to a fisherman in his colourful boat.
Another 3 kms on, a father & son are standing still in the middle of the river. The young one translates for us when his father enquires about the price of my kayak. He seems unfazed by the cost, but the fact that you can only fit one person in it puts him off the purchase. After a fair back-and-forth, he reaches into a plastic bag and holds up a green back crab. His son smiles. Dinner.
A bridge emerges & brings me back to civilisation. I hasten to avoid it, but as I draw close, it dawns on me. I stand still to reflect on the realisation that I am invisible to civilsation. Up on the bridge, in buses packed to the brim, or in the silver Audi working it’s air conditioning over time, one lone kayaker 30 feet below in a meandering quiet river is so insignificant, that it’s both heartening and sad. A well spent moment taking it in.
I realise soon that it’s a busy river. I meet children jumping off of rock cliffs. I spot elders smoking on the side of a river, fishing lines out, underneath a billboard ushering in new-age products these people never asked for. Everything is in juxtaposition here. I turn around and head back, picking up the pace. I’m cruising when I spot a youth nestled in shrubbery, his house hidden from clear view. I smile thinking, atleast the young ones are the same; busy texting a girl far from the prying eyes of a conservative family. Before the smile reaches it’s edges, he looks up, and with one swift motion flings out the bait he’s been meticulously rigging on the end of a thing fishing line.
I dropped a line to Erica at 94.3 to tell her I was done with my expedition, and before I knew it she buzzed back to invite me down to the studio. It was a lovely afternoon and mom and Shanj accompanied me to the studio.
For all those who missed listening to it yesterday evening, here are the recordings:
12:35. The phone rings. As I fumble in the dark, I find an incoming call. It’s Shanj. Deepak has finally gotten a hold of her and brought her to Devgad. Great.
In that groggy state of ‘let-me-sleep’ and ‘show-me-my-new-mobile-pouch-and-glares’ I find dense loaf. Water to the parched. Let’s talk about Dense loaf for a minute. If Theobroma made a more complete meal than it’s own English Breakfast, it’s Dense Loaf. An ammalgamation of chocolate and endless goodness, it’s a must for anyone who’s fed museli and boiled eggs for 2 weeks.
I sleep sound. For 4 hours. Then it’s museli and eggs again. Bags are packed and go-pro’s are cased. I have my sunscreen bath and slip on my green skin. It’s turning into my favourite. Sorry for all the shots of me in green. It’s holding back the chafing and with half sleeves, a wind atleast keeps me half dry.
We are a little late with packing and getting out and by the time we get down to the lobby, it’s close to 6. My kayak that is nestled between the local liquor shop and our hotel is cased in her plastic sheet. As a Devgad drunkard this is probably comforting, because seeing a 19 foot white hodi parked behind the new hotel in town, is not everyones cup of ‘whatever-they-drink-in-devgad’.
We strap on the kayak. This takes time, because there are slopes we have to take. It has to be done right. It’s 6 and sleepiness is a thing. Legs in. Cars on it’s way. While I’ve landed at the pristine Mithmumbri Beach off of Devgad, the boat is back at Taramumbri jetty at Devgad. In what is becoming a regular occurrence, I will start ahead of it. This cat-and-mouse game gives the safety boat something to do. It also helps keep everyone on edge. Wish I was on edge. I yawn.
As we draw parrallel to the creek, the good samiritan who’d alerted the cops and subsequently given me a cup of tea comes down to see me off. He shows his three girls the kayak. I explain the trip. Then he helps me take it down the steep sandy slopes. It’s in the clear water. I could probably drink this water if I got the salt out. I can’t so I paddle away. Wave good bye. Devgad was good.
It’s a beautiful beautiful day. Shanj had remarked it was a lovely sunrise. But it was so much more. The crimson is exquisite and there are clouds stretched right across the canvas of the horizon. As I paddle past the first rock face that corners this beach, I’m stunned. Nestled in a valley facing the water is Kunkeshwar. From 2 kms out, the lovely white structure that can only be a temple looks magnificient, and massive. Paddling to sights like this is a pleasure. Even with the wind hitting you you feel everything stand still. Like I could pass by Kunkeshwar for years and be trapped in this sunrise. The day only gets better.
I’m doing good time and I have little to worry about. I clock that we left a little late, and I’ll have 2.5 hours of paddling before the sun hits me. It’s almost an hour and half of paddling in lovely weather when the safety boat catches up. I’ve done a good distance. The water is that pristine blue you get when the sea and sky meet in reflection of the other. It’s also calm and pushing me down south. Nothing could be more perfect. Except maybe if the sun hides behind a cloud. So it does. I paddle past lovely white beaches with dense woods. I paddle past the big fishing trawlers that have small row boats attached to their stern. I paddle past the sun.
It’s 9:15 and I don’t need to don my hat. The tide is doing the rest. If I had music it would be Seal’s I believe I can fly. I rack up the kms. I’d done 35 yesterday but today’s a longer stretch. I’d planned this in 2 parts. Devgad to Munage beach and Munage to Malwan. Tarkarli, a little south, is cut off by a bunch of rocks and the safety boat can harbour at Malwan. Only thing is, I have bad network. I haven’t been able to change the 2 stretches into one. It’s good news in a way, because I don’t have to do the additional 3-4 kms I’d lose pulling into and leaving Munage beach. The other thing is, we won’t be caught off guard like Godavne. So when I paddle right past Munage, I switch navigation to Malwan. I reckon a good 20 kms more. It is. As I draw parrallel to the course, things are going well. The sun is a little higher now, so I can’t escape it, but the hat gives me good protection. Thanks Ali. It does sap out some of the energy, but it’s partially eclipsed.
By the time I turn 32 kms, I’m a little tired. But mostly because we seem a little lost. If I followed my GPS, I would have been fine, but the safety boat adds that additional panic of ‘Where-is-the-jetty’. That’s when it’s important to look left. If I’ve said Maharashtra is beautiful, I was probably lying because this is quite exquisite! Rocks tempered by the sea with white waves hitting them. The shore is littered with palm trees and just then, a small white rectangular house adorned by a white cross. It’s beautiful. To the right Sindhudurg fort is tall and strong. I’ve to pass right though it.
I paddle peacefully into Malwan. Between the rocks and the fishing boats and the ferries to take people snorkelling. There is a jetty, and my parents waving. Everything is perfect.
I land at the beach and as I do my stretches and change into warm clothes, a group of tourists swing by. One of them says – ‘Hey, I’ve heard of this. He’s going to Goa in that thing.’ Yes, it’s a good day.