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.
Much refreshed after a day’s break, we woke at the right time. Sitting on the balcony overlooking the garden, we called Santosh. In light of our evening adventures, Santosh and I decided to do longer forrays in the morning. I can’t remember how many times we’ve changed this plan. I think everyone on the team has been brilliant about accomodating these changes. But finally it’s one thing we all agree on.
I’d hit a 32 km stretch getting into Divegar. And I was fairly confident, if we got out earlier we could do bigger stretches before the sun caught up with us.
So I got down to the garden. My kayak was waiting. She looked refreshed after a day’s break too. So we carried her to the beach. The owner of the resort has a really sweet mother, Mrs. Parkar, who insisted on taking pics with me and the kayak. As she explained it, she loves it when someone pursues studies to a good extent. She told me how her son was an electrical engineer and then chose to study computers and is now in the US. The night before she told me about the time he took her to North India. It was the sweetest thing. She’d promised to be up for my launch. I told her it was going to be an early day, and she said she woke at 4 everyday.
And there she stood. Early in the morning, ready to bid me goodbye. We took the kayak out of the resort, and Leo, the great dane barked his goodbye. For the first time ever, I’d seen mom pet a dog. So odd it should be a dog that will shortly be bigger than her. They’d gotten along fabulously.
We got on the beach. And it was pitch dark. The moon was nowhere in sight, and in the distance I could see the lighthouse that had guided me the day before yesterday when I was stranded, half blind, and half naked in Godavne beach. I planned to use it again. But mom panicked. She insisted I wait till some light shows so that, on the rescue boat she can keep a tab on me. I wasn’t going to refuse her today, so I suggested that they board the safety boat and make for me as the resort was fully lit. Once I see them, we can head towards the lighthouse together.
Dad and the driver went to drop her off. As the car approached the jetty, I stood talking to Ajji(grandmom, Mrs. Parkar). When they got a flashlight on the safety boat, I took off from the beach. Paddling in the dark was fun. The air was nice and cool and I felt no strain.
I was happy to be out early, so we made the most of it. We were passing through the creek that divides Ambolgad from Vijaydurg. And it was a little choppy. As we passed that all important lighthouse I bid it farewell and a thank you. Once we were clear of it, it wished me luck in the form of a carrying tide.
A mild breeze picked up behind me and I had a clear day of paddling. It didn’t grow hot too early, but by 10 the sun was high in the sky. I didn’t contemplate losing the skin though, because the wind kept me company. It was a good day to paddle. On the safety boat, mom was keeping well, and keeping the boat close to me. Girye, our first halt was just around the corner and I passed it uneventfully. The going was easy, but long. Today was one of the long stretches we had saved for the last leg of the expeditions. Now fully rested, I needed to step on it. So we did. A break to get some food and restock my hydration drink and we were off. I estimated I’d do 32 kms today if we skipped Girye, so when I finished 30 and I couldn’t spot Devgad easily on the landscape, I called over to the safety boat. I asked Santosh whether he knew where the jetty was. Not for the first time, the answer was as prompt as it was wrong. Yes. So I switched off the navigation on my watch. Never again. As I passed a lovely lighthouse, I couldn’t help but stare at…Windmills.
If there’s one thing that has me up and about, it’s windmills. During an internship in Germany, I was so awed by them, and taken by the concept of renewable energy that I took up a course in it when I returned to IIT. It’s a different story that it entailed me measuring the sun’s intensity and being made to admire the sustainable, naturally lit mud house that is the shining jewel in IIT Delhi’s renewable energy department. I didn’t see a single windmill.
But atop a hill, 1,2,3..6. I counted 6 windmills from where I was. As beautiful as they were stationary. Very. But in their defence, it was not very windy. And it wasn’t fully afternoon yet. As we rounded them, I counted my GPS. It showed 33 kms. Tad odd. I had done the math and I should have done 30-32 max. But in our boatsmen we trust. So when the boat turned left and made for the beach, I grew suspicious. My suspicions turned out to be justified, as Santosh turned to tell me we’ve over shot it. I wasn’t too disturbed or surprised, but I did decide to park it on the beach here. I’d studied this stretch and this beach looked A. Motorable B. Motorable. So I made for it.
The wind had picked up in this part and I was carried to shore faster than I could say 35kmsinlessthan5hours. I had done well I reckoned. So I took off my skin. And did my stretches. Barely had I gotten off the phone with dad, that people showed up.
In a parrallel universe, Shanj had called dad at around the same time. As she asked if I’d landed, Dad told her – ‘Landed? He’s gotten himself lost at another beach again.’
Before dad could show up, two people came over and started asking pointed questions. So I asked them who exactly they were. Caught off guard, the provisional police officers identified themselves. It was smooth going after that. They even posed for photographs.
A local had spotted me and informed them. I have to say their response was very spot on, and were I a RDX smuggling kayaker, he probably wouldn’t have had time after his stretches to get to the getaway vehicle and tie his kayak up. A couple of tourists made the mistake of telling me they were from Mumbai too within earshot of provisonal-police-officer who responded by asking them their names and what they were doing here. The weight of the law. The tourists moved on.
Finally the real policemen showed up. Big smiles on their faces. I figured they didn’t get a lot of traffic here of the sea kind. He came right around the kayak and shook my hand. ‘Abhinandan.’ or Congratulations. I felt right at home. Dad called while the quieter of the two took down copious details including “PaddleHard – Epic 18x”. I could spot the car from where I was and I suggested the policemen come with me and I’d answer all their questions. So they helped me lug the kayak.
The place dad was standing at, apart from being 500 metres away, was 18 kms away by motorable road. How this happens is a story of much pride, and the local policemen pointed at the big bridge that was being built so that the good people at Devgad can cross over and enjoy the fruits of this pristine Mithmumbri beach I’d landed on. Seperating dad and me, was a small creek that was actually just 20 metres across but ran so wide they had to make this phenomenal bridge over it. As they set the kayak down in the clear water, I got on and gave them a show of strength with a quick 20 metre sprint.
As the kayak was loaded onto the car, the local who’d alerted the cops came and happily confessed. He was extremely jubilant and had a hot cup of tea for me. As I strapped the kayak on top of the kayak, I let dad tell the cops about the 10 years he’s worked with the mumbai police. It’s safe sailing after that, and as dad heads over to the police station for a cup of tea he insists they give him for his trouble, I retire to the newly built hotel in Devgad that overlooks a Bus stand. Mom is ecstatic to not have a sea view today.
This is Kaustubh. Paddling hard and hitting Devgad.
I once wrote a note on rain. It was an opinion piece on rain in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. Apart from our differences in weather, a friend’s response to my early morning question today, brings us to the topic of discussion.
In a group on Whatsapp, I voiced – ‘It’s raining. What (TF) is this about?’
To which I got a prompt and succint answer – ‘Clouds.’
I think it’s a fair assessment of the situation.
Today morning I found myself at Tarkarli. In this lovely MTDC property that opens onto the beach, it was 5 o’clock and time to wake up. I round up all the essentials and put all the things coming onto the kayak together. Gopro-s, energy bar, mobile in it’s all new mobile pouch, glares, hat, hydration bag, shoes. Today’s a short run to Vengurla. Just 28 kms. Having averaged 7+ km/hr for the last 15 days I think I can have this wrapped up before anyone in Bombay was in office. I step out and notice that the nice chaps at MTDC had washed my front porch. They’d even throw a bucket or two on my tiled roof. Wait, what? It had rained. Hmm.
Interesting. As I explained to my friend on whatsapp shortly after, this could mean some inclement weather on the water.
I walk over to my parent’s and they’re absorbed in watching the news. Weather reports. As we leave it to the real experts, our boatsmen, to confer. My mom’s first response is – go get some rest. Now Pavlov was a smart chap. So I down my 4 eggs and start on my museli. Every once in a while the MTDC chaps follow your instructions to the letter. But it wasn’t today. The milk is bad. So I get down to mom’s advice.
For the first time in days, I wake up at 7:30. Wow. What a godly hour. Heaven must smile down on people who wake at this hour. Not us silly chaps who wake up at 4 and 5 in the mornings to embark on missions of solitude. There’s a rainbow outside. So barefoot, I make for the beach. I catch the dying glimpses of a lovely rainbow running between Malvan beach and Sindhudurg.
I head for a second breakfast. Sleep between breakfasts is a luxury. As everyone readies for the day, my driver and I bring the kayak out of parking and plonk it down opposite my cottage. As a crowd assembles to enquire about it, I start my stretches. I’m not departing from Malwan, a few kms from here, for a number of reasons, transport of the kayak back through the one way streets here being one, the other is the big set of rocks that later diverts my safety boat right around Sindhudurg and then back down. I can’t afford the delay. Shanj convinces dad to let me head out before he boat gets here. Good call.
So down by the water, another crowd assembles. The good people at MTDC come down to see me off. I put my paddle together. Pose for a couple of tourist photographs. Answer some questions. Slip on my earphones. I have music today! Gorillaz – Feels Good. Perfect.
Through the breakers, in the clear, I switch the count on my Suunto. Put on navigation. Rp very kindly drew my course last night when I didn’t have the connectivity. As I stare at the map, I smile a little. He’s drawn me hugging the coast since I told him I keep 2-3 kms off the coast. Only south of Tarkarli, I can make a straightline dash down to Vengurla and save myself a few kms. I’ll work off the end-point navigator.
Now, clouds. White, wispy clouds that part just the right amount to stream sunlight down in bundles. Malwan’s very own search light from heaven. The water is calm and brilliantly blue-green. Every cocunut tree that lines the coast slants and drapes the coast in a rich, newly washed green. The beach stands still as I paddle furiously past houses of every color Asian Paints could never think of. Green, Red, Yellow. Bright. The fisherman / women occupants of these picturesquely perfect houses come down to see me in white and black. Thinking back, could they have the envy I had at that moment? I contemplate changing the #gettogoa to #movetomalvan.
A host of tourist boats ferrying people closer to the islands to my right go past us. Everyone waves. Happiest place ever. Overhead a flock of birds fly over. It’s leader knows RP’s route, because they fly right on ahead pointing the way. It’s 10 am and the sun is not to be found. The music is just right and I’m doing a great pace. I clock 7.5 kms in the first hour. Things are grand. As I pass past the last of the paragliders, I round the rock. By the GPS, it’s a dead left. By my corrections I need to adjust 60 Degrees.
As I do that, a sharp wind whacks me. I figure someone isn’t happy about my change of direction. I prepare myself for a little headwind. That’s a collossal understatement. Looking up, I see clouds stretch for miles. Lovely white clouds, blowing on a lovely collossal wind. I’m caught. I tell myself it’s a bad stretch, the wind will abate. 20 minutes later, I’m checking how far I’ve gotten. It isn’t flattering. I’m out in open water, and the wind, and with them, waves are falling right at me. I’ve come down hard from a wave on the trip, but not this repeatedly. Every minute I climb a big swell and fall off it. Apart from straining the back, it massively kills my speed as the bow of my kayak dips into the water. I’ve switched to a longer paddle to keep the going slower but surer. After two
hours, I’ve clocked just 13 kms. That’s a meagre 5.5 kms in the last hour. Luckily with the corrected course, I’ll shave off 2 kms. I have another 13-14 to go. The safety boat has caught up. On the boat, everything is wet. They’re having a tough time too, with Santosh bailing out more water than he’s covering.
I whip off my hydration pack and open my energy bar. Every 5 second halt brings me 90 degrees around and parrallel with incoming waves. Correcting it with the rudder is almost useless. I have to paddle. As the gopro goes out, I signal the safety boat. As I hang on and get the gopro out and the new one on, I spend a little more than 2 minutes. I stare at my GPS while Shanj brings the new one out of the bag. With every 10 seconds we drift 10 metres. I keep getting further away. I can’t afford stopping. As Shanj offers me a fruit, I refuse it, opting for a quick swig of juice instead. I take the paddle back in my hands. On the go-pro I’ve wasted 1 minute 40 seconds and my kayak is again 90 degrees to where I want to go.
I paddle away, and straighten course. The wind is not done. It’s just as strong and still bearing down right at me. Relentless. It’s akin to a bumping kart ride with the swells and the falls. Only I can’t get off after 15 minutes. And I can’t stop paddling. I’m well into the middle of the route. I’m wondering whether hugging the coast would have been calmer. But it’s a little late for that. After 3 hours are done, Shanj and the safety boat draw alongside. She’s wondering how far we are. I tell her the truth. We are about 10 kms away. But in the last hour I’ve done 4.5 kms. 4.5. It’s going to be a really long day.
I get back to paddling. I drink my hydration drink fast. I drink water fast. I pee fast when the wind dies for just a bit. Then it’s back to paddling. As the waves are coming in, I’m trying to weave past them as best I can. After 3.5 hours of it, I finally open my leg up for a bit. My toes hurt from changing directions. That’s definitely a first. When it’s finally under 7 kms, I breathe a little. That could be done in an hour normally. It doesn’t feel that far. My Suunto tells me otherwise. I’m averaging 5.7 km/hr after doing a 7.5 in the first hour. If I make it to the nearest rockface, I could probably find less wind. After about 30 minutes of paddling, it starts to pay off. The wind is a little calmer and Vengurla is 4 kms away. I switch to a shorter paddle and crank up the pace.
As we approach Vengurla, the safety boat asks me where the jetty is. I can’t be sure. Again, it’s a long beach. Great. As I battle it out, I pass the lighthouse. It’s a small white red thing, and I get the feeling the worst is over. Shanj confirms the jetty is right around the rock. This is good news. As we weave around the rocks, I see it. It’s a small jetty attached to the beach. As I take waves on my starboard side, I think about that one small stretch today that I will have the wind behind me. As I round the last rock, I finally get the wind. It lasts me 50 metres.
I’m now at Vengurla. Having done 26.5 kms in 4.5 hours.
If the heavens don’t part, we will paddle hard into Goa.
A calm, cool morning in Ratnagiri started with Dad waking me up. It was time. As I packed everything and set my bags outside the room for the driver, dad calls me to his room for tea. We all make for the dining room where Kalpana is making us an early breakfast. Yes, it’s 3 boiled eggs and a tapela of museli. I’m going to approach Kellogs for the next one. Or that ‘Ande khao Ande, Sunday ho ya Monday’ campaign chaps.
Hydration pack filled. I make for the beach with Bandya. He helps me take the kayak through the pagoda and then down to the beach. Kalpana and Ashok and his two children come with us. The little one has missed school to come see me off. I’m hoping she was joking. I have mixed feelings on this one. I run through my stretches and take a couple of selfies with everyone. A couple of fishermen, who’ve loved the kayak for the last 2 days it’s been parked here, run down to ask me some last minute questions. It’s 6:45 and I make for the water. Kayak in, butt in, legs in, paddle out. I wave goodbye and head towards the lighthouse.
Two trips to Ratnagiri and I’ve never seen that lighthouse. The water is calm going out and I enjoy a good honest speed. A long line of cement breakers shelter Bhagwati bundar. Rounding it I get the smell of fish. Wanting to be rid of it, I paddle hard. 20 minutes and I’m out of sight of the beach party. I’m rounding the bend and coming alongside the lighthouse. It’s everything I’ve thought it to be since the first time I came to Ratnagiri, a few months back while scouting for places to train. Apart from being 7 hours away, and having calm waters, there is nothing wrong with it. The water is green blue and clear as day, there are police patrols, the fish is brought right to my doorstep and I can make myself a nice Kawa in the afternoon and sleep in a pagoda. Mandwa made me tough though. So in my mind I thank Randhir and the BSA for hosting me there. At an hour in I’ve made 8.5 kms and I’m roughly halfway into my first stretch of the day. Pawas is a calm village I’ve been told and dad is intent on visiting some asharam there. I’m ok with anything as long as A. I don’t paddle past 9 and B. I can recharge my gopro for the long 22 km stretch I intend to do in the afternoon. A good friend and fellow kayaker had some advice about changing the length of my kayak to suit my stroke rate mid trip, so I happily make way for a longer paddle and longer strokes. It’s good going. Observing my videos after the first 4 days, I’d also noticed my left blade not cutting into the water cleanly, so I changed my angle from a 45 to a 60 and I think it got me a lot more purchase in the water. I coast along and am on course according to my Suunto GPS. That’s when my safety boat catches on. Bandya and his friend had chosen to come with the safety boat to Pawas, and I thought it would be good, specially since mom wanted to do this stretch in the morning. I notice the absence of mom on the boat however.
At 2 hours 11 minutes, I’ve done 17.5 kms and I’m making a beeline straight for Pawas beach. This is when my safety boat comes straight at me, and tells me that the jetty is just beyond the hill. Now, no disrespect for people in villages, but when they say it’s just a little further, it could be 200 metres or 5 kms. I look upwards. It’s just past 9 and it’s about to come down. I don’t want to spend a minute more in this heat and glare then I have to, because I intend on paddling a fair distance in the evening. I ask exactly how far. Someone hollers back, it’s just beyond the second rock. I turn course. Now I’m not saying I’m a math prodigy, and I’m not saying I’m not, but 2 comes after 1 in my books, so when the rounding is a handful of rocks and 8 kms ahead, with the 9-10 a.m. sun bearing down with a vengeance, I am visibly upset. For the first time on the trip, I curse. I’m upset we are running after a jetty when we have a good beach to land on, and I have to deal with the direct glare while the safety boat sits cosy in the back shielded from it all. Mostly, it changes the plan drastically. When we round the turn that needs rounding, I see no jetty. As my safety boat confers with the fishing boats, I’m flushed. It’s hot and I’ve had less than 3 litres of water and no food. It will tell in the evening. That’s when Santosh calls out there is a creek. Creeks are bad. A. They are out of the way. I will have paddled 2 kms in the wrong direction. B. With the wrong tide and a strong wind, I could spend a long time battling those 2 kms to get back out. I contemplate stopping at the beach, but seeing no one on it, or a visible access by road, I resign myself to it, and make for the creek. There are strong waves here and I brace for them. Paddling on, I spot the bridge, and the small jetty under it. Even in my anger, I can’t help marvel at how beautiful the landscape is on either side. To the left, coconut trees are angled over red tiled roofs and quaint houses under them. It looks cool, and dry and welcoming. You’d think of a V.S. Naipaul book (without all the depressing truths about migrant Indians). To the right is a brown sand beach. And tall slender green tress, the kind that would sound great with the wind rustling through. I dropped the black dri-fit a long time back, and coming in a cool wind dries me. I stop paddling as I reach the jetty and Bandya and his friend come out to welcome me. They can sense I’m upset. We are at Purnagad. ‘Just next’ to Pawas. I clock exactly 27 kms. This was supposed to be a good warm up run.
As my boatsmen haul my kayak up, I change into dry clothes. Mom and dad are here and they’ve had a good time atop the Purnagad fort watching me labouring in the water. I laugh a little. My mom always cheers me up. Dad takes in the gravity of that extra hour on the water, and as a crowd accumulates at the small jetty under the bridge, I sit sullen eating my dry fruits and dangling my legs over the water. Once everyone has dispersed, and a group photo of Purnagad’s residents has been taken, we make for what dad is excited about.
Now I know everyone knows a lot about mom, but let’s talk about dad for a bit. My dad is the coolest person I know. I’ve never known him to lose his cool, and I’ve always known him for talking straight and getting the job done. He single handedly got us clearance from the Maharashtra Maritime Board, and the Indian Coast Guard. He’s handled the boat fuel and it’s crew and our driver (a story for another time). He also manages acco before I land and somehow always has a flask of tea for when I do. He’s a rockstar, without all the hang-ups. He loves talking and enjoying life and seeing me do what I like. When I said I was doing the goa trip, he said – ‘Chalo, my driver and I will be there with you.’ He could fly a mission to mars and be home with flask of hot tea. Today he’s excited. He’s been chatting at a tea stall and somehow gotten us invited to lunch at the house of the Sarpanch of this area. How he does it, I will never know. Just off the jetty, is a row of village house akin the ones I saw from out in the water. He ushers me in and tells her I want to rest. I’m shown a small sofa / storage unit / bed. As I stretch my legs, get out my laptop and cameras and watches and harddrive that all need tending to, the grandmother gets down to work. My mom, who’s now head of photography, squeals in delight as she sees a Chula. Surely enough, there’s a nice small rectangular brick kiln and the grandmom is feeding in dry branches. As the flames catch on, wood-smoke escapes through a gap in the tiles from where the morning light is streaming through. Time could stand still, and we wouldn’t notice.
I back up the video, clear the SD cards, charge my phone and show everyone photos from the trip. I revise my route on the website. And forget to plug in my watch to sync and recharge. The food is ready, and we dig into Chula-made chapattis and Bangda. It’s earthy. It’s brilliant. Fatigue and food. Both perfect recipes for a nice snooze and before I know the sofa-storage-bed is cleared for me, and I’m asleep. Babies don’t sleep so well. I wake up 45 minutes later much refreshed. As I snap out of it, the Sarpanch (Did I tell you it’s a lady sarpanch. That’s amazing. I was damn happy.) comes to me and gifts me a shawl and a coconut. She says it’s for the journey ahead and that she is both happy and proud. I don’t know what to say. It’s overwhelming.
As I finish transferring all my data and get packed again, her husband tells us about fishing in these parts and how a certain South African comes down to Purnagad to catch 7 kg whoppers and stays with them. Oscar Chalupsky, 12 time world champion in surfski kayaking, and the person responsible for my technique, is South African. He’s a massive chap, who insists on drinking beer instead of water, and won his 12th at the tender age of 49. I believe this chaps story.
As I approach the jetty, I realise someone let everyone in on when I was leaving. There’s a crowd of people there, and as I catch up on some peace and quiet and subsequently do my stretches, I feel a lot of eyes on me. Finally at 3:45, I gauge that I can do my 16 kms in about 2.5 hours and be left with enough sunlight to get back to whatever resort dad sorts out for us. The next halt is Ambolgad-Godavne and I’ve chosen to halt at Godavne beach, a 6 km long stretch that will let me take a straight line course down to Girye, our halt for tomorrow morning. Little do I know.
The kayak is brought down, I switch the go-pro on and head out. I wave to the crowd of Purnagad a bye and paddle hard. I’m out of the jetty. Someone tells me I’ve got a high tide till 5. As I battled the incoming tide and the wind, the safety boat pulls up next to me. It’s slow going for the first 3 kms and I’m hoping that once I get clear off the coast it calms down and I can ride a downwind. It doesn’t. The water gets choppy and soon my back is strained. I’m tossed around relentlessly as the waves surge all around. I think back to that time in Mandwa when I’d somehow got myself between some rocks and waves had hit me from all sides. It’s rough going but I’m still averaging 7 kms/hr. The water is beautiful though, and what little wind there is, is behind me. Also I’ve waited out the sun, so the skin can stay on. Just as we get to the last turn near Godavne, things get really choppy. A seemingly harmless wave catches me while I’m signalling to the rescue boat, and I tilt bad. The wave hits me on starboard and I tilt over to port. I compensate and end up tilting too far on the other side. I slap my paddle in hard on starboard again and as it purchases water, I pull my hip back in. Then I paddle on.
When the beach is in sight, I find that the wind picks up. Just for fun, my go pro has gone out. It’s a little early. I have a backup but it’s too choppy to change it right away. I turn the kayak right around. In the wind and the waves. I have a fairer chance of doing it if I see the next wave. I lean forward and pull the old one out. My hydration bag that has run out of water becomes a storage. I get hit by 3 waves before I can get the new one out the bag and switched on. I hold the paddle down and lean forward. The gopro never snaps on easily but right now I could really use the help. I’ve paddled 41 kms today and conditions are a little bad. Finally it’s on, I steer the boat and bring it back on course.
Every swell picks me up and drops me down and again. I’m back to a 213 cm paddle and smaller strokes closer to the kayak. When the boat finally draws up next to me, I’m a km from shore. They say it’s too close and choppy for them and they are going to Ambolgad. I ask mom about my phone but apparently in the rush, it’s packed away in some other bag. I don’t think too much of it, I’m close to shore and safety. I’ve paddled 43 kms and 6 hours. We part ways. And our adventure begins.
On the Safety Boat.
Mom tries to give me some hydration drink before she leaves. It’s been a rough time on the water and it’s made eating or drinking difficult. It’s nearly impossible bringing my kayak parallel to the boat, and the safety boat drifts way more even if I can hold on. It’s dangerous, so I hadn’t tried to get any of it.
As the boat was being rocked with waves, mom insists on keeping the boat as close to me, till I alight from the kayak. She tells me later – “It was like riding the waves. And everytime it landed down, it gave that feeling of emptiness in the stomach.” (Free falling) Despite being scared on the water, she strained her eyes to spot me in the huge waves. It was difficult. In the distance she sees me 20 metres from shore through the plastic binoculars dad had bought a day before from a toy-store in Ratnagiri. They turned the boat around and made for Ambolgad jetty. It was 2 kms of choppiness and then they slipped out of the bad weather. They turned around the bend and entered the picturesque horse-shoe Ambolgad bay. “The moment we turned, everything was calm and beautiful. I had no idea what my son was upto though.” Coming into Ambolgad, the receding tide made her think they were stopping at full throttle. Finally they made halt at the jetty. She said to herself, “my husband has probably picked him up, and I was safe at the jetty at sunset. What an uneventful day.”
On the jetty she got no reception, so she spent some time taking photographs when Santosh told her we were staying at a hotel on the beach.
Dad had spoken to him and told him to take her to it. So she started to walk down to the hotel. A lady told her to walk on the road and not take the beach. She thought nothing of it. Mom walked along the beach. At the gate, a great dane came sniffing. Mom’s fear of dogs came back, but she stayed strong and a servant came to take it away. He asked if mom had a reservation, and mom said no. She sat in the reception area and called Dad. There was no network. So she tried my number, forgetting it was in one of the bags. Same result.
Around 6:45 she got through to the driver. Dad told her he hadn’t spotted me yet. It had been 45 minutes since she left me. Then she lost all network coverage. But she kept trying dad’s number. Around 7:30 she got through to Dad. He had not seen me yet. Mom started to worry. 10 minutes later, dad showed up alone. As a welcome, the hotel staff let her know Leopards roamed the area. Someone had seen 7 walking through the village. The flood gate of fear had been opened.
On the Car
Dad had left Purnagad, and made a beeline to Godavne. The coast guard at Purnagad had no clue. It was a similar story all the way to Natte. Policemen and rickshaw drivers alike. Dad asked for Ambolgad and made his way to it. At a medical shop, finally someone told them where the beach was. It was 3 kms away. A couple of boys on a motorcycle guided them through a road made of cut stones. Accessing it by car was impossibile they said. It was 4:30.
He parked the car and walked through dry grass paths and broken stones. It looked like a goatherd’s road but it brought him to the beach. It stretched for miles. They came back and looked for a place to stay. They found a lovely resort on the beach. He enquired about the jetty, and found it walking distance away. With the unapproachable beach, and the calm jetty, he called my mom to ask me to kayak down to Amobolgad beach with the safety boat. That familiar wonder of ‘no-network’ kicked in and he couldn’t get through. So they drove back to the goat path over the beach and they walked down. A bunch of local 12th std boys sat drinking on the beach. They assured them they were at the right beach.
Dad stayed put. Around 6 they spotted the boat go past and dad got a text telling them I was further up the beach. Dad and the driver walked down the beach as far as they could before the light started to slip away. It was 7 o’clock and the road they had taken was treacherous. Armed with a small torchlight, they headed back. Walking up the path and back into the car, a local fisherman told them to ask for help with the police. He returned to find a panicked mom. He tried to keep her calm as the owner of the hotel came and reassured them that he would find his son.
At the Resort
As dad tried to get her tea, my mom insisted on being part of the rescue team being assembled. She told them she knew where I had been left so she could find me. The owner of the hotel opened a map of the place as they tried to find where I’d been left. When she showed him where I had been dropped off, he told her that area was uninhabited for 1500 acres and was enclosed with dense forests and non-motorable roads. It had started to rain down on the dam of her fears.
“I pictured you on a dark empty beach with leopards around you and a stormy sea and cold winds. I hated the sea.” The police inspector of the area informed them that they had motor boats but no lights to man them. A rescue by sea was futile. Mom was livid.
The owner arranged for a search team with the locals on bikes as it was the only form of transport on the beach. Santosh and Vishal, the boatsmen and the new driver, Deepak had arrived and they decided to go out looking for me. The owner gave them instructions and they left with the locals.
On the beach.
Godavne. Avne can be roughly translated to Earth. It amused me some thinking that that Godavne could then be loosely termed as God’s earth? Nothing could be further from the truth. If God intended this to be how Earth was supposed to be, it would make Will Smith’s movie ‘After Earth’ a lot more believable. But I digress, and I’ve gone ahead of how the day played out.
It was 6:15 when I’d parted ways from the safety boat. I had drunk the last of my water, and as I glanced to my watch, it had stopped recording a while back. The GPS plotting for both navigation and clocking my journey had drained my battery to 2%. It was now just a watch. It didn’t bother me. The wind was behind me, the beach was white, and the water looked warm and inviting. As I struggled through the last km with the heavy waves, I looked for a clean exit. This is tough and you have to look for where the waves are breaking and avoid them. As I was a good distance out, I found a spot. It was a lot closer to the hill on the left than I intended but the wind to my right looked way worse. So I made for it. I knew it would be rough, but I was wrong. It would be a lot worse. I straightened my kayak on approach and upped the rudder. I would lose steering but it would save my rudder if something went wrong. As I lined it up for approach waiting for a big wave to break and run after it, I forgot to look back. A wave broke right behind me. A big swell rushed right over my stern. I braced left, then braced right. The wave hit me right along my starboard side, and I tried hard to keep it in control. The kayak was being pulled right from under me. I was dragged for 10 metres before I was thrown out. The wave was over my head. My glares were lost within seconds. As the wave passed I saw my hydration pack fall out, followed by my bailer and sponge. I collected all three as they floated. By then the kayak was far out. I swam to it as best I could with a paddle and a handful of stuff. I could probably stand if I tried, but the waves were too strong. And a steep undercurrent kept pulling me back under. In the distance I could see the kayak bobbing if not being thrashed around. It didn’t matter to the waves that it wasn’t a small plastic mug. It tossed it around like one. When I fnally got on the beach, I turned the kayak around and found the gopro with its’ face kissing the kayak. I announced where I was and dragged the kayak up. What fun. I was pumped.
I took a quick account of what I had. Gopros – check. Paddle –check. Hydration Pack – check. Mug, sponge, life jacket. My glares had bid goodbye. I stared at the sun. It was blurry. Damn blurry suns. I looked at the hills. They were blurry. Damn blurry hills? Contact lens – check half. I was blind in my left eye. What fun. This was Uran all over again.
Through my right eye, I saw the bluest water ever. White waves broke for miles. The limited beach I saw was white and the hills stretched for more miles than beach. What a place. It was beautiful. I put everything in the kayak, happy with the tide going out. I took the gopro out and went out for some surf photography. The results would not disappoint me the next day. As I shot a video, I realised that the waves were colossal and drifted me in, but as much as it did that, the ebbing tide pulled me even further in and south. The sand was quick to give way and everything conspired to take you in and deep. I did the first sensible thing. Got out. Back at Malgund, near Ganpatipule I’d stayed in the water to stay warm till the car picked me up. I couldn’t do that at God’s Earth. I stripped off the wet skin and dried off. The sun was still going down and I sat back to enjoy it. A big crab climbed out it’s house, saw me and went back in. Another was caught out and I ran after it with my go pro till it finally found an unoccupied hole to climb down. I laughed. Everything was alright.
As I sat back down, the wind picked up. I can’t be sure if it was the exhaustion, but it was the most piercing wind I’d hit yet. I looked up and down the beach. It had been half an hour since I’d been on the beach, and I wanted to be spotted. Half to be spotted, half for relief from+ the wind, I dug my paddles into the sand on the windward side in the form of a cross. I tied it together with my wet skin and draped the cross with the big lifejacket. I then sat on the leeward side and shivered. As the sun started setting, it got colder. I remembered the plastic sheet the kayak had come in, that I had rolled into the back storage area. I got it out and wrapped myself inside it to make a conical tent. Every 30 seconds I had to peer out of it to look for lights. And it let in cold air. N o sight of the car. No torches. No lights. Nothing.
I got out of my tent and climbed into the plastic sheet. I dragged it all the way over my face. Then lay down next to the kayak with my head on the cockpit so I was protected by my life jacket and could stare in the direction of Ambolgad down south for those two headlights I was convinced would show up. Those lovely crabs I had run after started to come out. Soon the beach was crawling with crabs of every size. As I looked out my self-fashioned sleeping bag, they surrounded me. I shook a leg and one slunk back. Before it came back out, devoid of fear, another had moved closer to my right. I didn’t fancy being crab food or bitten by crabs. When the light was really fading, I had a three options. Head back out and kayak down to Ambolgad. Or walk to the closest village. Or stay put and wait for backup. The former meant fighting these waves in the dark with no gps. The second meant not knowing which direction was closest, not having a way over the hills and no torch light, or phone, or gps. The last one just sounded silly.
I played it out in my head. Dad would stop at nothing to find me. He hadn’t. It was an hour. Something must have stopped him. My mind filled with thoughts of what had gone wrong with mom. It was the worst feeling ever. I had to get to a phone.
Back at Purnagad, the high tide had been till 5. It was 7. I had 4 hours to retrieve this kayak. I pulled the kayak up as high as I could. Found a stump that looked like it ran deep. The sand was dry and looked like it stayed that way. I used the rubber straps that had come with the kayak to strap the front of the kayak securely to the stump. But they were just rubber straps. I found what I could use. I put on my lifejacket, bundled my gopros in the hydration pack. Took one half of the paddle in each hand. I threw the rest in the day hatch. The nearest clearing looked to my right, and up north. I counted steps while I walked, but then it hit me. My parents would be coming from the south. They wouldn’t spot my kayak, and I would have gone the wrong way. I turned around. Light was fading fast at 7:15. The half moon above helped and I could see the ominous hills to my left. I stuck close to the water and walked. It crossed my mind to run.
Conserve strength. Stay warm. I walked. All along the water, I could see lights of passing ships. Miles out. In the far distance I saw the warm light of a lighthouse hidden by a hill. I knew the rough lay of the map in my mind. I lit up my watch and it reminded me to charge my watch. This was good advice. When it finally showed me the time, it was 7:25 and I had no idea how far I’d walked. So I walked some more. I felt no pain. That would come later. I thought of what was wrong. There were no flashlights on the beach. Behind me or ahead. There was no village lights or street lights. And the wind blew. The jacket kept me away from it, but my shorts were damp and I was chafing. My shoes were wet, and not the best for walking. It crossed my mind to run.
I walked past big boulders and school bags. I walked past wooded patches and bare hills. If it didn’t stand out as a silhouette, I couldn’t see it. I walked past crabs and receeding water. I walked past washed up slippers and dark outlines. The wind whistled and I thought of wild dogs. I had my paddles. Could be fun. I walked some more. I called out. And I yelled. Nothing.
It was 7:50 and I was still walking. I tried to do the math. I had tried to save 7-8 kms of paddling by landing here. This beach could be 6 kms long. I’d walked 40 minutes atleast. Running would kill time and if I maintained a good pace, I could end this infernal beach in 10-15 more minutes. It crossed my mind to run.
With my one good eye I spotted another light. This however was to the left of the rotating light. The light that was a light house. Hidden by a hill. This light had to be on a beach. I called out. And I yelled. Nothing.
I walked till my calves were sore. I drained out the last of my hydration bag. When I got closer, I remembered the orange whistle on my hydration pack. I blew it. I rang that whistle like never before. Bhist sir from PE class who was more of a disciplinarian than the late Adolf H. Hadn’t blown it so hard. And he was a mean whistleblower. The light stirred. And then it ran a circle. It passed right past me. I jumped and waved my white paddles, and it passed right past me. It ran back. But there were people. Where there were people there was a phone. I ran. I blew my whistle and ran.
Finally the light stirred again. It ran right around, and it found me. It stayed on me for 20 seconds and It felt like a warm glove squeezing the cold out of the wind around me. I walked again. Then the light went back to what it was doing. Strange. I continued walking. Finally when I got within distance, I saw it. 4 locals sitting on a push cart. With booze. Never have I been happier to see drunkards.
When I reached them, the exhaustion kicked in. I was suddenly tired. If it’s difficult to explain how a half-clad kayaker has kayaked from Mumbai on his way to goa and in between lost both his safety boat and his accompanying car with no light, no phone and no water, try doing it to 4 chaps in varying degrees of inebriation. Finally I took one of their mobiles. Two of them were from Mumbai. That was nice. I dialled a number. Nothing on mom’s phone. Same with dad’s. Same with mine. I called Shanj. She finally realised it was me, and breathed a sigh of relief. More importantly she told me mom was fine, and so was dad. They were just worried. I breathed easy and told her to keep trying their numbers.
A bike went past and then another. I was in a daze and didn’t think to ask. Then someone comes over and enquires whether they’d seen anyone in a white ‘hodi’(boat) go past. Since this seems terribly peculiar I suggested they were looking for me. That’s when a crying Santosh man-hugged me. Quite clearly someone had panicked. I was happy but anxious to tell mom not to worry. That was the other fear I’d had. A worrying mom.
On the way there, the guy driving the bike kept telling me my mom was worried. I wished he’d drive faster. Luckily it wasn’t far. I think Santosh had already called ahead. When I arrived at the resort, I looked around. Someone screamed out – “Aala ka?” (Has he arrived)
Mom came out. She looked worried sick. So I hugged her. I asked her if she was ok. In the back, dad looked calm but relieved.
The owner came out and said he was glad. He then told my mom that he hadn’t told her, but there are packs of leopards out and about the part of the beach I’d landed on. Later I learnt someone else had not been so smart. Mom had been worried stiff.
Dad got the stuff moved up out of the car. Apparently I’d caused a stand still. And the night was young.
As the hotel staff exchanged stories of Leopard sightings, my mind raced to the high tide, and sweeping my kayak away. I had 2 hours. We needed to rescue my Kayak.
Dad had me get a hot water bath and a tea and sandwiches. Outside the owner, Arun Parkar, a gem of a guy, was contemplating how to bring the kayak back. One it was 6 kms away on a beach that was not motorable. The area was plagued by leopards, so not too many people would put their hands up about going there. It struck him to call a couple of local fisherman. His right hand man went to get one.
He came back with Amit. Not the first choice in fishermen it would appear, but that saying about stranded kayakers can’t be choosers. Amit was quick to rule out a rescue by water. I told him I would kayak the kayak out to his boat. He said he wouldn’t come 30 metres of the beach and with the wind that had set in after the sunset and the hightide approaching, he was in no mood to endanger his boat. Having just stepped off that beach, I couldn’t fault him. So that was out. What he did suggest was he and his friends would go and carry it back. It sounded daft, but it seemed the only way. Only they didn’t know where it was. While I pointed out that it was far, and at the end of the beach, I know I was going. There was a high likelihood of missing the kayak altogether, and we couldn’t lose the time to go back there again. Santosh and Deepak, our boatsman and driver, said they would come too.
So we huddled into the car. 6 of us. One wooden stick and 4 flashlights. And 6 kms one way. We were in for a fun ride. When we got out the car at the mouth of the beach, Amit and his band of friends, said – ‘We will run ahead and find it, you guys catch up.’ Which seemed fine by me until we realised that we had lost them way behind. Santosh and I were in the lead, and we kept checking on the boys. Surely enough the tide was turning and with every step you could see a flurry of activity as tens of crabs scampered to safety. It was slow going, as I only had silhouettes to gauge where I was and compare it to my past memory. After we cross the point with a coconut tree atop the hills to my right, Amit caught up. Almost like he knew the spot, he pointed in the direction of a dark object in the sand. It was oval and massive. A dead turtle lying on it’s back. It must have been there a while. One could tell. Even in the moonlight. I had more pressing worries, so I pressed on. When we’d gone but 500 metres on, Amit started complaining. Since I was using the flashlight to get a bearing of the surroundings, he was quick to point out – ‘He doesn’t even know where it is! He told us it’s just past the coconut trees.’ I snapped and told him to keep walking. I knew we’d have to pay him extra later, but I couldn’t be bothered. A kayak sitting all alone with rubber straps tied to a stump battling the incoming tide was my only concern. So I walked some more.
I would love to say something more eventful happened but for the* most part it was walking in deep sand. It was slower going, because I’d dragged the kayak up on dry sand, and there was a split in the levels. Walking down south toward the light, I’d stuck close to the water, and hence firm ground. Here every step was taken in lose earth. It made life slow and painful. My soles were blistering bad. And I needed to pee. I continued walking. We’d gotten on the beach by 9:15 and it was already 10 p.m.. And I was still walking. On the way here I couldn’t have told the time so perfectly, but now with my phone out, every minute was prolonged. It was arduous. Santosh took the heat from Amit, because Amit was too scared to talk to me about the distance. I swapped out my small flash light for Santosh’s as we approached the end of the beach. Up north you could see the cliff face that cornered God’s Earth. We were close, and I shone the light ahead. The sand was black as I remembered it, and thanfully it was still dry. The water had not risen past it just yet, despite it being 10:15. That’s when Amit says – ‘We are at Vethye!’ I coldly respond – ‘So?’ Amit – ‘Vethye is full of thieves. They are always on the beach looking for things. They pick up anything.’ An expensive kayak left in the middle of nowhere is right up the alley of ‘anything’. It takes some effort to stay calm.
Just then, I spot it. The white hull bouncing off my torch light. Beautiful as ever. Right where I left her. I exhult in joy. Just like before, I become aware of all the other senses. My leg is cramping, my soles are chafed. My back hurts. But my kayak is safe. Santosh walks over after me, and goes – ‘Where’s my green mug?’ I laugh. I tell him it’s in the day hatch, as I find a place to pee. Leopards can’t touch me now.
I can’t say whether Amit is pleased or not, and I don’t care. He and his friends pick up the kayak and start walking. The trip back is just as bad. I stop twice to wash out my soles. In their defence Amit and his friends really picked up the pace and we lost them. But having had an exhaustive day, I didn’t give chase.
The walk back was slow and painful, punctuated by just the quick glance back as the wind brushed through shrubs and trees. When the boys bring the kayak around to the mandir where our car is parked, I’m glad when they volunteer to drag it back to the resort. I didn’t fancy climbing on top of the car and tying it securely for the trek back. I get into the car, and head back. When the kayak is left safely and we give Amit and his boys some tea, sandwiches and his hard earned money, it’s 11:45.
I’ve travelled 43 kms by kayak. And 18 by foot.
p.s.: We were scheduled to do a trip down to Devgad the next morning. But we chose to take a rest day. Everyone was exhausted. The driver told me on the walk back last night that it’s the most he has walked in his life. So on Day 13, Mom, Dad and I walked down the goatherd path to Godavne beach. On the walk there, we encountered a dark brown snake that ran through dad’s legs. The walk down in the light showed us a small rivulet that ran down to the beach. It was thick with vegetation and rocks and looked ideal for a spot for wild animals to rest. Down by the beach, we walked a distance of not more than 300 metres and found 3 dead turtles. Massive creatures that lay in various stages of decomposition. Crabs ran helter-skelter all over. Finally, and what dad found wildly fascinating, two bones of the vertebral column of an animal who’s spinal cord was the size of my foot.(I’m a size 9 UK) A beached whale. Bone white in colour and heavier than both my arms.
I’d escaped Godavne. God’s Earth. Where nature comes to die.
Waking up in Ganpatipule to the sound of the sea coming in through the large wooden doors at the MTDC Ganpatipule. It’s 6 o’clock and I need to be down at the water in an hour. The packet of 4 boiled eggs we’d gotten parceled the night before is awaiting me, and mom comes into the room with a serving of sugar for my milk. Shanj throws in some dates. It’s my museli egg breakfast again.
Rounding everything up, I bathe in some sun screen. The first time Rajiv told me to bring sunscreen to Kayaking, I thought “What a sissy sport is this?” Now I don’t get out without it. The morning air is rich with the sound of my driver’s incompetence, as I hear my dad helping him reverse the car. Mornings aren’t his cup of tea. But then again, I’m wondering whether he’s just a coffee person. We huddle in and make for the beach. I’d stopped just short of Ganpatipule, thanks to the quickly receeding light last evening, which led to the discovery of another pristine beach. Malgund. At waist high I could see my toes. I’m not much for staring at toes mind you, but when a nice wave drags the boat right out of your grasp as you stop to admire the beach, it’s useful to find your quickly drowning glasses. Beach admiration should be a course.
As we pass by the early temple go-ers and the early check-out-ers, that familiar feeling of eye-balls on the car hits me. It’s a small winding road and the going is slow. Finally our driver brings it around and plants us on a beach. Shanj is on the boat today, her last day with us for a bit, and she needs to be ferried to the jetty. After a quick huddle for a photo, I make for the water as my land crew heads on. I drag my kayak to the water and jump in. My fingers are swollen and the skin between my thumb and the palm has hardened from chafing. They bid me a good morning, as I set out. Paddling in the morning, with the sun still over the hill is good. The water is not too choppy and the temperature is apt for some exercise. I paddle out 3 kms. At 4 kms, the safety boat catches up and Shanj lets me know I’m doing good time. She then starts to dance about the boat in a manner to scare most gymnasts. This is worrisome. So I paddle on.
At an hour in, I’m at 7.5 kms and I deem it pretty decent given that I have no wind and an ebb tide. I sip some hydration drink and paddle on. It’s 8:15 and the sun is just over the hill. I have another good hour to paddle until the sun turns me dry like that one time I made Lemon chicken. Luckily I had some nice pesto sauce to go with it, and we had ridden that storm. No amount of pesto would do after 9:30. So I paddled on.
At 2 hours my speed has dropped. Thanks, greatly, to a strong headwind blowing in. It’s slowing me down and like before only my GPS tells me I’m moving in the right direction. When I finally get out of it and come under the shadown of the cliffs, I find my safety boat drawing next to me. That charismatic dancer now asks me to eat something. I think it’s an even trade for her not dangling her legs over, so I take out an energy bar. As I sip my hydration drink, I feel the sun’s glare harden. It’s caught me. I’d escaped this hour by paddling in the evening for the last 3 days, but today it would have its measure.
As my mind was contemplating losing the suit and tanning some, I spot that dark black that is a sea snake. Now I won’t say I haven’t spotted a few on the trip already, but if I see another sea snake in my lifetime, it will be too soon. This one however was either blind or tanning, because by the time I could say ‘Sea sna..’ the bow of my kayak had hit it. I hear that familiar boom in the buoyancy chamber up front when I hit something, only this time it’s a nasty, poisonous, bound-to-be-irritated sea snake. There are a few things in this life I take fright to. But snakes have to top the list. It took me 5 years to watch “Snakes on a Plane”. Obviously, that move helped ease my fear. Back to it, I took a minute to stop paddling. Looking left and right, I made sure the sea snake wasn’t giving chase like the policemen we’ve met on the trip so far. When I couldn’t see it, I paddled hard to make sure I was out of that area. It’s up for debate whether a 7.5 km/hr kayaker would outdistance a rattled up sea snake with a headwind and no tide, but I for one wasn’t stopping to find out.
Cliffs. Now the thing with Cliffs is that while they are perfect for navigation, they have this way about them that makes it hard to gauge how far out you are. Through the haze of the morning mist, you spot one and you tell yourself – “Well, old chap, it seems you are there.” And then you paddle for an hour and a half and as the damn cliff just gets bigger, you spot a goat standing up there quizzically looking at you thinking “Damn he’s slow.” or some such. Goats are a mysterious species. And on the water, next to dancing navigators, they are right up there in the list of species you want to leave to their own devices.
So when I crossed the final cliff that is “Serenity Waves” (I don’t make this stuff up) I was glad of it. I had another 2 kms to get to my mama’s lovely house at the end of Ratnagiri with that sweet pagoda overlooking the lighthouse. That’s obviously when cops give chase. As I contemplate making a run for it leaving the boat and it’s occupants to their fate, I think of that goat. And I turn around. We capricons don’t abandon people. Oddly enough by the time I reach the boat, things have reached a casual phase and the cops are guiding my safety boat to the safety of Bhagwati Bundar(Jetty). My arrival in a white kayak and parrot green skin with a tomato red face was quite a sight and the cops all drew to the bow of their boat to take a photo with me.
As the safety boat did what it does best, stay safe, I paddled straight to the palms and the white sand. I remember from my last stay here that there was a place the fishermen would bring their trawlers up, and that my uncle has palm trees on his property. From 2 kms out I made for the largest bunch of palm trees. When I saw an open expanse with what looked like drying out old boats, I knew I’d found the right place. Paddling in at 500 metres, I saw the pagoda and outside it, as always a beacon of light, a single person that had to be my mom. She waited there the whole time, till I drew up onto the beach and parked my kayak; then she climbed down and came to see me. My uncle’s left hand man came down to greet me, and helped me with my kayak, until the local boys who’d been fascinated by the white, green and red made themselves useful too. My dad’s driver sat up on high and watched.
As the kayak was brought up, I walked through the gates and took my seat in that lovely brown pagoda with a green, cocounut tree laden garden, and looked out onto the calm blue-green waters of Ratnagiri. As we stared out, a school of dolphins welcomed me just 500 metres out. Day 10 is done, and we are that much closer.
Red octagonal cottages. Atop a small hill. Overlooking green water and a white beach. Sometimes it pays to wake up at 6:30 in the morning. You can hear the light sounds of the waves as the tide leaves the shore showing you black rocks between the whites. The resort has a slide and swing. Some things never go out of fashion? And a quick breakfast later, it’s time to catch up on some more sleep.
It’s hot in Velneshwar and there’s not much else you can do. The drive up to the resort is steep, so we trek down for lunch. Pawal is the fish of the day, and I put down as much of it as I can risk two hours before paddling. It’s going to be a hot day. And I need to hit Ganpatipule tonight.
Getting back to the resort, I try and get some more rest. It’s a combination of an evil lingering cold, exhaustion and dehydration that gets me 45 minutes of sleep. Then it’s time for sunscreen.
As we drive the kayak down to the beach, the restauranter next to the beach and his customers come down to see me off. It’s 3 o’clock and still no mercy from the sea. I must be daft they reckon. I think they’re right. As on cue, the sun turns up the dials a little. As I slip out of the rocks lining Velneshwar, I try and pick up the pace. 30 minutes later, I’m still no quicker. At an hour, it’s 7 odd kilometers and I’m just rounding Jaigarh Fort. As I pass past a huge factory on the left, that smell of civilisation wafts through the hot afternoon air. I paddle hard.
On the hill here at Jaigarh stands a massive lighthouse. In it’s streaks of white and red, it looks magnificent and I pale in magnitude. I stop half for a selfie, half to let off some steam. It’s 4:20 and the sun is still not letting up. Not much to do apart from sip some drink.
The problem is dehydration. It’s going to get to me in a bit. On the boat, Shanj calls out for me to eat something. So I welcome the break. My go pro looks like it will give out in a bit, and as we sit chatting about the heat and my needing to drink and pee more, it gives way. A devour an orange to the amusement of Shanj and then quickly swap my go-pro out. The new one will give me 2 hours of paddling, but the sun will give me a lot less. By 5:30 it finally relents and I slip off my skin. The warm air quickly dries off my skin and I feel much refreshed. At 6 I round the final bend. I have a couple of choices to make.
1. Follow my GPS down to Ganpatipule. It’s 6 kms out and I can make it in 45 minutes if I paddle hard. This gets the job done, but leaves the safety boat in the lurch because their nearest jetty is at Malgund and they’d lose all light coming after me.
2. Follow my line of sight to Malgund beach. It’s 2 kms out and it puts me within reaching distance of Ganpatipule and the jetty and the car can come out to get me.
As Shanj plays out the options again, Santosh’s suggestion in the background betrays what he really wants. This coupled with the fact that Ganpatipule has hidden rocks close to shore, ruled 1 out.
As the sun dims behind me softly, I paddle into Malgund. It’s a short stretch but getting there early will not do anything as the car(and dry clothes) are 20 minutes away. It lets me do other things, like admire the water. Stick my feet out on one side and paddle sideways like a crab. Take in the jetty and our boatsmen tie ‘Jaeger’ up. This is what Kayaking is about. What you fill your non-paddling moments with. As I dismount and put my go-pro out, this nasty wave welcomes me to the beach.
As I drag a kayak out onto the shore, I’m alarmed by how clear this water is. It’s also warm. And with no one in sight, I dive back into the water. 1. to swim around 2. to stay warm.
As the last light leaves us, Shanj shows up at the kayak. My driver has done a good job of getting lost and it sends mom into a panic. When we get through to them, we help them find us and that jolly-good-sport of a driver helps me take my kayak back. Racked-up, and a small backrub later, we are packed in and ready to get to Ganpatipule.
Day 9. This is Kaustubh, just short of Ganpatipule. But dry and warm.
Day 7. Murud to Anjanwel
Murud, ahead of Harnai has to be one of the nicest beaches we’ve seen so far. Stretching for kilometers of white sand, and the gurgliest green water, it was ideal to sit back on a hammock and let the wind sweep down from up north. So tempting was the idea that I decided to abandon a morning departure for a more suited evening one, when the wind kicked up and I had it behind me.
The place we were staying at was right on the beach and the hammocks hung low on palm trees. Perfect. We’d arrived the night before and enjoyed the solitude of the place. Murud charges you Rs. 20 for car entry, which is a brilliant practice I think. I’m guessing it goes to the cleanliness of the place. The spot we had landed on 5 kms back was in stark contrast. But Harnai was a brilliant place to find fish. And we found that Santosh is from a village here. His friends on a fishing trawler had spotted him coming in with a white ‘hodi’. And he welcomed the switch to the evening as it meant a longer day at Harnai for him. It also meant freshly caught fish for us.
I used the morning to get some rest. Felt good to sleep in a little, though by 8:30 I couldn’t sleep any more. Since today was the first real rest day, minus the avil-sleep-enduced-haze that was day 5, we decided to get the Kayak ready. Shanj was particularly amused when I took a red bucket and red mug out to clean my Kayak. You must understand that my Kayak likes looking sharp. So a good splash and scrub later, she was gleaming in the sun. As we let her soak some sun, I fielded questions from the other guests staying there, and then the owner of the resort. I told him how he should have some kayaks here as he has a pristine beach and brilliant wind to kayak on. He told me he or the manager would come down for the launch in the afternoon.
I went back to my kayak and Shanj and I plastered all logos that hadn’t gotten covered yet onto the kayak. Once we were done, she looked a beauty. Mom and dad arrived, having refilled the petrol tanks for the safety boat. And Santosh had made good on his promise of fish. It was time to get going. After a lovely meal of prawns koliwada and prawn curry and rice, we got my hydration drink and gopro’s ready. It was time to hit the water.
Our driver was unusually awake, having had a nice night’s sleep on a bed outside in the open at his own insistence. He helped take my kayak to the edge of the water and I started my stretching. The manager showed up with two more friends and a small send off party assembled. A car drove at great speed past me and ran a half-circle around me and my kayak. Everytime this has played out in my head, there were Fast-n-Furious groupies in blue blouses and tinted glasses in the front seat. So I was a little disappointed to see four, obviously afternoon-drunk, gujurati boys with 4 day stubbles.
As the manager took to telling them off for it, and assuring them a good thrashing, I took my kayak into the water. I’d just got onto the water and barely dropped my rudder when Boom. A meter high wave hit me square in the face. I was soaked. As I looked up to laugh into the go-pro, I saw it lying face down. That was a strong wave. I straightened it with my paddle and headed out.
That sweet afternoon breeze was kicking in and I could feel it. It evaporated the heat and I felt strong. I paddled past my safety boat that was looking a little undone by the waves as it approached the beach for my mom and Shanj to get on board. I kept paddling and the waves kept getting stronger. I was having a good time. The green water swayed and snapped and lashed out, as I stroked on. It would lift me up and set me surfing, bow in the air. A real surf. I didn’t feel the heat, or the wetness. Just the wind behind me and the sight of the approaching cliff. By the time the safety boat caught up (in true safety boat style, there was more going on there, than on the kayak) I’d completed my first hour. I’d clocked in 9 kms. A great start. And I didn’t want to look back. But the swell was strong, and on three occassions I came close to being in the drink. I put my earphones away and concentrated. When the first go-pro ran out of juice, I caught up with the boat and we attempted a change. It was terrible, as the boat drifted with every swell and I was furious when the Vishal rammed my kayak with the bow of the boat. I paddled past and headed out.
The second hour was not the most pleasant as Mom looked a little rattled on the boat. I decided she doesn’t enter the boat again, a decision that she would crib about later in the day. It was a little unnerving and I kept the safety boat in sight. I was still doing good time and clocked another 7.5 kms in the next hour. By the time we reached what appeared to be Dabhol, I was doing pretty fine. I considered crossing over to Guhagar on the other side of the rock, but chose against it. A decision that proved to be good, as there’s a massive Jetty on the other side of the rock and I’d have had to do a excess 2 kms with the fading light.
Coming into Anjanwel, we had a rough time, with the swells getting really strong again. I waited a moment to bail some water out. (The first day I really needed a spray skirt and missed it.) And then I dove in. As the safety boat had headed in first to find a jetty, I was puzzled to see it doing cirles. There was a sandbar. And a flock of seagulls for 300 metres standing in the middle of the water. As Santosh turned the boat around to find a mouth to enter the creek, I made straight for the sandbar. My Skin was lose and I was chafing, so I hit the bar, and took it right off. Then draining the rest of the water out the kayak, I carried my kayak right across the sandbar. It was fun. To be a km out from land and walking. This must be what Jesus felt like. I put the kayak back in the water, just as the boat rounded the sandbar and brought the boat around. I paddled the remaining km through the fishing boats and saw the crowd of people assembled on the road looking at my white ‘hodi’. In the distance, over the hill, I could see the 6 twenty-storey-high chimneys of a Gas Power station and here on the low-tided beach 20 women fishing in the mud.
I’d clocked in 24.5 kms in 3 hours and 13 minutes. And was at Anjanwel.
*Paul = Soumik Paul, captain of the IITD and hostel football team, who’s wedding I missed. The stretch I promised to dedicate to you Paulie. Wish you the best in your wedded life.
Day 5 turned into a rest day. 4 days of kayaking in the sun and roughly 22 hours of sleep led to a nicely developed cold. Travelling with two doctors meant this was as serious as Obama’s security. I popped an Avil and then there was only one natural outcome. 11 hours of sleep. I woke up to the airy little MTDC hut we were in and the surly mama bringing us a cup of tea. The rest of the day was spent fighting the drowsiness and total incapacitation that evil Avil’s bring.
So on day 6, when dad came around to wake me at 5 in the morning, I was a tad out of it still. Walking over to my parent’s I saw my customary 3 boiled eggs and a bowl of cold milk. I threw in my museli and had my breakfast in silence. I should have had that cup of tea in hindsight, because huddled into the car, I could have fallen right off to sleep if it hadn’t been for our driver’s night blindness and almost driving us off the road. We arrived at the jetty and he was prompt in helping me loosen my muscles. Shanj was worried about my sponsors logos not all being up. It’s been a rough few days and this was one of the few days we had the kayak with us and not on the safety boat. As we cleaned and plastered the remaining logos onto the kayak, our safety boat had arrived at the jetty.
We were on the Harihareshwar jetty that ferries people to Bankot. And I’d halted at Velas. A couple of kms out. We were going to ferry the Kayak back to the point of my disembarkment to be sure the flow was correct. Bundling the kayak onto the boat, we left as the first rays were behind us. A cold wind was taking us out and so was the low tide. I welcomed it at this point. And when they dropped me off at Velas, I effortlessly got in the kayak and started paddling. It wasn’t until 3 minutes in that I looked at my watch. 300 metres. Must be the strong waves at the beach. When it was 12 minutes in and I was just 1.2 kms out, I started to feel something was off. My body was fine. I had no sores, aches, cramps or fatigue in any of the muscles. Yet, I was abysmmally slow. I tried to pick up the pace. For the first 4 kms, I got nothing. There was no wind, no tide helping me, and I had taken 40 minutes. Something was way off. I rounded Velas and made my way past the Kelshi creek. This is where the morning air hit me. Coming in from Port, I had a strong wind blowing me out. Worse still was the fact that the left side of my face was freezing.
I was drenched already and the wind was biting. An hour in I had done just 6 kms and for the first time in the trip, I voluntarily pulled the life jacket out of the back. It helped keep me warm some, and by the time the rescure boat caught up, I had to tell them I was suffering. Mom was worried, but I was convinced it was just the remnants of the cold. I threw my wet cap into the boat and continued with just my glares. When a very unnerved rescue boat went out of sight, I peed, drank the last of my energy drink and took off my skin altogether. I snapped my hydration pack back on and swung my life jacket around me. The wind was still cutting but it got less traction off of my skin than the wet dri-fit I had on. The sun was coming out and it provided some warmth too.
By the end of the second hour I was clearly struggling. I had just cleared 10.5 kms which meant it was my slowest hour of paddling to date. Things were looking a little off. I had to come in for my customary go-pro change and it allowed me to get some energy drink and some gulkand barfi’s(those things are awesome). We decided to break at Harnai instead of our intended Murud. There’s something about being able to see where you are headed that gives you that extra spurt. Two and a half hours in, I was shown where we were headed, and it did the trick. Despite the massive haze that was my mind, I surged on. It also helps to spot dolphins. My first sight was after Kelshi. I paddled on, sun bearing down, wind reduced and a higher speed for sure. For large stretches I paddled with my eyes closed using the sun’s glaring light and the waves as bearing. It gave me a measure of
rest while still paddling but it was mostly momentary. It was not going to be an easy day. At 3 hours, I was at 16.5 kms. Visiblly faster the last hour but still slow going. We were standing outside Murud and Santosh tells me to make between the two forts, one on the island, one on the mainland. I didn’t question it. Caught between the irritation of doing just 20 odd kms and the relief of seeing shore, I paddled on. Passing the fort, I couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty of it. Three storeys high atleast and built on an island, I wondered how many men toiled ferrying the supplies to the island and how long it would have taken to erect this wonder.
At the end of the stretch the safety boat was waiting. There was a sandbar and rocks protecting Harnai and we had to go around it. Some solace to my battered ego of doing my leanest day yet. 19, 20, 21 Kms I paddled right past it. And turned toward the beach. Only there was none. Not that I could see. There was a battery of fishing boats of all shapes and sizes. Big bright red ones and small row boats with no motors. Bright coloured flags littered their stern and the men sat on deck taking in the
sun or playing cards. There was a look of wonder amongst them as I glided in, top-nude(I’d discarded the life-jacket after it got too hot), in a white kayak and a cap and glasses. One of two even called me to them. Just today, I couldn’t be bothered. I looked all around for the beach, and found nothing. To port, I could see a stoned walled road and a familiar gold car with a carrier on top. I waved out and kayaked closer. Someone got out of the car and pointed me to the end of the road. From a distance I could hear the unmistakable voice of my dad screaming out “Kaustubh”. I changed course again. As I landed on the beach, if you were bold enough to call it one, you could see the fuel from the boats and the smell of old fish was high in the air. More immediate and troubling was the crowd that immediately swarmed upon the kayak. I got out and before I could meet dad there were people on me. I did my best to keep calm, picked up the kayak and dragged it to a point of safety.
Harnai is a fishing port that deals in Rs. 2 Cr. of fish trade a day. I could see why. That phrase – noisy as a fish market was aptly coined, and we were drowned in a barrage of questions. While this would be fine any other day. Having done 22.5 kms on a bad day with no assistance by wind or tide, I wanted to have my cool down and find a warm bath. Stepping aside for a breath of fresh air and a moment to find my peace I looked back at the sea of fishing vessels. When the crowd was pleased they had seen enough of the kayak, and my father had informed everyone what it was and what I was doing, it was time to tie the kayak atop the car, do my stretches, drink some post exercise drink and head to where we are camped for the day. A lovely beach side property at Murud.
The only sadness in beauty is leaving it behind. Waking up at the doorsteps of a superb temple here in Divegar, I had my breakfast of cold milk and cereal. The three eggs from yesterday evenings home stay / restaurant were protein and I took a tablet for the upset stomach I’ve developed. I had slept a bad 4 hours last night, a condition brought about by collapsing into bed in the afternoon after a 5.5 hour paddling run and the aforementioned stomach. I trudged down to the car in my dry-fits and a short and damp shoes. When you’re in Kayaking everything is always in varying degrees of wetness. Your phone lifetime is less than halved and when you check into a hotel, you look for a good place to dry your wet clothes. Everything chafes, sores and gets sunburnt. While practicing for the Asians in March 2013, I developed a tan that lasted me 6 months. That’s 6 months of not being on the water. The cold morning air cut through the cocunut trees and my thin clothes.
The driver was found watching a marathi soap in the morning. Everyone tells me I know how to enjoy life. They haven’t met my driver. In his eyes life is a breeze. If it’s too far he says it’s too far. If he can’t make it through a thicket of leaves that my mother has just walked through, he says he’s not going through. If it’s 5:30 in the morning and he prefers watching the climax of the fisherwoman who lost her son to gambling, well. He does do a mean massage though.
We were checking out. That’s the other plus point of an expedition. You arrive and unpack, then eat, get a few laughs in, then you pack again. It’s really just a circle of life kind of thing. Minus the sunrises from cliffs. That costs extra. Getting everyone into the car and then down to the beach was a fun exercise. If we were any more awake, we’d check on who’s the most awake. We don’t. Except when my driver is lost. He tells us.
Down at the beach, our good boatsmen are on patrol. The safety boat, more a measure of appeasement of parents who worry a bit, is a km out. It will take an hour to get the local watersports owner to take out a rubber inflatable boat (RIB) out to the boat. Mid-way he tells them it wasn’t inflated properly. Never a dull moment.
I get down to stretches. My driver gets down to the aforementioned massage. My mom inspects proceedings, while my dad takes in the aforementioned beauty that is Divegar. I like that word. Reminds you that there’s an important aspect you might have trivilised. Like putting all your life jackets into the boat. Then parking the boat a km into the water. Trivial. I mount my go-pro, stow away my rehydration drink, and pick up my kayak. Down at the water, I wade in. The water is cold for the first 3 metres. Then the warmth kicks in. I slide in, wave bye and paddle away. No safety boat or life jacket today. Dirty Harry and his 9mm.
I survey the water ahead, I have to make a beeline for the cliffs to the left. It’s easy going at first. A strong high tide pushes me to the rocks and I clock in at 8km/hr for the first 30 minutes. I sip my drink. At the end of the first hour I’m at 7.5 kms and I venture a guess that the safety boat is readying itself. In an hour my go-pro will give out. I need that safety boat. Ever since Limca asked for video proof that I kayaked the whole way, I’ve been paranoid aobut it. I paddle on. Between 7:30 and 8:30 I see the coast. It’s the kind of quiet you’d get in a british town after an air raid siren went off. Or a Tom Cruise movie about aliens coming to kill us. Minus the waves. The waves have a calming sound that you want to listen in to. If you weren’t busy keeping your kayak stable. Around the same time, I hit a stretch of choppy water. Every turn, every swell costs me and by the end of the 2 hours, I’m down to 14 kms. But I’m not tired. It’s not as hot today and I feel pretty good. I glance back for the safety boat. I hope they’re safe. Then I paddle on.
I pass by a stretch of beautiful beaches, and a bunch of inlets. Fishing boats passing by wave usually. This one didn’t. It made a beeline straight for me. I could hear it with the sound of their engine rising. Finally he killed it and asked me where I was going. A kayaker in these parts was towed away to police once by a fisherman. I didn’t fancy towing. So I stopped. Explained him the plot. Goa would make me sound wonky. So I stuck to Harihareshwar. Placated I was not as daft as I dressed, he waved me on with good fortune. I sipped some energy drink. Then I paddle on.
When my Go-pro finally gives up, I’ve been paddling for 2 hours. When the safety boat finally gets to me, i’ve done 16 kms, and they congratulate me on making it so far. I’m glad they didn’t get lost. I take my first break for the day. As I swap my go-pro, refill my energy drink, and down an apple, 4 minutes pass by. It seems Harihareshwar is just-yonder-hill. What a waste. I was in such good form. I calculate 5 kms. At 21 kms that would be my leanest day. But I’m based out of Harihareshwar for a few days. And it’s silly to press on. I resign myself to it, and follow the boat. 17,18, 19 kms. Then the boat draws parallel to the beach and stops. I pull up close enough for them to say there’s a jetty just beyond the next turn. Bankot. My boatsmen want a dock to tie the boat to tonight. The things you own, end up owning you. So I paddle on.
Dolphins. Schools of 5 or more. Graceful, grey, godammit dolphins! I love this part. The way they surface, snort and go back in again. After the sound of the waves, they’re the next best sound. Or before. It’s a grey area. I pause for dolphins. Then I give chase. They are a little faster. So I paddle on.
On the cliff face to my left a crowd of people are walking. It’s getting to hot to discern them waving, so I paddle…
Around the turn I see a big creek. Bang opposite is Velas. The sand is a dark shade of brown. And tall pines make for a sight to take in. My safety boat has stopped, and we confer. The jetty is deeper into the creek, but Velas is a safe beach to land on. We have to part ways, when Santosh says “Police.” Sure enough a grey police RIB is making straight for us. I sip some energy drink. But mom goes into a frenzy. My mom is the most proper person I know. She couldn’t do a dishonest thing if her life depended on it. (She’d do it for mine though.) She gets out the papers from the Coast Guard and the Maharashtra Maritime Board. Before the police man can whip his gold-rimmed aviators into the back of his shirt collar, she’s at the bow telling them we have papers. In the back of their RIB, I hear one person say – “Kayak Ahe!”. I’m on the safety boat’s starboard side and I holler a Namaskar. I tell them we are on expedition. A short pause later the policeman asks us – “Are you on an expedition?” Cool.
We tell them we are going from Mumbai to Goa. He inspects the papers, one leg in the boat, one on the edge of the boat. It’s just 3 hours into paddling and my go-pro is juiced. I reverse and make for their starboard side to get it all on HD. As I go by I see the same policeman leaning over the other side of the boat with his phone out. Taking a picture. I ask him if he wants a close up. As I bring it closer, he asks me about my sponsors. Touchy nerve man. So I paddle on.
As I make for Velas beach, I take in a good place to land. While the long stretch of beach lies just beyond a small creek, I spot a small 50 metre stretch that looks like it has a bright blue tempo. There must be accessible road, so I make for it. I land nice and slow, checking for rocks. As I up the rudder, and brace for surf, I see two young men on a bike. I dismount, pull up the kayak to safety and take off my wet skin. As I’m doing stretches, I field questions from the men there. Everyone loves photos, so I take one with the quieter of the two. Shadab asks me if I’d like to come up to his house. I welcome some shade and I stow my wet things in the day hatch and walk up. He tells me he’s got African Turkeys. Hilarious. So we make for it. As we climb up the rock steps Shadab tells me about his rooster and it passing away abruptly. As we go to the back of the house, I see the monster of a turkey. It’s a black feathered beast that’s having it’s fill. Shadab tells me it can swipe the flesh right off your arm. I think about the rooster. As I look up, I meet Shadab’s father. In just my black shorts and a hydration pack, I must have been a sight. Even the turkey flared up it’s feathers and that big bag of blue flesh under it’s beak turned a blood red. I don’t enquire about the rooster.
Shadab’s father insists on giving me tea. And I for one am not complaining. In a parallel universe where Monster flesh eating fowl flock hillsides above brown sand beaches, my safety crew has docked and mom and Shanj are having their own interoggation about the vessel with customs officals. My dad and the driver are enjoying a ferry ride with the car. I would have had network had my phone not already gone swimming. So I sip my hot tea and have the crispest toast I’ve had. Shadab’s father is the baba at the Dargah at Velas. I have landed at the footsteps of the dargah. He was studying in a school in Bandra when, at the age of 12, he was called to succeed his grandfather at the Dargah. I see pictures of him over the years, and his seat at the Dargah. He’s really the nicest man. Mid sentence, I get an inkling that I should man the road, lest my worrying mother speed on. With the kayak tucked away under the wall, it would be easy to miss me sitting here atop a hillock. Literally the minute I reach the gate, I see a rick running past with my white adidas jacket on the left seat. Before I can holler, they pass us. I try Shadab’s phone but apparently there is no network where they’re headed, so his father sends him down with me. We jump on his nifty bike and run through Velas village. A quaint village that sits on a small river that runs down to the sea. Shadab tells me it’s popular for turtles. And people come all over to see them. As we zip through the village, me still in just my hydration pack, I imagine my mom being the last person interested in turtles if she doesn’t see her son. It would make for a fun line of enquiry. As we run through the town at great speed, I see my mom just alighting from the rickshaw. No Shanj in sight. I wave to mom. And she slaps her head. Then starts calling out over a bridge. In the distance I see an orange-life-jacket-clad shanj running through a field. Russel Peters would be so happy.
My mom tells me how the rickshaw ride has last 20 minutes during which the only thing the rickshaw driver has told them is that Velas beach has a point where the water drops 150 feet and is a deathtrap, even for locals who know the area. Why this would make for good conversation with two women who are worried sick eludes me and Shadab and I have a quiet laugh over it as Shanj returns to hit my arm. One less area for my driver to massage.
we head back, me still on the bike, and dismount at Shadab’s house. Here the network catches and we inform dad about where we are. I finally change out of my dry shorts and sip some water. (We are out of energy drink.) As dad arrives, I introduce Shadab and I make good on my promise of visiting the Dargah. Back in the day, Shivaji had once halted at Bankot on his way to conquer Murud. The good Baba, that is Shadab’s father’s ancestor, had warned him against it and told him to wait. Shivaji, being the hot blooded guy that he was, pressed on and hit a storm. He returned to get counsel. We visited both tombs and the Baba wished us safe passage. He invited us to see his Takht (Throne) and he insisted on getting his robe on for it. On leaving he presented us with an Ittar(perfume) that he got from his trip to Haj, to remember our trip by. Shadab walked us down and I found out he’s just in the 10th standard with a board exam on the 3rd of March. He likes motor cars. I wished him all the best and promised to send him pictures.
Bundled in the car, we drive back. The ferry ride at Bankot meant more eyeballs on the kayak and it gave us time to laugh at the day’s events. Tomorrow we take our safety boat and kayak back to Velas and set out to conquer Murud. And so, I’ll paddle on.
The good people at Arany woke up at 3:30 to have breakfast ready. I felt a tad guilty shovelling the double egg omlette and 3 toasts down. A bunch of fruits and a tea later, I was feeling much relieved. The drive down to Kihim was longer than I imagined, and our driver, a regular columbus meant I was awoken multiple times to find the right path.
I hurried down to the water as the land party found parking. At the beach, I found the beached boat with my Kayak safely towed on board. As I warmed up our two boatsmen undid the kayak and set her down. There were a inordinate number of joggers at the beach, and only after the 20th person slowed down did I realise I’d upset some Kihim Beach run. (There seem to be more runs than cricket matches these days, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing)
In the midst of changing my playlist, I lost my precious blue bailer. It was a sign that I needed to keep the kayak dry?
I didn’t wait for the grounded boat to get clear. (The beach party had a fair bit of fun getting the boat out, I later learnt and my mom’s maternal instincts, or her inkling for fun, made her tug at the boat too)
It was 7:25 and from yesterday’s sun, I would need some sun block today. I dove a km straight in before tacking and made for the gap to port of the islands. I immediately felt the jolt as the rising tide drove me further and faster. Assisted by it, and not bracing, I clocked a good 8.8 kms in the first hour and 8 minutes. A simple wave and a friendly hello made a bemused fisherman point me through the rocks and out towards Alibaug. The mist was the same, but a silhouette of the distant hillocks made for easy redirection.
Just short of Alibaug, is the Kolaba fort. Apart from being a lovely fortified island, and playing harbour to some colourful fishing boats, Kolaba fort is occupied by all of 5 fishing families. Talking about knowing your neighbours, my safety boat caught up with me here, and it gave us our first shots of the day.
I was doing just fine, and the tide really funneled through this stretch. I was keen on making it work for me, so I sipped some more water and carried on. Alibaug was our first big marker, though the mist made little of the beauty that everyone flocks here for. I stuck to my fishing boats and weaved through. Past Alibaug, Revdanda was the next big point of call and we’d decided to stop here today. After about 17 kms of paddling and roughly 2.5 hours on the water, I felt pretty good though.
So we skipped Revdanda. Shanj and Santosh rerouted me to skip past the inlet at Revdanda and it helped shave off quite a few kms along my current path. The current was strong here, and I used it right to the point of breaking off and headed onward. At around 25 kms I started to feel it. And we had our second refill of the hydration pack. I had just just 2 500ml bottles, so we stopped to draw from the 20 litre barrels. This gave mom and Shanj, who are taking surprising well to being on water, the time to feed me a bunch of things including an energy bar, dates, and anjeer. I’m pretty sure there was a point of time that I was fed some Gulkand Barfi (But I couldn’t complain)
Now, the thing with this GoPro-ing is. It’s great for quick trips, but when you’re out on the water for 5 hours straight and you leave it on video, you tend to run out of juice in 2 hours. Swapping one go-pro for another gave an adventurous Shanj a bit of the sickness of the sea, and gave mom one more person to worry about. The shade of the boat was a great respite as the sun was really turning it up here. And it was only 10:30.
Having had my fair share of injesting and outletting water, I had just about had it with the sun, when the mist cleared. And I could see the coast of Maharashtra in all her beauty. Endless rows of trees in varying shades of green adorned the landscape and hillocks that dotted the coast. The water turned a deep shade of green and the wind picked up. Deliverance.
I was 4 kms off the shore paddling into the beautiful water when I saw the beach that had made me skip Revdanda. I was at Kashid. As I crossed the last turn I remembered that it was a sunday, and banana boater after banana boater welcomed me to what appearde to be the holiday destination for 2015. I distanced myself from the crowd and found a nice patch to land on.