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.
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.