It’s always great to be on air. And being on air with a friend is even better.
Took to the airwaves yesterday with RJ Pankaj on Must Radio 107.1 FM. and had a really lovely time.
Pankaj took back the mike to play us some beats.
Pankaj has dedicated a large part of his life to the pursuit of archery and is the main reason I took up the sport in the first place. He’s taken it to the next level and now teaches archery in Thane. (For all those interested, find him on my FB list)
So it’s natural that his Radio show has a sporty twist to it. This week he invited me to talk about my upcoming expedition and we talked about kayaking, Asian medals, sports in India and marketing.
A couple of segments from the talk last night are here – >
What followed was I stole his phone thinking it was mine, and spent 2 minutes staring at a new screen being – how did I change this so fast?
Long story short, on the train ride back, my ‘other’ phone rings and Pankaj catches me in Ghatkopar to pick up his phone again.
We set out to Kayak to Elephanta this weekend. It’s a distance of 12.5 kms one way. By my reckoning, a simple 4 hour run.
Here’s how it panned out ->
Leg one. Gateway to Elephanta. 12.5 Kms. Completed in 2 hours.
Leg two. Elephanta to Gateway. 15.5 Kms. 5.5 hours for me. 6.5 hours for Shanjali and Manu.
We started out at a 7:30 am. Low tide was an hour back, and the tide was rising. We got out, and cut between the mainland and the island opposite the Navy Area. It was a quick simple run, and apart from fishing boats in the channel and running under the jetty at Jawahar Dweep, we had no real problem.
Halting at Gharapuri(It’s called that, popularly – Elephanta island), Shanj and I walked to the nearby village. We rationed some water and some biscuits. A breakfast of cornflakes would not have sufficed for what was to come, but we didn’t know that.
Launching at 10:30 from the island, we decided to round the ship at the jetty, currently offloading it’s crude cargo, and make a beeline for Gateway. We knew there was a high tide coming, but we grossly underestimated it. In the first hour, we had covered 2 kms! Going was slow, and I wasn’t keen on leaving them out of sight, despite mine being a faster kayak. Standing still, you’d drift back towards the island in minutes. Jokingly when they caught up, Shanj said – no more chit chat till we reach the ship.
It wasn’t till I reached the first anchored boat that I could gauge how fast the tide was. You could start a sentence at the bow of the boat, and finish it at the stern. I reckoned it would change once we got to the channel. It took us 2.5 hours to get to the ship alone. By the time I reached it, the wind had picked up. The ship loomed large over me, and a barge attached to it, threw me a line. I tied it down to my kayak, but between the drift, the wind and the waves, it was more of an effort than kayaking to stay still.
Panic kicked in, because I had reached here ahead of the others. Craning my neck, I could not spot them, and I didn’t want to turn in these choppy waters. I asked the crew onboard the ship if they could spot my fellow kayakers. They could not, and I started to worry. I kayaked ahead to look past the big ship, incase they had slipped under the bridge / jetty. Highly unlikely as the high tide was almost at it’s peak.
After tossing and turning and waiting for 30 minutes, I turned around. This was increasingly difficult, and the waves were pretty choppy by now. But luckily, barely had I turned it around, and I spotted them. A million thoughts of capsizes had gone through my mind.
I paddled out to them, and told them we are staying together. We regrouped at the barge, and I gladly accpeted Manu’s snickers. It was 1 o’clock and we were still atleast 7 kms out. I was hoping things would be clear now with the tide taking us out again. I was wrong.
The channel, commercial channel, with all the big ships, barges, fishing trawlers and police boats was choppy. As the waves rushed in from all sides, my rudder started jamming. I had to rely on corrective strokes to keep her into the waves. With a kayak as big of this, and getting hit on multiple sides, it was becoming difficult to keep her steady. I had more capsize moments here than on my Goa expedition. I would later learn, that my stern storage compartment and my day hatch had filled with water. So not only was the rudder gone, my butt was heavier than my front.
I had imagined stopping for Shanj and Manu every 5 minutes, but it quickly became imperative that I constantly paddle. Thanks to an internet outage the day before, my GPS couldn’t direct me to the right spot. The sun was out, and made it difficult to be sure of there Gateway was. Luckily, I guessed wrong. I directed everyone to a spot north of Gateway. In hindsight, this let the retreating tide guide us south to Gateway, saving us a big deal of trouble.
On the choppy water, I got into a familiar situation of not being able to spot the others. Shanj would tell me later that it was slow going, and their kayak really bobbed up and down in the big swells. But they kept paddling. It was a comfort to know that she had Manu as company and I’m super proud of how they held up.
By the time, I got to the end of the channel, the current had grown super strong. I would point my kayak to the front of a big container ship, and by the time I reached it, I slipped around the back. When I finally came to the Navy area, I considered slipped in between the island again, but the tide decided against it.
I finally slowed down my paddling 750 metres out of the gateway, under a false sense of security. I was brought back to my senses when a small dinghy ferrying three foreigners, presumably back from a sailing race, started waving to me. It drew parralel, and then before we knew it, we were both stuck.
We were now parrallel to the Gateway, me paddling furiously, and he with his engine on. And we were both standing still. Next to us, an achored boat smiled on. Finally the dinghy got past the boat, and found a patch to coast in. I followed pursuit, heaving a sigh of relief when the tide finally gave in. Once I was amidst the achored boats, things got better, and for the last 300 metres, it was smooth sailing.
But the day was not over. My mind had been on the two kayakers still out there. I brought the kayak up the ramp, ran to the car and reached my phone. I wanted to alert Manu to point north and directly for shore, letting the tide do the rest of the work, but he didn’t pick up. But the call went through, and that probably meant they hadn’t capsized yet.
I decided to be ready to get them, and swung my car around to secure it. Driving past the Taj, me left lens just popped out. Dehydration? Tired of my general existence? So here I am, two friends lost at sea, driving half blind in one of the most crowded saturday haunts of the city.
By the time, I get to the jetty, it’s 4:30. Still no sign of the guys. I imagined them to be 30 minutes behind me, but it was already 45. Rakesh Madiye helped me hoist the kayak atop the car. While loading I recognized how heavy it was, and found about 10 litres of sea water trapped inside.
I secured the kayak and dialled manu’s number again. He picked up this time, and told me they were right outside the harbour. I was greatly comforted. I could not spot them, and after 10 minutes when I called he said – I think we might need some help.
At this point, that familiar feeling of worry came swarming back. I could not spot them, and it had been more than 6 hours they were paddling, with a strong tide now taking them out to sea. I discussed this with my sailing friends, who were fresh out of a sailing race.
Rakesh Varadkar was the first to respond. Barely had I explained the situation that he understood the severity. His boat was achored close, and we hitched a ride to it. I called Manu to confirm his location. Just outside the harbour was still the reply, though he tried to give me a line to take getting out of Gateway. When we finally got there, they were no where to be found. Rakesh’s presence of mind saved the day here, and he asked for the phone. He enquired what was closest to them. Manu said a single sail boat. Most of the sail boats had returned to harbour, and while I scanned them, Rakesh looked out. And he spotted them. I couldn’t spot a soul to be honest. But he was right. Way off course, almost 3 kms out of harbour, I saw them valiantly paddling. We reached them and you could see it on their faces. Manu had almost given up, and Shanjali, though cheerful, looked tired. She later told me she always knew they’d make it back, but given the drift, I wasn’t so sure.
We tied the kayak up, after letting the water out. Then, as three tired souls, we were ferried back to shore. On land, Rakesh refused our offer for a beer citing that anyone would do it. I don’t know for sure about that, but I am a 100% sure that without his help, it would have been a Long Long day. (And that’s me euphemising)
As we dug into our lunch at 6:30 in the evening, we laughed about it, but we all knew that we’d just averted a minor disaster.
Comic Relief: I spoke to mom just before the food arrived at our rooftop lunch, and told her that I had just gotten off the water, and we had been beset by tides, strong waves and had kayaked for about 8 hours to cover just 27 kms. She heard it all and then said – Ok, now listen, I have made chicken Dilbahar and there are chapattis. You better come home and have it.
Day Starts at 4:30.
The alarm is shrill and alien. I just went off to bed! It can’t be time. But then ofcourse, this is how the last expedition started too. So this one can’t be any different.
Yesterday, Shanj and I said to ourselves that we would do better this time. And get to bed and sleep well before the expedition. Yeah. Like that’s ever worked.
So I wake up shanj. She’s groggy and mostly out of it. I start packing my stuff as she goes out to find her charged phone. I pack all the gear in and mom is awake. I told her not to wake up and trouble herself. So she troubled herself and is now awake. She asks about tea. Mom thinks tea solves everything. That and timely meals. I’m sure she would throw a pot full of tea at the JNU crisis or the US Election. Refusing the food, we finish a banana and some dates. Mom has cooled the water for our trip. Tarun, from Frodo cam, has very sweetly dropped off some GoPro batteries and supplies to ensure this trip is well documented. I swing by the first floor to pick it up. The bags are lighter than I anticipated, and even Shanj dropped a bunch of extra clothes to make her cycle lighter. Tie it up, adjust the weight a couple of times, head out the gate.
Look back up to wave bye to mom and dad, and we are off. After a small photo session, obviously. By the time we reach IIT, we’ve stopped once to adjust Shanj’s bags and are now content we can reach Goa. Obviously.
Chintan has already taken off from his house. While we are trudging along the highway, he’s having a cup of freshly made coffee at the cyclewallah at Chembur. Meanwhile we are busy hurtling down Kanjur flyover. At the first bump, my spankingly new blue bottle goes flying. A truck comes to a screeching halt to save it. At 5 in the morning, Bombay is generous. I run back to save what’s left of it, and Shanj goes speeding by. Facebook would later tell us, it’s been just a year since Shanj has been cycling. And now we are headed to a 600 km run. It’s been a good year.
At the eastern express highway, we have to stick to the mainroad, as a local marathon / running championship has cordened off the service lane we normally take. As the sun yawns it’s way over the horizon, a 100 strong boys(& girls) stretch, bend over, and guzzle free energy drinks being given away. Policemen run havoc and almost run me over. #Regularday
At Chembur, we are all feeling a little risky, so we take the freeway. A no-no for cyclists, but it’s my city, so… The road is mostly easy, with some steep inclines that tests our backs a tad bit, but it’s mostly smooth sailing. When we hit the tunnel though, I hear Chintan scream out over the roaring sound of trucks running past. I look back and spot the policeman. He’s not just not concerned, he’s mostly vacantly staring into space. By the time his languid lordship comes to a halt, I’m already smiling. I’m headed to wadala – in my choicest marathi. He’s smiling, or in my head he is, – Ok, great stuff, but get off of the freeway – in his choicest marathi. When he’s gone, we reckon there is a lot probability we see him again, and we can run the freeway anyway. But we decide to not tempt fate, and exit stage left. Down from Wadala we are cruising under the freeway. With ample shade and sparsely populated roads, I’m thinking this policeman probably knows his cycle routes. Good stuff – in my choicest marathi.
We run past parked trailers, and Indian Oil. We run through a small village-ish locality with chickens. We pass big traffic held up by a rickshaw being washed. We cycle past railway wagons lying in disuse. By the time we reach the end of the freeway, we forget to check if our helpful policeman was keeping track of our honesty. But it’s almost 8 and we are hungry. We stop by Yahzdani Bakery for a quick breakfast of Brun maska chai and then down to the gateway. The guard at the gate, asks me how much I got the bike for. I think in their free time, all the policeman in Bombay are cycling up and down the freeway. Running havoc to their bellies.
We make it in time for the 8:30 Maldar to Mandwa. On the ferry, we are in the usual place of staring at gateway over the water. We do our stretches, and relax watching the gulls chase after us, waiting for their benefactors to throw chips bought on board, offboard. It’s a curious ritual.
Down at Mandwa we have our customary Neera and set off. The roads are calm, winding and green. It’s 10 but the sun has no effect on us thanks to the foliage all around us. We cruise along, and about 8 kms in, we stop to adjust Shanj’s handlebars. After it, she’s sitting a lot straighter on her bike. Better for her back and hands that were taking a hit. A lime juice stop later, we are on the road again and we hit Alibaug. On the road, a woman stands with two bags. Using her hands she’s collecting rice fallen in the dirt into her second bag. We cycle by, understanding her rice bag tore. Shanj is first off the cycle and helping her scoop the rice back in. The ladies nephew arrives, and they point us in the direction of a good restaurant in return for the help. Shanj is a sweetheart.
We settle in, after 55 kms at Sagar Savali, for a surmai fry and palak paneer lasuni, with jeera rice and dal fry. Feeling a little full, and pretty happy with our day so far. We are stretching our welcome here, and after a second round of cassata, lassi and sprite, we are now hitting the road again.
We will attempt to do another 30 kms today.
It’s 3:45 in the morning. And my alarm is wrecking all kinds of havoc. I’ve slept 2 hours and it’s time to go to work.
The good people at Frodo Cam are launching their camera campaign this monday and they’ve asked me if I’d like to be a part of their campaign. Tarun is an old friend of mine, and built my pre-expedition video, so as I drag myself out of bed, I’m gearing up to a day of paddling hard.
At 4:15, Tarun is home, and we head down to strap the kayak atop the car. It’s tedious work and you don’t want drowsiness to get in the middle of securing the kayak. When that happened the one time, I was driving with a 19 foot long kayak hanging sideways over the car with trucks missing it by whiskers.
Thanks to a really tight schedule, I’ve not topped the car off with petrol, so at 4:30 in the morning I’m driving into a petrol pump to sleepy, confused stares at a white kayak atop a car with two rough-ish people in it. We pick up another frodo-ian who will be coordinating the shoot today.
Enroute, it’s talk about kayaking and exploration. Our experiences and building campaigns online.Bombay is awake at the oddest hours and there is a stream of steadily moving traffic even at this hour. Finally at 5:30, the car(&kayak) is safe at Marine Drive. I plan on launching from Chowpatty beach, but decide to swing by H2O and check if old Pandey ji would let us through for a quick video. I’m stunned to know that let alone Pandey ji, H2O doesn’t stand there anymore.
We bring the kayak down and start setting up. I’m ready moments later with my skirt, paddles, water and gopro. Tarun is against having a competitor product in the frame, so bye for now go pro. As the team lines up, I’m left to take in the beauty of bombay in the morning. It’s 6 o’clock and the evening lights that adorn queen’s necklace are still on. You can hear the hum of the city waking up as the trains run past marine lines. The darkness turns to blue to shades of light orange in the sky. People walk past us in the busy-ness of Marine drive. Joggers, cyclists, morning walkers. The people who clean our streets are already at work. And I will be too.
Frodo’s founders join us, and we chat about our work. We share a college, so there are many questions about how either of us are doing what we are doing. The director of the shoot takes over, and at around 6:30, we start lining up our first shot. It’s the take-control shot, where I pick up the kayak by the bow and drag it down to the water. Frodo is this lovely camera mounted onto a wrist strap like a watch and it’s in a uniquely yellow form. The take is easy, but many a slip between the cup and the lip, so we rehearse.
After 8 the water will turn into a mirror for the sun. I express this to the team, and I’m on the water. For a simple pass by the camera. We do about 10 takes of this before the team is happy with the outcome. I’ve been keen on taking this particular shot of a back profile kayaking, and after a little playing around with a selfie stick, we have Frodo planted where we want it.
And finally, it’s time to head out. I jump into the kayak. Legs in, skirt cemented and paddle away. The first stop is the police vessel. Pradip, my kayak instructor and guide, tells me we can spot dolphins just off the police vessel. As I approach, the night shift is just finishing and I watch about 7 officers jump aboard a small dingy clearly not made for as many. With no life jackets, the eternal optimism of bombay makes me smile. No dolphins, so I decide to capture the second most beautiful vessel out here today, Godrej’s yacht parked out 1.5 kms from shore.
I approach and with the shifting wind, the boat shifts to greet me. As I drift alongside, the crew on board views me. I wish him a good morning. My lack of sleep means I’m probably not my most chatty self. But as I sit there, he asks me if I need water, clearly worried about the sun taking a toll on me. I’m touched, but I have my own supplies. I ask him about the dolphins and he points me in one direction. I take off, and it’s a great decision.
I’m rewarded by waves and wind. The kayak is drifting along nicely now and there’s more urgency in paddling. Nothing trumps a shot of adrenaline. And I’m having a good time. In the middle of all this, I spot a lone red flag, propped up on thermacol. Probably the work of some fisherman, but bobbing up and down, it’s a sight.
I spend some time at it, and then turn around. The waves are behind me, and I can feel the morning air strong on my face. It’s a good run. But it’s made better, by the solitary fin that rises gracefully out of the water. And then just as gracefully completes the arch and slides back in. Dolphin spotted. I point and stare. Then I try and follow it’s intended path. But nothing. The water has gone back to it’s natural state and this dolphin doesn’t want to be seen. Not today. I don’t take it personally, and kayak back to shore. I’ve been gone almost an hour, and one of the founders remarks that I’d gone pretty far. Sometimes you just have to.
Back at shore, there are a couple of shots that need to be redone, and one closeup of me using the camera. And then, the fun bit. We load up the kayak on the car, and barely have I finished when the fun part of my outings begins. Talking to cops. The one at marine drive flat out refuses to let me go, citing public nuisance. Eventually, after a fair bit of talking, he lets me through.
At JVLR I meet two more of them. I dish out to one and refuse the other. A small price to pay for a glorious day.