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There are no roads

There are no roads

Time to read: 6 min

I leave Nitin with an unopened box and tell him to stitch things up while I get my gear ready. When I return I find the kayak trolley assembled, but missing the strap to tie a kayak atop it. He runs to get some rope. We never run short of rope. We have a car full of equipment. And everything has been over used. Including patience. If I looked closely, I could put someone on mars with what we have packed in our car. Make Elon Musk’s day. We fasten the kayak to the trolley, and I set down the winding path from MTDC’s lovely cottages down to the beach at Harihareshwar. 100 metres in, the road ends in stairs. 19 feet long, and a fibre hull, is not going down stairs on a trolley.

Nitin and I carry it down. Past the stairs. Through the thorny bush. The pebbles turn to white shells. Each intent on cutting through. Shells turn to rock outcrop. And through it is a small sandy square. 3 metres wide. Launch pad.

I adjust the paddles. Check my watch. Time is always against us. Tide in, Tide out. Winds building up. Sun setting. Sun holding that full frontal position. Lift the skirt. Butt in the kayak. Leg over. Leg in. Two sharp paddle strokes. Turn to wave bye. Two sharp paddle strokes. Cover the mouth of the kayak with my skirt. Two sharp paddlestrokes. Release rudder line. Press hard on the left pedal. Paddle Hard.

You find yourself at a calm beach. You check your course. You scare the gulls with some sharp paddle strokes.

You find yourself at a turbulent beach. You brave the white breakers. You get tossed. A rude awakening in the morning. Water in the kayak if your skirt isn’t on. You tumble out. If the waves aren’t doing it for you, you drag your kayak to shore. Upturn. Check three compartments. Sponge it out. Start again. You get hit again, but you break through. Secure everything. Cap, glasses, cameras, phones, water bottles, food. If it’s not in a bag tied down or in a hatch locked away, you might as well have thrown it in yourself.

You find yourself at a creek. The wind blows, and the tide takes you in directions you haven’t mapped out for the day. You’re 4 kms off your course. You’re veering close to the breakers at the mouth. There is a buoy that probably means something you don’t want to know. There are small eddies set up you can’t navigate past. You recalibrate. You can probably sit there and google it, if everything stands still. But it doesn’t. The only law out here is Murphy’s.

You find yourself at a rocky face. You take in the sheer immensity of it. In Gujarat you wouldn’t find one. In Maharashtra you can’t miss them. Big majestic hills. Sheer face. Brown. Black. There is white breaking foam. And waves are building up on starboard. You surf your way through. You cut through. You recalibrate. Sun to the right, sun to the left. Point right out at sea. You escape, you press hard on the left pedal.

You cross a rocky face protruding at sea. Only you don’t know. Your route says straight. Only the mainland opens out to your left for miles. You have 7 miles to the next knuckle, and you’re suddenly 4 kms off of shore to your left. The wind trumpets your arrival and picks up the beat. Big swells start forming behind you. As one picks you up from behind the one in front hasn’t swept through the 19 feet of white kayak you’re in. Your nose is in the drink and you think you’re coming to a nosedive. A grinding halt. But your speedometer says you’re top speeding.  Your downwind has had a look at your due-south course, but the on-shore waves are from WNW. Another day of choosing the lesser of two evils. You’re doing  a great speed. But where was your initial bearing. Atleast you’re not bored.

You hit a sandbar. Sure they’re lovely islands of sand sitting less than a meter under the sea. This one stretches for miles into Harihareshwar. And its turning. A fishing vessels slows down to see the fun. 4 Kms back, Nitin has climbed up the rock, through the mine field of shells, past the thorny bush, up the stairs, and is watching from the MTDC canteen. The kindly old man who’s serves us food for 2 days has his hand over his open mouth. ‘He knows there are waves there? He’s going to be thrown in.’

I watch the breakers. Paddle left. Paddle right. I don’t slow down. I’ll need the momentum if I need to get out. I watch a wave 10 meters ahead.  Three metres to it’s right is another one. Closer still in a circular arc white tips herald another. You’re living life a meter at a time. I take 500 strokes to a km . A stroke is 2 metres. My kayak is 5.5. I need 3 strokes to take me past a point. And a wave is fairly long. I dart right into the thick of it. Past the wave to the right. Bank hard on the rudder. Take it out to sea. Take one breaker head on. Bank left. A rogue wave takes me on the side. My spray skirt takes a sip of the turbulent sea. I press hard on the right paddle, and take another breaker at 30 degrees. Once I get the tip over, I slow down over the side. One more wave but it’s going to come from behind. I need to get between two consecutive waves. I can’t slow, and I have to time this. As it starts to form, I approach at full speed. It starts to rise and I slip over. It forms a meter to my left. Breaking white surf. The next one starts forming 2 meters to the right. I’m through.

I’ve passed through it. If I knew my audience was to my right now, I would have bowed. I take a second, and I recalibrate. There are no roads out here. Because you’re making them every minute.

The Plot

The Plot

Time to read: 7 min

Plots.

There’s a line from the F1-racing movie Rush, where the protagonist*, James Hunt says – ‘I’ve always been one for showing up on the day(unprepared) and playing chicken with everyone else.’ It does seem to have an appeal to it. And people who know me might nod their heads silently knowing that I’ve been known to shoot and ask questions later. But expeditions are different. Expeditions are about planning, and accounting for the unaccountable. What are you going to do when a rogue wave hits you? What happens when your phone dies? What do you eat on a beach you’re stranded on?

Everyday a dry bag goes into my kayak with dry clothes secure in cling wrap, food supplies, water, a swiss army knife, ID, an ATM card(only useless thing in this list at the moment), some spare cash and my spectacles. I’ve always got an excess supply of water, bailers for water coming onboard, sponges, and everything is secured on / in the kayak at cast off. Everyday that dry bag leaves the kayak unused is a great day.

Leaving Bombay Shanj mapped out places we would halt / sync up. Safe to say that 50% of the time we haven’t found the spot we set out of find. It’s got a Columbus feel to it, complete with locals who don’t know what to make of it all.

Our good friends at Meraki have been trying to get to us for the last 2 weeks and with our constantly changing timelines, we are having a tough time coordinating where they can meet us 2 days from now let alone 1 week ahead.

The changing landscape brings different weather patterns and no day’s paddling is the same. Winds pick up or change directions and the water gets choppier as we progress down south. It’s made it difficult to estimate when we complete a leg. Despite it all, we aren’t lagging behind too much.

Landing in Rajpara the other day was quite a scene. I’d navigated some very dubious waters. A fisherman’s boat turned back around and came out to check on my small craft. I unkowningly got caught in a eddy and everything was choppy around me. As I jostled with the waves, the fishing boat came out and asked me if I needed a tug. I declined the kind offer but not before noting that I was in some deep water. After they pointed me in the right direction, I got back on my charted course (To my relief I’d plotted the exact course that they put me on). And I entered Rajpara still having clocked my best time. We’d marked a point called Bajrag Tea House. And as I stood outside it scanning the shore for a golden car with a girl on a cycle to go with, I realized I’d beaten them to it. On land people started pouring in and following my progress. I went left, and they went left. I took a right and the kids started running the other way. I called ahead and found that the team was 10 kms off. That’s another 30 minutes and I couldn’t just stand here when I had such a warm welcome party on land waiting. So I skirted past the fishing boats, waved at a bunch of people, and popped my skirt. Effortless landing and I pulled up my kayak onto land. I was hit by a large crowd of small people. Kids flocked to the kayak. Again and giving credit to the people no one tried to touch it or sit on it or do anything remotely malicious. The elders soon appeared in drones, and I was hit with a barrage of questions. Where is the motor? What do you eat? What, Dwarka? Like Krishna’s Dwarka?

The people continue to be nice, and I was offered water (Which I declined. An incident with the water and my stomach at Navadra had convinced me off of it) but I accepted Bajrag’s tea. I mean, it’s a Google Landmark. A very nice gentleman took me to it, and sat me on a wooden bench which I presume is a bed, and I was given a saucer full of tea. Nobody bothers with cups this side, and a steaming saucer later, I pleaded a little cold in the tea house. Part true, part excuse to check on my kayak, I returned to find the stern two feet in the air attached to the village drunk. I was quick off my heels and ran down to ask him to drop it. Which he promptly did. He flapped his arms around and said something which I registered as – I want to take it out into the water and turn it upside down. I remarked how preposterous the idea sounded to which he flapped his arms and repeated said lines. Things were starting to boil over when he came over to touch something else, something I didn’t feel particularly comfortable with and he backed off. The third time he came around to the kayak, I got between him and the kayak. We had a bit of a stand off and we were seconds away from a brawl when an elderly man in white came running down and whacked him repeatedly on his head till he slunk back. A couple of other drunks followed suit and came down to see the vessel, but now that a precedent had been set, nothing much ensued.

The kids foamed about my watch or my phone though both of which aren’t something to write home about, but given the packaging of the product and it’s coming right out of the sea, they became things to talk about. I underplayed my watch’s price and even at it’s modest rate of INR 5,000 it’s stories ran through town.

People came and went, and by the time I saw the car on the outskirts of the town, I was rested, hydrated and had stretched enough to call it a day. The village was a departure from what you’d call a tropical fishing paradise the way that an ulcer is a departure from a warm fuzzy feeling. Having arrived at the banks, Nitin and I carried the kayak through a road littered with pigs and their natural habitat. The air was rank with dead / dying / decayed fish and we wanted to put as many miles between us as possible. In reflection, it explains why Shanjali chose a Vegetarian Gujarat Thali on our return to Diu.

But the 45 minutes of waiting, explains the chasm between our land and sea journeys. Often it is the other way around, and being a girl with a fancy bike in these areas can’t be overtly pleasant. One would choose an ulcer in my opinion.

Which brings us back to plotting. Not the Brutus and Mark Anthony kind, but the charting of our routes. Everyday, after the rest / documentation and dinner is done, we pull out our laptops / phones / internet source of the day(Docomo is a no-no here) and we plot the next day’s route. We figure how far it is by water, and sync it to my watch. A couple of backup beaches are plotted out and we painstakingly comb Google maps, Suunto’s maps and Navionics to find ourselves rocks, waves, islands and beaches. A beach in Gujarat doesn’t necessarily mean sand. In fact, in our experience, 90% of them are lined with rocks and to find an escape route / entry point often comes down to being on the ground. Plotting, thus, is not a whispered word in a ear like it was in Cassius’ time. Though an Assistant Commandant at Pipavav played his part and his words of –‘I would stay 2.5 Kms out because there are a lot of eddies’  brought his parting words with Brutus back –

“I am glad that my weak words
Have struck but thus much show of fire from Brutus.” –Cassisus to Brutus. Act I. Scene II. Julius Caesar.

So we plot.

Plot Thickens

Plot Thickens

Time to read: 3 min

Eddy. Back in the day, he was that Tekken character who with his Brazilian martial arts and colourful pants was never going to amount to much, and your best friend would chose him for his roundabout kicks. Dial it forward to today, and Eddy means a circular flow of water often caused by an obstruction such as rocks in the middle of the sea.

Now why would anyone put a rock in the middle of the sea. This is ridiculous and absurd and in Kayaking terms it’s called – that-spot-with-the-breaking-waves. What it does, in case you’re caught in one like I was yesterday is turn a fearsome 19 foot long white fibre kayak that’s on top speed into a rubber duck in a turbulent washing machine.

I’m kayaking from Dwarka to Kanyakumari and the process has seen us kayak down the beautiful blue / green west coast of Gujarat down to the tip at Diu. We are now into Day 2 on the East Coast of Gujarat, and it is a doozy. With the Gulf of Khambhat acting as a real contender for spoilsport of the year, the water here is literally sucked into that narrow stretch of land locked sea. Imagine a sponge, if you will, that’s thrown into a quiet unsuspecting lake, but just by the edge so a fraction of a portion of it’s tip hits the water. Now imagine the sponge is twice the size of the lake and it’s not a sponge but a vacuum cleaner for water, and as the water starts funneling towards said sponge / vacuum, you will start to get an idea about my affinity for sponges and it’s irrelevance to this story in general. Also, you might tangentially arrive at how the Gulf of Khambhat is pulling me towards it.

Now, on an average day, you’d say – Hey Kaustubh, isn’t that a good thing. And on an average day, I’d say – did you forget about Eddy and his vicious kicks in paragraph 1?

So, here we stand. In some pretty murky water. I mean, dark brown, can’t see my paddle in the water, murky. And there are some rocks underneath. And the wind is blowing against me. Oh, sorry, forgot about the wind. It’s what they say, the lesser of two evils. But at 4-7 Knots it’s building up some nice head on waves. And the bow of my kayak is like the sensex on receiving the demonetization news, it doesn’t know whether to climb or come crashing down. Only there are rocks. And I’m still being pushed into the Gulf.

So no Edddy. I saw to you, not today.

#GoTreference #waterdance

A slow kayaking day

A slow kayaking day

Time to read: 5 min

Another day of training started early and I was awake by 7. A look out at the water though sent me back to the covers. The tide was way out and there was no wind at all. Despite having to tackle the afternoon sun if I lingered, I decided to catch up on some much needed sleep. After a quick breakfast, I slept off for 45 minutes. Re-woke at 8:30 and was on the water by 9.

Conditions had improved marginally, and I set a decent pace down to the rocks just off Mandwa beach. The tide was out and I could clearly see the rocks. Just to highlight their presence, the breakers created white froth as they crashed on them. I steered well clear to the point of pointing towards bombay. Once sufficiently out of harms way, I turned south to coast down the coastline. Rounding the turn the is the north face of the mainland, I turned to find the blue fishing boat from yesterday. Abandonment is a thing. I dwelled on the loneliness of the boat for a few seconds and then carried on. About 4.5 kms into it, I had my first break. I saw a clearing in a beach I’d not docked at and pulled in; If for nothing else, but the beauty of this picturesque house / villa / resort on it.

Kayak against someone's sprawling house on the beach
Not a bad property is it? The house in the back’s not bad either.

I got back in the water quickly and made for Awas once more. This time I met the fishermen of Sasawane and had a quick chat. The sun was coming up quick and I didn’t linger. I was looking to head back after 7 kms but in the distance I saw a group of people playing on the beach. It seemed like cricket, but the love for games on the beach is something I couldn’t resist. So when I drew up alongside, I was happy to see that they were playing a real sport. Football. Before the breakers could toss me out the kayak I was on the beach, ready to join in.*

Football. Not cricket.
Who can resist a good game of football?

In return I let the eldest of the family sit in the kayak for as long as he could. Having had his fill of sea water, he re-enquired about my expedition. I got on with my training and had barely gone 200 metres, when a fish flew straight out the water and back in again. Such sightings are now a common thing, but when I say fish I mean, a fish the length of my arm and the height of my face. Short of a catapult, I could not fathom the power that would propel this, easily 5 kg, beast out the water and a metre into the air**. Barely had I had the time to say ‘Whosbeenfeedingyouyoumonster’ when it had gone back in. I’m not sure what he was doing getting some air time, but I think we both left with the impression that strange creatures abounded in the waters near Awas. As if by mutual understanding we decided to put each other out of our minds and paddle on. Paddle Hard fish.

The rest of my paddle was uneventful except when rounding back to the jetty, the tide had found it’s feet and was crawling up the beach. I hadn’t accounted for it, and at the lovely breakers that were so pronounced, I miscalculated my turn and found myself in the midst of the rocks. Feeling through the rises and falls around me, I gave the rocks the slip, but it was a bit of tricky business with the water falling and rising and waves hitting me from three sides for that minute I was hung. It quickened my heart rate a little and I have to think that Mr. Fly-So-High fish must have had a “that’ll teach you, you white-black-and-orange surface dweller” smile on his Fly-So-High lips.

I returned to a healthy lunch of chicken and rice. A few phone calls to sponsors and media ensued and I spent the afternoon recovering. After a quick snooze, I got back into gear and headed out a second time. I made for the fishing village of bodani aided by the light evening wind, which was a trickle compared to what I’ve had on this stretch in the recent past. The tide had gone back out again, and ahead of bodani I saw teams of fishermen in pairs, out a km from land but standing up at waist length.

Fishermen with their hand nets
Low tide means get the fishing net out to go shrimping

It made for a fun way to unwind with no wind in sight, and I spent some time going from one fisherman pair to the next. Once content they knew what they were doing, I headed back. Job done. The kayak back didn’t offer much excitement, but was an hour of paddling in the wind again. Finally back to shore, I practiced my re-entry without the jacket, and I must say it’s a lot easier. I’m tempted to tuck it in the back and pull it out only in emergencies.

*This is disputable, as the author might have been thrown out of the kayak by a vicious wave that didn’t respect the rules of kayaking. As there were no witnesses to this, (football is a very immersive sport) the author is entitled to deny this allegation entirely.

**No, I didn’t take a picture of this fish. But it would look something like this –

http://lonestarchronicles.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/BertDan015.jpg

The goatee is a little misleading.

The delight of being on the water

The delight of being on the water

Time to read: 4 min

I woke up later than I intended to. The sun was way past that time that we ignore each other’s existences.

I turned and I felt my back throb. I reflected on last evening and decided a prolonged evening out is not for me anymore.

I felt the laziness kick in, and just as I was about to spur myself to leave it in bed, dad yells out – “Mom’s made methi for you. You better have lunch and go.”

Foiled. By mom’s marvelous methi. We can take a moment to reflect on how beautiful a thing it is. When I make my big debut on Masterchef, I’ll make a methi so fine, people won’t need desert. And then I’ll shrug it off and say “You should try my mom’s.” (End of digression.)

I’d luckily purchased and packed a host of healthy food and groceries for Mandwa. And after a nice sumptuous methi lunch, I set off on that 3 hour journey to training. In the attempt to get there, I take a rick to Vikhroli, a train down to CST, a bus to Gateway(Why, because buses are cool) and a ferry to Mandwa. In the middle of all this, I manage to make time for a pack of popcorn freshly made, and a medium glass of sugarcane juice from Gupta’s (that most awesome of sugarcane juicers). In my ‘oh-can-we-just-get-there’ morning melee, I hadn’t accounted for the punctuality of our ferry men, and I had to grumpily acknowledge the growing heat of a Bombay afternoon. (Safe to say, despite the Starks and ravens from the citadel, summer is coming)

The ferry ride was mostly uneventful, apart from a couple that were conspicuously dressed to match, in their white shirts and black trousers and black shoes. I wouldn’t have paid too much attention if not for the copious amounts of chips they were so eager on tossing to the passing gulls. One can only imagine a more health conscious seagull taking much issue with our penguin draped friends. In a fit of rage, I can picture him / her hovering precariously close to penguin man’s face and saying – “I say old chap, I do hope you’re feeding your children better than that.” Flap, flap, flap.

Sea Gulls flying past the oil rig
Sea Gull Health Inspectors take flight.

Seeing as how this didn’t really happy and these hapless gulls lapped up all the Balaji wafers offered up to them, I felt it was time to get down to the task at hand. Offloading my supplies I trudged down to the club house. A chance encounter with Randhir Behl was a welcome break to my otherwise slow day and after exchanging notes on our plans for the remainder of the weekend, I got down to changing into gear.

I must, at this point, remind you about the state of my muscles and the soreness it felt. I returned to trudging and picked my kayak from it’s housing. With a heavy foot, I pulled it down to the water. Did my stretches. A few muscles that had had the snooze button on, were rudely awakened. I took the kayak in, assembled my paddle. Eased into it, and gave it a few strokes. My Suunto didn’t kick in for the first 500 meters, and that’s when I felt it.

A rush of wind coming from just beyond the jetty. Smack on my port side. A wave splashed right along the side of the boat, and dragged me a good 5 metres wide. And just like that I was awake again. And I was paddling. Sometimes, all it needs is that first jolt.

Kayaking into the sun
Sunset, Kayak and a touch of wind

I did roughly 8 kms of paddling, quite a bit into the wind. It was a quick sea and it let me know that I needed to have my wits about me. In the distance I could spot a bunch of sailors enjoying the wind. I could agree with them, if not for my rude awakening. I paddled till the sun had had enough of me, brought the kayak 100 metres off the beach, and did my capsize training. 10 successful reentries and a jug full of sea water later, I called it a day and hauled my kayak back to it’s home.

From Mandwa, on my 5th day, this is Kaustubh Khade, Paddling Hard.

A Great start to the new Year

A Great start to the new Year

Time to read: 3 min

I have to say that 2015 started off well. Apart from the obviousness of waking up on a cliff overlooking a beach hearing the waves come crashing down, there have been some great early decisions. For starters, I spent the last 4 days in Kolad learning safety techniques for capsize or very simply, rolling.

It’s been a tough few days and I can’t remember when my body was this sore, but the outcome has been good so far.

The idea came from Pradip Patade, a constant mentor and coach, and he put me in touch with Mahesh Sanap at Wilder West Adventures. You might know them if you’ve ever been rafting in Kolad or the Kundalika. They basically run the show there.

While the rafting is what I’d predominantly gone there for previously, they have a great property that serves as a place to learn river kayaking, take jetski’s out for a ride and learn your basic scuba too. The owner, Mahesh was extremely helpful and recognized the expedition and it’s adventurous nature right away.

Day 1: It was fraught with uncertainty and I was a little worked up with my resistance to being in the water. Despite having a good control over my breath underwater, I found myself panicked in the upside down scenario. I can’t say I drank anything less than 3 litres of river water that first day and frankly felt the expedition stood on the edge of a blade.

Day 2: I started with a new instructor. Rajesh, I’d say is a pro. He was doing things with his kayak that I couldn’t pull off on a dance floor*. I found my feet in the water and realized I’ve nothing to be afraid of here. Slowly, but steadily I was getting better at the stroke and pulled off some assisted rolls by the end of the day. My consumption of river water was remarkably less and I felt I’d seen the world upside down a lot more today.

Day 3: Rajesh was prompt in his instruction and we did some great drills. My confidence and morale was boosted by the friends who’d come down to join me kayaking on the water. (Needless to say they had a good time running around the lazy stream in the ideal afternoon conditions) I found myself bettering my guitar roll and by the end of the day, I could do my own rolls. Here’s a snippet from Day 3 –

 

*This analogy is misleading as I have two left feet on any dance floor. So here are some pics of what I’m talking about.

Flips
Fear of water? What water?
Staying out of the water. Kayak style
Dry as a summer day in the desert
Hip movements
It’s in the hips