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.
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.
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 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.
Within moments there was silence. The sweet sound of your blade leaving the water was all I could hear.I passed past the throngs of boats lined outside the Gateway. Out of nowhere I heard a voice saying – “Best of luck”. I turned to see the familiar violet colour of the Yacht club Tandel’s. I smiled at the familiar face and then I was gone.
Just as quickly as it began, I was out of line of the boats. There was emptiness. Commercial vessels scattered far and wide. I altered my course. I knew I wanted to pass through the massive oil rigs. The early morning tide was pushing me out the harbour and I let it. The wind was absent at the beginning but 3 kms in, it kicked up and came straight at me. I was going quickly and I was happy when the safety boat caught me just short of the first commercial vessel out on the water.
GC, Shanj, Melanie, my mom and the two boatsmen, Santosh and Vishal seemed to be having a good time. In typically GC fashion, I saw him lying prostrate on the bow of the boat. Go-Pro in hand catching a shoulder high shot of me zipping past. I’ll have to say that it got a little choppy when we arrived at the rigs, but the tide was still pushing me, and I carried on. I completed the first 7 kms in good time. On my last crossing, I’d covered 14.5 kms from the club house at Mandwa to Gateway and I approximated this as mid point. I was glad for my hydration pack and it made short work of stay hydrated. But the mist was insane. At 9 kms in I should have sighted Uran or atleast the high flame, but no. I checked my course. And we seemed to be on track. As affirmation the traffic to Mandwa would pass right past us. A little further came the first big change. The two people on board were woken up as it was time to part ways. GC and Melanie were to leave from Mandwa, and the boat was to take them there. This was to start a series of fun events that had nothing to do with the kayaking. As I bid them farewell, I clocked a good 4 kms before the mist cleared enough for me to realise where I was. I was well past Mandwa and almost into Sasawane. I’d saved 2 kms with the tide and my bearing. I was glad for it.
So began the home run. Having spent 2 weeks down at the BSA guest house in Mandwa, I could do the route down to Kihim with my eyes closed. Having not shut them nearly enough the night before (3.5 hours of sleep) I went with inertia and kept them open though. Despite the comforts of the familiar I had no help with the tide or the wind. When I knew I’d cleared the rocky area at the tip of Mandwa, I paused to look for my safety boat. Not finding them, I decided to move on. Around 9:30 the wind just dropped and with the sun high in the air already, it made for a gruelling hour and a half of paddling. Moving past Sasawane I got a stretch of carrying waves and surfed them for a bit. But it was not nearly fast enough and it felt like a punishment. I fought the dehydration by emptying the other 2 litre bottle into the hydration pack, but that was all my water supply. Somewhere along the stretch I must admit I had to pause for a quick pee break. I glided past Awas the way a sleep deprived, partly de-hydrated and terribly warm kayaker would glide and braced myself for the rocks that litter the south part of the beach. By my calculations I was 4 kms short of my destination. I was glad for it. When I spotted Kandheri and Underi through the mist, I quickened my pace. On the beach I could see people engage in a bunch of beach activities and I paddled clear of them. It’s good to get a moment to cool yourself down when you land, and lets not forget the surf toppling me out the kayak doesn’t make for the great first impression.
I touched Kihim and made for the shade. Something about keeping a boat steady, holding a paddle, shading the gopro and doing your business compels you to wait for shore.
When I returned I found two workers at a nearby farm house inspecting my beauty. I was quick to take pics with them and then answered their many questions about the expedition.
I was curious to know where my land and sea support were, since I was apparently first on site. I thought they wanted me to tell them the coast was clear. (In a manner of speaking, as Kihim is not the sparsest beach on saturdays) It was just then that Shanj and mom showed up with one of Avnish’s men with a bunch of bags. Dad was nowhere in sight and neither was the boat. As I changed, and plonked myself on dry ground, mom spoke to dad and he had the funniest story. Shortly after offloading everyone at Mandwa, my safety crew ran out in search of me. Somehow I eluded them; the way that a 19 foot white kayak with an orange lifejacket strapped at the back can in clear day. They were prompt in calling my father, who at this time was enjoying his Poha at my uncle’s discussing gymming and where to buy houses. It’s not a fair stretch of imagination to think my dad didn’t digest his breakfast as he tried vainly to contact me on my vodafone number. As is custom, my phone was on silent and lodged in mom’s purse. A good 16 phone calls later, my dad drove with much haste down to Kihim. This, in the company of our august Raikkonen of a driver made for a fun account. So it was sweet relief hearing that I was dry, taking in the para-gliders.
We made a beeline for Arany at Phansad where we are put up for two days. A hot shower and being out in the open here made for a good change from the beach, and the hospitality meant I would probably get good sleep tonight.
I woke on the first ring of the alarm. It was 4 a.m. and I was vastly disoriented. I put it off. I had no time to ponder on how much I could snooze. 3.5 hours. That’s how much I’d slept. A host of last minute changes and running around meant I finally had everything packed and tucked into bed by 12:30. Ideal for the first day of paddling. A flurry of activity followed and by the time the driver showed at our door, we were running late. Bundling food, clothing, equipment, paddles and ourselves in, we rushed to Gateway. When I say rushed, I meant meandered like a river in the flat plains, as our driver is one hell of a cool cat.
By the time I was at the Yacht Club, I had received a bunch of calls. A wake up call to Rajan and our kayak was out the back door. Homi had come down to see me off, and as we strolled up to the Gateway, I observed my high school seniors Akash and Suven were helping dad put up my banner on the perpetually pestilent police barricades that marr Gateway’s morning beauty. Mom was content watching it unfold. Good mom. Nikhil and his wife were a welcome sight and as we started to set up things, a good crowd
started forming. Our local policeman was not to be left behind as he came asking for permissions at the first sight of a congregation of more than 5 people. This must be a habit evolved from the Raj, of which he was clearly a strong believer. Content with our papers, he left us to it.
I have to say that it was a real pleasure having Zubin Dubash, one of the strongest supporters of my expedition, at the flag off early in the morning. Just as with all these months, he was full of that miraculous energy he just exudes. Thanks Zubin.
One of the biggest surprises was Avnish Dhall walking right through the crowd to announce he was there. It’s been a relationship that has been a cornerstone of this journey and despite his crazy travel schedule, his advice and help has been pouring in constantly for the last 2 months, so it was great of him to shuttle straight from the airport down to the flag off. Melanie and Patrick were quick to tell me it was a bloody brilliant expedition and I had to agree.
And just like that, the flood gates on well wishers blew right open. The old gang was there with Meds, Pooja, Arun and Swati driving down for their cups of chai and Ali (minus Zoya) walked up to tell me he would rather sleep off my next launch than kayak out with me.(I’m going to have you on the water next time man) Anurag Aggarwal, a spitting image of his brother and dear friend Ankit came all the way from goregaon to see me cast off, and it was a very sweet gesture indeed. Fali, the christener of my
nickname KK, and a rock behind me in tough times, came down and it was great meeting him after these months. Hermann, one of my oldest sailing friends was kind enough to get my mom a PFD, and as always brought a smile to everyone there. Ninad and Mithu, both seasoned sailors and great people to hang with, came by to wish me all the best and it was really good to
get their backing on this expedition.
I had been hoping that the promise Joieta and Jaideep, both stalwart of the cause, had made would come true and then, right in the middle of it all, making the chai conversations a full blown party were the children of MagicBus. Adorned in their lovely blue t-shirts they made for the biggest and loudest and funnest contingent to see me off. It was fun being introduced to the gang again, a ceremony everyone should do in their lives. And I wasted no time in showing them the shiny new kayak and explain to them what I was about to undergo. Just like at Shivaji Park, I could see it spark their imaginations. The white kayak eventually took center stage, and we spent a good deal of time posing and cheering in front of the kayak and the banner. One of the nicest gestures of the day, was that they brought a big cake out for MagicBus’ 16th birthday. Yes, it’s been fighting the good fight for 16 years now. And along with the youngest of the fray, I cut the cake. Thanks so much for being a part of this. It’s been a real honour and a pleasure working and doing this event in support of you.
Shanj and GC were both the most active people at the event making sure every moment of the event was captured and without them, Tarun, Cam & Shreepad, I’m not sure this would have been a success.
Finally, my mom and dad, who’ve from the moment ‘Goa’ have said ‘Let’s do it’ were on set and we took some shots with the banner and the kayak.
A round of photographs ensued. A moment to spend some time with all the people who’d attended the event and it was time for warm up. There’s a different charm to doing your stretches between the Gateway and the Taj as the morning crowd swept past. The kids who’d taken some time to take in the Gateway were back in time for the Pooja of the kayak and the journey. Family comes first and when my aunt or chotti-atya as we lovingly call her, my cousin Prasad and his father showed up, we took a moment to ourselves.
Finally it was time to hit the water. The jetty was open, and as I lifted the Kayak, I could feel the collective eyes on me. I walked it down to the water. Stretched my legs a little. Assembled my paddle. And got in the seat. As I swept my feet in, I looked back to a crowded slipway, and the walls surrounded by well wishers. I must be doing something right.
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.
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.*
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.
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 –