The good folks over at 94.3 Radio One recently had me over as part of their #jobswitch and it was a pleasure being there.
RJ Annie, who hosts Mumbai on Demand, was an absolute pleasure to work with and I could tell right from our first call, where she was excited about being on the water –
…I can’t swim, so I will definitely need a jacket!! – RJ Annie, before we’d even met.
For her jobswitch, she had to hit the water. I naturally wanted her to have a good time, so we took her out to Mandwa. The old training ground, and met up with Prafful at his watersports center on the other side of the Mumbai channel.
I would say the only thing that eclipsed the beauty of the day, was how pumped Annie was on becoming a kayaker. I’d drawn up a list of things she needed to do –
Load the kayak
Navigate to the beach
Hit the water – Hard
Load the kayak
Enjoy the beach
Share her day
She handled everything from putting on a skirt to falling into the water on a rogue wave, like a PRO. Big shoutout to her! <3
You can watch her side of the story here –
Here’s a lovely shot of her in action.
I was down in the offices to do my bit and it came out quite well. Do listen in here. There were four segments across a one hour show. (Music not included 😉 )
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.
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.
Bringing us to our trip yesterday. Shanj has been pestering me to go Waterfall Rappelling with her. So we looked at the options, and chose the most adventurous one. 400 feet. Or 40 storeys high! We read through it, and it looked great. The group looked young and eager, they had an online presence and even had their own payment gateway. The trifecta. We booked it and I did my usual bit of inviting people to join us.
In our light hearted revelry, we looked past the trip organizer(Mr. D from hereon) getting a little hot-and-bothered when I added two numbers for one person on the whatsapp group.
Suraj Singh has never backed down from something rash and outdoorsy. Often, to his and my, detriment. Little did we know, the jinx would continue. So here we are, awake at 5:30 a.m. on our way to Lonavla. Suraj in shotgun, Sleepy Shanj staying true to her name in the back. It’s a lovely, uneventful ride and we reach Lonavla station ahead of the others.
Trying to reach Mr. D, he emerges from said station and beckons Suraj in the way you’d beckon coolies at railway stations where coolies are beckoned sharply. I’ve never beckoned anyone undeserving-ly, so I can’t empathize with Mr. D. Suraj looks like one who’s had a punch thrown at him before he’s in the ring.
We huddle in our Tata Sumos, too many pickles in a jar. We chalk it up to the thrills of an adventurous weekend and move on. The ride takes us past Della Adventures, that place you go to walk a dog for a price. I’m pretty sure the guy who used to wash my car charges money the other way around, but hey, Thrills, yes?
The road is the kind of peaceful that you’d expect in warn torn Afghanistan, but the beauty is breathtaking. Everything is lush green. Knee high grass rolls for miles on plateaus that stretch evenly on hills. Every near vertical face has a stream and the mist wafts in and out to show you the spectacle and then take it away. The light drizzle paints a nice Northern-Europe-summer weather.
We alight at the camp site, just in time to see a bunch of guys fully kitted and on a war path. Harness, helmets and selfies. They are ready to Kill it! And we’ve barely touched base. But then again, languid is a style, and we are acing it this Sunday. We reach and immediately set upon our first task – Poha. Or polishing it off. Suraj has already betrayed this is his first time rappelling and he doesn’t know the technique. I’ve rappelled when I was 13, so safe to say, I’m no one to show him the ropes. But I’m confident someone here will.
We have a small huddle, and Mr. D introduces himself. He’s filling in for someone who can’t be here for personal reasons. Then after telling us said reasons(Weren’t they personal D?), he asks us to introduce ourselves. We learn that we have a physically blind participant! Woah. It’s his second rappelling attempt too! Shortly after we’ve forgotten what the first guy said, I expect the safety briefing. Or a discussion on how to do it. Shanjali laughs. What does this mean? Is there an inside joke? I don’t follow.
What also doesn’t follow is all of us getting harnesses. Of which there are only 12. There are 18 of us. So, all that about – ‘only 15 people in a group’ that I’ve been hearing has been for my ears only? In tour-operators-with-payment-gateways we trust. Three of us, one of the girls and a couple are the only guys who haven’t suited up. Surely now we will get a little hands on training.
No. Now we march. Into the mouth of hell. Rode the 600. (Tennyson) Very fittingly, we are lost in 15 minutes. Our makeshift guide / Mr. D doesn’t know where the waterfall is. And the walkie talkie is at the waterfall. So we wait. Ours not to question why. Finally, a local points us in the right direction. Down a slipper path, where the firmness of our soles and the softness of the tush is tested.
It’s arguably the funnest part so far. A good 35 minutes later, we arrive at the waterfall. And it’s beautiful. Green hills all around, and the rushing sound of water falling 400 feet. The mist can get thick enough to turn everything around us white in seconds, and the rain makes it all the more beautiful. Then it rains. And then some more. And the 15×15 feet, slippery, moss covered, inclined patch that 35 of us are on, is turned into a gloomy, cold, wet island, cut off by the windy twigs on one end and a nice long fall on the other.
The other group have already started their descents. We are waiting for our instructions. Yeah, not happening. I was just joking. We are received by the guy who will drop us over the edge today, Mr. T (For Talwalkars, cos he is built like a rock. Like one of those big rocks, the kinds you use to crush smaller rocks. If one of those has been having a Whey protein every day of it’s big rock life.) He’s out there on the edge. I mean, literally on the edge, with no safety line, just strapping on people and sending them over. You’d have to be a different kind of brave to be out there, wedging yourself on a rock overhanging 400 feet into green nothingness and hauling rope up for 18 people a day in This weather.
Anyway, this is the part where we wait. And wait we do. Our line is moving quicker than our better prepared friends. But we do the math, and figure that we are here for a while. It’s 11 when we get there. Even at 15 minutes per person, it’s going to take till 3:30 to get us all down. And that’s a big If.
Reality Kicks in.
We have nothing to do here but lie and wait. I think it was Milton who said that. So we do. It’s sitting, shifting, standing, waiting. Raining. Raining. Cold wind cutting in for kicks and things are slowing up. While things look slow but steady for the guys to our left, I notice that we are not being efficient. A pulley used for our belay line is not being used anymore. Straight off the carabiner. That’s odd, no? As I stare at it(What do you do when you’re wet, cold and have nothing to do) I see a big knot come up. Odd place to put a knot. But no one seems to think on it, so I put it out of my mind.
But it’s taking us longer now. The anxious are standing in line. Even the blind person and his friend. For hours they’ve been standing. Metres from the edge. For the ones without harnesses, there is even less to do. We huddle, we talk about the dip in the wind, then we talk about it’s sudden rise. The rain is constant, so we talk about how cold we are. In fact not much out of the ordinary is happening when Mr. T suddenly leaves his spot and comes to check on the line. As I watch him again, he starts to use carabiners to put a slack on the rope and fasten it a little further down. I follow the slack and see it frayed. What is going on here!
But just the same, he goes right back to his job. Sending people down, business as usual. At around 3, someone shows up with a bag of packed rice boxes. The suspect contents of it are warm, and for people who’ve not eaten since 9, it’s keeping us on our feet. At this point there are 7-8 of us left. And Mr. D brings it up. He’s telling us that’s its late. He’s telling us the route up is a 2 hour climb through thicket. He’s telling us that we might be out of time to send people down. He’s telling us we are going to be left behind.
“Does any of you NOT want to do it?”
Yes, I woke up at 5:30, drove 90kms, and endured 4 hours of cold wetness to say – No, it isn’t my cup of tea. I don’t even fancy waterfalls. Heck, I don’t even like tea.
None of us back down. The blind person and his friend are sent down in the reverse order. On this suspect rope. Our harnesses are not yet up.
We tell them flat out, we didn’t come here to turn around. That’s when Mr. T tells us the rope is torn.
Yes, the belay-rope bringing up the harnesses(4) and the helmet(1) for the 5 of us, tore.
More so, it’s the second time this has happened today. Remember the pulley? The carabiner?
Suddenly going down doesn’t seem as important anymore. Did these guys just let a blind person and 4 other people down with a belay rope that was torn?
Suddenly, the wind blowing through our wet clothes wasn’t the coldest feeling I was having. What is with these guys? Thinking back, it was probably the cold and the hours of waiting that made us blind to this crazy racket. That and not giving anyone any headsup about anything going wrong. Or a basic intro into how it all works. Which lines are for pulling and what happens when things go wrong.
They discuss with the other team and tell us they can send us down on their line. Phew. Atleast those guys weren’t cutting corners. We agree.
Shanj’s health looks like it’s deteriorating, and it’s 3:45. We decide to send her first. And follow on.
Very soon, it’s easy to see why this line is taking so much time. They’re using a 10mm rope. They also seem to use more carabiners. It definitely sounds more safe, if you ask me. When she’s mid way, at 4:05, Mr. T. says that’s it. They aren’t sending anyone else in. Mr. D joins in.
The logic is sound. It’s taking longer on the other rope. With 4 more of us. It’s going to be round 6 when we are all down. A 2 hour hike through the jungle thicket with no torches(Yes, they didn’t have torches) puts everyone at risk. They were happy that one of us could make it but would have to call it quits.
There was no real point. And nothing we could do either.
To rappel down put everyone at risk.
To rappel down slighting people who send people down without secure ropes, is putting yourself at risk.
We turned around. And walked. Up the slippery path.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred. –
– Lord Tennyson
I think the similarities are uncanny. A group of well intention-ed people sent into hostile territory with no clear directions, instructions or purpose. Their numbers alone ensuring no chance of success. And they’re left to see what happens. It could have gone a lot worse for us in my opinion.
Down below, all 25 had been waiting for 5.5 hours. With no food and no water. There wasn’t someone who oversaw the last part of the descent, arguably the more dangerous part. Nor was there a mat to catch someone’s fall. After Shanj touched base, she sent up a harness and a helmet, but to no avail. Mr. T. was busy packing it all up and Mr. D. was smiling at us and chalking it up to the gods. No sir. God didn’t do this. Mr. T explain the technicals and Mr. D tells us that nobody wanted this to happen.
But I think the guilt lies a lot closer to home. It’s that oft-used phrase – Ho Jayega.
Teen aur log? Ho Jayega.
Tour Manager aa nahi sakta? Main hoon, Ho Jayega.
Rope Kat gayi? Tension mat lo, Ho Jayega.
But that isn’t adventure. The thin line between Risk and Adventure is in being prepared. Taking as many precautions as possible. To account for the regular and the unforseeable. To jump into the unknown with no plan or safety line is not adventurous, that’s flat out risky. I can’t let someone onto a kayak in the middle of a sea, toss them a paddle and see how they get on with it. And neither should these people. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when you’re caught with your pants around your ankles or your ropes cut.
It’s a pretty obvious choice if you ask anyone sane. Do you want to be in the team that starts early, heads straight to the launch point, takes on the right amount of people and does not use torn rope? Or do you trust muscle mike and a guy who sheepishly laughs away their bad planning and last minute fall backs. Ask Suraj. He still doesn’t know the right rappelling technique. He does know a bowline knot, from his years of sailing, and he knows when someone going off a cliff has been tied a slipknot instead. That’s a fun word. Slip. Not. (Try. To.)
As we try and make the most of our day, Suraj and I find a stream and follow it till it thunders down rocks into whatever fate awaits it below. Mr. D eventually finds us and copiously explains his side of the story. As we walk back, him limping from a motor accident he’s recently come out of, it comes out- ‘I hope that couple doesn’t kill me. They were the first to register.” He laughs.
In his mind, he’s completing the sentence. Koi na, Manage Ho Jayega.
Sharing some pics of the country side nonetheless –
We set out to Kayak to Elephanta this weekend. It’s a distance of 12.5 kms one way. By my reckoning, a simple 4 hour run.
Here’s how it panned out ->
Leg one. Gateway to Elephanta. 12.5 Kms. Completed in 2 hours.
Leg two. Elephanta to Gateway. 15.5 Kms. 5.5 hours for me. 6.5 hours for Shanjali and Manu.
We started out at a 7:30 am. Low tide was an hour back, and the tide was rising. We got out, and cut between the mainland and the island opposite the Navy Area. It was a quick simple run, and apart from fishing boats in the channel and running under the jetty at Jawahar Dweep, we had no real problem.
Halting at Gharapuri(It’s called that, popularly – Elephanta island), Shanj and I walked to the nearby village. We rationed some water and some biscuits. A breakfast of cornflakes would not have sufficed for what was to come, but we didn’t know that.
Launching at 10:30 from the island, we decided to round the ship at the jetty, currently offloading it’s crude cargo, and make a beeline for Gateway. We knew there was a high tide coming, but we grossly underestimated it. In the first hour, we had covered 2 kms! Going was slow, and I wasn’t keen on leaving them out of sight, despite mine being a faster kayak. Standing still, you’d drift back towards the island in minutes. Jokingly when they caught up, Shanj said – no more chit chat till we reach the ship.
It wasn’t till I reached the first anchored boat that I could gauge how fast the tide was. You could start a sentence at the bow of the boat, and finish it at the stern. I reckoned it would change once we got to the channel. It took us 2.5 hours to get to the ship alone. By the time I reached it, the wind had picked up. The ship loomed large over me, and a barge attached to it, threw me a line. I tied it down to my kayak, but between the drift, the wind and the waves, it was more of an effort than kayaking to stay still.
Panic kicked in, because I had reached here ahead of the others. Craning my neck, I could not spot them, and I didn’t want to turn in these choppy waters. I asked the crew onboard the ship if they could spot my fellow kayakers. They could not, and I started to worry. I kayaked ahead to look past the big ship, incase they had slipped under the bridge / jetty. Highly unlikely as the high tide was almost at it’s peak.
After tossing and turning and waiting for 30 minutes, I turned around. This was increasingly difficult, and the waves were pretty choppy by now. But luckily, barely had I turned it around, and I spotted them. A million thoughts of capsizes had gone through my mind.
I paddled out to them, and told them we are staying together. We regrouped at the barge, and I gladly accpeted Manu’s snickers. It was 1 o’clock and we were still atleast 7 kms out. I was hoping things would be clear now with the tide taking us out again. I was wrong.
The channel, commercial channel, with all the big ships, barges, fishing trawlers and police boats was choppy. As the waves rushed in from all sides, my rudder started jamming. I had to rely on corrective strokes to keep her into the waves. With a kayak as big of this, and getting hit on multiple sides, it was becoming difficult to keep her steady. I had more capsize moments here than on my Goa expedition. I would later learn, that my stern storage compartment and my day hatch had filled with water. So not only was the rudder gone, my butt was heavier than my front.
I had imagined stopping for Shanj and Manu every 5 minutes, but it quickly became imperative that I constantly paddle. Thanks to an internet outage the day before, my GPS couldn’t direct me to the right spot. The sun was out, and made it difficult to be sure of there Gateway was. Luckily, I guessed wrong. I directed everyone to a spot north of Gateway. In hindsight, this let the retreating tide guide us south to Gateway, saving us a big deal of trouble.
On the choppy water, I got into a familiar situation of not being able to spot the others. Shanj would tell me later that it was slow going, and their kayak really bobbed up and down in the big swells. But they kept paddling. It was a comfort to know that she had Manu as company and I’m super proud of how they held up.
By the time, I got to the end of the channel, the current had grown super strong. I would point my kayak to the front of a big container ship, and by the time I reached it, I slipped around the back. When I finally came to the Navy area, I considered slipped in between the island again, but the tide decided against it.
I finally slowed down my paddling 750 metres out of the gateway, under a false sense of security. I was brought back to my senses when a small dinghy ferrying three foreigners, presumably back from a sailing race, started waving to me. It drew parralel, and then before we knew it, we were both stuck.
We were now parrallel to the Gateway, me paddling furiously, and he with his engine on. And we were both standing still. Next to us, an achored boat smiled on. Finally the dinghy got past the boat, and found a patch to coast in. I followed pursuit, heaving a sigh of relief when the tide finally gave in. Once I was amidst the achored boats, things got better, and for the last 300 metres, it was smooth sailing.
But the day was not over. My mind had been on the two kayakers still out there. I brought the kayak up the ramp, ran to the car and reached my phone. I wanted to alert Manu to point north and directly for shore, letting the tide do the rest of the work, but he didn’t pick up. But the call went through, and that probably meant they hadn’t capsized yet.
I decided to be ready to get them, and swung my car around to secure it. Driving past the Taj, me left lens just popped out. Dehydration? Tired of my general existence? So here I am, two friends lost at sea, driving half blind in one of the most crowded saturday haunts of the city.
By the time, I get to the jetty, it’s 4:30. Still no sign of the guys. I imagined them to be 30 minutes behind me, but it was already 45. Rakesh Madiye helped me hoist the kayak atop the car. While loading I recognized how heavy it was, and found about 10 litres of sea water trapped inside.
I secured the kayak and dialled manu’s number again. He picked up this time, and told me they were right outside the harbour. I was greatly comforted. I could not spot them, and after 10 minutes when I called he said – I think we might need some help.
At this point, that familiar feeling of worry came swarming back. I could not spot them, and it had been more than 6 hours they were paddling, with a strong tide now taking them out to sea. I discussed this with my sailing friends, who were fresh out of a sailing race.
Rakesh Varadkar was the first to respond. Barely had I explained the situation that he understood the severity. His boat was achored close, and we hitched a ride to it. I called Manu to confirm his location. Just outside the harbour was still the reply, though he tried to give me a line to take getting out of Gateway. When we finally got there, they were no where to be found. Rakesh’s presence of mind saved the day here, and he asked for the phone. He enquired what was closest to them. Manu said a single sail boat. Most of the sail boats had returned to harbour, and while I scanned them, Rakesh looked out. And he spotted them. I couldn’t spot a soul to be honest. But he was right. Way off course, almost 3 kms out of harbour, I saw them valiantly paddling. We reached them and you could see it on their faces. Manu had almost given up, and Shanjali, though cheerful, looked tired. She later told me she always knew they’d make it back, but given the drift, I wasn’t so sure.
We tied the kayak up, after letting the water out. Then, as three tired souls, we were ferried back to shore. On land, Rakesh refused our offer for a beer citing that anyone would do it. I don’t know for sure about that, but I am a 100% sure that without his help, it would have been a Long Long day. (And that’s me euphemising)
As we dug into our lunch at 6:30 in the evening, we laughed about it, but we all knew that we’d just averted a minor disaster.
Comic Relief: I spoke to mom just before the food arrived at our rooftop lunch, and told her that I had just gotten off the water, and we had been beset by tides, strong waves and had kayaked for about 8 hours to cover just 27 kms. She heard it all and then said – Ok, now listen, I have made chicken Dilbahar and there are chapattis. You better come home and have it.
One of my favourite poems ‘On his blindness’ by John Milton ends
Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.
A friend of mine, Sandeep Mhatre, had buzzed me when I last checked into Karanja. A 17 km paddling trip that was one of these flights of fancy. I’d returned home to powai when he’d seen it but I promised to meet him saturday morning.
Waking up at 7 today, I have to say it took a long time to get on the water. A few days back, I’d lost my right eye contact to a wave while re-entering my kayak(subsequently, I tried in vain to get back in). So I broke a new case open, got my glares out and was ready to hit the water by 9. A good warm up and I hauled my kayak down to the water. The plan was simple. Cut straight across to Uran following the flames. I sent my spectacles and my contact lens box with a friend who would join us in Uran. 100 metres in, I felt my right eye twitch. I felt my contact travel down my cheek and fly into the water. Good luck finding that again.
I had two options. Head back to the club house and open another contact lens box or paddle to Uran. So began my 8.5 km trip with one eye. Now, I know it’s probably romantic thinking of an eye patch and a wooden leg, but the ground realities are that when your kayak is being washed by waves on starboard and a nice morning wind is slapping your right cheek, the depth perception of two eyes is a good thing. I had to veer off quite a bit, and like Frodo & Sam, make a circuitous route to the eye of Mordor. (Flames of Uran) It made for a fun trip and my brand new waterproof earphones, that Saurabh kindly gifted me for my birthday, dubstep blaring, was a bit of a distraction keeping me from hearing the waves. I changed course and made more for Karanja, planning on hugging the coast when I got there. It meant a bit of headwind and I learnt to make peace with that. Little by little I corrected my course till I was staring right at the flames. Keeping them to my right, I carried on, past the dargah, across a line of rocks and in between the fishing lines. An old couple on a rickety green boat was making for shore. As they saw me, they enquired who’s boat this was. As my reply went – mine, they asked me where I came from. I said Mandwa, and got an incredulous question back – is there a motor attached. I said – No. Bewildered he went – Chappu? I wished them a good day, and paddled on past the broken jetty that was our decided point to meet with Sandeep.
As I disembarked and walked my kayak to shore, I was happily reunited with my spectacles. I swapped out the lens and sat to admire the stretch I’d just bested. While Sandeep couldn’t meet us, his brother Sanjeev and his wife, Anita had brought their boys, Dishant and Mohit, down to the water. I took Mohit out on the kayak and he loved the way it ran on the water. He looked a natural taking my club carbon paddle and even stroking the water. A passing wave rattled him a little but only for an instant, and when we finally took him out of the kayak, he had the paddle stuck in his right hand. #startingyoung
Sanjeev, very graciously took us to coffee to a lovely place overlooking the water and it was a welcome break, talking about NDA and sailing and my upcoming trip. It was an hour well spent. I wanted to cast off, since the afternoon wind wouldn’t be in my favour and I didn’t intend on being stuck in the sun for any longer than I needed to.
I set off and skirted past the fishing lines, pulling my rudder up in the ones I couldn’t avoid. It seemed to be going well enough, when I realised my right eye was leaking. I contemplated washing it out, but thought it would probably pass given time. I was wrong. As I waded deeper into the water, crossing into the channel, the irritation got worse and I found myself keeping my eyes shut for longer durations of time. The glare off the water was immense and very soon, I could keep the right eye open just for a few seconds. Again, I found myself paddling blind in one eye. There were a few things in my favour though. For one, the water was calm. Secondly, the wind hadn’t picked up considerably. Mid channel it was anyone’s guess where the waves were coming from, but I kept the pace. I barely braced, but corrected my course multiple times. Starting with Gull Island to my starboard, I ended up crossing it at port, something that was necessitated by a series of rocks on it’s east side. Past the island, I figured I needed to correct my course further, and the ferry from Bombay helped a blind man remap Mandwa. When I was past Gull Island, with a couple more kms to go, the glare was blinding, and with just my spectacles(spectacle to be honest) I had a tough time keeping an eye out for sudden waves. When I arrived at the jetty, I was a little more at peace. I rushed ashore and washed out my eye. It felt so good, I even did away with my PFD and did a km run within sight of shore.
I’m not one for standing and waiting, but paddling hard over Land and Ocean without rest seems just fine.
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.
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.
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.
Today was the first day waking up at Mandwa. I’ve been, very kindly, put up as a guest at the Bombay Sailing Association Club house by the gracious and extremely affabale Randhir Behl. A long evening of kayaking yesterday, aggravated by a heavy wind and rocky waves, meant I woke up with a touch of soreness. Since no one likes waking at the clock, I snoozed till 8:10.
I stumbled out of my room and was greeted by the extremely caring attendant, or mama, who enquired about my breakfast. I was happy collapsing into the chair and awaiting a double omlette, I downed a cup of coffee laced with a strong dose of sugar. Good morning world.
Passing past Battery Park, I waved to the circle of friends I’d made the day before. And headed to pick up my kayak. The good natured Sridhar helped me take my beauty out of the housing and I took it straight down to the water. I had an idea of what I wanted to do today, and a good warm up after, I was in the kayak paddling away. The waves were kind today and after a few practice drills, I set off for the fishing village just off the cliff at mandwa. And what a glorious sight it was. The sun was out and it paled everything that the mist hadn’t already conquered, but through it all, one could see the outline of an army of fishing vessels. Anything else would be a gross understatement as I stared at 20 big fishing trawlers. But only for an instant. Then I was gone. It was a good route with a 2 km downwind stretch that let me test out my kayak. Heading back I got the headwind, but it was quick going and I had no complaints as the sun hadn’t set the air on fire.
On the run back, I was plagued by fishing nets. Not wanting to jump in and have to release it from my rudder, I chose to paddling through the minefield of bobbing thermacol. Pulling up alongside one, I found that I was not the only person avoiding it. 10 metres off my kayak, a grey creature emerged, took a deep breath and dove back in. As always, everything stops for dolphins. And I slowed to watch him do it again. He, like me, was looking for a way out. Every now and then you find a kindred soul in another species.
I made a couple of runs and ended the morning session with 15 kms in just under 2 hours. It wasn’t my fastest and I found myself bracing in the downwind conditions. But it was fun. A couple of seat adjustments and a deeper seating meant I was more in control.
Lunch was very welcome. And I dug into the rice, dal and bhindi that made me nostalgic about Kolad. I wolfed down on it, and it helped that the moushi had asked me twice over the amount of rice I’d requested. (My own estimations of how much rice I eat, were grossly exaggerated) So I ate as much as I could, and took a walk down to the jetty. My friends from battery park were in the process of leaving, so I took the time to say goodbye and headed back home.
A group of very bubbly women had recently checked in to the club house and I set about welcoming them (including agreeing to take one of them on the water in the afternoon). I then retreated to my room to catch up on some rest. My body had been asking for it. A quick nap and that alarm I’m getting so used to loving, chirped.
My clothes from the morning were sufficiently dry and I picked my kayak and dove into the water. As the evening high tide swung in, I found the going more fun. The evening wind was strong and my short forays were met with much resistance. I clocked another 7.5 km and then brought the kayak in for my capsize drills. The water was a lot calmer than yesterday, so I enjoyed a fair amount of success. All in all, I spent about 2.5 hours on the water. Then I hauled the kayak back and decided to call it a day.
The evening has been kind. And I’m finding out how much I adore a hot water bath. There is probably nothing sweeter after spending 5 hours on the water in various degrees of being soaked to the bone. I polished off my rice and moushi produced some fried fish that I used as desert.
An old sailing friend, Muruggan Nadar, is holding a beach party it would appear, so I’ll sign off and see if I can soak in some of the bonfire. From Mandwa, feeling good, this is Kaustubh Khade Paddling Hard.
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.