Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Alibaug

At the time of sunrise
Fresh clean air, small busy town, and most interestingly just a stone's throw away from Mumbai. Hard to believe eh? That Saturday, 16 Dec 2006, was quite a warm day in Mumbai, and we had an appointment to keep with the small beach town by the coast - Alibaug. Unfortunately although we were supposed to be 8 of us; busy city schedules and unplanned activities made it possible for just the 3 of us to keep that appointment. Although at first we were a little disappointed that the others dropped out, the place and our host, R made the holiday worthwhile.
We met at the docks, and embarked on to the 5.30 pm launch to Mandwa. No ferries go upto Alibaug since the waters on the coast are shallow. The weather changed gradually in the next 45 mins as we drifted away from Mumbai towards Mandwa. We caught the lovely sunset.

Ship at sea
The sea was dotted with a few cruise liners, one particularly good looking Luxury Liner, many launches, some catamarans (the only difference between these and the launches are that they move on 2 hulls, making them more sophisticated and stable -with fewer jerks...I am talking about the physical ones and not the human jerks ;) While we sailed past, the birds were returning back to their homes, and the seagulls tried to grab their last bite in the vast oceans.
At 6.20 pm sharp we disembarked at Mandwa. Had we been 8 as planned earlier, we would have to take a bus to Alibaug, but then R was sweet enough to play the gracious host and came specially to pick us up in his vehicle. The car looked brand new and we were surprised to know that he had already done 1,00,000 kms in it!!! I guess these are the benefits of living in Alibaug - even the car shows it :)

The ride to Alibaug was ~25 mins by road. The winds were chilly, and the air fresh n clean. An hour fm Mumbai, and here was a different world. Dotted with wadis - small independent houses with their own little orchards/ back + frontyards. Some modernised, while some still retained the old world charm.

We first went to grab some food since we are forever hungry souls. We had some "ragda pattice" at a popular corner and moved on to Versoli beach, just 3 kms from Alibaug. This is where we would stay until the end of tomorrow. After depositing our bags there we moved on to the beach. The time was well past 8.00 pm. The sun had set without a trace. We walked on the sands under the dark night sky. It was closer to new moon, so we had a panoramic view of the night sky, with very little moonlight. We were lucky to see a shooting star too. It looked so beautiful when it shot right past the skies across zillions of galaxies. I hummed to myself ...

"Starlight, starbright,
The first star I see tonite.
I wish I may, I wish I might.
I wish my dreams come true tonite"

Interestingly, we four were not the only souls that night at the beach. There were other beach bums, some merely drinking, some enjoying the sea breeze and some others contemplating at a distance from the shores whether it was safe to take that nice walk along the sea. Luckily we had R with us, who is a local and so we felt safe just by his presence.
While we strolled, B suddenly remembered some ghastly tales. She said they were true tales about ghosts which she had watched on the channel Travel n Living. She went on to relate the ghastly tales about a haunted home. The channel name she dropped did lend the whole tale credibility.

Then suddenly a thought crossed my mind. The conversation that transpired....
Me : R do you believe in Ghosts?
R : No
Me : is it because you believe in God and so you dont believe in Ghosts?
R : No I dont believe in God either
Me (surprised) : and whyever not?
R : It would be hypocritical to believe in the positive or the negative alone. Where there is good there is evil too. So I would rather not believe in either :)
M (thoughtful): Hmmm... that's interesting

The night sky was a delight. The walk got us all hungry and I was keen for my plate of fish. R took us to a nearby joint which served some delicious varieties of fish and local fare.
We then split, promising to meet at sunrise. Just before that R reminded us that the guesthouse we were put up at belonged to an Exorcist :). Thank God! for that.

Palms lining the beach
The next day, passed by rather quickly. A quick walk to Versoli beach, which was just a few minutes from our guesthouse, to watch the sunrise.
The first sunrays
R joined us by then, in time for our breakfast. Had a long chat, about travels and plans, over a hot cuppa. Spent a few more minutes at the guesthouse and then got going. B noticed some gooseberry and supari trees in the guesthouse frontyard. So she had them plucked...anxious to check out the taste :)
The Supari palm
On the itinerary next was a fort right in the middle of the sea. Called the Kolaba fort, the only way to access it is on foot or by a buggy. However care needs to be taken to make sure that whichever route you take you need to be back before high tide. At the time we decided to go there, the low tide had just about set in, so the waters were not very shallow; and we decided to take the buggy ride. Not easy! Dink, donk, clunk....those were my bones bumping into each other while the horse waded through the Alibaug waters.

The (in)famous buggy ride
It took about 30 mins to look around the fort - 2 old Brit Canons, the Someshwar temple and the magnificient view of the seas from the top.
From a distance (the Kolaba fort)Old Brit Canons
From the fort
Sorry R! I dont remember any historic details, thanks to that shaky ride on the buggy. My grey cells got completely jammed! ;) Also the heavy breakfast I had grabbed just before the buggy ride only made matters worst :p

Once back, we went quickly for our lunch, some desserts and then R dropped us off at Mandwa. We took a catamaran back home. This time since we had learnt from the trip the previous day, we asked specially for tickets to the top deck. The view was blissful. There were some funny humans with us who fed the seagulls(chips, biscuits, and God alone knows what else) almost the entire way back, so through the journey we had an entire flock of seagulls on our trail :). In case you haven't figured out, you would by now why species get endangered and then extinct. Whoever said Seagulls love Fritolays!

As we approached the shore, we could smell Mumbai....
Such a striking contrast, an hour away fm Mumbai lies a blissfully peaceful beachtown, which offers so much solace to the aching ears and tired minds. However, just like any small town, it faces shortage of infrastructure - power cuts for ~4-6 hours daily.

In this small town, our friend R, the enterprising guy that he is, runs a communications centre (the only communications centre). His challenge is to ensure that he is able to provide internet facility through the day, even when the power is cut. He runs on generators and invertors and makes sure that his business does not stop, and customers never disappointed. We need more like him don't we :)

As for Alibaug....would definitely be there more often :)

Special thanks to R for the lovely holiday and B for the great pics! :)
Before memories fade....







Alibagh

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ganapatipule beach holiday

Achoo! I went, achoo! again. Oh God! I hope I make it this time to Ganapatipule, a beach that has been on my check list for long. And thank God, we managed to take that weekend (1st weekend of Dec, 2006) off to G'pule.

There are 3 ways to get there. Either one drives down or opts for a bus or train. The journey being 8 hrs long, we thought train would be a better idea. The closest station to G'pule is Ratnagiri which is connected to the mainland by the Konkan Railway - all credits to the Konkan rail go to Mr.Sridharan, bless him for it and for the wonderful metro-rail network that he is putting in place in Delhi and Mumbai. I sure wish there are many more like him.

The Matsyagandha train beginning at Tilaknagar terminus, Mumbai and terminating at Goa, left the station at 2.00 pm and got us off at the Ratnagiri station at 9.00 pm the same night. The road journey to Ganapatipule from Ratnagiri was a pleasant one hour drive, complemented by good roads.

By the time we checked into the rooms, it was well past 11.00 pm. Our plans had worked out just fine so far. The nomenclature "Sea view" rooms was not a let down since the rooms were indeed right by the beach. They were on a hillock ~30 ft above sea level. The rooms had a porch which opened onto the sea and the sands.The path outside

Right by the room
While I lay on the ledge, there was nothing or no one that came between me and the pristine sands and vast ocean....I turned around to lie on my back to see the dark skies sprinkled with stars....almost like a part of designer bridal collection (a la Tahiliani) - dark prussian satin with shining silver sequins.

Early morning skies
The next morning, we were up early by 6.30 am. A lazy stroll on the virgin sands, the cool winds caressing us, sent a gentle chill down the spine. The sun was still wondering whether it was too early to rise. When it finally did, the gentle morning rays unvieled a flock of little birds busy with their morning ablutions. It was a delight to see them in flight.
As we continued the stroll, we looked back occasionally at the footprints we left behind in the sands, and were reminded of the Psalm of Life by Longfellow.......

.....Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time ;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.


Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate ;
Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait.



Two generations...
It was 9.00 am and time to get back to the rooms for our morning chores. Had a good hot bath followed by some tasty Maharashtrian fare for breakfast - masala chai and kanda poha. Not bad. The morning was spent lazing around on the porch , dreamily observing the now azure skies and palms gracefully swaying in the breeze. The waves that moved back and forth tirelessly, the trollers that busily went about their daily routine.

So much calm & serenity; the only sound was that of an occasional bird and the waves that danced to the tune of the gentle breeze, almost like an opera to the conductor. Each time the winds blew harder, the waves lashed out higher......completely in sync :)

A quick lunch at the closest bhojnalay, and we set out to look around.Some places we visited.....
Ganapatipule temple
Ganapatipule temple, right by the beach. While the entrance to the temple lies along the roadside, the temple opens onto the beach. What a lovely sight. The deity worshipped is Swayambu Ganapati (the Elephant headed God).

An unusual banyan tree
We also saw a century old Lighthouse, albeit from a distance. On way to Jaigad fort was an interesting Banyan tree, with trunk at the extreme left and the foliage all bent towards the sea (pic above). Very little is known about the fort - who built it, who resided there, is pretty much a mystery. The fort remains on the list of the Archealogical Society of India, as a piece for preservation. The only reason of visiting the fort, was the view from the top.

Atop Jaigad fort
By the time we got back that evening, it was late. But were keen to watch the sunset. So back we went to take a dip in the ocean, and soak the atmosphere while the sun set.
Sunset at the beach
We then headed for dinner; the main course followed by some delicious 'modak' - a jaggery based sweetdish. It is almost like a sweet momo. Made of ground blackgram and rice flour steamed with a filling of coconut, jaggery and cardamom. Yum....

That night while I lay on my bed, I pulled back the curtain to look out at the ocean which was clearly visible on the moonlit night. The silhouette of the palms and pines made for a lovely picture.

The only time I regretted being there was when I could not have some good fresh catch (fish) for my meals. Imagine being on the Konkan coast and not being able to bite into some delicious fresh fish in coconut curry or simply in fried / tandoored form. But well as usual Pari, my kind, amiable better half came to my rescue. He said "dont you worry! we are not leaving this place until you have had your fill" and off we set out to Ratnagiri. The road journey takes an hour and fifteen minutes and is ~48 kms long. Unlike Ganapatipule which does not serve nonveg fare owing to the vicinity to temple (holy) premises, Ratnagiri has some good fish served at reasonably priced places.

Since the entire day was to be spent at Ratnagiri, we decided to make the most of it. We hired a vehicle to take us around to some popular, historic spots. We visited the home of Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilak, the man who popularised Sarvajanik Ganapati celebrations (community celebrations during Ganesh chaturthi), with the objective of spreading awareness and support for the Indian Freedom struggle.

Some of the other places which deserve a mention are - Museum by the Fisheries dept; which houses the skeleton of a huge Whale (Devmasa),
Bhatye beach,
The Thebaw palace; home to the Burmese king Thebaw (1858-1916) which finds mention in Amitav Ghosh's The Glass Palace,
Thebaw point, an attempt by the inhabitants of Ratnagiri to have a recreational spot of historic significance,
Patita pawan temple, the first temple where Veer Savarkar allowed non brahmins to worship Lord Vishu and Lakshmi

After the regular site seeing, we went to a hot fish spot ;), and relished some freshly fried surmai and solkadi (a coconut milk and kokum based accompaniment)


There are friends who ask me whether Taarkarli or Ganapatipule is a better beach. While the sands are more clean at Taarkarli, Ganapatipule has some great views as the cottage is housed on a hillock.

I would cherish this trip as long as I am not down with Alzheimer's!, and as for you...I will leave you with something to look forward to....

Somewhere
- Linda Harnett

Oh, to be lying,
On a beach,
Somewhere,
With sand in my toes,
And the wind,
In my hair.

And only the sound,
Of the seagulls,
On high,
On a beach,
Somewhere,
Under sunny blue sky.

The gentle caress,
Of the waves,
On the shore,
And you close,
Beside me,
Could I ask for more?

A soft sandy beach,
That goes on,
Forever,
You, me,
And a beach,
So happy together.


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