I fancy road trips. The drive, the breeze in the hair, the freedom to turn right or left, the flexibility to stop or speed, the indulgence to breathe in, really breathe in, the fresh air, to pass lush green swaying trees, to wave at passersby, to halt at a roadside dhaba and sip cutting chai, and strike a conversation . . . just what nurtures my soul. I’m nature’s child. Give me a tree-lined landscape, towering mountain ranges and a river or the sea, and I won’t ask you what heaven feels like. I know.
A few years ago, I took a road trip to Konkan. (I have retraced the route twice after that, crossing Goa, and extending it right up to Karnataka) As we drove through the then NH 17, we had no fixed plan but to embrace whatever came our way. As we snaked through the circuitous Ghats, the rugged Sahyadri mountain ranges loomed up, sage-like and awesome, the tree cover thickened, and coconut palms lining the coastal belt swayed, as if in a trance. We crossed rivers and gurgling brooks, and slowed down near the beaches, as the soil got redder and the air refreshingly cleaner. With no hotel bookings, and with the Ganga having descended at Rajapur (a geological wonder, I was to discover later), no hope of any, we found ourselves driving about looking for shelter post midnight.
It could have been a challenging start to a much-looked-forward-to vacation had the pitch darkness not transformed the sky into an endless star-studded stretch, each star twinkling at its brightest as if beckoning us to reach out and pluck it. Millions of them as far as the eye could see, making us stop, alight, and watch, as night sounds emerged from the thickets around. Unmindful of the uncertainty, we stared mesmerised, and listened in silence to the red earth having a conversation with the silver-spangled sky. Never before or never again have I witnessed a star-fest of this magnitude.
I’m nature’s child. Give me a tree-lined landscape, towering mountain ranges and a river or the sea, and I won’t ask you what heaven feels like. I know.
That set the serendipitous mood of our trip. A post midnight knock on the door of our chauffeur’s distant relative, a native of Lanja, in Ratnagiri district. The kind welcome. Shelter. Food. A peaceful night’s sleep after the long drive. Up again next morning to drive up to Kudal in Sindhudurg District, halting at Rajapur to partake in the celebrations of the Ganga’s arrival after four years, watching devotees take a faith-dip in the manmade ponds (the kunds) on Gangateertha Ghat, among them asthmatics and arthritis-afflicted, looking for a cure, filling up gallons of sulphur-laced ‘sacred’, medicinal water. Faith hung in the air, in the eyes of the prostrating hopefuls and in the moody waters of the Ganga, which arrives without warning and recedes without a by your leave.
Kudal. We meet Krishna Mama, ebony-skinned, light-eyed, sturdy and abrasive. The stereotypical Konkanite. The caretaker cum cleaner cum cook cum waiter at the row house we are staying in. ‘Tea at six in the morning?’ we ask. ‘No,’ he replies curtly, but he is there the next day at the appointed time, with glasses of steaming hot tea. We get used to his knee-jerk refusals followed by the warm-heartedness. A walk through the woods, the lush green—both soothing and intoxicating—the trees with their aerial roots suffused with wisdom, and the discovery of a footpath streaked with shades of crimson and mahogany, as if the Kokam tree had in a gesture of extreme generosity decided to paint the town juicy, pulpy red. If that were not enough, mango trees extended their string-like stems and tantalised us with the offer of fleshy, ripe fruit. Jackfruits hung so low you could just pluck one and dig into it. Lunch at a home-stay – rice bhakris, bharli vangi, matki chi usal, vaalichi bhaji, koshimbir, chutney, rice and amti. Hot and lip-smacking, with a succulent Alphonso mango platter for dessert. Pure bliss.
A round of the temples, paying obeisance to the Gramdevata, the presiding deity of each village. The idols are ancient. Each has an interesting legend of how it was found and installed, with guidance and instructions appearing in residents’ dreams, followed by a furious search for the said location, and days of digging till the idol was spotted and excavated. I found the legend of Lord Vetoba in the devasthan at Aravali in the Vengurla taluka of Sindhudurg district, the most fascinating. Here, devotees offer sugar and bananas, and gift the Lord large Kolhapuri chappals. He is said to wear them, as unseen and unheard by the villagers, but not unfelt, Vetoba, the generous guardian walks around the pathways of Aravali at night and protects the inhabitants. The sandals, which are placed in a neat heap at the site of the offering start wearing off mysteriously. I picked up a sandal and checked the soles.
I still have the fistful of clean white sand and the sea shells I had gathered at Vengurla Beach, so scenic, it took my breath away.
Then, I went on a pilgrimage to the residences of Padma Bhushan and Jnanpith Award awardee, author V S Khandekar, and celebrated novelist, Jaywant Dalvi. Khandekar lived in a humble home, taught in a school at Shiroda, and trudged up a nearby mountain, now known as Bhike Dongri, to sit on a particular rock to write, watching the scenic beauty of Aravali beach. Time stopped as I stood before the rock, now called Khandekar’s chair, where he created his literary masterpieces. Dalvi’s abode is a sprawling vada. I could picture him sitting in a wooden chair with a long armrest reading and writing. From there, we drove to Dhamapur Lake mentioned fondly by author Sunita Deshpande in her autographical work, Aahe Manohar Tari. Words, stories and poetry live on.
I still have the fistful of clean white sand and the sea shells I had gathered at Vengurla Beach, so scenic, it took my breath away. Konkan—where writers are born, where the people are simple and hardy, where each temple has a story to tell, where rice fields abound, and tender coconut water quenches your thirst, where the monsoon is both beautiful and punishing. Before we returned, we had bonded so well with Krishna Mama that he shed his inhibitions and enjoyed a heap of hot, crispy onion bhajias with us.
Often, I dream of living in a little cottage by the sea at Vengurla. I know I shall return.
The views expressed are the author’s own.
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