Day 5: Harnai Rest Day (6-1-12)

My first rest day, a little earlier than I had planned due to having to try and come up with a more lasting solution to the small tear I found in my rear tyre yesterday that resulted in two punctures. However I, and certainly my legs, are not complaining, after 322 tough kilometres it is a great excuse and I must admit the first few days of cycling have been much harder than I expected, the crappy state of the roads was quite a surprise as were the repetitive steep climbs.

Ashok’s wife prepares me a tasty little breakfast of a vegetable omelette and bread roll accompanied by a very sweet coffee. It is then into their small courtyard garden with Dhanya where I tweak a few things that after 4 days of cycling I had noted could be changed for the better. I also give her chain a good clean, one of the ‘luxuries’ I brought with me was a small lightweight chain cleaning machine, I find that they just make cleaning a chain so much easier and are probably more effective. Also having the Rohloff hub makes cleaning so much easier as you only have one chain ring at the front and one sprocket at the rear to worry about, you don’t have to dig out all that greasy grime that builds up between the cluster of sprockets and on the jockey wheels of a derailleur system. An added bonus, as I am carrying a small Primus stove I also have a fuel container with kerosene in it, a great grime removing agent! In no time Dhanya has a freshly oiled sparkling drive system, and it is onto the more pressing matter of how to accomplish a more semi-permanent bodge job on the tear in the tyre. I have heard that there is a good ‘professional’ bike shop in Goa, thus the tyre needs to last about another 500km!!

Ashok leads the way along the main street of Harnai, waving and singing morning salutations to fellow villagers as he limps along, and then takes a right up a small dirt track where there is a cluster of small wooden shacks. We stop outside one of these and Ashok introduces me to Deepak, the oil smudged village puncture and bicycle repair man. Not surprisingly he does not sell the type of tyre I am looking for but I do hand over my punctured inner tube and he gets to work fixing it. He pumps up the inner tube and places it in a tub of greyish water, whilst he is checking for bubbles, roughing, sticking, inflating, re-checking, once again I am racking my brains as to what sort of bodge job I can come up with, “C’mon Mark you have read enough bike magazines in your time where readers write in with their on-trail temporary repairs…”.

Back in Ashok’s small courtyard sat under a shady mango tree on a rough patch of grass the bodge job comes to life… Initially I stick a rectangle of duct tape on the inside of the tyre where the tear is, I then carefully cut an oval from a plastic Sprite bottle about the size of a thumb print and with the aid of duct tape stick that on the inside of the tyre in the appropriate location, then I take a strip of rubber (part of an old inner tube) I have in my tool kit and stick that over the plastic and then just for good measure add a couple more layers of duct tape, and the final piece in the jigsaw was to change the tyre from the rear wheel to the front wheel as there would be a lot less weight bearing down on it and less pressure directly from the drive system, and voila! I insert the inner tube and inflate… All looks good, only time will tell if it will last the distance to Goa…

Me and Harnai Beach

In the afternoon I take it easy and just do a few other ‘housekeeping’ chores such as washing a few clothes, downloading photos onto the laptop and labelling them etc. all very essential but quite boring. As late afternoon approaches and the light becomes softer and takes on that magical golden glow I go for a stroll along the white sands of Harnai beach towards the lighthouse topped headland in the distance. I gaze out westwards into the setting sun through squinting eyes at a small fleet of fishing boats moored off shore, and as the wind rises and falls the mysterious sound of a distant adhan (the Islamic call to prayer) wafts in and out of my ears mixing with the sound of the lapping waves – enchanting. As I wander with no urgency at all I notice that the stretch of beach I am on is more or less deserted, yet up at the northern end there seems to be quite a bit of activity, “What’s all that about?” I wonder and quicken my pace to go and investigate. As I get closer I am amazed and delighted to see that the hustle and bustle of an informal looking fish market is in full swing right here on the beach. Small colourful wooden boats are shuttling back and forth from the bigger wooden fishing boats moored a couple of hundred metres or so out to sea, ferrying the prized catch ashore. Short wearing sinewy men are splashing from the beach to these small wooden boats and hurriedly returning with baskets laden with fish, squid and prawns, even wooden ox-carts are being driven into the shallows to be loaded up with the much heavier large plastic containers. Once on shore the baskets are deposited on the sand and there is a kaleidoscopic flurry of saris as the women take over, noisy haggling ensues as these weather-worn women clad in gold bracelets, beaded necklaces and chunky gold earrings get down to business, picking up handfuls of the catch for closer inspection. Stern, concentrating faces turn to smiles as the deal is struck, cash handed over and the basket lifted onto a waiting woman ‘porters’ head as she follows the buyer. All this is happening repeatedly along the beach appearing to the casual observer very much like organised chaos! As I shuffle myself through all of this colourful activity I arrive at where the large orange, blue and red plastic containers are being off loaded from the ox-carts and stacked, nearby rows of refrigerated trucks are standing by. I see men balancing on these stacks shouting and gesturing to the gathered crowds below and I suddenly realise this is an auction, this is where the ‘big boys’ are. The smaller quantity baskets must be for local restaurants and markets, yet this area must be the large wholesalers buying big quantities for transportation further afield.

Fisherman bringing in the squid...

A fisher woman shouting out her wares...

Some hard bargaining going on...

A pondering fisher woman...

After spending an incredible hour or so watching this frenzied activity I return to the guesthouse for yet another delicious seafood dinner, Ashok’s wife had also been down at the fish market, I find it hard to imagine this gentle shy woman being involved in all of that mayhem. As I eat Ashok’s son, Muresh, wanders in and we start chatting. He wants to be Harnai’s tycoon, it transpires that Ashok along with his brothers already have their bony old fingers in various local pies, a few guesthouses, a construction business and the town’s only computer training centre and internet spot to name but a few. Muresh has big plans for Harnai, he wants to develop it as Maharashtra’s answer to the beach hot spots of Goa, “I want to introduce water sports, jet-skis, scuba diving, kite surfing, I want to arrange monthly big beach parties, I think it can work”. He stops to catch breath and then adds “Tomorrow we have an office group of 18 coming down from Mumbai, at the moment they come her for the fish and seafood, Harnai is famous for this, but slowly I want to introduce new things, I want people to be curious about what is new in Harnai, this way they will keep coming back”. As I listen to him talk excitedly about his plans I consider they could work with the right level of investment and infrastructure development such as, a tarmac road through the village, a reliable electricity supply, higher standards of accommodation, some beach cafés, much better waste management, more professional looking restaurants and removing all the stray dogs from the beach for a start. After all Harnai would make for a much closer weekend party place for the growing number of Mumbai and Pune’s club goers and party people. Whether I would like to see quaint, tranquil Harnai go down that route is not for me to say… Muresh went on to explain, “Harnai is the number one fishing port in Maharashtra. Before refrigerated trucks we only supplied locally and Mumbai, but now we transport all over India, Kolkata, Bangalore, Kochi…”, “Kochi” I interrupt, “But that is on the coast why do they need your fish?”. “Ah yes, but Kochi port has a license to export so they export most of their fish and seafood” he clarifies. “You know what? We have two fish markets a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, every day the amount of transactions at the Harnai fish market totals 1 to 1.5 crore… every day!!” A crore is the Indian term for 10 million, thus in this case Muresh was referring to 10 to 15 million rupees a day, approx. $200 – $300,000 a day. I guessed Muresh to be about 28 or 29 years old, I was very surprised when he informed me he was only 19, with his vision and enthusiasm perhaps he just will one day become the Mr Big of Harnai…

As we continue to chat as a family the mother begins to come out of her shell and she asks me a couple of questions in fairly good English, up until then I did not think she could speak any! As time was getting on and I had an early start the following morning I begin to make my excuses about going to bed but Muresh urges, “Ah no, stay just a little bit longer” he then speaks to his mother in Marathi and Ashok joins in and speaks to his wife in English, “Ah yes, very good idea my dear”. Leaning towards me Ashok whispers “My wife is going to sing for you”. Mother clears her throat and for about 3 minutes in the low light of their front room she sings this wonderful, haunting melody. “My grandmother used to sing this song” she explains to me afterwards, “It is an old fisher wives folk song about a wife not wanting her husband to go to sea in case he does not return”. A wonderful experience – I did not want to leave…

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