Day 6: Harnai to Jaigad (7-1-12) 96km

After a farewell coffee with Mr & Mrs Ashok, with Mrs Ashok assuring me there was a ferry at Dabhol, there I was back on the road at 7.30 in the morning spinning along the flat coastal road with great views out to sea and once again the cloudless blue skies. My legs were feeling good after their rest day, which was just as well as they were soon put to the test with a 10km grind from sea level up to Dapoli, 192m above the level of the sea. As I enter the town along a road shaded by tall trees I am treated to the dazzling display of the early morning sunlight streaming through them. This small town is seen as being the home of Indian Independence as it was the birthplace in 1856 of Lokmanya Keshav Gangadhar Tilak, one of the first and perhaps strongest advocates of ‘swaraj’ or self-rule. He was also the first leader of the Indian Independence Movement, which led to the colonial Brits derogatorily named him ‘Father of the Indian unrest’. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was also born here in 1891, a revolutionary and one of the founding fathers of independent India. As an ‘untouchable’ the lowest of the low in the Indian caste system he overcame all odds to become a leading Indian scholar and politician and spent his entire life fighting against social discrimination and the Hindu caste system. Today Dapoli is better known for having one of the finest agricultural universities in India.

Beautiful sight rolling into Dapoli...

As I leave Dapoli I enjoy a wonderful 5km downhill on a great road all the way back down to sea level, however I am a tad bit wary as at the back of my mind is my front tyre bodge job repair, I really wouldn’t fancy a ‘blow-out’ at speed, but it holds up well. From my experience of the past few days I have a feeling that it will not be long before I am climbing once again, and sure enough almost before I have stopped coasting the next 140m high climb begins. Once again I enjoy a steep downhill but once again it is followed by a steep climb upto 150m, my poor legs are getting a real workout. The following downhill is sublime, gradual and sweeping it allows me to take in the views of the sea to the east and the tree covered hills rolling off into the distance to the west, and a few hairpin bends thrown in just to spice it up a little. I coast into the small town of Dabhol and turn left at the remains of an old, tall defensive wall and roll into the ferry port. As I wait for the ferry to arrive I look over to the headland on the other side of the River Vashistri estuary and see it topped by the large, looming industrial complex of the controversial and ill-fated Dabhol Power Station. The plant was constructed by Enron and General Electric and began in 1992, however in 1995 with a change in government hundreds of protesting villagers swarmed over the site and a riot broke out, with the Maharashtra government finally ordering the project to be halted due to ‘lack of transparency, alleged padded costs, and environmental hazards’. Differences were eventually ironed out and Phase 1 went online in 1999, almost 2 years behind schedule. However soon after the Maharashtra State Electricity Board reneged on its agreement and refused to pay the contractual rate for the power generated and Enron, after investing $900 million, halted power generation despite Maharashtra state not having enough electricity to meet demand. Enron was declared bankrupt in 2001 thus the plant sat silent for 7 years until it was taken over by Ratnagiri Gas and Power Ltd. and operations recommenced in 2006. Yet it has still not been plain sailing with occasional shutdowns due to a lack of naphtha and problems associated with the non-availability of operational insurance. The couple of days I was in Harnai only 40km away there were sporadic power outages…

Downhill into Dabhol - yes that is the sea in the distance!

The ferry lands us close to the industrial port that is full of pipes, tanks and conveyors that support the Dabhol Power Station, I cycle past this array of rusting metal and begin the leg-burning climb up onto the windswept headland plateau which undulates past the large power plant complex and its associated employees accommodation compounds. Soon enough another sweeping downhill is enjoyed taking me down through shady mango plantations and delivering me into the pleasant, dappled town of Guhagar. The economy of this small town was given a boost in the early 1990s with the construction of the Dabhol Power Station, hotels sprung up and locals were given well-paid jobs. It is Saturday and there are quite a few glamed-up city slickers milling around town, young ladies sporting make-up and dressed in tight jeans and tighter t-shirts with large black rimmed shades in stark contrast to the un-shaded local young ladies attired in the traditional and much more conservative shalwar kameez and the only makeup if any being the red forehead bindi ‘dot’. Guhagar is increasingly becoming a weekend get-a-way for Mumbai and Pune’s middle classes and around town there are various billboards advertising various ‘luxury’ cliff top sea view bungalow complexes which are under construction, so it appears that this small town is still on the up.

My original plan was to stop in Guhagar for the night, but it is now just gone midday and I have completed only 60km, I feel there is another 20km in me so decide to push on. After a very well presented and large serving of a tasty vegetable biryani in a restaurant that was playing Spanish music (?) I depart Guhagar on what I think is the coast road looking for the towns ‘virginal’ beach I have heard about. Suddenly the lane I am following abruptly ends and turns into a very steep dirt track with a liberal coating of loose gravel and fist sized rocks. Not to be daunted “Onward and upward!” I shout to myself as motivation and dropping quickly down through the gears I begin to climb… After about 40 metres I have to admit defeat as the rear wheel loses traction and my momentum disappears. Get off and push it is, which in itself is no easy task, pushing a weight of nearly 50kgs uphill with my feet slipping and sliding beneath me! After one and a half kilometres, a height gain of 100 metres and a combination of riding, pushing, riding, pushing I finally make it to the top, sweating profusely. As I take a much welcomed drink and enjoy the cooling breeze I turn around and my jaw drops, down below is a beautiful crescent shaped white sandy beach with the surf crashing onto it and not a soul in sight – deserted. “Wow! That must be Guhagar beach” I murmur to myself, “But there’s no way you’re going back down that trail only to have to come back up again afterwards” I command myself. I also notice just 30 metres from me a leaning, buckled sign partially hidden in the undergrowth advertising, ‘Proposed Residential Development’, “Pah!” I laugh sarcastically “a decent access road would be a good start!”. The following downhill starts gradually on a decent dirt track through the surrounding scrubland but all of a sudden it becomes steep and gnarly, all my old mountain bike skills are called up as I try to make it easy on Dhanya. Eventually we get spat out all shaken and stirred onto yet another glorious deserted beach! Nice surprises like this make all the hard work of pushing Dhanya uphill worth it… I sit down on the gravelly track and take a short rest enjoying the wonderful view, “This is what it is all about Mark” I comment, before my eyes rest on the wooded headland at the south of the beach and I realise I am going to have to climb over that. With a sigh of resignation I haul myself up off the floor, throw my leg over Dhanya and spin along the length of the beach.

Wonderful and empty Guhagar Beach

Sure enough, another 4km, 120 metre height gain climb follows on a patchy tarmac surface and once again the breeze of the plateau is much welcomed. Yet again I drop more or less to sea level and my cycle computer clocks up 80km. My plan is if at 80km there is no obvious place to stay then buy some veggies from a village stall and find a beach to camp on. The small fishing hamlet I am now cycling through does not appear to have any veggies on sale, so I decide to press on to the next settlement. 3km further on and after another steep climb I arrive at the next hamlet, but same story… Another 3km further on, another steep climb, another hamlet, same story… I am now getting hungry and tired and all these steep climbs are definitely taking it out of me. I had passed a few ferry signs nailed to trees so I guessed the ferry must be close by and I got to thinking that if there is a ferry there must be a small community, there must be a market, and if I am really lucky there may be somewhere to stay. I attempt to ask some locals how far it is to the ferry but their lack of English only helps me to establish that yes there is a ferry but not how far away it is. I give myself a good talking to and push on again. Just before yet another steep climb I arrive at a bridge across a river which has a bunch of lanky, bushy eye-browed, black faced, grey langur monkeys sat on the concrete side barriers as if they are some form of sentries. As I approach I get their interest and they start getting all excited and call to each other and run and jump along the barrier with their long tails flailing behind them and their eyes fixed on me. I’m a little bit nervous as you do hear stories of monkeys attacking humans, yet the closer I get most of them run towards the far bank, jump off and disappear, only those more brave souls remain seated as I pass. As I concentrate on the next downhill I follow the bend in the road and there it is! I see the river down below, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” I cry and enjoy the downhill that much more. As I coast into the ferry landing with a big smile on my face it gets even bigger when I see a large sign advertising the ‘Jaigad Resort’, “Result!” I think to myself. I chat with the ticket seller sat in his little booth and with his limited English he confirms that yes the ‘Jaigad Resort’ is over the river, pointing to the small higgled-e-piggledy settlement of Jaigad clinging to the cliff at the mouth of the estuary. It has just turned 4pm and I have completed 90km, I sit back in the shade of the ticket booth with a cool refreshing Sprite and await the ferry feeling all very content…

Monkeys guarding the bridge

As the ferry closes in on Jaigad I look for a ‘Jaigad Resort’ sign on any of the buildings snuggling against the cliff side above the small fishing port but cannot see one, “Ummmmm! Strange” I think to myself “Ah, it must be down some side street…”. Whilst pushing Dhanya off the ferry I see a couple of auto-rickshaw drivers and ask them if they know the ‘Jaigad Resort’. There isn’t an immediate look of recognition on their faces and after they confer with one another they gesture that it is along a bit and to the right. I follow their directions along a bumpy narrow lane lined by grubby looking shop houses and it soon becomes clear there is no ‘resort’ along here. I decide to take the next ‘right’ further up the hill, but the same story… It has now turned 5pm and I am beginning to get a little concerned. I see another auto-rickshaw driver and he gestures towards the top of the hill, “This is all I need, another climb!”. The short but steep climb levels out slightly as I near the top of the plateau and I am presented with the industrial complex of the JSW Energy coal powered power plant which only completed phase 1 in 2010, as such there is quite a lot of construction activity still going on. As the road undulates across the plateau ahead of me and all I can see is the industrial complex and supporting buildings I begin to lose hope and the sun is getting very low in the sky, I begin to seriously consider the very real possibility that I may have to tent it on the plateau with no food to satiate my now raging hunger. A couple of klicks further on I see what appears to be a makeshift restaurant sign to the left of the road, and as I roll up to it I see a small set-up about 30 metres back from the road, “Yes, at least this will solve one of my problems!”. I wander up to the tables and a woman glances up from cleaning plates and calls out to someone. I hear a grunting and a shuffling and look over in that direction to see a very dishevelled, vest wearing man appear from beneath a blanket laid across two large orange ice boxes. Through bleary eyes he gestures with shrugging shoulders and upturned palms, “You have any food?” I ask moving my hands towards my mouth. “Ah, lunch finish” as he spits on to the floor “Daal only”. He’s not doing his best to make me feel too comfortable about eating here, but heh, beggars cannot be choosers… “OK, that is fine, and a Coke”. He nods, shuffles past me whilst mumbling to the woman and she stands and walks to what I presume is the kitchen. They continue an exchange whilst he is wiping my Coke bottle with a cloth and comments, “We have fish fry also, and fish curry, you want?”, “Yes please!” I do not need to be asked twice. I also notice he sells snacks and I reach out and take a pack of ‘Parle G Original Gluco Biscuits’, they look just like the Fox’s Malted Milk biscuits I loved as a kid.

Arun and I continue to chat in his broken English as I scoff down the fairly decent sized meal presented to me. Of course the conversation includes where am I going and I explain that I cannot find anywhere to sleep. Then looking around this shack-cum-restaurant I decide it is worth a try, “I have a tent, is it OK to put my tent over there?” pointing to a bare patch of ground amongst the surrounding scrubland, “Yes, yes of course. Ah no, you not need tent, you sleep here, I have a mat” he replies whilst gesturing towards the concrete floor underneath the restaurants corrugated steel roof. “What about your customers?” I query, “From 7 to 9, after that they all go, no problem, and I cook you more food later”. This seems to be the best offer I’m going to get so I thank him and begin off-loading Dhanya. As I am doing this and the final light of the day has all but disappeared three young guys sharing the one motorbike pull up, sit down and order chai. They are all wearing hard hats and bright orange vests over their clean shirts so I assume they are engineers of some description from the power plant. After a short time one of then begins asking me the usual questions in fairly decent English. As I explain my sleeping predicament Suneil comments, “So the Jog Residency is full then?”, “Pardon” I reply with peaked interest. “The Jog Residency, you try there?”, “No, where is it?” I ask with a hint of excitement, “About 2km that way” he states pointing back down the road I had come along. Surprised I did not see it I question, “On the main road?”, “Yes, a big place at a junction, only 2km very close”. Arun and Suneil chat away in Hindi and it transpires that when I explained I could not find anywhere to stay Arun had assumed I had tried the Jog Residency but it was full, we all chuckle about this misunderstanding. As I am reloading Dhanya and just about to leave Arun calls over, “Mark, Mark if the Jog Residency is full remember you can come back here”, “Thanks very much!” I call out over my right shoulder as I re-join the road. I cycle along in the now more or less dark with the occasional rumbling truck lighting up the way with their powerful headlights wondering, “How the hell did I miss a big hotel when I was positively searching for one??”. Sure enough, and with great relief, after about 5 minutes up ahead to the right I see the bright neon lights announcing the presence of the Jog Residency. As I approach the junction the road falls apart and I suddenly remember, when I passed this way earlier there was a big tangle of construction trucks all jockeying for position on the crap road surface and I was too busy focusing on not getting squished by one of them or falling down a pothole rather than looking at the buildings I was passing. I roll up outside the relatively decent looking hotel and with fingers crossed I walk up to reception and enquire about room availability to the suit wearing receptionist, “Yes we have sir, 800 rupees”. “Yes, yes, yes!” I think to myself, a bit more than I want to pay but taking into account the day I’ve had, that it’s now gone 7pm and the other option available to me I am happy to pay it.

With Dhanya safely stowed in the foyer and after having showered and eaten I lie on the bed watching TV reflecting upon where I could have been sleeping tonight and the fact that once again today the roads I followed had been more or less traffic free, for times I really did have the road to myself – bliss…

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