Posts Tagged ‘murud’

Day 3: Murud to Veshavi (4-1-12) 85km

Monday, January 16th, 2012

I leave Murud early morning just as it is waking up and whilst following the narrow lane along the river I am surprised to see many of the men milling around in ragged shorts and t-shirts yet wearing ear warmers! OK so it is 'winter' but it is still 20 degrees C and some, ''Is this really necessary?'' I ask myself. I pass a group of women looking delightful in their colourful saris, grouped around a tap taking it in turns to fill their shiny metal water containers whilst exchanging local gossip. I watch one woman dressed in a red and blue patterned sari as she lifts not one, but two of these full vessels onto the padded rolled up scarf on her head and seemingly effortlessly walks away – the combined weight must be 25kg plus!! I also note that none of these women are wearing ear warmers, much hardier(?), either that or they want to show off their ornate gold earrings ;-)

After crossing the river and taking in the colourful small fleet of fishing boats moored below I am subjected to a prolonged steepish climb out of Murud – giving my legs and heart a quick wake-up call – but being rewarded with expansive views of the blue sea merging into the blue cloudless sky and the imposing Janjira Fort with its towering walls just a few hundred meters off the coast. The Fort was built in 1140 by the Siddis and yesterday evening Aazim had informed me that the fort was famous for being the only one along India’s western coast that remained undefeated despite attacks from the Dutch Navy and the English East India Company. Rather excitedly he went on, “And it has a very powerful and big canon which can shoot 18km!” Changing the tone of his voice to a hushed whisper and leaning towards me, “And it is a magical place, in the fort there is a sweet water lake. How can this be when the fort is surrounded by sea water?”.

The great view after the climb out of Murud...

I drop down into the tiny fishing hamlet of Rajpuri and within no time I arrive at the 500 year old monolithic stone Kokari Tombs which are a magical sight lit up in the early morning sunlight. The 3 tombs are perched on a hillside with one being much larger and more ornate than the other two, this larger one is the resting place of Siddi Surul Khan who commanded Janjira from 1707 to 1734.

The Kokari Tombs

After a few more coastal ups and downs I arrive in a small seaside fishing village from where I apparently catch the ferry to Dhighi. After circling the village a couple of times and seeing no obvious ferry landing it is time to ask. I spot a middle aged, pot-bellied, vest wearing chap sitting outside his home, “Hi, ferry to Dhighi?” I enquire. The man turns his head and calls back into the shadows of his house and in no time his teenage daughter appears, “Hello, how are you?” she welcomes in perfectly pronounced English, “Hello, I’m very well thank you. Where do I get the ferry for Dhighi?”, “Dhighi, yes just follow this road straight” she explains pointing along a road I had already tried, “OK, thank you very much!”. I follow the bumpy track further than I previously had and lo and behold a tiny port appears! I approach an official in his blue port authority shirt who is lounging outside a run-down concrete office reading a newspaper and enquire about the ferry to Dhighi. “Go already, next one 10:30”. I look at my watch, an hour to wait – a leisurely start to the morning… I park up Dhanya underneath a sprawling red berried tree and take a seat. I enjoy the coolness of the shade and listening to the twittering swifts above, however, after being shat on twice in as many minutes I decide it’s time to make a move and I join the official in the shade of the office.

The trip over to Dhighi on the busy small wooden ferry takes about 10 minutes, and after I stock up on 4 freshly fried samosas in the port-side market I am soon on my way with much time to make up. It’s now 11am and I have only covered 11km! I decline taking the main ‘road’ out of Dhighi’s cluster of two storey, red tiled buildings instead opting for the bumpy lane up and over the headland. Oh! What a choice! A steep climb ensues climbing 150m in height over 3km, with the first couple of kilometres being along a horrid rocky surface. Two young guys on a black Honda Hero motorbike slow down beside me and with a look of puzzlement on their faces ask “Where are you going?”, “Shrivardhan” I reply between taking deep gulps of air, “Why you take this road, not good!”, “More fun!!” I reply, to which they raise their eyebrows in a kinda ‘are you crazy’ gesture, and ride off. Crazy maybe, but my reward is endless views out over the Arabian sea and a road to all intents and purposes to myself – which is no mean feat in India!

For much of the rest of the day I was hugging the coastline and dropping in to and climbing out of various little fishing villages full of character. Some of the climbs were short but steep leaving me in Dhanya’s bottom gear with no place else to go. For a short time I was on Maharashtra State Highway 4 (MSH4) and whilst the smooth tarmac was a relief I sacrificed the great views and traffic-free roads.

One of the many fishing hamlets I pass...

I roll into Shrivardhan via the back door and as it has been a tough day I decide I will spend the night here as according to some info I had read on the internet it sounding an interesting place and had ‘developed in to a seaside resort’… I arrived at the bustling market, usually the centre of such small towns, and I had not yet seen any ‘Boarding & Lodging’ or ‘Residence’ signs (there are ‘Hotel’ signs but just to really confuse you in India they call restaurants ‘Hotels’ – don’t ask…). After asking a few locals only to be greeted with shrugs and vacant expressions I take a look at my watch, seeing it is 3pm I decide to press on to Harihareshwar about 20km away and try my luck there.

After a series of further ‘undulations’ I arrive at Harihareshwar and I am struck my how small it appears to be. Apparently Harihareshwar is a major pilgrimage centre as well as being a popular weekend beach destination for the humongous populations of Mumbai and Pune. The 16th century temple on the seashore is of great significance as apparently Lord Vishnu blessed it, and there are other temples nearby dedicated to Lord Brahma and Lord Maheshwara. But hey, I’ll be darned if I know where all these visitors stay! I could only find one guesthouse and that was full with a bunch of engineering students who were doing a project surveying the village streets – which are badly in need of some serious engineering! Feeling very tired I push on thinking to myself, “There must be much more to Harihareshwar…” as it is a place of such spiritual significance, and dreaming that just around the next corner there will be a whole strip of welcoming guesthouses. After a few corners, very unfortunately, it became very clear that this was not to be the case and I had well and truly left the small settlement of Harihareshwar behind me…

Just as I am contemplating my first tent experience in India and following a river inland I see a white car ferry in the distance which has just pulled into my side of the estuary. I can see there is a village amongst the tree covered hillside on the other side and I think to myself, “Well the other side can be no worse than this” so I push on to make sure I don’t miss the ferry as it could well be the last one of the day. With myself and Dhanya safely on board and despite still not knowing where I will be sleeping I sit having a coffee with the soft warmth of the fading sun on my back looking out to sea and all feels good…

The moustached ticket collector approaches and I ask him if there is a guest house on the other side of the river, “No sir, no guesthouse” is just the reply I was hoping not to hear, “Scheisse!” I mummer to myself and sit back down. Just as my bum hits the seat a fellow passenger close by babbles away to the ticket collector in Marathi and then turns to me and says, “There is a small guest house, Dr Swarmi’s, I will call him for you if you like”, “That would be excellent, thank you very much!” is my gleeful retort. After dialling and speaking a few words into his phone my ‘saviour’ hands his iphone (no less) to me. “Hello, you are looking for a guest house” I hear, “Yes”, “OK I have a room available, when you get off the ferry turn left and head into the village, there ask anyone for Dr Swarmi”, “Excellent!” I enthuse, “See you soon…”. I roll off the ferry with a new found energy and bid farewell to my ‘saviour’ and turn left onto a bumpy dirt track which winds uphill in to the small dusty village of Veshavi. Not sure where I am going I stop outside a blue painted barber shop and interrupt the bearded, topis wearing snipper, “Dr Swarmi?” I ask, with a big smile the barber points behind me and calls out “Swarmi, Swarmi”. I turn around and there is the clinic with a well presented middle-aged Indian man coming out of the door to greet me, accompanied by his loudly barking dog. “Ah, come, come, follow me” as he leads the way up an external staircase to the first floor of the building. “So you are English, I studied my Masters in England for 2 years, in Derby, about 6 years ago now”, “Oh, I went to university in Nottingham” I explain, “Ah, so we are neighbours then!” he exclaims chuckling. After a few more minutes of idle banter Dr Swarmi, or Nilesh as I now call he, explains that he has to go to a nearby village for his daily surgery and will be back around 8pm which is when dinner will be served. Just as he is leaving he turns around and says, “Ah yes, as you are a foreigner you had better register at the local police station, nothing to worry about, just a formality, the police station is at the top of the hill” and with that he was gone.

The main street of Veshavi village...

After freshening up I decide I better go and register with the local boys in blue and follow the dirt track up the hill just as the last of the days light is fading fast. I wander into the very rudimentary concrete block structure that passes for a police station and explain my presence to a group of men sitting around a table smoking, only one in uniform, in the first room I see. “OK, come with me” says one of the non-uniformed men as he stands up. We walk past the cells and I am pleased to see that crime levels must be low in Veshavi as one cell is filled with old paperwork and filing cabinets and the other with various bits of antique looking machinery. We take a left into a fairly stark office and he gestures for me to sit down as he turns on his computer – yes he has a computer, I’m impressed. He leans over to his right and pulls an old dog-eared file from a nearby shelf and upon opening it he thumbs through a few sheets of paper before pulling one out and showing it to me, “This lady from England, she come here 2 year ago, you know her?”, with a polite smile I explain that I do not. Placing her paperwork back in the file he pulls out three forms from the back and places blue carbon copy paper between them, “This is going to be in triplicate, must be important” I joke to myself. The policeman, very slowly and frustratingly, starts going through the form asking me the various questions, sometimes in a rather stern manner leaning forward, other times in a more friendly manner leaning back in his chair – good cop, bad cop all rolled into one! Me being British but my home address being in Cambodia confused him and took a bit of explaining, “Cambodia, that is in the United States yes?” when I heard this it took all of my willpower not to furnish him with a sarcastic reply. After the 40 minute interrogation was over, which really should have only taken 10 minutes at the most he requested a ‘Xerox’ copy of my passport, pointing to my passport which was beside him I suggest, “Sure, take a copy”, “Ah sir, our Xerox machine is not working, please go back into the village to the Xerox shop and get a copy of your passport photo page and your Indian visa, both on the same side of A4”. I look at him with raised eyebrows and he then requests, “I also need a passport type photo for the form, look” he says pointing to a rectangular box on the form, “You have?”. “No, I don’t have” I lie, not wanting to waste my stash of passport photos on 1 nights accommodation in some random small village. He twirls his moustache with his tobacco stained fingers whilst pondering… eventually “OK, but make sure you have one next time”. I never did work out what he turned his computer on for…

By the time I had found the photocopy shop, returned to the police station and walked back to Swarmi’s guesthouse, all in the dark as there was no street lighting, it was more or less 8pm and it was not long before Nilesh knocked on my door and explained that dinner was ready. Downstairs I walk into the front room and I am greeted by Nilesh, his wife, cute 2 year old daughter, mother and father. After being introduced to them all I discover it is a family of doctors as both his father and wife are practitioners also, “If I am ever to get ill on this trip now is the time” I joke. Nilesh explains that his family are Brahmins (intellectuals), the pinnacle of the often complex Indian caste (social hierarchy) system, his wife is also a Brahmin as traditionally different castes should not inter-marry. As his wife Supriya places my dinner before me Nilesh mentions, “As Brahmins we are strict vegetarians, we do not eat meat, fish or eggs”. Supriya introduces the home cooked food that she has placed before me on a silver tray holding various smaller silver bowls pointing to each item as she does, “This is idly, chapatti, cucumber chutney, daal curry, ladies fingers, bitter gourd, sambar and rice – please enjoy”. And enjoy I did, it was delicious! Over dinner we chatted about various topics including his time in the UK which he generally enjoyed but did experience racism on occasions, I agreed that racism certainly is a problem in England, particularly in the inner-cities and with the less educated, some form of resentment / jealousy perhaps. Nilesh’s father joins in every now and then, but it is very conspicuous as to how silent his wife and mother are, even though I try to bring them into the conversations from time to time…

Day 2: Kihim to Murud (3-1-12) 66km

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Kihim is considered the northern most point of the Konkan Coast which stretches all the way down to Vengurla in the south, or more or less the whole coastline of Maharashtra state south of Mumbai, about 700km. It is famed for its ruggedness with many headlands and red coloured cliffs and its strings of deserted, pristine beaches. Throw in the many picturesque fishing hamlets, daunting forts and a delectable cuisine and it is surprising that the Konkan Coast is not firmly on the tourist trail instead being bypassed by most as they head straight down to Goa on the main highway as quickly as possible.

I certainly couldn’t be accused of moving as quickly as possible as I left Kihim into a hazy and misty dawn and bumped my way south to Alibag following shady, narrow, winding lanes to the beach. It is said that many Bollywood stars such as Shah Rukh Khan and wealthy businessmen such as Vijay Mallaya have brought weekend homes here to escape the claustrophobia of Mumbai, but I certainly didn’t see anything that came anywhere close to looking like a luxury hide-a-way – they must be well hidden! After taking in the views of Kulaba Fort, a few hundred meters off Alibag beach, which was jointly attacked by the English and Portuguese in 1722 I pootled my way through the interesting, twisting and narrow lanes of Alibag village, a mixture of old wooden homes with once ornate balconies and the more ‘modern’ small concrete shop-houses. I leave via the smoking and stinking village dump – not the best parting shot!

The lanes down to Revdanda continue to be shady and pleasant with the morning’s rays of sunlight streaming through the tall palm trees. I pass under an old stone archway which signifies the entrance to the village as much of it is built within the confines of an ancient Portuguese fort. As I cycle through the picturesque village I am greeted with, “Good Morning”, “How are you?”, and even a “Welcome to India!” – how all very civilised! Just after leaving the village and having just passed the large stone block remains of a Jesuit Monastery I take a right turn along a small dirt track which leads to the beach and the western remains of Revdanda Fort. This is such a peaceful spot, wandering around the palm tree shaded remains with the crashing of waves in the background I have the place all to myself. Well, that is apart from the dishevelled looking security guard who loiters close by and is constantly spitting! Such a pleasant spot… I could chill here all day, but with only 32km on the clock I must push on.

Me and canons at shady Revdanda Fort

The next stretch was delightful with clear blue skies and blue sea a constant companion, interspersed with crescent shaped sandy bays and colourful villages. Less pleasant however were the string of steady climbs as I crossed over the many headlands, and why is it that the downhills never seem to have any correlation with the uphills ;-) These climbs are the first that Dhanya and I have done fully loaded and I soon realise how much they slow down our progress…

Just before dropping down into Murud I come across the very majestic, but tired looking Ahmedganj Palace with its mixture of Mughal and gothic style architecture. Murud was the last outpost of the Siddis of Janjira, fierce warriors who hailed from Abyssinia in far-away Africa, and the Palace was built by their descendants, the Siddi Nawab of Murud, in 1885. A Nawab was traditionally an honorific title given to Muslim rulers of princely states in South Asia, however nowadays it is also awarded as a personal distinction – similar to an English Lordship. The vast 45 acre Palace grounds amongst other things house a marvellous mosque and the tombs of previous rulers, which according to local legend are filled with treasures of untold wealth, but as yet no one has had the cajones to open them up. I was not going to have the opportunity either as the Palace and its grounds are not open to the general riff-raff.

The majestic Ahmedganj Palace, Murud

On arrival in Murud I roll along the shoreline road which is lined with restaurants and guesthouses and choose one that catches my eye, namely all the ‘chalets’ are on ground level which means no dragging Dhanya and all my luggage up flights of stairs! After checking-in to the Anand Vatika I cross the road and take a saunter along the beach which is wide and firm, perfect for a cricket pitch, and yes in the late afternoon sun there are numerous make-shift games being played. Most of my fellow preamblers are in Muslim attire, relatives of those mighty African warriors I wonder… I take a seat and watch the changing colours of the setting sun as it falls into the sea next to Janjira Fort built off-shore on an island – or so I thought… Aazim joins me and explains that the fort we are looking at in the final orange glow of daylight is actually Kasa Fort, formerly known as Padmadurg Fort, “Janjira Fort is a bit further south, you cannot see it from here. This fort” he goes on to explain whilst pointing out to sea, “cannot be visited by people as sea too bad, need special permission”. “But I thought Janjira Fort was also in the sea” I question, “Ah yes, but very close and more sheltered”. After some more idle chit-chat we part company and I drift back to the Anand Vatika and call it a night…

Sunset over Kasa Fort - not Janjira Fort ;-)