Daegan and I have been in a tiny village on a Konkan coast now for three days and have had the most relaxing time we’ve had in recent memory. Even in a couple of days we’ve developed a routine.
We wake up and sit on the porch of the cottage where we each have taken one of the two rooms. Not long after we wake up one of the workers, Mahesh, brings us coffee. It’s instant coffee but with the cream and sugar it tastes as delicious as any coffee bought at a fancy coffee house. Fortified by coffee I walk a few steps, past the tents that other guests have rented, past the hammocks, through a few trees, and then to the beach. Like every morning we see the only people we ever see on the beach other than guests. Men with a bullock cart are gathering sand, probably for construction. There seems to be a lot of construction going on in this part of the country.
I spend a little time there but know that it will soon be time for breakfast. Some days it is poha, other days paratha, and one day a few rice flour pancakes whose name I don’t recall but are like a softer, thicker version of a dosa – served with spicy coconut chutney. No matter what is brought it is always delicious.
Well fed, I make my way back to the porch and pick up my book. At the moment I’m reading Run, Hide, Repeat. It’s a fascinating book about the author’s childhood living with someone who has delusions that they’re being pursued by the mafia and that they work for a secret crime-fighting government agency. It’s fascinating but I also find myself really disliking everyone but the author so it feels a little like a chore to read even as I enjoy it.
Lunch comes and we enjoy a home cooked meal. There is almost always some local fish, and always sol kadi: a local specialty that is a combination of coconut milk, kokum juice, spices and a garnish of coriander on top. It’s delicious and cooling – just what is needed as now the weather is approaching 35 degrees centigrade. It’s not unpleasant, though, as we’re right next to the ocean and feel the breeze all day.
After lunch, I go back in my room. The hot weather and delicious food take their toll and I read myself to sleep. I wake up and go to the door and am met by our new friends:
The dogs that live there like me, but they love Daegan and the way they act, the highlight of their lives is to go with us to the beach. We change in to our bathing suits and head on down to the water.
We play fetch with the dogs, tossing coconuts for them to fetch. They’re the perfect size for the dog’s mouths and they have fun running back and forth to catch them. Eventually, though, we get warm and it’s time to go in the water. We leave our shirts and shoes next to a big piece of driftwood that we know we’ll easily find and jump in the water. The dogs follow along. They love Daegan so much, particularly the 6 month old puppy, daughter of the larger one, that they follow us wherever we go. We get a little tired of them being so needy and swim further out to deeper water. The dogs struggle against the waves and still come with us. Eventually they make it to us and the puppy, tired and nervous would climb in to Daegan’s arms and want to be carried back to shore. Eventually we learn to just turn them around, wait for a big wave and give them a gentle push and the wave would take them to shore.
After some time in the water we head back to shower and read a bit more. Around 4PM it’s teatime and chai and cookies are brought.
As the sun sets, burning coconut husks are brought out to drive away the mosquitoes and soon afterward, dinner follows. A neighbourhood kitty joins us, begging for scraps from under our table.
After a few days of this, we decide to see a bit of the area beyond our little oasis. The next morning an autorickshaw driver arrives to show us around. We head out toward Ganpatipule. We pass by some beautiful beaches and stop at others.
Eventually we arrive at Ganpatipule. We pull up next to a Ganpati temple. This is the first temple we’ve been to on our own. Up to this point we have gone with someone who knew what to do. But we have a general idea and we give it our best shot. As we take off our shoes, people walk up to a statue of Krauncha the mouse, Ganesh’s vehicle. They lean in close and whisper in his ear. I later am told they are whispering their wishes, hoping that Krauncha brings them to Ganesh who can then help make them a reality.
One of our errands for the day was to get some money. As we’re in a rural area we’re not sure where we’ll find an ATM and we’ll need money for food and eventually to pay our host for all of the delicious food we’re eating. Luckily, though, there’s an ATM actually inside the temple and we stock up on the cash we’ll need.
We leave the temple, and wander the village. There are lots of little stalls selling various items, flowers and other items for poojas. We walk the length of the village in about 15 minutes. On the way back we head to the beach. This beach is quite busy with many people wandering, a few people selling things, and even one entrepreneur offering camel rides. Eventually someone approaches us and asks us where we’re from. I admit we’re a little wary as often this is the first question on a path that leads to an offer of a guide or to sell things. He shows us pictures of some of his friends and then introduces us to many of his friends. At the end he asks to share Whatsapp numbers and wants to take a photo with us. As tourists we were told to expect to have people want to take photos with us. We decided before we left that we would make the best of it and take our own pictures as well so we could also remember the experience.
After this we head back to our autorickshaw and head out. Our next stop is the birthplace of a Marathi Poet named Keshavsut. I’ll admit that neither of us had heard of him before. There aren’t a lot of English materials but we do find out a little bit about him. He was fairly socially and politically active, speaking out against the caste system and British rule among other things. One of the most interesting things we is the traditional style house he lived in with the kitchen in the centre of the house, elevated above the rest of it. It is all very cool and dark inside despite it being so hot outside. Another guest explained to us that in his lifetime (the late 1800’s), the monsoons would come and could often strand them here for months on end due to flooding and washed out roads so you needed to have everything you needed at hand.
After that we go to the Prachin Konkan museum. This is an interesting space in the jungle where they’ve set up an imitation heritage village there showing how life was long ago. We arrive at the gate and sign in. We pay our fee and are given a piece of paper with a few descriptions on it. A young woman who works there comes along with us and tells us a little bit about each item. A second, more furry guide joins us.
At one point we seem to walk too fast for him and we hear him crying down the hill from us. We stop and let him catch back up to us.
Eventually, though, both our guide and the puppy go their separate ways and we are alone.
The cultural info was interesting, but even more interesting was seeing all of the plants. After years of cooking with things like black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, and Sichuan pepper, I now see the plants live and in person.
It’s getting really hot by now and we finish up at this museum and head for lunch. We’re taken to an outside restaurant where there appears to be no menu. Instead, there’s a big glass case with plastic representations of the foods available. We point to what we want and soon a chicken curry is brought to me.
By the time we finish it is too hot to be outside. We head back to the cottage, take the dogs out for a swim, give ourselves a short nap and plan to meet our driver again in the evening.
A few hours later we hear the autorickshaw coming down the road and we put our shoes back on. Tonight we’re going to a few different places. First we head in to Ratnagiri. Something’s happening, though. There are people on the side of the road in groups drumming. And then a few times we see a few other groups of people also drumming – but this time they’re in the back of a truck, traveling with a big tree.
We later hear from another guest that this has something to do with the upcoming Holi festival and the trees are burned as a part of it. I am very interested to hear more but they didn’t have a lot to say. (So, readers, if you know more about this I’d love to hear about it.)
We ride through Ratnagiri with Daegan taking photos along the way.
As we near our next destination, Ratnadurg Fort, the roads get steeper. Eventually it is so steep that the autorickshaw can no longer move with Daegan and I in it. We walk the rest of the way up.
Our driver speaks with some people outside in Marathi and says that it’s closed. Then there’s more Marathi dialog and we find that if we hurry they’ll let us in. We climb some very steep steps to the top. When we get there we see that there is a temple and many people are leaving it. The sunset makes it particularly lovely.
From this high vista we can see for miles. We also seem to be able to hear for miles and hear distant sounds of qawwali singing from far below.
Our next stop is near the other end of that dock. We’re headed to another fish market. While the fish market in Mumbai was extremely high security and we were barely allowed to even look, here we are allowed free reign. Our driver parks and we wander. We don’t take a lot of individual photos of the sellers with their wares because most of them were Muslim women in varying degrees of covering. But Daegan did take some photos of the space:
Eventually we ask one person for a photo.
Later that night we find out that this is the same market the fish we were eating came from. It is interesting to be somewhere where all of the food – and even the spices come from so nearby. No wonder it all tastes so good!
We leave there and go back in to Ratnagiri proper to go to the dried fish market. This one was indoors in a small building. There were many women there as well all selling dried and some fresh fish. Like the market we had just visited, there was a smell of fish but in both cases it was a fresh smell – strong but not unpleasant. This market is harder to take photographs in, though, as it’s smaller and the sellers are close to their wares – it is hard to get a photo of the space without taking what is likely to be an unwanted photo of them. We do find someone willing to have their photo taken, though.
I may have said it before but it bears repeating. Where other states in India seem to have dogs, Maharashtra has so many cats. They hang around the fish markets, they wander the streets of Mumbai, and they come to beg for some of our dinner. And unlike many of our stray cats here in North America, they’re completely comfortable with people – more comfortable than many house cats here.
After wandering through the market it’s time to head back to the cottage. It takes a little longer, though. As the sun goes down the traffic is increasing. Eventually we come to a halt on the side of the road. Ahead of us we hear more drumming and the sounds of happy people. The drivers and occupants of the vehicles around us relax. Some get out to relax, chat, and have a smoke or chew some tobacco. Nobody is frustrated or upset so even as we don’t know exactly what the hold-up is, we are neither worried nor are we bothered. We are in an interesting place with interesting things happening around us only some of them things we understand. This, at its heart, is one of my favourite things about visiting India. It’s an opportunity to be captivated by what is happening around us without always understanding fully what is going on. It stimulates the mind and inspires me to have so much opportunity for learning new and interesting things. I have been away for only a couple of months and I’m already looking forward to returning…