Friday, June 08, 2007

There and back again - 2

Km 239, Lote Parashuram, 5:40am

Hotel Pagoda Retreat agrees to give me bread-jam-tea at a half past four, in lieu of the complimentary breakfast I’d have got if I’d left after 8.

I leave in air that is wet with dew that slowly swells into a drizzle. A winding path up a hill and an engine-off-and-coast-down descent welcomes me back into the Sahyadris. The river sprawled below like a gash of spilt milk deftly sidesteps the town of Chiplun.

Km 301, 7: 05am

First stop of the day. Between a clump of rocks and a river. I haven’t been able to find out if this is the same river there was at Mahad and Chiplun, or the one that has also peeped out from behind the hills to say hello at a couple of other places. The village across the river is blanketed by green. There’s a temple tower much higher up than the village, seemingly unconnected, unreachable.

The patch of road is like a bicycle handle – it’s a straight stretch, but the road bends away on either side. The sparse traffic bows into the straight, zips on, bends ever so slightly before swinging away out of sight into the other end.

I call to confirm my hotel in Panjim for tonight. Uh oh, Mayfair’s out of rooms, sorry sir. Why don’t I try Neptune, who don’t reserve rooms, but why don’t I show up this evening, they’ll surely have rooms vacant.

Km 312, 8:05am

Some operative words are more effective than others, and often it has little to do with what they are supposed to be describing. I see a board mentioning ‘coffee bar, lounge and restaurant’, and am tempted to stop there for a second breakfast. The first is still filling me up, so I decide against it.

Coffee-bar-lounge-restaurant evokes a vision of delicacy and cleanliness that’s so much more appealing to the traveler so much more than, say, Garden restaurant, or Family Garden restaurant, at least after you’ve seen enough of the latter two.

Km 341, 8:55am

I was expecting a look at Ratnagiri town, but the highway refuses to oblige, showing me only a detour indicating that the town was 11 km away from the highway.

Km 353, 9:15am

I decided to try a one room home-plus-hotel – a run down nameless place with jars of Parle G and a kettle of tea on display. I decided to see if it was as decent in practice as I thought it would be in theory. Decent in theory, but not extraordinarily so, because this sort of establishment doesn’t have to hire inept cooks like most dhabas, or garden and family restaurants have to – it’s very likely to be homemade stuff, the cooked by wife and served by husband types.

I sit on one of the two tables in the front verandah – there’re freshly slept in charpoys in the other half of the verandah. There’s a TV in front, the table underneath which doubles as a cash counter and a shelf holding chikkis, biscuits and some of the household’s wardrobe.

The lady of the house is multitasking as cook, waitress and cashier today. I am the only customer. I have roti and a masoor dal masala. Decent, very plain, without a taste of the shady masalas that would have fed my worry. The woman’s given me 4 rotis, so I’m full enough to contentedly pat my tummy at the end of it.

The early morning wake-up jogs into memory, and I ask if I can take a nap on the charpoy within. The lady says why don’t I take it out into the outer half of the verandah, it’s cooler there. Peace. I nap there for slightly over half an hour.

Km 381, 11:15am

Another break. Another ghat. I see the valley underneath, the green top across the valley, and hills immediately above and beneath me. I am astonished, and not for the first time on this trip. These hills and valleys stretch ahead and behind you as far as you can see.

In fact, what you can see of them is absolutely no indication of their vastness – I know they stretch 300km behind me, and some 600km ahead of me. Having driven that distance one kilometer at a time, having experienced every one of those kilometers heightens the awe you feel - the sheer hugeness of it all makes you feel like you’ve had a taste of the infinite.

Km 440, Kankavli, 1:15pm

As I said before, it’s not easy to take a call on which places to eat at, especially since all you have is a split-second glance at a restaurant’s fa├žade while biking. When I am keen on a fairly plush, high-end place, the number of cars outside it usually clinches it for me.

I spot this fairly grand looking mansion that is a resort plus restaurant, and decide that lunch is going to be at Neelam resorts. I also figure that the average Kankavli-an isnt going to shell out the sort of money I would flinch at, so prices shouldnt be exorbitant, which guess is confirmed by a glance at the menu. Turns out they’ve AC too, which justifies decision to stop.

I’m sorely tempted to try some seafood that’s all over the menu. I desist, and settle for dal-rice and curd-rice. Sigh – such is the fate that a South Indian upbringing consigns us to, although the reason I give myself is that I cant risk shady food while traveling.

Km 495, Sawantwadi, 3:50pm

When I’m not being seduced by the depth and enormity of the ghats, I’m being charmed by the trees and the path before me. Almost all through, the trees form an arch to usher me on. Sometimes, they’re bejeweled with the red, yellow and blue of the flowers upon them, which flowers sometimes fall onto the road and form a welcome carpet. Passing through the long arch of the trees of the Sahyadris is like a stroll through an infinitely large cool grove.

Next break is at Sawantwadi, one of the prettiest towns on the highway. I squeeze between the houses that almost spill onto the highway, before parking in front of the lake. All there is of the town seems centred around the lake that has a huge, almost fluid seeming mountain standing guard over it.

Km 527, 4:50pm

Goa. The green atop the hills gets thicker. The hills and the roadside villages snuggle closer to the highway, ensconcing it, as the green all around intensifies.

I stop to see a goods train carrying trucks pass atop the bridge over me. There’s the customary river to my right to stare into and across, and to tempt me to consider staying here forever.

Km 556, Panjim, 5:55pm

The hills open up to reveal open skies and underneath-lying valleys. There’s the bridge on the Mandovi – the first time I saw it, I thought it was an inland arm of the sea. I switch to first gear, crawl across the humongous river that, even in summer, is so wide it looks like it’s in spate.

Now, to find hotel Neptune. The landmark I’ve been given is National theatre. I get odd looks when I ask for said theatre. When I do find said theatre, it turns out the morning show is of Vicious Vixens(starring ‘the sensuous goddess’ Mona) and other shows are of Ghar me ho saali to poora saal diwali.

Neptune turns out to be a sterile, plain, colourless place – the white all over the bedsheets and walls makes it look like a hospital room. I need it only for a night, so I don’t bother too much. I’m not too tired, but I take a pre-dinner nap, for there’s 380km to do tomorrow.

This trip isnt about seeing towns, it’s more about seeing what’s in between towns, enjoying the middle of nowhere, so all I see of Panjim is on a short post-dinner walk along the Mandovi. Ghar me ho saali to poora saal diwali, unfortunately, will have to wait.

1 comment:

KT said...

the dashing and dangerous shamanth rao!
your adventures are inspiring saar.
may the force be with you.