Saturday, 24 January 2015

Malvan Notes - 2 - A Beach Walk

    Read Malvan Notes - 1- The Journey here.


                                                                   Chiwla Beach
            A conditioned early riser, it took quite an effort to wait for daybreak when I would sneak out of the cottage and hurry down to the beach. I don't remember when was the last time I'd heard the rooster crow. The chorus of the birds around rose in a crescendo but  was soon drowned out by the cawing of the crows. Twigs crackled and the flames leaped up. An old fisherman warmed his hands stoking the fire while the water boiled in the aluminium pot. Two boats looked out at the  sea from the shed that sheltered them and watched the others come home.

A Boat Brought Ashore

        Quickening my pace past the couple of homes, and the shed that sheltered the  boats, at last the sea came into view.
    "Ma, what are those holes in the sand?" the younger one had decided  to give me company while the others snored their journey soreness away. The holes in question were perfect ones bored in the beach.

  "Must be crabs..." and before I could complete "...or some little crustacean", she was hopping over those little holes lest one comes out and grabs her.

                                                                  A Carved Bow 

      The Chiwla beach in Malvan is a pretty crescent shaped one, a little more than a kilometer long, lined with homes of the fishermen and  quite a few tourist accommodations. This morning, we had the beach all to ourselves except of course the fishermen. They  went about their chores  and the two of us just stood there admiring the vast expanse dotted with boats in the horizon. The boats were coming home for the day.  Small dark specks taking shape as they drew closer. The graying dawn was gradually spreading a white sheet. The waves nudged and playfully lapped up around the boats and the men who were pulling them ashore.

       One end of the beach is rocked in while the other end sports the local political leader's bungalow. One of the most striking features of Malvan is the presence  of vibrant colours. A neat row of  brightly coloured fishing boats rested on the sands and more joined in while we stood there. At a distance were the more stately and bigger boats with beautifully carved bows, sturdy and wizened with years of sailing, watching the others out in the sea like matrons  keeping an eye on the children. The colourful smaller boats looked like their next generation, sprightly and lively in their bright hues. The early morning walk along the beach sharpened the senses. The taste of the salty air, the grains of the sand massaging the soles of the feet and that sweet smell...

Colourful Small Boats
            Wait. That sweet smell...that is not from alphonso flowers... This is different.
   "Do you smell that?" I ask my daughter.
   "Ma, I have a cold"  she reminds me.
It was a light sweet fragrance and it came from  peculiar looking white flowers, only two of which rested on a shrub with long linear leaves. But it was enough to seek the attention of the passers by like us who voraciously took in the details of this new land. An early morning walk enthusiast helped me out.
 "It is the Keora flower. We call it Ketaki also. Come see, there is one on top also" she said.
Ah! So this is what gives us those bottles of Kewra water lined up on the stores' shelves. And that incidentally is the diluted byproduct of the more tedious and expensive process of extracting Kewra perfume. Later a Google search said it is the Pandanus, screw palm, screw pine tree  for the rest of the world whose natural habitat is the shoreline of tropical and subtropical regions. That is what I like about trips. It lets me discover little things that I never pay much attention to.

                                                       Screw Pine Tree or Kewra

           The sun was slowly brightening up the sky from behind, illuminating the coconut tree tops with it's golden rays and colouring the little tufts of clouds into a pink hue before it finally made an appearance. It was amazing to watch this pastel shade being reflected on the water creating rosy little streaks  on the rippling sea. From  the other end of the beach, a road leads up into the land, past the administrative area of the town, to the rock garden. There was not much of rock inside the well manicured garden but a gap in it's perimeter led to one of the most enticing views of the sea. A stretch of dark slabs of rock covered the distance between the garden and the sea. A perfect place for solitude. And a perfect place to watch the sun go down.

View From The Rocky Malvan Shore

     To the right of this part is the Chiwla beach from where we walked up. And to the left is the Malvan jetty almost a kilometer away. An excited chatter broke the morning's solitude. Skipping down the garden were a bunch of  school kids dressed in their best for the  trip. Perhaps the teachers wanted to consolidate their geography lessons. It was time to leave the scene for the others to marvel at the vista spread out. The sun had already risen above the tree line. The others back at the cottage would have woken up by now. And I did not want to miss my share of the steaming hot 'ghawane chutney' and 'solkadi'.


Please read the next part here....An island, a fort and a legacy.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Malvan Notes - 1 - The Journey

                                          Top Post on IndiBlogger

 We spent more than ten hours playing peekaboo in the Western Ghats as the Mandovi Express snaked it's way through the many tunnels - some small and some taking a good five minutes to see the light of the day. Our final destination was Malvan, about 600 kms from Mumbai on the Konkan coast. Chugging through  the foliage, the dense canopy lay below at times or a hill side hugged us into those tunnels. A lake spread out here and there,  red tiled roofs huddled together or a stream broke the monotony. Each bend was captivating, taking us by pretty little railway stations, serene hamlets and a verdant undulating landscape.


   We hopped down at one of those pretty, one-minute-stop railway stations, Kudal, the nearest rail head for Malvan which is around 35 kms away. Since we were a group of nine members, ages ranging from five years to seventy five years and as many pieces of luggage, there was a mad rush not to be left behind chugging away. The homestay we had booked ourselves into had catered for a vehicle to drive us back. Otherwise the mode of transportation for others was autorickshaws as far as I could see. Making our way out of Kudal we were assailed with the fresh aroma of the countryside. It was like the deprived olfactory sense seized on the fragrance of the fresh foliage. We could smell the greens all around us. Add to it the strong presence of blue mist flowers growing wild on the road side. We couldn't stop raving at the allure of the idyllic landscape that dipped and rose till we reached the top of the plateau, not knowing there were more surprises ahead.

   As a child, I was told of how the musk deer ran amok in the forest, maddened by a heady fragrance, not realizing that he was the source of it. While traversing the landscape, my thoughts flew to the musk deer when the first sweet smell  teased us gently in sudden whiffs. This soon became so tantalizing that an obsessive desire took over to identify the source. Has it ever happened to you that a hint of a smell, or a strain of a melody so teases you with it's familiarity, making you unlock every door in your memory in a frenzy, to identify it?  The driver soon put this obsession at rest. It was the good old mangifera indica blossoms from the roadside orchards rising in the gentle inclines of the Ghat. And they were no ordinary mango trees. They were the haloed, much acclaimed and revered  kinds called the alphonso, apoos ( Konkani) or hapoos ( Marathi). The alphonso thrives in the Konkan coast especially in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts. The birth of this grafted variety has an interesting story. And to put it concisely, it is the result of an experiment by an inquisitive Portugese who took  mango saplings to Brazil, during one of the many sea adventures, and had it grafted with some native plants there. It came back with the Portuguese admiral Alfonso D' Albuquerque  in the 'alphonso ' avatar and found the perfect  home in the Konkan coast.  Never having seen an alphonso in my entire life, I reveled in the sweet and seductive fragrance of the blossoms.

  Malvan is a taluk in the southern most part of Maharashtra, in the Sindhudurg district on the Konkan coast. The driver had already informed us of the etymology of "Malvan". There are two versions to it. The first refers to the abundance of salt in the region where 'maha' means great and 'lavan' means salt. The second derivative has phonetic  origins of 'mad' ( coconut trees) and 'ban' ( garden),  from the abundance of coconut trees in the region. Goa was just 90 kms away but we were in no mood to entertain the thought of dropping by. The tranquility of Malvan was what we were seeking while the rest of the tourists flocked and filled up every available space in that tiny coastal state. We were told that Malvan and the 6 kms away Tarkarli, were most sought after during the New Year's eve. By the time we had arrived on the second day of the New Year, the crowd had mostly gone back or moved ahead to Goa which suited us perfectly.  


      With a smile and a happy anticipation of what lay ahead, brought on by the sights and the smells,  we sloped down into Malvan well after dark.The roads wriggled through the many grocery stores, kiosks selling kokum and cashew, little restaurants boasting of the best Malvani cuisine along with the Chinese food. Going down through one such lane and having driven by  the gates of the Malvani homes, the sound of the waves gently crashing on the shores welcomed us to our little cottage by the Malvan beach. With tired and hungry kids, we decided not to rush down to greet the Arabian Sea that very moment and instead let the sound of the waves lull us to sleep after a thorough wash and a hearty  dinner of the local cuisine. Vishal, the caretaker, had his mother cook the most delicious prawn curry, rice, fish fry, and some more fried prawns, the taste of which had us asking for more. Although the place that we rented was termed a 'homestay', it was actually an independent traditional cottage with three bedroom set ups in a fishing village. Vishal's home, from where all that scrumptious  food came, was three houses away. His neighbours chipped in for the hospitality role.  I was already in love with this place! Such warmth and  such food!

     It is always better to place your order for the next meal much in advance since it is a small place and not much commercialized.The hosts prefer to serve food with fresh catch of the day or the vegetables available in the market since they don't stock up. And so, after much confusion, exasperation and sulks, the breakfast menu for the next day, took shape rather shakily. The city bred brats that we were towing along, wanted bread and butter, noodles and the likes! We finally put our foot down  extolling the  wisdom (with a harmless twist)  behind the adage, " when in Rome eat as the Romans do" and agreed to Vishal's suggestion for the local 'ghawane chutney', 'roti sabzi' ( as a safety measure) and solkadi.

  We finally called it a day, promising the children an entire day at the beach.

Read the second part Malvan Notes 2 - A Beach Walk.