Thursday, 19 February 2015

Malvan Notes 4 - The Confluence

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 Please read the first, second and third accounts of the Malvan Notes.  This post is the fourth of the series.

   While travelling with family, of adults and children of different age groups, the schedule planned has this uncanny ability to reinvent itself according to the eating, toilet and sleeping habits.  The original plan of starting for Tarkarli after breakfast, which was around forty five minutes drive away, invariably found itself nudged gently to an afternoon trip, much to my consternation.  So I took time off to cool my head and loitered around the village that we stayed in. And believe me, I found a couple of blissful nooks and corners that offered solitude served with fantastic views. But more of that later. Let me quickly take you through the afternoon trip.  The final plan looked like adventure sports at  Deobagh and then sunset view at Tarkarli.

      Hiring a cab that would stick around and bring us back to our cottage, we bounced along the narrow curving lanes leading to Deobagh in a Maruti van.  The road went by old Konkani homes  with towering mango trees and swaying coconut palms that I had grown to love.  While we were blissfully taking in the  views of Tarkarli and wondering at the numerous ‘resorts’ and guest houses that had sprung up along the road, a constant blaring of the horn  from behind disrupted us. The van stopped. A motorcyclist conversed urgently with the driver who then directed him to our group leader, my husband. The motorcyclist was fervently trying to sell his group’s package of water sports. And we were sold. He sped ahead and we continued the journey. After a few minutes I had this eerie feeling of a young animal brought out from the jungle to be trained to do as directed.  Why? Each time we crossed a  bunch  youngsters on bikes, the driver blared his horn. It was too much of a coincidence. Then I noticed his hand stuck out of his window, below the eye level, giving a shake of dismissal to the bikers. Aha! So this was a signal! This flock of sheep has been spoken for!  So most of the youngsters on bikes that you see on this route are scouts, waiting for the prey before the others in the pack catch up.

   When the van finally stopped,our predator, sorry, tour operator escorted us to the bank of the Tarkarli river with the story of etymology of “Tarkarli”. It was during his great grandfather’s days or possibly much before  that era, people used to float on rafts across the Karli creek to reach the village on the other side.  And so this place was named Tarkarli. Since our destination was the Tsunami island for the water sports, we climbed the boat barefoot to ferry across to the island that had apparently appeared after the Tsunami. The ride along the bank was soothing, watching the trees sway and the waters furrowed by the boat. Many people prefer to sail along the Karli backwaters.
Tarkarli Backwater

Tsunami Island

         Barely a few minutes later the air was rife with squeals, of roaring motors and an all pervasive fuel fumes. The last, the fumes of burnt fuel, is sadly what stayed with me for a very long time. The water scooters, banana boats, jet skis and other contraptions criss- crossed at alarming proximity to wailing and screeching enthusiasts, dunking some on the shores for that extra thrill. There is a wide variety of water sports packaged with a price that can be negotiated. The gaudy plastic sheets taut over the four poles of the makeshift stalls   are a loud contrast to the splendour of the surroundings. A beleaguered MTDC houseboat floats solitary in the middle of all the mechanised cacophony.

Hub Of Water Sports

 The moment of peace came in during the ride to the open sea for parasailing. The Karli river empties into the Arabian Sea at Deobagh that serene strip of sand with the vast sea on one side and a hurrying river on the other. From afar a few people seemed to be walking on water with the sliding sun heightening the illusion.

Gulls in Deobagh

 On the opposite side the Bhogawe beach jutted out hosting a large colony of gulls. A flock of them had landed on the sliver of a sandbar between the sea and the river. Maneuvering our way out of the river the boat was caught in the boisterous thrusts of the sea. It was only during my few minutes of parasailing that the beauty of this place sank in. Caught by the wind the chute buoyed up carrying us one by one for a bird’s eye view of the confluence . The wind whispering tranquility and the sun kissing the blushing sky  goodbye. Everything else seemed so distant and unreal .

Sunset From Deobagh

    We came back to a silent Tsunami island. The glowing moon, blushing at it's fullness, was rising above the hillock. A paler image of the other orb that had kissed the world a goodbye. The few bamboo stalls were empty of the vendors. The boats were heading back for the day. The island is left to itself during the night to recoup  and rest before the next horde of travelers arrive with the sun, infusing the brine air with the fumes all over again.


Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Malvan Notes - 3 - Sindhudurg Fort

   This post is in continuation of a four part series Malvan Notes. To get a comprehensive feel of the place, please do read the first and the second account.


             The sea is wrathful and turbulent. Like some great beast working up a rage. The sky pulls up a gray bulbous sheet threatening to shed volumes of  rain at the slightest pretext. This, on the days when it is not sending down rods of rain piercing the restless waters or beating down on the ramparts. The waves crash  relentlessly against the fortified walls, as it has for centuries, roaring and thundering in unison with those dark menacing clouds weighing down from above.  It had been weeks now since the last boat had left across the choppy waters. And it would be months before they saw the next one make it's way around the treacherous rocks that jutted out and lurked deceivingly under water. At least not till the sea calmed. Or the Monsoon wind receded.  This is how it has been f since  father's days...grandfather's...great grandfather's ....

        Do these ruminations float across the inhabitant's mind?  What is it like to be marooned for three whole months inside a fort whose impressive walls hold sad remnants of a glorious past?  How does it feel to see just a handful of faces day in and day out? In these times that we live in where the slightest disruption in the internet connectivity sends us into a tizzy, fifteen odd families residing within carry the weight of a legacy that has them  holed up in the Sindhudurg Fort for the monsoon season. Without electricity. Without fresh supply of food. And all this, while the Arabian Sea froths, foams and lashes all around the Kurute island  that keeps the Sindhudurg Fort afloat. Ostensibly to honour a legacy from  the  days of  Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the great Maratha King of the seventeenth century, the handful of  Hindu and Muslim families to whom the responsibility was entrusted, continue the tradition to this day. Move over Big Boss. You are not even anywhere close to it.


A Bastion Of Sindhudurg

   Built in 1664, to be the  headquarters of the Maratha naval power, Sindhudurg is a short boat ride into the sea from the Malvan jetty at fifty rupees per head. The time in hand to walk around the island fort is till the boat marked for you returns with another load of tourists after having waited for it's turn in the long queue of other boats at Malvan. This translates into roughly about an hour. We quickly walked up the last few steps from the jetty after extracting a promise from the boatman that he couldn't possibly  leave without the nine of us!  So there we stood at the impressive gate of the fort  trying to decide whether we should let someone take us around. A guide looked at us  surreptitiously wondering whether we were worth a wait or should he accost other tourists. The moment we gave a nod to his fee he  rushed through  the explanation in a bid to make up for the lost time. My concern was if we would be back in time to take the boat.

 "If you can keep up with me, you will have some time to spare too" he replied addressing my doubts. That was a tall claim considering we were travelling with young children.
We began the tour with the gate. And with  a flourish he began "Do you see that  gate? Did you see anything different about the gate?..."
It had been  a short walk  from the jetty, admiring the sunning grey herons on the surrounding dark porous  little islets  or watching the crabs crawl out  on one side of the path, we had made our way towards the fort. A formidable wall scalloping the periphery of the island rose from the water  darkened by it's shadow. The stream of tourists  indicated  the  entrance, a slight gap between two bastions, that curved to the right revealing a narrow path  which  twisted once more  before passing through the fort's gate. In all my travels, the intriguing defense mechanisms of forts have always held a fascination. The enemy attacking Sindhudurg would first have to foray into the waters without detection. That seemed tough considering there were close to fifty bastions in the three kilometers perimeter of the fort. Once on the island, the attackers would be caught on the wrong foot, er, the wrong hand since they would have to turn to the right through the narrow approach to the gate giving them a few moments of disadvantage before orienting themselves to face it. Those few moments would  be enough for the defenders of the fort to rain down arrows, ammunition and other means of destruction.

   We hurried behind our guide who led us up the path to the only temple dedicated to Shivaji Maharaj, Shri Shiv Rajeshwar Mandir, built by his son Rajaram.  A quick look inside and a few  moments of surprise later to  see the mustachioed Shivaji idol, having grown up seeing a bearded Shivaji staring out of history books, we almost jogged to our next halt with a quick stop in front of a photograph of that rare coconut tree with two branches. It had to be the photograph because the actual specimen was struck down by lightening a few years ago. The guide then waited a while in front of what looked like a sunken floor but not before pointing out the lone embellishment on a crumbling pillar, the only one of what I'd seen so far inside the fort.  It stood valiantly battling the ravages of time to mark what was once a palace. Surrounded by vegetation that clawed away at every structure, reclaiming the island to what it once was before Shivaji had the stones and rocks dug out to construct this fort. Every rock that went into building this fort came off the island itself.

                                               Floral Carving On A Pillar

            It was surprising to know that there were three fresh water reservoirs in the island in the middle of the sea. The sunken floor was one such fresh water tank that also had mechanisms to harvest rain water.  The third tank was multi faceted. While it provided water, it also doubled up as a temple. If the enemy did manage to overpower the fort, this tank also revealed a secret tunnel that led away into the mainland.


The Reservoir With The Tunnel

 These intrigues and ingenuity of the bygone days have  always held a special appeal for me. While rushing to complete the tour, this little birdie here distracted me with it's delicately coloured plumes. Merging with the foliage but adding relief to the ruins.

                                                            An Unidentified Bird

         We were next seen trailing behind our guy who was climbing up a steep flight of steps to the flag tower, the tallest bastion in the fort. It was from this vantage point that early warnings were conveyed to the rest of the inmates with the use of flags. The view this part of the fort offered was spectacular.  The ramparts that have held well  against the elements, stretch out enclosing the  forty four acres of the island.  And the vast blue green sea opens out limitless in it's expanse, into the sweeping horizon.

                                               View From The Rampart


  There are  temples dedicated to Hanuman, Bhavani, Ganesh but we gave it a miss. Mostly because we wanted to soak in as much of the fort and it's ambience, imagine what life was like in here during it's peak when soldiers kept watch and life went on. It is said that Shivaji Maharaj himself chose the island to build this fort to protect his coastal domain. It's fortified walls have a strong foundation of molten lead and it's walls cemented with a mixture  of lime and jaggery.


Tarkarli Beach From The Rampart

      Within the fort now are the vestiges of what was once an ambitious and formidable citadel. The handful of families that remain are descendants of the soldiers who once manned the fort, holding on to a past that has all but disappeared. Their major occupation now being fishing and providing tourist services of ferrying or guiding them through history of the fort. Our guide is one such inhabitant and disillusioned by the apathy of the authorities. Times are fast changing and so are the aspirations of the people. The school going children of these families take up home with the fishermen on the shore during the monsoon season since the families inside the fort are cut off from the rest of the world so as to continue the tradition of lighting the lamp and offering prayers at the temples inside. Their homes date back centuries and are among the few structures that are holding on precariously to  a time  that  has long gone by. Do they exist merely to carry on onerous duties in a fort which even the State has failed to restore it to a decent semblance of former glory? For how long will they remain behind while the sea raged and lashed against the walls?

    These are some questions that spring up as we walk along the ramparts. Nearing the point from where we started, a cacophony of overlapping music reach us. A few boats bob about while the groups of tourists take turns at scuba diving near the fort. A few of them are content snorkelling. I wonder if there is any fish lurking around with all that traffic and high decibel  beats. Although a shell now, Sindhudurg Fort does have an inexplicable charisma heightened by the swaying coconut trees and the open sea. Turning towards the mainland, the Tarkarli beach and the Deobagh stretch towards the right and the Malvan shore to the left.


                            Soon we leave for Malvan jetty. The sky is alive with the gulls gliding and diving while the sun descends for the day adding a glitter to the wrinkled sea. Some  gray herons watch us go by and few of them get busy looking  for dinner. The  shoreline  looms large and the Sindhudurg fort recedes  into a silhouette of a massive floating sea faring vessel.


 Please read the next part Malvan Notes 4 - The Confluence