Monday, 26 December 2016

Mumbai To Goa Diary

Counting down days was never this difficult. Afterall, a long cherished dream of a solo bike trip to Goa (from Mumbai) was finally going to turn into reality.
The route of choice was obvious - coastal road offering amazing visuals with hills on one side and sea on the other and cool breeze in dense foliage of ghats to soothe you when away from sea view. It just can’t get better than this. 
For the uninitiated, there are 4 route options: 1) NH4 (Mumbai – Pune – Kolhapur – Goa) – best quality road and fasted way to reach but at the same time uneventful (no fun of riding in ghats, no sea view). 2) NH17 (Mumbai – Chiplun – Ratnagiri – Goa) – nearly perfect roads with added fun of riding in ghats though no sea view 3) Sagari Maha Marg – Essentially a mix of NH17 and MSH4 which offers quite good roads with sea views for certain short stretched 4) Rider’s route (I call it so) – A mix of MSH4 and village roads - Surprisingly good roads with minimal traffics and amazing sea views, also passes through all the touristy and adventurous spots.
After spending few sleepless nights over excitement, bike servicing and seat remodeling, I left for the journey on 20th November morning at 2:30 AM after tying down my big backpack on the rear seat and another bag strapped to my shoulders. Unexpectedly, the adventure of the journey began quite early as the strings holding the big backpack loosened up. The big backpack fell on the road and was being towed away (thank to the strings). As soon as I realized this, I stopped and walked towards the backpack, half expecting serious damage to my camera, handycam, and other stuff. Thankfully, the damage was limited – corner of my mobile charger kept in a side pocket was smoothened by the road. I decided to keep the big backpack on the tank in my full view and headed towards Vashi bridge to exit Mumbai. TIP: Use bungi chords or even better invest in custom touring bags, it is worth the peace of mind and convenience.
Day 1
Mumbai – Mangaon – take right – Morba – Ghonse – Mhasala – Diveagar – Shrivardhan – Harihareshwar – Bagmandla  ferry – Bankot – Velas – Kelshi – Aade – Anjarle – Harnai – Ladghar – Burondi – Dabhol – Anjanwel – Guhagar – Hedavi – Tavsal jetty – ferry to Jaigad – Malgund – Ganpatiphule.
Drive from Mumbai to Mangaon (150 kms) was completed by 5:00AM and then I turned right at Mangaon to Diveagar as I wanted to catch the sunrise. To my utmost pleasant surprise, these internal roads were in (s)potless condition. So much so that, I half expected the good road to end soon, only to be proven wrong as I rode further. As I learned later, the roads were laid in last two years and had weathered two good monsoons (these contractors should be asked to build Mumbai roads).
As I rode closer to the sea, the road turned curvier adding to the fun of early morning drive. With near absent traffic and potless smooth roads, I let down my guard and drove like a maniac enjoying every twist and turn. Philosophically speaking, I was inspired to take all the ups and down, twists and turns of life with same enthusiasm. This warm-up riding on curves was of great help in rest of the journey. As the first rays of sunrise hit the tera firma, I passed through a cute little village (Deoghar Kond) settled along a small river. The view was captivating and I stopped by to take first of the many serene pics of the journey.
At Mhasala (30km from Mangaon), I had a choice – either to head straight to Shrivardhan and thus skip Diveagar OR take a detour to Diveagar and then head to Shrivardhan. What the heck !!! I said, no way I am gonna skip anything outta laziness. And I am happy I made that choice as the 9-10 km stretch of road hugging the sea (between Diveagar and Kondvil Beach) took my breath away. Nature had colored the place beautifully with dry light yellow grass adorning hills on my left, interspersed with black rocks, light blue sky in front of me and dark blue sea below on my right. I decided to stop at a beautiful spot to take some snaps as I was approached by couple of police man equipped with AK-47.
Something was amiss, AK-47 laced policemen doing nakabandhi in such an isolated place? I learned later that entire Maharastra state was on high alert as there were intelligence inputs of a terrorist incursion via sea route and hence the bandhobast all along the coastal places with a jetty. And a solo biker loaded with bags taking snaps was enough to arouse suspicions in their minds. After satisfying them that I was no terrorist and displaying my identity proofs, I continued my ride and soaked in the nature.
At end of this serene stretch along the sea, the road descended to Aravi beach – a clean beach with no one in sight (which is true for most beaches in Maharastra). I passed by Walavati Village and took a shortcut to Shrivardhan. I stopped by for tea near the beach and conversed with the chaiwalah for directions (in our separate versions of marathi) to Harihareshwar – my next stop 20 kms away. Harihareshwar is home to a famous temple of Lord Shiv right on the beach offering an amazing side view of the beach. Since the temple is frequented by many followers, there are many stay facilities to choose from and local eateries lining up the street leading to the temple. While the beach hasn’t got much to offer, the real appeal of the place is the route of pradakshina which takes you around an adjoining hill through the rocky shore. The steeped canyon offers a breathtaking aerial view of waves thrashing on rocks and turning into pristine white froth – beautifully contrasting with dark black rocks. A must see place for believers in god or atheists like me.
Came out of the temple, had a hot and spicy wadapav and then headed to bagmandla jetty to cross over to Vesavi in a ferry (there are 2 jetties, use Jungle jetty which is used for bigger bikes and cars). As expected I was stopped, questioned, frisked and let go by policemen at the jetty. A common reaction (after satisfying themselves that I am not a terrorist) was the expression of awe and thrill about my ride plan. In a way I too envied them for being posted on such amazing location for the bandhobast although they had contradictory view on the matter. Disembarked the ferry at Veshavi and the police routine followed.
After sharing my travel plans with yet another policeman, I took a right to pass through a fishing village before entering a dense mango orchard – so dense that sunlight barely managed to reach the road. While I missed the sea view, the cool breeze under blissful shadow of mango tress was equally soothing to senses. This affair with mango orchards lasted well through my next destination - Kelshi (a detour of 30kms on road as work of a bridge has been stalled for years which would cut down the journey to barely 2 kms). But no hard feelings, riding is what I was there for and the road was in perfect motorable condition with no vehicles to speak of. I gave Kelshi beach a skip and continued riding through coastal villages (Aade and Padale). Most of the beaches I had seen so far were totally empty with not a single soul in the view giving that ‘untouched’ feel. I so wished I had a beach facing cottage where I would just lazy around under soothing shadow of trees for hours, bathe in pristine blue waters and trade in stocks for a living. As I was busy weaving my dreams, nature had yet another surprise for me in store. A turn on the sea-hugging road placed me at a strategic angle where I could see a beach full of sea-gulls. It was completely secluded beach and so it took some time to search an access path to the beach. Once I found it, I hid my entire luggage in a bush nearby and went crazy clicking pics. Sea-gulls seems to be shy by nature coz as I drew closer (to compensate for lack of zoom in my kit lens), they flew away to the other end of the beach. I returned back to my bike hoping I get a good angle at the southern end of the beach where all the sea gulls seemed to have gathered. It was as if God read my thoughts, coz the southern end of the beach was buzzing with sea-gulls and yes I did get an amazing clear view. After clicking to my heart’s content, I thumped ahead towards Dabhol.
By the time I crossed the Dabhol creek in ferry, it was 6:00PM and I realized that I was running well behind the schedule. As per my original plan, I was supposed to reach Ganpatiphule to capture the sunset. The sun had already set as I climbed down the platue into ghats. The dense foliage and empty roads, which makes the ride such a fun during the day, can be a big disadvantage in the dark especially if you are driving solo. Given the Winter season, sun sets early by (6:30PM) and it gets quote dark even more early if you are in ghats (as early as 6:00PM).
I had 100 km odd journey ahead of me before I reach Ganpatiphule, which included crossing a creek in ferry (I wasn’t aware of timings). Good thing was, although I had been riding since 230 AM, there was no sign of sleep in my eyes as the rush of adrenaline was keeping me alert in negotiating the curvy roads in complete darness. After riding for another hour and half in through the pitch dark forest, the sight of some lights at a distance was heartwarming as I badly needed a time down, directions and info on ferry timings before I proceeded further. I was relieved to know that the last ferry from Tavsal jetty would leave at 10:30 PM and even if I rode leisurely for the remaining 40 kms I would reach in time to catch the 9:30 PM ferry.
A gentleman insisted I rode along with him so I make the right choices at forks/junctions. While he was riding quite slow for a local (may be thinking in my interest), I was not in a big hurry now as I had rest of the journey planned in my head. He guided me through half of the remaining 40km stretch and then asked me to just follow the main road to jetty. I pushed on the gas and soon
I halted at Tavsal Jetty around 8:45 PM. I was hungry as hell and was happy to see couple of shops open at the jetty at that hour. The next ferry was to leave at 9:30PM and so I had loads of time to relax and hog the local delicacies. The policeman at the jetty, rather than interrogating me, was curious about my travel plans which I happily shared. He willingly shared the route I need to follow after crossing over the jetty, which I dutifully memorized as I was not sure I would see another soul to ask for directions. By then, the missal pav was served on my table. Honestly, no lounge of a 5 star hotel can match the rustic and yet mesmerizing setting of the joint which was perched on the creek. I dug into spicy missal pav, enjoying the reflection of lights on the creek before me. An occasional fishing boat heading home would send ripples in the creek, producing lazy wave sound as the ripples hit the shore. After finishing off missal pav, I had a chilled kokum soda over a hearty chat with another shop owner. Throughout the journey so far, I had not sensed even a trace of animosity from locals which was bit of a surprise given the experiences in Mumbai. After promising the shopkeeper to meet again, I rode the bike onto ferry. The ferry ride was fun and as we neared the jetty at the opposite coast, the view was further beautified by galaxy of lights from the fishermen’s huts spread on the slope of the hill and the mammoth power plant of Jindal group atop. After reaching the Jaigad coast the remaining journey was just about 20kms but it seemed like never ending as I rode on the plateau in pitch dark, partly coz all I wanted to do was get some sleep and partly coz there was no sign of any village far into the horizon. Even in such isolated place, I saw many people waiting for transportation at junctions. I helped out as much as I could and at end of what seemed like an eternal ride, I reached Ganpatiphule at around 9:30PM. Philosophically speaking, its all in the mind. I had travelled +400kms during the day and had so many breath taking moments along the way without getting tired and it was this last 20kms which felt like a never ending drive.

Finding a place to stay in Ganpatiphule is quite easy, it being a popular tourist destination. There is a multitude of home stays to choose from and that too at really affordable rates (from Rs500 to Rs1000 per night). After a cold and refreshing shower, I strolled through the main bazaar of the town to relax my legs a bit. After having a hot cup of tea, I returned back to hotel to call it a day. But sleep wasn’t easy to come by with my nervous system awash with adrenaline. All I had in mind for the day was 450kms of riding through the ghats but the day turned out to be far better than anything I had expected. I kept revisiting the breathtaking scenery in my mind… me thumping along the road on the hill with sea roaring below … the beach full of sea-gulls … the aerial view of harnai beach … the cool breeze of mango orchards … the missal by the creek … and the thrill of negotiating the curves in ghats. Best part is, the fun was yet to begun as for the next day, I was to ride only 170kms  - just about 5-6 hours with rest of the time for exploring places and capturing them in my cam. Finally, I had to bore myself to sleep by watching Marathi news channel.
Day 2
Ganpatiphule – Ratnagiri – Pawas – Purnagad - Gaonkhadi – diversion to Kasheli for Kanakaditya Temple – Wadapeth - Nate - Bakale - Mithgavne - Jamsandhe - "Devgadh fort/Beach" - Kunkeshwar - Munage - Achra Beach - Malvan - Tarkarli Beach - Devbag Beach.
I was up quite early (by 630AM), got fresh and got down in search of breakfast. Village life typically starts early but finding an eatery open surprisingly took some time. I munched down a big serving of Kanda poha with perfectly brewed tea and helped myself with another round of tea accompanied by buttered toast. With pet puja done, I was raring to start the journey. As I left Ganpatiphule behind me and thumped up the hill, I stopped by at a majestic curve to soak in the morning air and awe-inspiring aerial view of Bhandaphule beach below. After climbing down the hill to the beach and passing through a sleepy hamlet, as I rode uphill again I was excited about the next view nature would unfold after the approaching curve. Before me was a long and wide stretch of Aare and Ware beaches with wet sand shining like a glass in morning sunlight. I was tempted to go on the beach to capture some early rising sea-gulls but decided against it in interest of time-discipline.
Few kms ahead, I crisscrossed through the narrow lanes of Ratnagiri town and then riding on MSH4 I passed by Pawas, Purnagadh, Gaonkhadi and couple of cozy fishing villages doting the creeks. After Purnagadh creek, the MSH4 took me away from the sea view and onto a plateau. All along the way I followed signboards carrying name of my next destination - ‘kanakaditya temple’ and veered away from MSH4 and the scorching heat into cool embrace of thick ghat foliage on a tiny but well laid road. It was fun riding through the dense ghats punctuated by small cozy huts, so much so that I wished the road would never end. Soon enough, I reached a clearing in middle of this forest and in front of me was Kanakaditya Temple, tucked away deep into ghats near Kasheli village. I killed the engine and parked my bull in the shade and then the serenity of the place dawned on me. I enjoyed the bliss of cool breeze from the dense foliage and a symphony of bird sounds with a glass of refreshing kokum sharbat at the shop run by an enterprising local lady – the only shop I had seen since I left MSH4.
As I entered the temple premise, I noticed that external appearance of the temple was indeed unusual. It resembled a Konkani house of village head and was far different from the typical domed structures we are used to. The entire ground in verandah was laid using local rocks though quite neatly without taking away the rustic appeal. After washing my hands and feet at a well nearby, I stepped into the shade in front of the temple and marveled at the colorful paper decoration on the ceiling and exquisite carvings on the pillars. I offered my prayers and after a small aarti, I was back in the shade soaking in the serenity and peace of the place. The floor of the shade was laid with polished kotastone and was cool even as sun was bearing down on the place. A gentleman, who was auditor of the temple, was kind enough to share history of the place.
The deity of God Aditya (one of the names of God Sun) was brought from Prabhas Pattan Sun temple more than 900 years ago. It is believed that when Gujarat was under attack by mughals, the idol was smuggled out in a boat headed South. When the boat was passing through the Kasheli region, the boat stopped and refused to budge. The boatman decided to place the deity of God Aditya in a cave on the coast near the village. Much later, the idol was found by local ruler who formally constructed a temple. The temple has in its custody a 900 year old tamra patra (a brass plate) which mentions about existence of the temple and hence the temple is atleast 900+ years old though exact age is not known. While I am not much of a temple person, this temple enchanted me by its peace and serenity and I didn’t feel like budging from my seat. In fact, the temple was not in my original agenda but I included it to get a route plan for “the cove with a cave”.
After getting a fair idea of the route, I began my trek through the coastal forest and reached the top of plateau – a flat bed of black rocks punctuated by dry grass. As I approached the edge of the plateau, the view of the sea below took my breath away. It was so captivating that I considered changing my travel plans so I can spend more time here. I continued to walk along the edge of the plateau towards right and then descended to the cute little cove below. After spending some time sitting at the mouth of the cave marveling at the crystal clear aqua blue water and the cove, it was time to move ahead although my heart was far from being content. I promised myself to visit this place again and spend a full day at the beach.

The trek and the peaceful time at the temple had set me back on my schedule, though completely worth, it meant skipping all the remaining plans enroute and hitting Tarkarli by 5:00 PM so as to capture the sunset.

By now my confidence of driving on ghat curves was up manifolds which came handy in the non-stop journey of 100kms to Malvan. I made it to Malvan by 2:00PM and stopped by at a much recommended restaurant to hog down on fresh sea food for lunch. I hit the road again and passed by Tarkarli beach to reach Devbag beach by 5:00 PM. After little bit of searching, I settled down for Siddhivinayak Home stay as they serve amazing food and have rooms bang on the beach – all these for just 700 bucks per night. After rejuvenating cold shower, I sipped on a perfectly made hot cup of tea under the rustic shade facing the sea.
After instructing the cook about the dinner, I stepped down on the beach to enjoy the sunset. With handycam set to capture the vivid colours and moods of sunset, I just sat down next to it on the beach for next couple of hours watching the sun go down behind the rocks on the horizon. By the time I went back to the shade to have another cup of tea with half fry, a group of adventurous riders too had arrived (all from Ahmedabad). There was no point wasting time in the room so I went back to the beach to chat with fishermen returning home with their first catch. It was surmai season, I was told, and fishing usually starts in evening around sunset and first catch is delivered around 900 PM. The reason behind fishing in night is that the clear sea water of Malvan makes it easy for fish to spot the net and thus avoid it. By the time I was called for dinner, I had learned a lot about fishing and had developed a good rapport with the young fisherman. He promised me to take me fishing at night.
After a typical Malvan surmai dinner, I had setup a table on the beach to have a couple of beers. The whole scenery was out of a dream. With moonlight drizzling over the sea, cool breeze of winter night and wave sound for background score, I couldn’t ask for more. At around 11:00 PM, the friendly fisherman invited me to join him on a fishing trip and I was more than glad to experience it. After going a little deeper in to the sea, fishing net was laid and then we just sat in the boat and enjoyed a couple of smokes. The waves gently rocked the boat as we sat chatting and smoking with moon above us and lights of fishing village at a distance. As they began pulling the fishing net back to boat, I could see fish glistening in moon light. When we returned to the shore, I thanked them for the experience and they thanked me in return as they had a good catch on the trip and thought I was lucky for them. Another cold shower bath and I was sleeping like a log.
Day 3
Tarkarli Beach – Chipi – Parule Village – Nivati Beach – Return to Parule Village – Mhapan – Wayangani – Vengurla – Shiroda – Redi - Goa
I woke up next morning quite early, around 5:00 PM and got ready to capture the beauty of sunrise. After loading all my gear in the bag, I begun the long walk towards end of the beach, known as sagar sangam – a beautiful place where the river met the sea. By the time I reached there, the eastern sky was awash with dark blue hues. I setup my handycam and went crazy clicking with my DSLR to make sure I don’t miss the constantly evolving color of sky.
Satisfied with photography and some quite time on the secluded beach, I returned back to my room to pack. After a sumptuous breakfast of rice dosa and sweet & spicy coconut chutney, I thanked the owner of the place and left for the most awaited destination of the trip – a dreamy and nearly unknown beach with clear azure water, Nivati beach. I opted for a short cut, more with a view to enjoy the rural stretch rather than to save time as I was barely 70kms away from Goa and I was in no hurry to reach there. Cruising along the backwaters of Malvan, I passed by prawns farms (surprisingly most workers were from Chattishgarh or UP). The good part of riding through the village roads in Malvan is one doesn’t have to fear about puncture as there are no thorny plants in the coastal region.
After joining the road, I passed by Chipi Bridge and rode uphill to reach on top of the plateau – an absolutely flat land covered with dry grass as far as eyes could see. Sindhudurg Airport is being developed on this plateau. After riding through this beautiful stretch, the road winded down into all-too-familiar-ghats. At Parule village I took a right turn and continued the ride in ghats. The road from thereon is fairly straight forward with just one fork (left to nivati and right to bhogawe beach). Some more pleasant ride and the road came to a dead end at Nivati Village. I just wanted to enjoy the place so I entrusted my luggage to the only shop in the village. Quite frankly, I don’t think its possible to describe the place in words so I am not even going to make an attempt. I will let the pictures speak and as they say a picture is equal to 1000 words. I have tried to capture the entire place in 25-30 pics and many videos.
After spending a good 4-5 hrs on Nivati beach, I had to literally forced myself out of the place. But I promised myself to spend a full day at this place and with that in mind inquired about stay facility etc. Something had changed inside me after visit to this place. The mind had become so calm, composed and happy that I carried a constant smile on my face for rest of the day. In this ‘cloud 9’ state of mind, I rode through the ghats for another 40 kms to reach Vengurla. The beauty of this place matched that of Nivati beach – the only difference being it didn’t have that secluded feel to it as Vengurla beach is surrounded by the town. Again, I will let the pictures speak for themselves. By the time I left Vengurla, I realized that I have left a part of my soul at Nivati beach and I will have to come back to fetch it some other day. With mind at complete peace, idea of entering a touristy place like Goa was not appealing. If I had not done the hotel bookings in Goa, I would have loved to stay back in Vengurla and Nivati. With a heavy heart and a promise to return soon I entered Goa. God had other plans for me in Goa ;).

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