From City to Village: The 11-Hour Journey to Ratnagiri

by - May 18, 2018

Do you know what’s better than planning a travel? Experiencing a travel plan come knocking at your doors. For a broke traveller like me, I keep on looking for ways that either let me stay for free or sponsor my journeys. But then when the luck doesn’t walk in your direction, you are disappointed and postpone your plans for some other time, or some other month, or keep on dreaming that one day perhaps you’ll have a hefty bank balance to travel as per your wishes.

I was in a situation where my December plan (and the probable one-day plans in the monsoon months) satisfied me, though not entirely. And then my cousin comes home and excitedly asks if I could join his family to a certain Gaonkhadi village in Ratnagiri district. If you know me, you would also know what my instant reaction would have been. I excitedly agreed and then we rushed towards my mom to share with her this piece of good news. My mom’s first reaction was, “Chalel ka pan tu gelelis?” (Translation: Is it fine that you’re going?) And on that, both Pratik and I replied collectively with a big “of course”. 

My mom was a little worried about me joining my cousin Pratik’s family. I had surely met his grandparents and his uncle and his distant grandparents on multiple occasions before but that had happened many years ago. However, I never possess any guilt of being an outsider if one of the insiders himself has invited me. I knew I would enjoy, because, firstly, it’s Konkan, secondly, I have never stayed in a Konkani house before, and thirdly, it meant a splendid opportunity to travel and produce content (blogs/vlogs) with zero to no expenses. 

This is how I was involved in some other family’s vacation plan. 

I was thrilled to travel for nine hours straight and especially when my cousin informed me we were leaving from Mumbai at 5:00 am, my excitement knew no bounds. Early morning and late evening travels are close to my heart. I try to grasp every opportunity to leave my house either early at around 5:00 am, when the streets are quiet and the birds chirping, or late evening, when the roads are jammed and the streets lit. 

On the night of 15th May 2018, I set my alarm at 4:00 am because we had planned to leave by 5:15 the next morning. Since I was unaware of how punctual my new travel buddies are, I was not taking any risk. I slept around 3:00 am that night due to career thoughts and after an hour, my phone started ringing. It was 4:00 am, the time to wake up and start executing the Ratnagiri plan. Unfortunately, we left an hour late.

The Sugarcane Stall at Mahad

I remember, we had checked our watches that read 6:12 am. That’s the precise time when we started our engine. 

Since the moment I sat in the car, which was a Tata Indica, I showed no signs of discomfort. I started conversing with my cousin’s grandparents and gradually, his uncle started adding a few words too. He had watched my vlogs before and knew my love for travelling and videography in general. He is a passionate photographer himself and a trekking enthusiast so we had many topics to talk about. Throughout our 11 hours journey, there would have been hardly any time when we ran out of topics. What I loved about his uncle––rather, what I love about people of this type––is the extensive knowledge about the biodiversity. He is a human encyclopaedia and passed on such an impressive amount of knowledge, ranging from butterflies and birds to trees and forts. This was the second interesting human I had met in this month; the first being Himalee in Pune. I am inspired after meeting such individuals. 

Our journey hence was fascinating. Not at one moment did I think my cousin’s uncle was exceeding the speed limit or regretted my decision of joining someone else’s vacation. The first layoff––which was demanded by Pratik––was in Mahad. The town is one of the holy places that is a home to a distinct Ganesha temple. It is a part of the Ashtavinayak Darshan pilgrimage, where the devotees visit eight distinct Ganesha temples in eight different towns of Maharashtra in one single trip.
We did not, however, stop for the temple. Pratik wanted to try his hands on churning sugarcane to produce sugarcane juice at a certain juice-stall he remembered from his last trip to Gaonkhadi, which was about five years ago. On reaching, we saw that the old man had advanced from a manual churning machine to a motor-operated one. We watched as the old man squeezed out the juice with pride and then sipped tall glasses of fresh sugarcane secretion. 

We had planned our second halt ever since I was asking everyone to have idlis my mom had sent along. We stopped mid-way in the ghat of Kashedi and finished the idlis that were topped with ghee and chutney. My mom had specially made the jawas chutney the previous night since the container was almost empty and she had planned to give me idlis all long. 
Kashedi Ghat is a heaven for riders. One side is covered with lush green trees and the other side with a valley that gives you a soft sight of the Mahabaleshwar hills along with Pratapgad and Makaranand Gad. The latter is known as the Back of Saddle for its brilliant saddle-like shape. The ghat appeared lovely in summer, in spite of clear skies and the frequent sighting of amber coloured twigs. Imagine the level of beauty in monsoon when the clouds are grey and the hues of green are romantically disturbed by the milky fog. 

We continued our endless journey. The panoramas after we crossed the ghat were even lovelier with the frequency of coconut trees increasing. And I love coconut trees. Coconut and palm trees. I believe they have the power to make any environment look twice picturesque. I knew we were nearing the coastal area, I knew we were slowly entering the land which is the definition of Konkan. Even though Mumbai and Thane fall under the Konkan region, for us, Konkan was never close to these two districts. For us, Konkan is your Ratnagiri district or your Sindhudurg district. Konkan is beaches, Konkan is the fish curry, Konkan is coconut trees, and Konkan is a paradise. It’s a different setting altogether. I believe those who have a house in Konkan are the blessed ones. Easy access to the untouched parts of the beaches and devouring ripe mangoes, which by the way, are from your own mango trees. 

I always fantasised having a home here. Even better if I had a granny who lived here, and then I would visit her every summer and she would cook my favourite dishes and then force me to have some more aamras. I plead no and that my tummy is full, but she insists and serves me more. Oh, my! What a wonderful way to live your life!

Tea with a view

As I write this, I have tears in my eyes that struggle to keep balance and not slip down my face. I just remembered my mom and my imaginary granny. If there’s one material thing I could ever gift my mother, it would be a house in Konkan. My mom loves the idea of having a house here. She loves the idea of living with fellow villagers around. My mom is simple and loves living a simple life. She loves villages, she loves villagers, she loves vast fields…
I wish we had a house here. 

We reached Chiplun and stopped for lunch at a pure veg restaurant named Shiv Sagar. The restaurant looked unhygienic but this was where the family stopped every time they visited Ratnagiri and had grown fond of it, I could read. We ordered the usual satisfying menu of butter roti, a paneer sabzi, and biryani, and ended up with a tall glass of masala buttermilk. Soon, as we continued, I fell asleep in the car. Sleeping for only one hour the previous night and travelling for so many hours at a stretch made it obvious. I don’t think I slept for long; it must be a short 30-minute nap. 

I was woken up with words that sounded something like “let’s stop for tea” as my cousin announced followed with a sigh. I understood that while I was enjoying my slumber, others were probably too fatigued as none of them had closed their eyes. However, after I seeped in his words and the situation, I sensed the temperature in the car was how I like: not too freezing and not so high that I wonder if the air conditioner is functioning or not. 

We stopped at a certain Hotel Alankar for high-tea. I gulped down a lemon soda as I am not very fond of having hot drinks in a hot climate. In reality, Pratik’s granny and I were to share cold coffee but unfortunately, they did not have any such drink on the menu. So I settled with a lemon soda in a sweet and salty flavour instead. 

The journey after lemon soda was refreshing. It was clear…we had stopped for refreshments and they had worked wonders on our mood and spirits. Pratik’s uncle promised us that the views preceding are scenic. We entered a place that had abundant three-storeyed buildings. I casually passed a question asking if this was a town as it looked like one, and on that, the uncle nodded. We had entered Ratnagiri. It immediately transported me back to those times when people shared with pride that their native was Ratnagiri. And I had an understanding of Ratnagiri at that moment. This was Ratnagiri…

We were about to reach Gaonkhadi, which was about 24 km away. On our way, we came across a beautiful piece of land that looked like a paradise. The sand had a carpet of tall Suruchi trees. It was the beach of Bhatye. Too scenic. If you ever wish to come here, there are two lovely resorts that are located on the beach. One is the Ratna Sagar resort and the second Kohinoor, which is on a hilltop. We crossed the beach and the panoramas later were beautiful. We came towards a board that welcomed us to Gaonkadhi village.

The views after entering were what we call Konkan. Coconut trees, beautiful huts, and villagers engrossed in their daily chores, at their own pace.
I was completely overwhelmed by the beauty and it felt surreal. I was about to live in a Konkani house, this fact was a little hard to believe. I have been to Konkan before, rather, I have even stayed here, but that was in a resort. I remember, about 11 years back, I had visited my cousin’s relative's house in Asud and the setting had completely blown me away. The grandparents even had their own cowshed with about five cows.

Captured in the beautiful Kashedi ghat

I remember we had had sabudana khichadi followed by tea and were completely mesmerised by their simplisticity. The idea of permanently living in Konkan is beyond familiarity. I always wonder what do these residents do in their pastime and what is their daily schedule. For instance, what time do they wake up, what do they do after breakfast, what do they do after lunch, what do they do when the sun is setting down, and what time do they hit their beds. How frequent are the power-cuts? From where do they shop their groceries? Is the food they eat grown in their own fields? I always ponder, how can one lead such a simple life all 365 days. 

If I lived in a village, I would have felt as if I am missing out on a huge chunk of opportunities. For instance, I cannot just lie down and not do anything. If I am sleepy I would sleep but I can’t imagine myself doing nothing. 

My thoughts were disrupted by the beautiful sight of the house which was shining bright, in the shade of yellow, amongst all the greens. We parked the car and climbed upstairs towards the house. I noticed two chairs on the cow-dung smeared veranda and it gave me a gist of how my coming days would be.  I knew I would be spending most of my time on one of these chairs, either sipping a hot cup of tea or writing a blog post or having a good time. 

Pratik’s distant grandmother, who is fondly referred to as Borivali Ajji, brought us tea. But before that, his distant grandfather, with his weak legs and shaky movements, lovingly arranged chairs for us in the veranda. At that moment I understood the old man was warm and caring.

Soon, the day broke into night and we dined on a dish that is popular as the post travel meal amongst most of the Indians. It is that meal you cook when you are extremely tired after a long journey and yet require food to regain your lost energy. The light-on-stomach 'mudakhi', short for moong dal khichadi.

What an eventful journey from one part of the Konkan region, which is bustling with tall buildings and stringent competition, to the other, which is the epitome of simplicity and gives you complete peace of mind. Alas! I was in the land known as Ratnagiri...

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