The Village of Gaonkhadi: Exploring Ratnagiri's Obscure

by - May 23, 2018

Cities, villages, mountains, lakes, name it, and there exists no place where I don't like moving my feet forwards. Even if the place is unpopular or chaotic, I still somehow dig up its beauty. Maybe this is why I enjoy travelling and this is why I am not too critical when it comes to culling destinations or curating my travels. But yes, there's one hindrance: I don't like revisiting places. For instance, if you ask me to revisit Kolkata, I would hold back; I would perhaps think of it as a pit stop or a layover but I would still hesitate. If you ask me to visit Alibaug, I would look out for its alternatives, and so on.

I have visited Konkan before. I have stayed at a friend's nature resort with my girlfriends in Dapoli. I have seen starfishes for the first time and experienced their tickle on my palm at the Anjarle beach. I have been on a weekend getaway to Alibaug with my family when I was a kid. I have ridden in a jetty to visit Murud-Janjira fort with my family friends, again when I was a kid. I have been on a bike ride from Mumbai to Gokarna, taking the coastal route via Konkan with my friends. I have seen the most beautiful beach in the form of Taramumbari. And I have extended my stay in Devgad for another night because of how promising I thought it was on the first day.

In a nutshell, I have already been to Konkan but not to the village of Gaonkhadi. When my cousin had come home running to invite me on this trip, I was a little surprised. I had never heard of this place before. I researched a bit and did not quite like the pictures and the videos. I was travelling to Gaonkhadi with a completely different set of mind. I thought I would be inside the house for a majority of time and presumably get roasted because of the heat. However, this trip was nothing like what I had imagined.

The second day in Gaonkhadi started with drawing up water from the well. I have jumped in a well and swam my heart out in its waters but have never actually witnessed someone familiar draw water from it.
I woke up by 8:00 am on the second day of my trip, though we had plans of leaving the house for our day's adventures at 7:00 am. I honestly love the trips that do not work on timings. That is possibly the reason why I have never considered a travel agency to roam. I loathe the wake-up-at-six and lunch-break-for-30-minutes-only rules. I will wake up when I want to, I will wind up lunch when I want to. This is my trip and I will see how to make the most of it.

While we were still in previous night's pyjamas, my cousin Pratik announced that he was drawing water from the well. Since he had visited this house before, he was keen on doing this. He found the idea of drawing water from the well fascinating and I believe, who wouldn't? I joined him too. Pratik drew water and I washed my face. Such a countrified way of washing one's face, I thought!

Shot on the Kumbhar Wadi plateau

After changing into a fresh set of clothes, the grandmothers handed over a big vessel to Pratik along with a bunch of papers. Pratik served breakfast. We were having flattened rice chiwda that was enhanced by mixing grated coconut and finely chopped onions. The sheets of papers acted as our dishes. I found it interesting.

Pratik's uncle had invited his friend Akshay whom he had met on a birding course. He had taken a late night bus from Mumbai and was to reach Gaonkhadi by 11:00 am. While the uncle waited for his friend, Pratik and I visited the Rameshwar temple, which was just five minutes away by foot.

Right in front of the house, after crossing a narrow boulevard, the family was building another well. This well has an intriguing and bizarre story behind, which I shall share in the coming posts. I just took a glance at it and moved ahead for the temple. Little did I know how brilliant and riveting the building of the well actually was.

I felt wonderful to walk on this coarse pathway that was surrounded by tall coconut trees and picturesque cottages. I felt fortunate to experience the rustic lifestyle. This very path, the path that was unknown to millions of people but was everything to the villagers of Gaonkhadi. The very path where the life in this little village of Gaonkhadi moved. This is where the state transport buses passed through, on this jagged pathway. How very surreal!

We walked while clicking pictures along. The sky was full of grey clouds preparing to shower their love on us. The weather was humid yet in fine intervals, winds were blowing. We witnessed one of the classic plays of the sun. It was cloudy for a moment and then it turned sunny for a few seconds. We were glad it was cloudy the most time. I knew a downpour was happening, if not at that moment, later in evening.
I was awaiting rains, much like the chatak bird (the Jacobin cuckoo) who waits for the rain to quench its thirst. Its reference is in Indian mythology and an idiom goes in Marathi that says, “Chataka sarkhi vaat pahane”, meaning, to wait like a chatak bird.

I love monsoon. If it was as per my wishes, I would love to have monsoon 365 days a year. For me, the monsoon is when everything is alive...when everything is fresh. Recently I have realised that monsoon is perhaps my favourite season and not the winter. Maybe it is because I live in Mumbai, where the temperature struggles to drop till 18°. But monsoon? Mumbai is blessed with the monsoon. This is when the city is at its best. Not just the city but even the outskirts are overflowing with beauty. The humidity and heats from the months of February to May become unbearable and I think every person waits for the showers.

While the sun played hide-and-seek, we got a sight of the Rameshwar temple. It was located next to a huge tree, which I'm guessing was a banyan tree. It was surrounded by a concrete platform, where the villagers relaxed. Pratik went towards it when a villager asked him to remove his footwear. I removed my flip-flops too and sat next to Pratik for a while. We were not messing with the villagers' beliefs. If they don't like going near a banyan tree with footwear, we might as well agree to it. It's their land and we thought, there was no harm in abiding by their rules.

Who's taller? Me or the suru trees?

We left for home and while we were in the periphery from where we could see the house, we saw a young boy sitting on the veranda. I couldn't see his face as he was wearing a cap and was engrossed in his phone, probably doing so to avoid the awkwardness. Pratik and I realized his uncle's friend Akshay had reached Gaonkhadi after all.
We climbed up the stairs and while we were stepping on the veranda, Pratik's uncle whined about how he tried calling us to know our whereabouts and how they've been waiting for us.

I still tried to catch a glimpse of the friend with the cap. Reading his body, I could sense he is not as old as the uncle. He could either be a little older than me, i.e., someone in his late twenties, or would be in his early thirties and looked a lot younger than his actual age. Later, on exchanging words, I learnt he was two years elder to me. My previous guess was correct.

I was glad to welcome someone who was not a part of my cousin's family. An outsider, just like me, I thought. He was about to have a gala time here, I was sure. I took my jute backpack, the one I had purchased from Goa a decade ago, and never understood its beauty until my recent coastal bike ride to Gokarna. I thought this eccentric bag would look appealing in Konkan and hence had carried it on this trip. I packed some banana chips, biscuits, and two bottles. We were going to Kumbhar Wadi plateau. (We are not sure if the plateau has any distinct name, but a village named Kumbhar Wadi is located on it, so I thought this should be its name.)

It was our first trip with the stranger. I was behaving decently, with no impromptu hurrahs or stupid fights with my cousin. I behaved well. But at the back of my mind I knew, Akshay would soon meet the real me.

In about five minutes, we reached the plateau. It was an open, barren land. The trees made guest appearances in between, however, towards the far end, we could only see trees. We followed the two birders, the two photographers until we reached the bunch of trees. Pratik and I escaped into the greens and reached the edge of the plateau that offered a breathtaking view. We just sat there, enjoying the breeze. In due course, the uncle and Akshay joined us too.

On our way back, we saw a bush plum (karvanda) tree. Pratik plucked bush plums for the grandparents while eating them along. He plucked them, wiped the sap, and hogged them down. I had a few of them too. The fruits were sweet and tasted delicious.

Looking at the faraway horizon. Shot on the Purnagad-Gaonkhadi bridge

We went home for lunch as we had plans of hitting the beach in the evening. We had aamras and cabbage bhaaji with freshly made hot rotis. After lunch, we just wandered about when we noticed the surrounding ambience getting darker. We noticed the clouds got heavier and turned unusually grey. We knew it was going to rain immediately.
And when we started to change for the beach, the power was cut off. The devices that were on charge suddenly lit up, the fans' speed lowered down, the little yellow light from the devghar disappeared, and we hoped the electricity revived soon.

The humidity increased but it did not make us sweat as cool winds were blowing, making all of us ecstatic. We sat in the car for Gaonkhadi beach and I was excited on some other level. Two favourite things were happening at one time: the beach and the rains. While we were in the car, about to reach, it started drizzling. Pratik's uncle had already announced that he wouldn’t step out of the car and Akshay too said he wouldn’t come inside the water. That meant, only Pratik and I were to go to the beach.

I tried shooting some videos and taking pictures from my iPhone for the vlog, but then it started raining heavily and I had to keep my phone in the car (though my phone is waterproof). I took out my action camera and was eager to try it out but the footage did not meet my expectations as its waterproof case blurred out the quality and the result was nowhere close to superiority. It was low tide, and the sea was completely pulled backwards. We must have walked about 30 steps and yet had to walk 30 more in order to touch the waves.

The view was beautiful. Tall suru trees (Australian Pine trees) were swaying and drenching wet because of the heavy rain; there was no soul around, except for Pratik, the sea looked dramatic as if warning us to not enter. The scene looked horror yet pleasant at the same time. It was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. I knew I was returning here with my friends or family. Gaonkhadi beach is highly recommended and you sure should not miss it. These few minutes were one of the best and I enjoyed the solitude.

Akshay had followed us to the beach but when we turned back, we could not see him amid any trees. On top of that, I had left my glasses back in the car so there was no chance of me spotting him. We realised that it was pointless to stand in the ankle-deep water when there was nobody around and the weather being so ferocious. We stepped out of the water and walked towards the car. On reaching, since the rain had stopped by then, we noticed both Akshay and uncle were in the car.
I dried my hair and Pratik changed into a dry t-shirt. We started for home.

We Indians have a beautiful way of celebrating blissful weather. And we usually do it with tea and a hot, local dish. For instance, if you're in Maharashtra, you would have tea along with kanda bhajji and wada pav. While returning home, we reached the Purnagad-Gaonkhadi bridge and stopped there because the view around was magical. We stopped for a while and I was lost looking at the faraway horizon. I had an epiphany that if things wouldn’t have happened the way they happened and that I still would have been working in a full-time job, then I wouldn’t have experienced this. I was fortunate to have a cousin who had relatives in such a beautiful village. I felt lucky; I felt happy.

On my way to Gaonkhadi beach

We left for home but on the way, ordered nine plates of wada pav. I started feeling uncomfortable. When my cousin brought the parcel inside the car, I felt uneasy. The fragrance of the oil troubled my senses and I started feeling nauseatic. I hoped I did not end up having a bad stomach, but unfortunately, I did have one. Until we reached home, I frequently pressed my stomach to temporarily reduce the pain. On reaching, we noticed that the electricity was still not back and that the grandparents were happy seeing the parcel. One of the grannies handed over a wada pav to me and its smell and taste disgusted me so much that I handed it over to Pratik in just two bites. I remember how the remainder of the night passed. I was lying in one of the rooms while holding my stomach. I had applied a pain relief balm on my stomach, had gulped a clove to combat nausea, had taken an acidity pill, and yet the pain hadn't stopped.

When it got unbearable, I threw out. I vomited again and then finally, I started feeling a little better. My stomach was upset and all this happened in the dark. But the good thing was, since it had rained, the weather was pleasant; in fact, I even had asked for a blanket.

For dinner, I had my favourite waran bhaat along with a sweet lemon pickle, and oh gosh, it tasted so good that it reminded me of my mum. I was beyond words grateful for the two grannies for keeping aside the waran just for me. I could actually sense the love behind serving me waran bhaat and I felt warm and at home.

I called my mom after dinner to tell her about my health and on that she advised me to drink sweet and salty water. That’s what she feeds me when I have diarrhoea. After cutting the call, I went to the kitchen to have this sweet nectar. I think this is my favourite drink as it relieves me on some other level. I drank two glasses of this mocktail and felt relaxed.

By embracing the eucalyptus fragrance from the pain relief balm and the blissful aroma of the wet soil, I dozed off. The electricity was not back yet and we were all lying without fans. Also, since the house is somewhat in the forest, the fear of snakes, frogs, spiders, or in a worst case, leopards, always eats your head. So for that, even the doors and most of the windows were shut. (Just one window in my room was open but that was not capable of providing any sort of ventilation.)

At 2:30 am, I woke up from sleep because of the clogged atmosphere. The power was still off and I felt so uneasy that I moved the blanket from my body and thew it on the floor. I lied down on the naked floor. I thought it was 5:30 in the morning and that someone would wake up soon and that I would wait for that person. I thought I would wait for the sun to rise, however, when I checked my phone, it was just 2:30 am. I browsed through my gallery till it was 3:00 am and then finally since my bare eyes were tired from the phone screen, I dozed off.

I remember, the electricity was back next morning around 7:30 am. Imagine! There was no electricity for 14 hours! But you know what? I was secretly happy to experience this side of village life!

Watch my vlog:

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