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Life, love and language

Journey to India

The Haji Ali Mosque

The fishing village at Adur

The cultural village of Kolthare in Ratnagiri

23/10

The flight to Dubai, was very uncomfortable for sleeping and we all tossed and turned all night. (Good choice of music though!)   Very gritty eyed and tired when we arrived in Dubai.

Free meals provided for those in transit on Emirates – but no showers.  We had breakfast and lingered over it, went to look at the shops and then had coffee and a snack.  Short rest/nap in the ‘quiet lounge’.  Dubai airport is lovely in a very artificial way.  All curves and artificial date palms and large parties of sombrely dressed women sitting around on the ground.

Dubai to Mumbai about two and a half hours, and a very different airport.  Met by both A and the hotel bus.  Drove to the hotel through streets lined with colossal trees and endless small shops, the last reminiscent of Dar es Salaam.  India really assails your senses from the moment you arrive.  It’s noisy – all of the vehicles hoot all the time, the streets are crowded with people, motorised rickshaws and all manner of cars and trucks; and its colourful – unlike the more affluent Dubai (the airport at any rate) India looks and feels like a third world country but her women are beautifully and colourfully clothed.

Quick wash at the hotel then walked with A to her home which is 2 minutes away.  After a soft drink and a chat went with A to a nearby NGO where a pre-Divali market was being held.  Crowded and colourful.

After supper with A and her family we walked back to the hotel (and back again to find out why Dev was taking so long to buy our betel nuts).

All of Mumbai which I have seen so far has an air of dilapidation and, in some places, of faded glory but, although the streets are narrow and the buildings generally ramshackle in this area people walk about confidently and A assures me that is it perfectly safe.

{The version of the betel nut we were given is nothing like I imagined – it is a green leaf wrapped around a mixture which includes a type of nut – not betel – and is eaten, leaf and all. Quite sweet and not at all bad.}

24/10

Breakfasted at the hotel at about 9.30am then went around to A’s and rode into the University of Mumbai with her.  Met with the Education faculty and had quite a long discussion with them (taped) ending up with M mooting a tie between the two Universities.

Met with some of the Masters’ students and chatted to them in their, very traditional, classroom.  Approximately 25 students, one of which was a male.

Visited the University library which was not very useful.  Most of the books were old and published in the UK and the USA.  The driver took us back to the hotel to freshen up and then drove us to a big shopping centre – Stop and Shop – where we bought a number of CDs and M some T-shirts.  Had coffee and a snack at Coco’s – very Australian!)

The driver dropped us back at the hotel and we walked up Mahatma Ghandi road to visit the Jain Temple – beautiful, marble – where we took lots of photos and watched a sculptor at work on a marble elephant.  Down the other side of the road and a short visit to a Hindi Temple before coming back to the hotel at 6.30pm.  (got a little lost, briefly) then to A’s for supper and to meet our tour guide.

India intrigues me with its abundance of dark, old, neglected buildings in sharp contrast to the love of colour, glitter and light.

25/10

Took the car into town today – a great luxury to have a driver!  Dropped A off at the Fort University campus for a meeting and walked around the art gallery and shops in the vicinity.  Then to the Oxford book store where I bought a map, a book on Mumbai and a Paul Coelho.  M and Br had a wonderful time buying up the shop!

On to the Gateway to India – an imposing structure.  The sea around it was filled with colourful ferries.  However our visit there was spoilt somewhat by the beggars – ‘salesmen’ plying their wares and holy men and women.  Br and I got a ‘free’ flower bracelet which was demanded back when we wouldn’t give a donation to the young woman who supplied it.

Ended up buying some very large balloons at 20 rupees for 10 (original price 500 rupees) from a very persistent young man who kept dropping his price in the face of our total indifference to his sales pitch.  Took a lot of photos and then went to the Taj Mahal hotel and had iced coffee in their very up-market Seaside Lounge.

Met with our driver again who took us for a ride along the Marine Drive (Queen’s Necklace) then up into Malabar – quite a wealthy area.  Visited another highly decorated Jain temple and the ‘Hanging Gardens” where we had a wonderful view of Mumbai spread out below us.

Back at the hotel by 6.30pm for a short rest then walked over the A’s. Me took me to a material stall but still haven’t found anything suitable for Ray and Trace. (Except at the Cottage Industries at about 9000 rupees a throw!  However, I did buy two bells there for their Xmas trees)

Supper with the Malshe’s again – very different but very nice – and over ate as usual.  Headed for home after 10pm and battled to get to sleep.

26/10

Showered, dressed, left M sleeping and went down to look for coffee.  M emerged when Br and I had finished breakfast and after the others arrived.  Some drama trying to sort out reservations then M, Br and I walked down to Me to discuss the cost of the hotel etc.

The driver took us back to the hotel and all went shopping at a Department store – Sagas – beautifully but relatively expensive.  Bought a rosewood elephant inlaid with bone.  Would like to go back for the Kashmir stoles.

After lunch at the Copper Chimney – (delicious – I had mushroom tandoori) we rushed back to the hotel to meet Me and A for our visit to the legendary Mrs Kapoor.  Took ages for everyone to choose their materials and order their outfits.

By the time we got back to the hotel I was ready for some downtime so spent the rest of the evening on my own – reading, phoning home and working on my Sodoku puzzles in the coolth of the bedroom.  Apparently the rest of the crowd, excluding Be who was catching up on her sleep, went out for supper, M and Br went shopping, and all had a lovely time.

27/10

Our trip through the coastal region of Western Maharashtra “Konkan” which is situated between the Sahyadri mountains and the Arabian sea had a late start.  Went to look for an ATM then returned to the hotel due to my sudden (unfounded) conviction that I had left my camera’s docking station behind.

A further stop in Mumbai had us all wandering around the nearby stalls and M ‘accidently’ dropping a square of marble to produce the three smaller pieces we had been looking for.

Finally on our way, we drove through Mumbai, crossed a bridge spanning the sea channel and then through a number of little villages and up a long, winding, climbing road to a cable station.  We took the cable car to the top of the mountain to see the Raiger Fort, built 1656 -1670.  Quite a nerve-racking but very rewarding ride with breath-taking views of the mountains and valleys spread out below.  Spent a lot of time at the fort taking many photos, most of which will almost certainly have to be erased later to make room for more pertinent pictures.

After the fort a long drive through many more villages and open country side led to Ambience Cottages at the village of Diveaager where we spent the night.  Great food, hard beds and pillows, no toilet paper!!  Shared with J.

A beautiful coconut plantation surrounded our cottages – the soil is obviously very fertile and everything grows in abundance.

28/10

After a walk on the beach – dark sand following monsoon season – and a paddle in the Arabian Sea we had breakfast and walked across to talk to the gentleman who was in charge of the village.  He showed us the produce marketed from their fields and his wonderful collection of old coins – including some mogul coins and even some from South Africa.

His son showed us his hobby – medicinal plants, had coconuts cut down for us to sample and gave us a ‘magic’ leaf to eat – tasted ghastly! – which takes away the ability to taste anything sweet for half an hour or more – really works! Weird!!

Visited a school briefly, took photos and asked some questions. Also the Sunvarma Ganapati temple which houses a solid gold idol of Ganesh found on a farm in the village.

On our way to our next stop passed workers in a rice paddy and stopped for photos.  Also went down to a fishing village from where we could view Murud-Janjira, the island fort which was the last outpost of the Siddi’s of Abyssinia.  350 years old, it was known as The Unconquerable.

By 4.30pm we crossed a bridge where we saw two small boats whose occupants were pumping sand from the river bed.  Soon after this we took a wrong turning and found a little school in the middle of nowhere where we photographed the children who crowded to the gate to see us.  That road was out because of one of the many landslides which scarred the mountain sides after the extremely heavy monsoon season.  The alternative road which we took was in the process of being cleared or rebuilt and we stopped three times for bulldozers to clear the way for us.

Saw the first of a number of foxes running across the road as it became darker –

Sanjay: “You can shoot him!” All of us in chorus “No!!”

The rest of the trip up and down mountains and past a number of villages took ages.  We drove through a Shafer’s (sp?) village.  Shafers, according to Sanjay, own the top of mountains – they are tribal people but are rich and farm goats, cows and, apparently, grow barley.  Complete villages are built on top of the mountains with mini hi-rises and lots of little shops.

Finally arrived at Mango “Groove” in the dark – about 7.30pm, but the offer of beers cheered every one up and after taking panado for a persistent headache even Br joined in merrily.

The meal was great – again – and having negotiated for separate rooms at the cost of 400 rupees per person per day we all opted for bed.

Before supper however, we planned a mutiny (had a temple-tantrum according to B) and informed Sanjay during the meal that tomorrow would be a leisurely day, visiting villages and chatting to the community after rising as late as we wished.

29/10

After breakfast left to visit Dr Raja Dandekar at the Lokmanya school in the little village of Chikhalgaon on the Dapoli-Dabhol road. Here we watched a video documentary on the Lokmanya Project, looked around the school and the girls’ hostel and asked a lot of questions the answers of which will be detailed elsewhere.  Had poha for lunch at Dr Dandekar’s  home where Sanjay informed us that “our chaotic programme has a problem” and therefore that we would not be able to complete our planned itinerary due to the time we had taken at the school!

Our next stop was at a nursery owned by Arvind Amrupe.  A meal was served under a canopy and, after a conducted tour of the nursery and a look at the cottages prepared for foreign and local tourists, we were given the opportunity to buy produce from Mrs Amrupe’s Women’s Association. Bought mango pulp at 30 rupees.

Our last stop of the day was at Munro beach which turned out to be a beach resort, decked out in lights for Divali.  We walked on the beach, watched a magnificent sunset and took a ride along the sand in the dark in a bullock cart.  Drank a coconut milk and coco drink – very spicy – but declined to stay at the resort for supper, choosing instead to take parcels of fish home with us.

Saw several foxes on the way back to Mango Grove and had several close calls with other traffic.

Beers and fish and good conversation completed the day.

30/10

Up early for our boat trip on the backwater but had to wait awhile until a suitable boat arrived so visited an ancient mosque nearby with tree-grown minarets.  Climbed the narrow stairways and made our way through narrow passageways to stand at the dome itself and look down on the village roofs.

Then a late departure on a small fishing boat up the backwaters where the river Washisthi meets the Arabian sea, past numerous little villages inaccessible by road.

Back to Mango Grove for breakfast and to pack up.  On the way to the cultural village of Kolthare stopped at a Lord Shiva temple – old, quiet and cool inside the temple.

Kolthare, in Ratnagiri, is a beautiful village – narrow road bordered by green hedges, bushes and trees in a vast variety of shapes and sizes shading the road from the sun.

Looked through a 180 year-old house with teak beams and had a light, tradition Indian second breakfast in a village house across the road then wandered through Mr Mahajam’s organic gardens.  Back to the house for lunch, sitting on the ground eating off banana leaves.  Lovely, friendly family.  Back to Mr Mahajam’s ‘dispensary to buy some of his ayurvedic medicines then walked down to the school.  Boys start their Arasis (sp?) studies at 5.30 in the morning and go to bed, at the school, at around 10.00pm.  These little pupils acted far more like young boys then those at the previous school we visited!

Took a walk to another Shiva temple along the side of a rather polluted but nevertheless picturesque stream.  The temple was cool, with marble floors.  Suffering from info-overload and would have liked just to sit there for a while.  However, we still had to journey to our next stop, our trip being waylaid for a while by my travelling companions’ compulsion to visit any available shop – this particular one appearing to stock cheap clothing and plastic shoes!

On the way to Borya Port in Adur we stopped at another temple, this one for the goddess Chanica (sp?).  Washed our feet first in a spring then went through a small doorway down a rock-hewn passage to the goddess’ shrine.  Watched a young man performing a ritual – first offer of marriage – to the goddess whom M dubbed the goddess of lemos.   Tea at the temple then on our way again.

The only disappointment of this trip so far has been the careless attitude towards pollution in otherwise pristine rural surroundings.

In the village of Dabhol, while waiting for the ferry to take us across to Dhobave, M and I went on a futile search for a small chisel and hammer to sculpt our marble.  Ended up buying myself a silk sari instead.  Then a short but relaxing ferry ride and a visit to Parvartie’s temple on our way to our destination.

There’s a feeling of real antiquity here in the buildings, the culture and the gods whose origins appear to be lost in the mist of time.

Stopped at the little village of Guhaghar in the evening and spent some time shopping for stars and materials.

The house at Borya Port was a pleasant surprise – we had been expecting a shack on the beach.  Sat on the grassed terrace outside talking to our host, Sameer.  The house belongs to his uncle. Fish and beer again – a great combination – leaving me with no appetite for the meal that followed.

Sameer informed us that the roads in this area, which keep winding back on themselves, are known as Konkanie.  Reminded me of the signs we had seen urging drivers to “control your nerves on the curves”!

J, B and I chose to sleep outside on the upstairs veranda.

31/10

After a restless night, major headache, cold – J collected extra covers for us during the night – woke finally to find crows gazing down hopefully at us.

After a cold wash J and I chatted about our prospective paper for some time and then J, B, Br and I went with Sanjay and Sameer to the fishing village where we took pictures and bought prawns for supper.

Then on to meet another friend of Sanjay’s and enjoy(?) a glass of coconut wine (made from the juice of ‘new born’ coconuts) before having a wonderful swim in the sea.

A quick bucket-wash and change, an omelette and roti breakfast, then ‘home’ to our two missing compatriots – at about 11.30am. We found them sitting under the fan, consuming cups of milky coffee and having a deep discussion – one presumes- on all issues developmental.

Looking forward to a restful day, I set up my mattress and found my book but was very quickly disillusioned – apparently the plan was to lunch at Sameer’s home, 25km away.

The lunch, set up on a covered veranda overlooking the garden, included some of the prawns we had bought and was delicious.

Back at the fishing village we climbed into a rather leaky rowing boat and were taken out to a fishing boat riding at anchor in the bay.  Climbed aboard – with some difficulty – and eventually found a comfortable seat on the fishing nets which the sailors kindly spread with covers.  Magic boat ride – the sun had just set and the sea looked like spun silk, taking on the colours of the sky in ever-changing blues, pinks and silver.

In the last 5 minutes before we disembarked M and I planned our next venture as travel agents for India!

Home for a shower and drinks on the lawn, accompanied again by fish, M’s squashed finger a memento of our trip.

Celebrated Divali with sparklers and crackers, everyone briefly regressing to childhood as we danced around with the sparklers.

A totally unnecessary supper followed at about 9.30pm then back to bed, those of us on the veranda much wiser than the night before, armed with 3 covers to protect ourselves from the early morning chill.

In early hours of the morning the villages round about us started their Divali celebrations in earnest and our sleep was punctuated by the bangs of crackers and melodious singing.

1/11

Sitting writing this on the lower veranda of the house we have been staying in, surrounded by the ubiquitous crows and looking over grassed terraces, jungle and the sea in the distance.  After coffee we will start our journey back to Mumbai and then home.  It has been a wonderful, unique, experience.

The drive back from Adur: After about two hours travelling we stopped for breakfast at Sanjay’s home in the little village of Ambovali.  Photographed the primary school he had attended (and noted the ramps) and the many children who gathered in his garden; also the lovely garden of the old lady in the next house.

Lunched where Sanjay had left his car – the dirtiest toilets yet encountered! then parted company with him.    Carried on the journey with the driver, who, suddenly liberated from Sanjay’s command, showed an as yet unsuspected rebellious streak.  Music, air conditioning and speed all become a battle of wills – taking a passive-resistant form on his part.

Quite surprisingly we made it safely back to the hotel where we decided on the luxury of single rooms.

The intrepid shoppers among us set off for the market place while I enjoyed a relaxed hour or so reading and trying unsuccessfully to raise SA on the phone.

A drink (or two) at Swigs and a light supper in the dining room of the hotel and then to bed to attempt to sleep while crackers exploded around the hotel unceasingly.

2/11

J, B, Be and I visited the National Resource Centre for Inclusion (The Spastic Society) where we were met by V H, the technical director, who gave us a presentation on their work at the centre and fielded our many questions.  We left, loaded down with books, modules and CDs to visit one of their projects, an anganwadis (preschool) at the Lukmanya/Tilak hospital in Dharabi, which is Asia’s largest slum

Most of our last afternoon in Mumbai was spent catching up on our shopping.  After a false start we found Sagas again and I bought the stoles I was wanting.

We all celebrated Divali at A’s home and admired and bought a number of small clay models made by a friend of the family.

M, Br and I had arranged a room with three beds in which to rest before our flight and, after a last drink at Swigs, we said goodbye to our travelling companions and grabbed about an hours sleep before leaving for the airport and our long flight home.

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November 10, 2009 - Posted by | Travels |

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