It’s been 24 days now since my dad was tested positive for Covid-19. First, he was kept in an isolation ward at TATA, later was transferred to the National sports club of India, where on 7th July, he was again tested and the report came negative following which he was suggested 14 days home quarantine. It’s a strict protocol at TATA that the cancer patients have to do home quarantine even after the report comes negative. So the 14 days are over now. Today, we went to the hospital but this time to the private building which is HOMI BABA BLOCK. The people at OPD refused to entertain us because the patient’s file was general and not private. There is a General OPD in the old building which is GOLDEN JUBILEE. General OPD is usually too crowded and has a long queue of patients. My dad’s boss knew someone from the private OPD, so he managed to get us the appointment. The doctor has recommended for the blood test, surgical physical fitness test, and Covid-19 test. The doctor says, two negative test reports are needed for the surgery. In the afternoon, we did the Covid-19 test and the report will come in 10 hours. For now, he has been kept in the Isolation ward. He will be allowed to leave only when the report comes negative. I only hope for the best.
I strangle my breath in my mouth and
Silence my voice in my throat.
Fear rules under my skin,
Inside my bones.
I have no six hands and the third eye
To take on the world.
Is there any place where my pain can find a purchase for itself?
I heard someone was throwing light-seeds somewhere.
Does it have the address of my darkness?
Coming March 2020
Preface The year was 2018, and I had returned to the hustle and bustle of Mumbai city feeling inspired, honoured & motivated after cycling from Mumbai to Goa cruising through the western coast. I was an amateur cyclist and this was the first unsupported solo long-distance cycling expedition that I was about to embark on. The goal was simple. Conquer 700 kilometres in six or seven days. I had no experience in cycling and had never cycled to an altitude of more than 200 meters, yet I was determined to dare myself and achieve what others thought was impossible. The seven-day expedition changed my life. In the deafening silence of the western coast, where one hardly gets the sight of humans, I endured uncertainties, pain, and struggle. I explored new horizons, met courteous souls. I conquered the fear of the unknown. From this expedition, I reaffirmed that real and peaceful life lies in remote and unseen parts of the world. I drank water from the hand pump, I stayed in the temple, I rode on the uneven and potholed roads only milestones and signboards for company. I passed through the wilderness. I interacted with strangers and fell in love with the sensuous curves of the road. I found a solace in the lap of nature and fulfilled my creative bowl. I hope I will have inspired you to travel.
Day One: Alibag-Kushid-Murud
Rachel Wolchin rightly said, “If we were meant to stay in one place, we would have roots instead of feet.” Here I was, on an epic tour, overladen with 20 kilograms of gear, mentally unprepared for the unforeseen events. I have never done this before, so I am scared to death. Scared of the unknown, but also excited about the discovery of new experience that I am going to have. I have not planned anything. I have no routes on my mind, maybe I will be cycling towards the south on the western coast. I have not told about this cycling expedition to my parents otherwise they would have scuttled my plans even before I took off. Maybe when they wake up and find my bicycle missing, they will know about it. I am carrying all the essentials required for the journey. As I share this with you, my heart beats like never before. I will be keeping you people updated about my journey whenever there is a possibility. Now it is time to pedal. The journey is calling me, and I must go.
(At Bhaucha Dhakka ferry point)
New beginnings are always exciting. I started pedaling from Wadala at 6:30 am towards Bhaucha Dhakka ferry point. The smell of the fishes conquered the air and made its way into my lungs. I remember we had come to this place when we were students. We were heading to Alibaug beach. It was our school trip. After almost 9 years, I was again here on my life-changing tour. I boarded the boat and parked my cycle on the terrace. As the boat drifted far away from the city, my anxiousness grew. I had no idea how I was going to do this long-distance journey. There came a point when I thought maybe I should take a return ferry to Mumbai, but what is the point of a journey if it does not scare you? I reached Alibaug at around 9:30 am. To reach Goa there are two routes. The first is, you can go to Jalpada and from there take a left turn until you get the main highway, somewhere near Nagothane. The second route is the western coast. So, I pedalled 25 KM towards Alibaug beach passing through the difficult to ascend Ghats (later I came to know I should have taken Alibaug-Rewas road, the easiest road), anyway I reached Alibaug beach and from there it took me 70 km to reach Murud beach via Kashid. The day was tiring and exhausting. I was asked about my journey, where I was heading, why I was doing this expedition, what I do as a career, from where I am coming and on and on. Locals were helpful. A sugarcane juice shop owner was offering me juice free, saying, “meri taraf se peelo.” Every now and then, I took a brief halt at the passing villages to refill my water bottle. I was drinking water like anything. I hardly ate.
I was now almost 95 kilometres from the Alibaug. I reached Murud close to 5:30 pm. The light was already fading. I went 3 km ahead of Murud to korabandar to catch the ferry to Dighi, but the last ferry was already gone. I had been cycling for almost 11 hours and was in need of rest and shower. I took some pictures of Murud beach and got down to the immediate task of finding a cheap room to stay. After negotiating with many owners, I found one that suited my budget. I drifted into a deep sleep, tired and weary. Tomorrow I have a ferry to catch at 7:30 am to Dighi.
(At Murud with locals)
Guesthouse charge: Rs. 400 Dinner: Rs. 120
Day Two: Deghi-Diveagar-Harihareshwar-Kelshi
I was eagerly waiting for the ferryboat to arrive, and when it did at 8 am, I was the only one boarding it. On my right side, there stood Murud-Janjeera fort circled on all the sides by water, whereas on the left, an uphill road that goes to Agardanda Ferry Point. The ferry person informed me, if one catches a boat from Agardanda, Dighi is 7 kilometres away, whereas from Korabander it is 3 kilometres. Once I reached Dighi, I headed towards Diveagar-Harihareshwar-Kelshi.
(Early morning at Dighi ferry point)
It was early afternoon and I was refilling my water bottle from the earthen pot kept alongside of the road. It was then that a foreigner cyclist stopped by my side. He greeted me with cheerful hello! He introduced himself, “Hi, I am Christopher. Do you speak English? Where are you cycling to? Can I ride along with you?” So, from Harihareshwar till Kelshi we rode together. Being a professional rider, Christopher was always a few hundred meters ahead of me. This person helped me a lot. First, he told me that the position of my saddle was not right, so he fixed it according to my sitting position. Then, he fixed my brakes on the ferry, and then he oiled the chain and told me the tactics of applying gear while ascending uphill. We decided to meet at Dapoli, but unfortunately, the daylight had gone. It was close to 6 pm. I had reached Kelshi, and Dapoli was 30 Km ahead. I could not dare to ride in night, so I took a halt at Kelshi. However, I hoped to see him again the next day. For the second day halt, I approached a local family and in one go, my plea was accepted. This was my first stay with a local family on the tour and I was glad I opted for it. I met chotu, who fractured his right leg while doing a somersault in school. His elder brother drew a map for me, directing me through the easiest and safest route for tomorrow. His mother made a very delicious dinner. I was quite impressed by their hospitality.
Stay: Rs.200 Dinner: Rs.100
(With Christopher at Harihareshwar )
(Christopher repairing the brake of my bicycle)
(Sunset at Kelshi)
( Home where I stayed for a night)
Day Three: Dapoli-Dabhol-Dhopave-Guhagar-Palshet-Velneshwar
When the dawn broke on day three, I took a quick bath, packed my bag and roped it on the carrier and waited for the aunty to bring in a hot cup of tea. We had a light conversation and goodbye ceremony before I began to make steady progress towards Dapoli. This was a tough trail. The uneven and full of potholes road made it very difficult to ascend towering mountains. (Towards Dapoli)
After the struggle of 3 hours, my mobile started beeping which was an indication that I was very close to Dapoli. In the mountains, even a short distance becomes tedious to cover. After reaching Dapoli I took a very brief halt, checked mobile for messages, called my parents and again gave a start to my pedal to Dabhol, which was 28 kilometres away. After now and then I stopped to take pictures of the beaches and villages. ( At Dabhol)
(Dabhol Ferry Point)
At 3 pm, after crossing the Vashishti River at the Dabhol Ferry Point, I reached Dhopave. My knees had starting hurting and I could feel the pain in my left hand but nothing to worry about. Further on, I coursed through Guhagar and Palshet. Two hours later, the evening began to approach with the sun setting, bathing the forest in a maze of colours. It was pitch dark by the time I reached Velneshwar. As it was the peak season, the hotel prices to stay were too high. Thanks to a local guy who told me about a place called Bhakht Niwas near the Velneshwar beach. Bhakht Niwas is a place for devotees to stay who come to visit the temple from far. Even I didn’t know something like this exist. Anyway, I knocked at the door, an old lady opened the door. She asked for my ID proof and within 10 minutes I was in. I took a bath, ate and called it a night!
Stay: Rs.250 Dinner & tea: Rs.150
(Bhakht Niwas near the Velneshwar beach)
Day Four: Tawsal-Jaigad- Ganpatipule-Ratnagiri-Pawas
The next morning of the fourth day, aunty made a nice cup of tea. The tea and conversations stretched into fifteen minutes. She asked me why I was doing this. And to speak the truth even I don’t know why I was doing this. Maybe I need a break from the routine of my life. Anyway, I had an enjoyable time with her. When the sky started to brighten up, I said my goodbye and pedalled off towards the next ferry point at Tavassal.
(Taswal ferry point)
(Swami Swaroopanan temple)( Bhakt Niwas, Pawas)
I reached Jaigad on the other side of the river and from there passed through Ganpatipule. By afternoon I was cycling into Ratnagiri. After every few kilometres, I had to climb the hills and this was daunting. I took frequent breaks to reenergize myself. I could easily feel my energy level going down. And on top of this, my bumps were hurting, my hands were grown tired. But I was happy to be cycling on one of the remote roads in India and clocking 90-100 kilometres a day. I stopped at the sugarcane juice stall along the road and enquired about the staying scene in Purnagad. The man told me to better halt at Pawas due to it being a religious place and one can stay at Swami Swaroopanand Bhakt Niwas for free. I obeyed his advice.
Stay and Dinner: Free
Day Five: Purnagard- Vijaydurg- Devgad- Kunkeshwar
The fifth day started quite early. The energy level was high. I left bakht Niwas at 6:15 am. I turned right from the outside entry gate and rode along the coast. The sun was shining brightly and at the same time, the town was covered in fog. (Sunrise at Purnagard)(Kunkeshwar beach)
I would make the occasional stop at a makeshift food stall, eat a portion of light food, and drink a cup of tea, but other than that, I rode all day. I rode on the bumpy road, only speeding up to pass the grazing cattle. From Purnagard to Vijaydurg, then through Devgad made my way down to the temple town of Kunkeshwar just before the sunset.
The landscape was beautiful and soul-rendering. The natural beauty was addictive. I dismounted from my bike and took a few clicks. After some time, I went straight into the temple on the shore enquiring about the place to stay. I took a bath and got myself ready to explore the place. I sat by the beach for a long time, gazing at the sun taking a dip in the ocean. At night, I could hear raging waves greeting the shores.
It has been six days since I left home. When you are in motion, you do not feel like stopping. For an adventurous person like me, the trill of the next place always excites. I was now very close to my destination. Taking the coastal route via Highway….had really paid off. The route was very scenic and I enjoyed every minute of pedalling, except for the climbing part. This was the first long-distance solo expedition that I was about to complete. Never ever I had done a thing of such grandeur. Also, I told the truth to my parents that I have been cycling from Mumbai. They were shocked and told to be cautious about the journey. I ensure them that nothing would happen to me and by tomorrow I will be in Goa. By the noon I was invading Wayangani. (Towards Malvan)
From there I took the Sarjekot jetty towards Malvan. I stopped at Sugarcane juice Centre to quench my thirst. And the conversation started brewing with the owner. He said lots of people come to Goa on the cycle and they all stop at my shop and I guide them the further route. He advised me to go a few meters inside the village and as for Mohan. Mohan has a small rowboat which helps people to cross the tributaries of the Arabian Sea, saving 10 kilometres of riding to reach Vengurla. Once I reached Vengurla, I looked out for bhakt niwas. As I was crossing the road in search of a good restaurant, I ran into Christopher who exclaimed and waved loudly. We had gone our separate ways at Kelshi. While he rode further to Kelshi, I had taken a halt there. It was awesome to him again. I invited him to stay at Bhakht Niwas at a cheaper price. As he was a foreigner, hotels were charging him thousand rupees for one night stay. Within half an hour he was done with a bath and got ready to have dinner with me. We strove off to the local Chinese corner where he treated me for getting him a place to stay at a cheaper cost.
Mohan cutting across the tributaries of Arabian Sea.
(Towards Vengurla)(My and Christopher’s bikes)
Day Seven: Vengurla- Tiracol- Arambol
In the morning, the pandit boiled tea for us, and when he came to know that Christopher doesn’t like sugar tea, he made another one for him. We were touched by such an act of kindness and warmth. We packed all our gears and rode in the fresh morning, only 29 kilometres away from Goa. We were cycling along the highway passing through Mochemad beach, Shiroda beach and Tiracol. At Tiracol we stopped to have a hearty breakfast of omelette pav and missal pav. (At Tiracol Bridge)
We finally crossed Goa’s northern border — over the Tiracol Bridge— at 9 am. The real challenge for me was cycling alone, but now that I have done it, I have passed the ultimate test of endurance. I have done something that people only dream of. I explored so many remote areas, the sight of white beaches, and the smell of a dense forest, encountered wild animals, and sky kissing mountains. It all filled my heart with joy and peace. I felt victorious. I felt so many emotions rushing through my veins.