May be I am traveling too much and too fast. May be I am talking to too many people, trying to get a peep into their lives.
May be I am getting a bit tired.
This journey presents many questions but not as many answers. May be I am troubled by too many unanswered questions?
May be I am homesick.
But where is my home?
In Gokarna, a middle-aged Austrian – a huge hunk of a man – told me he was yet to understand why his wife suddenly chose to leave him after 26 years of their marriage. Love was but seeking care. That is how nature works for all living beings, he agreed with me.
A 52-year-old Belgian woman in Goa said she had always competed with men till she started practicing Tai Chi two years ago and realized that it was good to be a woman after all.
A businessman in Hyderabad explained how making money gives him pleasure but robs him of peace. “My son hates me and describes me as a paisa kamanewalla kutta,” he said.
A road side vendor near Mangalore said how grief forced him to quit his job in Mumbai after his 17-year-old daughter died.
The bone must be carved deep to make a flute sound sweet. Bones make better flutes.
Alone at Ratnadurg Fort in Ratnagiri, I could see shadows – Adil Shah boasting of his conquests; Shivaji busy in his intrigues; the soldiers thinking of their women and afraid to die.
All have gone, taking their ambitions and fears with them.
Where is home?
Calangute to Kudal ( 110 kms) to Hathkamba (150 kms) to Ratnagiri (13 kms). Distance: 273 kms. 8 - 10 March, 2011
From obscure Gokarna to civilized Goa, from nature to civilization – too much civilization!
We reached Calangute on 8th evening. Thousands of people, cars, bikes, shops and sound numbed my feelings. It was unwise to travel to Goa directly from Gokarna – from peace to frolic.
We visited the beaches – Calangute, Anjuna, Baga, Vagatore,Coco… What I actually liked was Goan food and Urak at Florentine. Calangute sleeps all through the morning, wakes up in the evening and stays awake nearly the whole night. Every second shop is a wine store. Every third shop is a restaurant. This is a town for fun. It makes one forget woes. Forgetting is no solution.
Our journey from Gokarna started on a bad note. The bike did not start. The battery had expired. How it happened is still a mystery. We had to purchase a second hand battery from a mechanic whose garage was 12 kms from Om beach where we stayed. We started at 2 pm. I had to ride fast, which I normally do not do, in order to reach Goa before sunset.
Two days in Goa has been enough for me. We will start for Ratnagiri in Maharashtra tomorrow morning. I expect to reach Mumbai day after tomorrow.The Route:
Om beach to Gokarna (12 kms) to Karwar ( 33 kms) to Margao (82 kms) to Panaji (65 kms) to Calangute (14 kms). Total distance:
206 kms 7 March, 2011Gokarna
I did not know cows love drinking tea! But here in Gokarna, they do. The young lady was sun bathing in the beach – in the furious heat – with a glass of tea lying next to her. The cow, a small, docile looking one, apparently tried to drink it. She removed the glass a couple of times but that did not help.
“Cow. There is a cow,” the lady on the verge of tears complained to the owner of the restaurant feebly. The man did not know where to look. It was indeed difficult to look at her directly. She did not have much clothes on her. “That is a good cow,” the man finally said. Though this could not assure the lady but she found that the animal was gone at last.
We spent two days at Om beach in Gokarna, north-west Karnataka. I wanted to stay here for a couple of days more. But Pat will surely have a stiff neck in that case. The ladies, mostly from east European countries, are scantily dressed, to put it modestly. I will have to make a move tomorrow morning.This beach is undoubtedly one of the finest in India. We have seen many beaches during our 5500 km journey so far. Om, so named because of its shape, is by far the very best – better than Kovalam.
Cuddled by hills and forests from two sides, this beach with a clear blue sea is virtually cut off from the rest of the world. No shops, no crowd, no blaring of microphones, no TV or even AC in the rooms. Namaste Café has 40 rooms. There are a few other bamboo shacks. At least 95 per cent of the tourists are from abroad. I talked to some of them, who came here directly from Goa, which is less than 200 kms away. All of them said they liked this place more.
We were relieved to leave Kerala on March 6. The narrow NH 17 widened immediately. The flow of traffic also decreased considerably. The views on both sides of the road also changed from disgusting shops to green fields and hills. We did not know backwaters existed even in Karnataka. Surely the state government should seek a few marketing tips from its neighboring Kerala.
Gokarna has four more beaches apart from the main one: Kudlee, Om, Half Moon (so called because of its shape) and Paradise. Kudlee is crowded. There is a famous Shiva temple in Gokarna and the devotees flock to the beach. The steep and narrow road crawls up through a forest for about 6 kms. Suddenly Om beach is visible from the top. Its breath taking beauty will strike you at once. The road then goes down and down and ends at the parking lot opposite Namaste Cafe from where you will have to walk to reach the beach. The shacks (Rs 150 per room per night) are about 2 kms further away and you will have to walk to get there. Food is expensive here.
Before we chose to retire for the night, we decided to visit Half Moon and Paradise. A boatman agreed to take us there though it was against law to take boats into the sea after 6 pm.
It was a valuable experience for us. Half Moon is a small, very small beach with dense forest and hills in the background. It has no connection with the rest of the world once the boat leaves after dropping off the visitor. Paradise is similar. There are no hotels in any of the beaches – only shacks. Electricity is yet to reach there. It is beyond me to describe these beaches. If I get a chance to return here, I will definitely stay at Paradise for a week.
When we returned to Om beach, it was dark. The water in the ocean was rising. The Route:
Mangalore to Udupi (57 kms) to Kuddapura (35 kms) to Honavar (19 kms) to Kumta (45 kms) to Gokarna (39 kms). Total: 195 kms. 5 March, 2011 Mangalore
Before I use the elevator next time, I will think thrice. As soon as it began to descend, the current went off and we were stuck between the second and the first floors. It was dark. We began to hammer at the door and yell. But the generator was switched on soon and its terrific sound drowned our shouts. The lights must have come but the elevator remained dead. We pulled open the door, hoping to climb up. A solid wall blocked our way. We had checked in a lodge in Mangalore only half an hour ago.
We switched open our mobile sets and in the dim light we could see that that there was no escape route. “We are trapped,” Pat began to mumble. I decided to employ my martial arts skills and started punching and kicking on the metal door. The sound must have been quite a bit, because in spite of the noise of the generator set, someone could hear us. We heard a voice and then many voices. “We are coming. We are coming,” they were saying. The elevator was finally pulled up manually about 10 minutes later. The heat was intense and we were sweating profusely. “The elevator does not work when the current goes off,” the bald man at the front desk informed us in a matter of fact manner. This must be a routine affair for him.
We entered Kerala from its southern-most point and came out from its northern tip. We saw its numerous coconut trees, which look like jungles from a distance. We saw its hills, backwaters and forests. Today we left Kerala behind after travelling here for the last four days. We had heard a lot about the “God’s own country” and its beautiful beaches and backwaters and greenery. Yet, we were not quite impressed. May be it was for the awful sultry heat at this time of the year, may be for the narrow National Highway 17 with its very heavy traffic and the awful driving practices of the Keralites. But more than all these factors, the real cause, I think, was that we had seen better places before. In West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, we had seen breath-taking views, greenery, rugged hills, waterfalls, wild life and even waterways. No doubts Kerala is beautiful. But more than its beauty, it is the way Kerala has been sold to the outside world, that has been able to draw millions of visitors.
We started from Allepey on March 4 and stayed the night at Calicut (Kozekode – locally pronounced as Korikod). We could not see much of the old town as we did not have time and also we were exhausted after our ride on NH 17. Today we visited Kappad beach – about 20 kms from Calicut – where Vasco da Gama had landed 500 years ago. Local villagers seemed proud to be born in a historic place such as Kappad but had no clue as to the impact of Vasco’s visit to India.
This particular voyage (Vasco arrived here in May 1498) had opened for the first time an opportunity for Europe to grab the wealth of India and had paved the way for subsequent explorations and plunder.
According to historians, during his second visit to Calicut, Vasco had burnt alive a ship full of 400 Muslim men, women and children, who had been on a pilgrimage to Mecca. (The Hindu king had refused to accept Vasco’s request that all Muslims be expelled from Calicut.) Gama had also severed the lips and ears of the priest, who had arranged his first meeting with the king and had stitched dog’s ears on the poor man’s head before sending him away.
We are spending the night at Mangalore. (I remember my grandfather scolding me when he came to know that I thought Bangalore and Mangalore were two names of the same city.)
Tomorrow we plan to visit Gokarna before moving further north to Goa.The Route:
Calicut to Vadakara (50 kms) to Kannur (44 kms) to Kassargad (73kms) to Mangalore (84 kms). Alappuza (Alleppey)
Almost a month after we left our state and immediately after entering Kerala yesterday, we began to have a feeling that we were back in West Bengal. This state has been painted red. Election was declared day before yesterday by the Election Commission and in less than 24 hours the CPI(M) rolled on its campaign in full swing. Red flags fly all along the road. Huge cut outs of Pinarayi Vijayan – the state secretary – V.S. Achhuthanandan – the chief minister and local leaders have been put up. Congress and other parties seem to be in slumber still.
In two places we saw CPI(M) cadres holding meetings by blocking main roads. The main road leading to the Kovalam beach was blocked and we saw confused cars carrying tourists from abroad desperately looking for alternate routes. I have a feeling that CPI(M)’s efforts are unlikely to yield positive results. The common people do not seem appear to be particularly happy with the party.
The CPI(M) is likely to lose in both Kerala and West Bengal this time. If that happens, real bad times are ahead for them. There may also be splits in the party. Prakash Karat’s leadership will be challenged. There are no leaders in the party at present who have command over the entire organization and are capable of guiding it successfully out of the troubled times ahead. In such a situation, what we know as the “main stream” Left in the country will be doomed for a long time to come. If that happens, the political space of the Left will be up for grabs. Who will fill in the vacuum is anybody’s guess.
We travelled along the NH 47 yesterday. All the plots of land along the road have been sold away to shops of various kinds. Some sell tires, some fruits, some stationary and others hardware. I have never seen such a situation anywhere. Roadside shops appear inside the towns and immediately after the town ends one can see green fields reappearing on the sides of highways. It is different here. It reminded me of James Long Sarani in Behala. Even 10 years ago, the road was empty and farmers could be seen cultivating their plots of land all along it. But things changed rapidly and now businessmen using their proximity to this party or that captured all the land. It was disgusting to ride on NH 47.
My respect for West Bengal is growing as I continue to travel. It is a pity that common people construct their opinion largely on the basis of media reports. As journalists, we have rightly criticized the political managers of our state. But similar criticism is lacking sadly lacking in other states. As a result, they appear better in better light. Many in West Bengal firmly believe that Hyderabad is a far better and rapidly improving city compared to West Bengal; Bangalore is a haven; roads are managed than West Bengal. Our first hand impression did not always match with such reports.
I have no hesitation to say that Kovalam is a model of marketing success story. The beach is good, genuinely good. But we could have marketed Mandarmoni as well (Yes. I know what I am talking about). People, who flock to Aarku Valley in Andhra Pradesh, should visit the Himalayan foot hills in North Bengal to attempt a comparison. Thousands of foreign tourists who come to Aleppey every month for boat rides in the back waters are not informed that there is a place called the Sunderbans! The officers and ministers in West Bengal are either ignorant or are criminally irresponsible.
We are having oysters tonight. I purchased them from the local market. Rs 60 a kg. We are also having a variety of fish, which I don’t want to mention publicly. Sharks are openly sold here though it is illegal. Our caretaker Ajay is a fantastic cook indeed.
Tomorrow we will start for Calicut where Vasco da Gama once landed.The Route:
Kanyakumari to Nagercoil 19 to Kovalam beach (24 kms) to Tivananthapuram (68kms) to Kollam (72kms) to Alappuza ( 84 kms).