Drenched with Monsoon Memories: Ratnagiri, Ganapathipule, Sawantwadi, Amboli Ghat

FeaturedDrenched with Monsoon Memories: Ratnagiri, Ganapathipule, Sawantwadi, Amboli Ghat

If you love travelling, you would agree that some trips are remembered for the beauty of the place, some¬†for the memories you made, while some others for the company you had. But this monsoon trip, with a dear cousin, will be remembered for all three; The perfect spot to watch the sun set into the sea, dreaming of modaks¬†that we never got to have, the cold gushing waters, getting locked up in a palace with hidden artful gems, and the ever concerned driver who even called us to check if we were back in the city and home safe; it was a musical, konkan getaway, with the sounds of rain and the cousin’s ARR hums, in the background.

Our first stop was Ratnagiri, a small port city that’s been on my Maharashtra list for long. At first sight, I was slightly sceptical, but my oh my was I wrong. This city has some hidden tricks up its sleeves to make your knees go weak in love for Mother Earth. The one that tops our list is that perfect spot¬†along the cliff between the Bhavani¬†Mandir and the hike up to the other end of the Ratnadurga Fort; the perfect spot to watch the sun set into the Arabian Sea. From here you can also spot a cave, presumably a secret getaway route from inside the fort into the sea. Ratnadurga fort¬†is horseshoe-shaped, runs for over 1300m, and opens you to many such spectacular views of the coastline as you walk along the fort walls.

DSCN2596.JPG
Sunset at Ratnadurga

From Ratnagiri the rain clouds chased us, while we chased the coastline northwards upto Jaigad Fort. The view enroute is an unforgettable one. It almost seemed like the white waves were pulling back in slow mo, allowing us to count them as they hit the coastline. We stopped over at Aara Ware and in several view points along the way, the mandir at Ganapathipule and Prachin Konkan, a nature trail museum that illustrates the Konkan life.

DSCN2640.JPG
Rain clouds caught up with us at Aare Ware
DSCN2693.JPG
The view enroute to Ganapathipule
DSCN2723
Walls of Jaigad

The Jaigad fort and lighthouse was our last stop for the day. Jaigad is another sea fort that overlooks the Arabian Sea on one side and the Jindal Steel Works site on the other. JSW has also built a private port over here. The lighthouse, although not too tall, offers a good view of the area. The place was almost empty, and we coaxed the caretaker to show us the light on top up close and we headed back before another spell of rains hit us.

Roaming around the quiet city, we found that Ratnagiri also had a couple of historic connections.

 

Here’s some quick trivia; Lokamanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the famed freedom fighter was born here. The charming old world house. with a sloping roof and green backyard,¬†where he was born is maintained by the government. As we walked through this humble house, ¬†his vociferous struggle for freedom through his slogan, “Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it”, echoed through my mind.

DSCN2576n.jpg
View of the Tilak Ali Museum from the backyard

The city also has a Burmese connection. When the Britishers took over Burma, they arrested and brought King Thibaw all the way to Ratnagiri and kept him under house arrest at the Thibaw Palace. Certain sections of the palace are open to the public, while renovation work is being carried on other parts.

DSCN2561n.jpg
Thibaw Palace. Perfect for a KJo film, if he ever has budget constraints.

After a good two whole days at Ratnagiri, the mountains beckoned. Amboli Ghat was the next destination. We boarded an early morning Konkan express and enjoyed the scenic 3-hour journey gaping at valleys, rivers, waterfalls and the general monsoon green-ness. The closest station to Amboli is Sawantwadi, and the ghat is a 25 kms drive. Sawantwadi is a quaint little town with not much to do.

DSCN2746.JPG
The rumbling monsoon clouds shrouding over Vengurla Beach

We headed out to spend the afternoon at Vengurla beach, definitely not one of the cleanest beaches. But the must visit here is the Sawantwadi Palace, built by Khem Sawant Bhonsle in the 1700s. The town is famous for its lacquer art, and the royal family is known for supporting the local artists. The palace has been converted into a museum and also showcases charmingly colourful lacquered furniture, toys, figurines, artefacts, and the famed hand-painted ganjifa (playing cards). The intricate detailing illustrating the dashavatarams is truly a masterpiece I’d love to own. The intricate art hooked our admiration, so much so that we got locked up, as it was past the visiting hours. Thank god the caretaker let us out after we waved out to him through the glass door. In those fleeting moments though, we really felt like we owned the place¬†and the art.

 

DSCN2813n
Hand-painted circular Ganjifa wall hanging illustrating the Avatars of Vishnu

Amboli Ghat is a good hour’s drive From Sawantwadi. With water rolling down at every turn, this hill station gushes of monsoon love. The Kavale Saad view point defines this perfectly. ¬†We walked on the flowing waters,¬†played around to our heart’s content, and waited patiently to get a good view of the valley. My cousin’s little prayer to the nature god moved the dense fog to give us a peek; Spellbinding. Precisely my idea of a magical heaven. ¬†In fact, when the winds are strong, the water that falls down the valley is blown back forming a reverse waterfall effect. YouTube is filled with these videos. We too did experience the reverse spray, but not a strong one. Quick tip, try to start early and beat the tourist crowd to this point. We had the place to ourselves for a while before the crowd arrived, and when they did, we promptly moved out.

IMG_20170718_105917803
The cousin posing at Kavale Saad

When you do visit the place, don’t miss out on the chai at the shack, right on top near the landing, run by two women. ¬†It is the best cha l’ve tasted thus far in my travels so far in Maharashtra. Added to the cha came a pinch of progressiveness as we listened to the women talk about the importance of clean loos for women in such places. Prema and her friend maintain a women’s toilet here and do a brilliant job. In that altitude, with rains, water everywhere and chilling temperatures, trust us, you will feel the need to use the space. They charge ten bucks a person, but keep the place tidy. We had left all our bags in the cab as it was raining. We promised to walk down and return with cash. When we did, the women broke into a warm and surprised smile. They said we were the first ones ever to keep our word. I agree it’s quite a walk down and up, but these women totally deserve the trouble for their service. Much love to them both.

IMG_20170718_101503814      IMG_20170718_101720965_HDR.jpg

Although the Kavale Saad experience was our most favourite, the Amboli Falls (R) comes second. You can simply climb up the stairs (L) to this roadside milky white falls. But again, hit the falls early like we did, else the queue will annoy you. While returning, the long line of people waiting on the stairs had us shell shocked and we were so thankful for waking up early that day. The Nangartas falls is another attraction here that offers a rather fascinating view. The water falls into a sort of a shallow canyon, a natural, narrow, walled pathway. The sound, therefore, is deafeningly loud and amusingly captivating.

With howling winds and heavy rains following us, we drove back to Sawantwadi to catch our night bus back home that day. We were quite tired having shouldered the mighty rains all along, but the memories would last a long time. And that’s the thing about monsoon trips, keeps you cold on the outside, but makes you warm and fuzzy on the inside. Sometimes I ¬†wonder if my stars brought me to Maharashtra just to give me the monsoon experience.

Looking for more monsoon memories? Go here!

Advertisements

Meandering through the Pichavaram Mangrove Forests

FeaturedMeandering through the Pichavaram Mangrove Forests

It was mid-morning on the day before Deepavali. By then we had¬†taken a train and a bus to reach Pichavaram, after a quick stopover at Chidambaram. I still hadn’t heard a single cracker burst. “We have bought crackers, but with Amma in the hospital, we’ve decided not to burst them until she recovers,” our boatman Natraj voices through his lisp. The odd quietness¬†followed us as Natraj paddled us through a web of canals.

dscn1685Pichavaram is a mangrove forest that’s about three hours from Chennai¬†by road. Spread over 3,000 acres with over 4,500 canals, it is an ideal spot for a Triwizard tournament challenge or a Tim Burton movie. But in this case, Kollywood¬†is way ahead. Natraj lists out movies like Idayakkani, Sooriyan and Dasavatharam, which have been shot here. This puny old man, who has been riding boats in this area for the tourism department for over 15 years, was an animated, talkative character. As he maneuvers the boat, he shows us the spot where he stood as a kid, while his dad pointed into the waters and said, “Adho theriyaraare, avardhaan¬†MGRu” (The man over there, he’s MGR). But the movie-making caught his eyes more than MGR’s aura, going by his insights on the visual gimmicks that movies play. He shoves the oar into the water to prove that it is just thigh-deep and says the scenes where people struggle and drown are shot here but are not true. Perhaps a sour grapes¬†story of not making it into the industry?!¬†“I was very much in the Sooriyan movie,” he swears, “but if you watch the movie, you might not spot me!”
When Natraj doesn’t talk movies, he talks politics, “I used to be a Congress supporter, an ardent follower of Moopanaar, but now the entire belt here supports Amma and so do I.” Needless to say, the freebies have click baited¬†the locals. To the extent that the villagers were even fasting and providing offerings to the village temple for the beloved Chief Minister’s speedy recovery. As I ask him about his income, he shiftily says that for every ride he gets a meager 130 rupees from the department (we paid him extra to take us into the inner canals). But he claims that he has everything, including the land that was given by the government post the 2004 Tsunami. “Tsunami came and we all became rich.” he says. The irony though is that the mangrove forests are said to have saved the villages around this area from destruction. A major function of mangrove forests across the world, saving the land from water’s fury. Sadly, this very function coupled with deforestation, exploitation, and pollution poses a threat to the ecosystem.

dscn1699The Pichavaram forests in some areas, especially in the periphery are manmade, while the inner denser areas occur naturally. This is easy to tell apart, the former looks tamer and maintained, while the inner canals have wild mangroves forcing one to bend completely to even pass through. In one place, the boat was caught in the branches, and we waited for a couple of minutes before the waters flow pushed the boat ahead. The forest department seems to have weighed the importance of the ecosystem and have tried to maintain them. Pichavaram is listed as a moderately dense mangrove forest by the forest reserve, being an area that hosts 14 exclusive varieties of mangrove species. On either side of the forest cover runs the Vellar and the Coleroon estuaries, leading to the Bay of Bengal. This means much of the agricultural waste mixes into the waters here. The rich alluvial soil and waters also mean fishes, prawns and crabs. We spot two women from the Irula tribe, wading the shallow waters, catching prawns and crabs.

dscn1739The Irula tribal community populates the hamlets in Pichavaram; fishing and harvesting forest produce are major sources of livelihood. Some of them even contribute to the mangrove conservations efforts by form of labour. Natraj involves in some friendly banter with the women, while we curiously look at how they manage to wade through the waters fishing.

We had almost completed our two-hour ride, and I had one last pertinent question for Natraj, “So is there a haunted tree in this forest?” Recently, a tamil TV programme had claimed that Pichavaram houses a haunted tree that causes gory deaths. The channel of course, made it dramatic with the host on a mission in pursuit of the tree. Natraj laughs it off saying, “Come to my place, I’ll show ¬†you several trees that make eerie sounds”. But he also interrupts our collective laughter with a dark smile, “Even if there was one I wouldn’t tell you, else you wouldn’t come back would you?!” ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†

P.S: If you are visiting, avoid peak summers as the water levels will be too low and the land too marshy for boating, and rainy season as it may not be too safe. Hire row boats if you want to ride through the denser canals.  

Theosophical Society, you’re too beautiful!

Two hours, ten kms and the time of my life Рit happens only in Theosophical Society.

As you enter...

Having lived in Chennai for 22 years now, it was only a couple of days ago that I went to Theosophical Society and I hated myself for missing out on it all these years! It is by far the most beautiful place in Chennai for me. The 2nd being Valmiki Nagar beach – at 7 pm with aerial crackers bursting at a distance and the street lamps switched off :), anyone is bound to fall in love with the place. Coming back to the Theosophical Society, you know the feeling when you expect something and what you get exceeds that expectation, and the surprise filled happiness of it all makes you feel kinda lucky, well that sort of sums up how TS made me feel!

Walking in through the Besant Avenue entrance after a scrumptious lunch and dessert (apple cinnamon crumble, courtesy my cousin :D) I was really worried if I would enjoy this walk, considering the fact that I could hardly carry myself around!! But the beauty of the place just took me to a totally different world that was nothing like Chennai! Tucked amidst the busy streets of Adyar, TS paints a scene so typical of ¬†Enid Blyton books – trees, birds, colourful insects, bungalows with sloping roofs, the marsh crowded with crabs, bushes and birds, beyond which you see the distant sea and an arch way that leads to the sea. And it makes me grin widely to think I live just a few kms from this wonderland that’s very much real and not something I¬†romanticize¬†about ūüėÄ

The best part about getting lost in this wonderland is that it’s like a treasure hunt. At every corner you find something that draws attention – a lily pond, cactii that are 9 feet high, a¬†Buddhist¬†temple, bee hive, a cluster of insects in brilliant red which I later googled to find out were cotton stainer bugs. I even came across a tree that reminded me of the tree of life from the Avatar movie! Not to mention the birds – magpie robin, male and female koels, kingfishers, mynah, egrets – what more can i say? it’s was too perfect to be true! And then there is the magnificent Big Banyan Tree – one of the oldest banyan trees of the world. Though the tree as such has fallen, it’s branches form a maze you wouldn’t want to get stuck in!

get a'mazed' at the big banyan tree
picture perfect in peace - the buddhist temple

As I kept walking, amidst the trees and the empty roads, suddenly out of no where, ¬†loomed a building adjoined by a spacious dining hall with neatly arranged stairs. Only after reading the notice board affixed there, I got to know that Theosophical Society to this date has been conducting several discussions and seminars on various topics such as spirituality, religion and the like. The members of the society and guests drop in from across the world for these events. So it’s not a surprise that you get see such well maintained areas within the TS grounds.

And that's how the corridor winds at Madam Blavatsky's

Also, here and there are these big old bungalows where once upon a time the founders stayed in, like the Madam Blavatsky House and the Leadbeater’s Chamber. In fact the Blavatsky house has welcomed Rabindranath Tagore warmly into it’s winding corridors and housed him for a month, so says an inscription on the Blavatsky House’s wall! Interestingly, the founders and the important members like Annie Besant, Charles Leadbeater and Henry Olcoltt have been cremated within the Theosophical Society grounds.

the founders rest in complete peace!

The more deeper I walked  into this wonderland, the sea beckoned.  The salty air and the sounds of the waves made me hell bent on finding the way that led to the beach and the famed Broken Bridge. Broken Bridge is a structure that connects the Raja Mutthaiah palace in MRC Nagar to Besant Nagar. Built on the Adyar river years ago, the structure is now broken with a huge chunk in between missing, and is predominantly visited by the slum children in the area and the curious wandering souls of Chennai. It also attracts drunkards who want to philosophize to the sea, and hence is somewhat restricted and closely patrolled by the traffic police.

the bridge and the sea far far away..

TS is probably one of the rare spots from where you can get to see both the broken halves of the bridge. So when I came to the marsh that overlooks the the MRC skyline, I knew I was close by.  I always knew there was a way to the Broken Bridge through TS, and I seized this opportunity to explore. But my pace was largely slowed thanks to the occasional kingfisher and the giant ghost crabs,  but nevertheless I did reach that magical arched gate that led to the beach. Sadly it was locked! I shoved away my temptation to take a stone and break it open, took a last peek at the sea and the bridge that were so near yet so far away, and retraced my way back to reality.

 
PS:- for more on the Theosophical Society go to¬†http://www.ts-adyar.org¬†and don’t forget to check the galleries page for more images. And if you’re planning to visit, timings for non-members are 8:30 -10 a.m in the mornings and 2-4 pm in the afternoons, though on Sundays and public holidays it is closed! The place also has an amazing bookshop and a library that I missed out on ūüė¶ maybe next time around ūüôā
PPS:- Thanks a ton Lacho and Krithi for being such wonderful company ūüôā ūüôā
 
 

This too shall pass by

 

I feel the vibe, the sudden rush.

Brown and forceful, deadly and frightful,

Sweeping away my calm,

Stripping away my beauty.

 

I was quite the favourite of many.

The lone traveller…the watchful photographer,

The 7 p.m couple who come by for a stroll,

And the women who take me home in colourful pots.

 

But now, they keep away.

I see the fright, the shock, the dismay.

Their loses I’m blamed for,

For they forget it was I who was plundered.

 

My fury suppressed, my cries swallowed,

I can’t display it, I’m scared…

…Scared of adding to the force.

And I really wish the floods pass away soon.