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Old 30th December 2015, 12:14   #31
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Cool Beyond - Solo

At half past nine, all scrubbed and squeaky clean, I was at the hotel’s reception one more time, looking for a dining room. “There isn’t one but if you sit here in the reception area, we can serve you something” said the elder of the two brothers. It turned out to be a plate of poha (hurray, finally). I love poha and the Maharashtrian version is typically done quite well, though personally I prefer it without the coconut.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1wp_20150808_001.jpg
During breakfast, I overheard a couple of college girls (one clad in cheerful yellow) and a guy who were staying in the same hotel that they needed a bike or a taxi for local sightseeing.
“There aren’t any available today” – said the younger.
“How about bike?” asked yellow label.
“This isn’t goa, madam.”
Earlier, while walking back, I had been quoted a figure of Rs 1000/- by an autowallah to drive over till Guhagar and to come back the same day. Neither option of an auto or a taxi appealed very much to me. After the coed gang had disappeared from sight (reception managed to get them a taxi), I put on my most charming smile and approached the brother who was at the reception. I’m sure he was perplexed initially but understood quickly that since renting bikes is not legal here, all I wanted to do was to ‘borrow’ his own bike for the day in return of a small ‘gift’ . Would he like some cash in the envelope?

I was told to save the envelope and instead deposit my driving license along with rupees 300/- and in exchange I got a gearless scooter for the day. I was to get the petrol filled in it. Admittedly, the machine had its quirks. The pushbutton start didn’t work and the breaks were, more like guidelines and not hard stops. Oh and the fuel gauge was broken, so I was instructed to top it up after about 50 kilometres run. Since the milometer didn’t work either, I was to ask when the 50 kilometres or so were over. Request for a helmet was denied flat out with a reassuring ‘no one asks around here and if you get stopped, just call us’. My retort of ‘safety?’ wasn’t understood. It must be my poor diction.

Let’s just say I was happy to be independently mobile and drove out to the nearest petrol pump, in town at half past ten AM. The petrol pump was over a cliff top that abuts the beach and the inhabited cluster. While returning, I got the first glimpse of where I was and how different it was from the plains I lived on and the city I had visited over the last couple of days –

A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9637.jpg
I stopped by at the hotel once more before starting off for the day’s adventure run. I needed a map and asked if the one near the reception could be photocopied. Not sure why I bothered, as the request was denied flat out along with a detailed set of instructions –
“Go straight”
“Don’t turn anywhere, there’s only one road till guhagar” (or The Guhagar as the map made it out to be)
He buried himself under the reception busily scribbling on papers that didn’t complain. I took that to be a sign that I were to be off before he changed his mind regarding our little arrangement.
So I did exactly as told and surprisingly, it worked (there really weren’t too many crossings). I was riding a two wheeler after a gap of four years (the last time was also on vacation, in Bastar, to visit the tribal market of Narayanpur, off Kondagaon, but back then I had a pillion rider who’d double up as a driver if needed).
Apart from the proverbial ‘wind in my hair’ taking my hat with it once, I didn’t stop at all till the tiny village of Malgund and then again to see and photograph this – a couple villagers with their carts using the creek that ran into the sea. These creeks are really important to the ecosystem of this coastal area as well as their economy. Villages were established around them as they provided safe harbor from the vagaries of the merciless sea.

A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9642001.jpg
Less than a hundred feet from this spot, there was a strip of vegetation between the road and the beach but beyond it was something I saw from the corner of my eye that made me turn the scooter almost instinctively off the road and straight on towards the beach. I didn’t actually drive it on the beach though but parked it besides a thick clump of vegetation that covered a rise in the earth. I then, ran towards what I had seen.

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A group of sea gulls and terns they were. I hadn’t seen them for years and besides, all the available information on line indicated that the season for ‘birding’ was later, when winter set in. Clearly, Mario had entered bonus round.

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The birds of course, being the sensible party, kept their distance yet I got a few shots – didn’t have a telephoto or even a different lens, so this is all I could get.

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Malgund beach, when the weather’s better must be a nice place. I say must as in the monsoon season it was covered as far as the eye could see in small black spheres – upon closer inspection these turned out to be the handiwork of a small white crab species found in abundance here.

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The darker wave like formations are due to the creeks running off into the ocean and depositing silt.

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Short distance from there was a specimen of the buffalo breed called ‘Nagpuri’. Typically found in Akola, Nagpur and Amrawati districts of Maharashtra, their horns are distinctively long and sword shaped. Buffalo and I pretended we hadn’t seen each other and therefore my indiscretion of long lensing her was pardoned – I scooted off.

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The next significant feature was a small bay, it appeared more brackish than riverine for the flow of the water was non-existent and on the right side of the bridge that crossed it, mangroves lined the banks – their little roots shooting out of the clay, gasping for air. This seemed a significant find as I learnt later, stopping there a while on my return. The mangroves harbour crabs and those are farmed by the locals and sold - a more sustainable method of obtaining crustaceans than deep sea fishing and also available during the off season such as the monsoon.

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Forced to slow down on account of deterioration of the road surface from smooth tarmac to pockmarked , unsuccessfully tried to photograph several village ladies who were sitting around in their own ‘chaupal’ (village gathering). They did inform me that the village’s name (near the bay) was Waravade. I was to remember this name a while.

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The road turned left, more decisively now – though this change of mind of the road troubled me at first as by my inner compass, left was for the sea and right was for land and yet the road thought differently and since she knew better, who was I to argue. She turned up her back a bit and on either side was accompanied by coconut trees, like giants watching Gulliver arrive but saying nothing. She was also red, more sindoori than blood. I rode on.

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The road turned, slightly and then rose several feet over a gentle gradient. It brought in the coastline into view – but there’s no beach here. It is a scraggly boulder strewn strip leading to smaller pebbles and then abruptly, the grey of a monsoonal sea. The wisp of sand is called undi beach.

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Immediately after this though the road upturned significantly, the slope unforgiving and my vehicle struggled, I beeped loudly. In my dreams. The horn failed just at the time a large, luxury SUV approached from the other side. Maharashtra is a developed state and Konkan, despite the tag ‘unexplored’ applied to it repeatedly, is physically neither distant (375 kms from Mumbai to Ganapatipule) nor underdeveloped (rail and road infrastructure). The man driving that car must have been a habituated driver on this stretch for it was his reflexes alone that saved me. I continued forward trough a thickish grove of mangoes that lined the road on either side.
And then again, after a small river (this time I am certain it was a river – it was flowing), it almost disappeared through the thickest clump of trees you could imagine on the side of a road in India outside of a jungle.

A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9688.jpg
In the last several kilometres since I had left the hotel, barring the SUV and a few bikes, there was no traffic at all, hence there was no hoking and no noises. Nor were there any milestones. At times, I felt like I was inside some kind of a test track – not on a real India road – altogether, it was a very strange affair. On my left, in a few kilometres was the wonderful view of the headlands meeting a river estuary – another ‘first of its kind’ view for me.

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I was wondering by now if there was petrol available nearby and how much I had consumed for the machine, had largely been kept running for the fear that it may not restart in a desolate spot. Lost in thought, I didn’t look up till I was quite close to a monstrous industrial installation. As a mechanical engineer, I usually enjoy looking at industrial complexes but this one, thanks to its vertical prominence and complete contrast and disconnect from the pristine surroundings it stood on, was a little bit scary. It was a cement plant as I was informed by these fisherfolk working on their net (no, no not the wifi, a fishing net).

A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9694.jpg
They also told me that I shouldn't worry about fuel sufficiency as contrary to my feelings of exhilaration upon this adventure ride into the great unknown, I had come only 20 kms from Ganapatipule and that Guhagar was further, at least an hour after the ferry crossing.
What ferry?
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Old 1st January 2016, 00:32   #32
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Default Re: A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond

What a magnum opus thus is turning out to be. After each instalment of your script, I once again read from the first page onwards, just to savour and enjoy the flow. Keep it flowing.
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Old 1st January 2016, 09:50   #33
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Default Re: A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond

wonderful captures and superb writing style. Awiating for more
very lucid captures and explanations. Some of the subtle humour is mind boggling.
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Old 1st January 2016, 10:03   #34
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Thank you Srinivaspai and FuelInjector. It's comments such as these that motivate me to write yet another post. I'll update today. Happy New Year 2016 to all who have been reading this thread!
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Old 1st January 2016, 10:16   #35
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Thumbs up Jaigad

"The ferry that would take you from Jaigad to Tavsal."- said one standing.
"And what about the scooter?" - me
"It goes on the ferry." - him
"But the jetty is below (the cliff), so you can visit the fort first and then go."

Well, the fort was a part of the plan – at least I had heard of it. And I remembered it because the name reminded me of the one back home – Jaigarh (with the crucial ending’ making a difference in pronunciation). Apart from that, there’s a much deeper difference – the fort takes its name after a local ‘Jaiba’ who sacrificed himself after the sultans of bijapur could not finish the fort without a human sacrifice. As per the man’s last wishes, the fort was named after him, after he was interred in a wall which was built around him.

The building proper is another story. Easily the smallest fort I’ve ever visited, Jaigad’s history is quite sketchy. In a few minutes, I got a fair sense of why that is the case. The main gate, that has seen repairs recently, was quite thick and held benches on either side inside it. I could see legs, morelike college kids but imagined Konkan pirates who held the fort after the adilshahis but before the marathas.

A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9696.jpg
The first navy chief of the marathas – Kanhoji Angre – built or strengthened a series of fortifications along the Konkan coast. This chain of safe havens, Jaigad included, provided safety to men and materials at all times and watch over anyone arriving. Angre, a singularly far sighted man for his times, presided over 26 forts from the present day Mumbai area to the Vengurla area – the most important fort under his control being Vijaydurg (in Sindhudurg district). These forts were necessary insurance against the siddis, who dominated Kathiawar and further south till Mumbai and held the control of the finest of all sea forts – Murud Janzira.

Inside Jaigad, stands Kanhoji’s palace in the centre, little more than ruins today, thanks in no small measure to the oppressive humidity, salt laden winds and the great Indian monsoon. Even then, It’s quite unthinkable today that the admiral of any navy would choose to live inside a building that served as the first line of defence against the world beating colonial navies of the British, Dutch, Portuguese, French and even the Mughal empire (who the siddis aligned to after the fall of the Adil shahis of Bijapur).

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The roof of the palace is long gone, a natural umbrella formed by a tree that has erupted from inside it, reclaiming for nature what man built. Upon closer inspection, part of the building appears to have been rebuilt.

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Apart from the palace, there’s precious little to see inside the fort but the ramparts are strong- walkable even now with nearly zero maintenance – as I walked to the right atop the wall –

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A view over Shashtri (aka Jaigad) river's estuary is below. On a clearer day, it’d be much better, but even on that cloudy day, it was easy to see why this spot is so strategic. It’s a natural harbour – today, occupied by the modern, private sector, Chowgule shipping company that runs the Angre port.

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Walking along the wall, one gets a sweeping view over the river, some boats docked while others stationary in the water. The little ones were fishing boats, mostly stationary while some were sailing.

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On the cliff side of the fort, the growth is so thick, that light doesn’t penetrate beyond the canopy levels – mangoes compete with coconuts and pipal (ficus religiosa) for space – cheek by jowl. I’ve never seen mangoes grow so close to the sea. I wonder how they taste. Are they masala mangoes? Imagination boggles.

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Every inch of the wall competes with nature for its continued existence – a pipal tree, young and ruddy leaved still, grows out of nowhere – but really its clutching the wall, on the outside. In the gaps between stone blocks where a tree hasn’t taken hold still, grass grows. And on the flat surface where even grass can’t get a toehold, it’s moss.

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My reverie with nature and inner peace is broken abruptly by a gaggle of gujaratis – they’ve arrived by the cars full from Mumbai. And this is off season! I wonder what tourist season looks like.

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Looking over the riverside again, I notice that an island (or is it just a slip of land?) forms a perfect barrier for those fierce waves that the Arabian sea is known for – there’re no large waves here at all and the water from the river does the rest. A perfect spot to occupy, park your boat and rule the sea.

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Carefully avoiding the tourists, which are on the side of the monstrous plant that obstructs the view over the Arabian Sea, I walk alongside and on top of the wall, approach the second seemingly important structure that still stands in the fort. It’s hidden behind thick vegetation, obstructed from view by a large banyan on the left. Another banyan holds tight the structure’s outer wall itself, much like Sherlock and Dr Mortimer over the falls, threatening to go down together rather than break the embrace.

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Inside the circular space of the watchtower I’m lost among arch topped windows and the search for a suitable point from where to frame a shot. The Guajarati group enters from the left entrance while I came in from the right. Both parties, startled, avoiding to crowd each other’s frames and gently speculating the purpose of the little holes that were too small to hold long guns and too out of place for anything else.

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Think of it, when touring historical ruins on a hot day, speculation works so much better than fact. Where’s the fun in a knowledgeable guide who tells you, deadpan, ‘’No the king actually paid wages to the villagers for construction of this gate”. I’d rather have a guide who improvises –
  • “These are the ruins of the Black Taj, madam, black was Shah Jehan’s favorite color” (holding up a lignite piece)
  • “The mare took a suicidal leap here, after her rider refused her advances” (overlooking a lake in Udaipur)
  • “Definitely Persian” (at the carpet shop)
On a more serious note, it was this tower from which the marathas could look over the Arabian sea – on a clear day, for miles. This wasn’t such a day, so no view, sorry.
Exited from the left entrance to face the (monster) plant. Felt tiny. Remembered Elanor Roosevelt’s words “No one in the world can make you feel small if you don’t let them” Or something like it.

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This is the JSW Jaigad port, an all-weather, two berth facility that was established for primarily serving the JSW power plant (the monster plant alluded to, earlier) but also offers commercial port facilities. I’d have liked to explain how the doohickeys work, but the photograph is fuzzy. Assume that it’s done by Thomas the tank engine and his friends. Notable that yellow dumper trucks, whose individual wheels are the size of my scooter, are barely seen.
Continued to feel tiny. You now know why.
After a few more photographs of the Fort’s interior (or whatever is left of it), I left the place and was down at the jetty in no time at all (it was a gentle zig zag slope till that point). The scooter refused to go any further. No not his fault this time, there was no road left.

A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9732.jpg
Also, here’s a shot of the charges denominated by type of cargo as levied by the suvarnadurg shipping company, the operator. They’ve not been revised since 2013.

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I give below the most interesting bits –
  • Oxen, cows, buffaloes (per piece) – Rs 50.0
  • Birds, fishes, chicken, mangoes (per box), dog, goat or sheep (per piece) – Rs 10.
  • JCB (now you’re talking!) – Rs 320.
  • Instruction number 11 – In case you miss the boat by 5 minutes, please don’t call us and plead for it to be stopped.
(I’ve intentionally not translated the cost to transport a car. Well, If you can afford a car, and the hotel rentals in Konkan, you can jolly well afford to take it across the bay on a ferry).
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Old 1st January 2016, 14:21   #36
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Default Re: A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond

These snaps justify as to why this region was being compared with California (in terms of scenery). Lack of political will to develop tourism friendly environment, costed a lot to this place & local people.
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Old 2nd January 2016, 08:13   #37
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Default Re: A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond

Never had I so punctually checked back on any thread or book(Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter being the exceptions :P ) eagerly waiting on for more.
I felt as If I'm reading "Malgudi days" and wish that I'd take out my bike and ride off aimlessly to some place.
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Old 2nd January 2016, 12:04   #38
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Default Re: A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond

Vaibhav, still waiting for today's dose.

Honestly, a brilliant travelogue - the first thing I've been doing when I get online for the past few days is check for updates on this thread. It has got me hooked - the writing style, the wonderful pictures and the little bit of history and story that goes with each picture makes a compelling read.

Waiting to read more episodes of this Monsoon Solo.
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Old 2nd January 2016, 12:54   #39
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Arrow On the Ferry and to Velneshwar

For someone who grew up and lives in the great desert state of Rajasthan, the implied connection of a boat is with merrymaking. "Chandni raat mein nauka vihaar’’ (pleasure boat ride on a moonlit night) is an oft used phrase for happy times. Boats are slow creatures, rowed by hand, carrying four or five, in water barely sufficient. A lone boatman takes the little rickety brightly painted contraption across a rivulet while passengers, a family of well-fed tourists, resting on wooden slats that pass for seats are mortally scared as water leaks in from the floor and is belched out one plastic mug at a time by a raggedy clad attendant who sniggers at the party’s expressions while the woman clings to her husbands’ arm asking "chintu ke papa, hum doob to nahi jayenge?” (We won’t drown, right?).
Thus, to have a boat that is transporting people, vehicles, goods and much else as a means to get from point a to point b is surprising and even more so when co passengers treat the matter with a nonchalance that an everyday affair deserves.
The ferryboat arrived on time. Well they arrive approximately ten minutes before the hour, every hour from 7 am till 10 pm. They leave from Jaigad end on the hour, every hour. From the tavsal end, they leave at 40 minutes past the hour, every hour. Kinda reminded me of the BBC – news on the hour, etc. Except this one is only in Marathi – good luck if you don’t follow.
Getting off the boat were a bevy of pedestrians, cyclists, auto rickshaws, two Toyota innova (MUV cars), a small car and a BMW. Apparently these ferries are used by buses as well, so looks like anything can go on it, pretty much and does.

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Once those arriving got off the boat, clambering the ramp as quickly as engines aspirated, it was time for the landlubbers to get on. It looked easier than it actually was and my underpowered scooter was stuck twice due to a (vertical) gap between the open metal ramp of the boat and the concrete slope of the jetty. A bit of struggle and some help from a few fellow passenger laddies and we’ were all on-board. There were three of them and they were stupefied why someone from another state would choose to visit this part of the country. I oblige readily to their requests of ‘one photo’ and in turn am treated like an absolute star.
As we leave the shore, I look back at Jaigad, and get a view that was denied to me earlier – it is so spectacularly green, houses roofed with red earthen tiles looking like little goblins crowding the edge of a forest while their leaders, the mosques jut out their minarets conspicuously. A mile marker brings me back to reality, that the sea is near.

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The ferryboat was noisy but sturdy, didn’t bob up or down very much and that lent credence to the claims that a bus can use this mechanism to cross the distance. It must be a great save for the bus fuel and tyre wear wise as the longer route – via bridges and land only – is approximately 50 kilometers extra. The three boys believe ‘absolutely no one’ uses the land route now except heavy trucks. I did a small video while on the boat there –

On my left, as we sped along I spotted the divide where the river ended and the sea began – waves came in and were thrashed by the opposing flow of the river, dying down quietly while on the right the slip of land called Tavsal beach acts as a breaker. The ferryboat uses, intelligently, the river portion of this unique waterscape.

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Disembarkation was easier, now that I knew what to do and also because unlike public transport elsewhere, those getting on-board waited patiently for those getting off. I rode off, using the momentum generated to avoid the hassle of a kick start and through the road lined on either side by casuarina thickets.

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The road turned right, gently and then sharply left and rose perhaps a hundred feet via two bends. The innova that had rode the ferry alongside overtook me and sped past while I struggled to get to the top riding alongside a wall of the cliff. After the ascent the road sharply doubled back and brought me atop a plateau vaster and barer than any seen so far - clouds diffracting the light.

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The sea had disappeared completely from the view as well, and there were two roads, one turning left sharply and the other straight ahead. Unsure where to go, I rode dead straight looking for someone, anyone who’d be around – but there was absolutely no one.
A gorgeous brahminy kite (haliastur indus) is heard at close quarters, making its hallmark keeyew keeyew sound. Such a graceful bird I lust to see in my urban jungle and here it was, just a few feet off the road, on a day most inopportune since I didn’t bring a zoom lens. By the time I stop the scooter, get the camera out of the bag and get a shot, it was airborne.

A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9773.jpg
I drove on, trying to make some sense of where I was, but little help arrived as there were no houses, no people, just fields, evenly divided amongst their absentee owners.

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This was geography lesson in real life – Konkan is known for its thin soil cover – red laterite soils cover the rocks. The monsoon lashings leach what little nutrients they possess and water doesn’t stay either - surface run offs are high. Water reservoirs such as this one, part natural and part created by (possibly) the owner of the houses behind are indispensable for farming.

A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9775.jpg
At the end of this plateau, the road divided and thank heavens there were a couple of village girls walking by on the road coming in from the left. They were walking to their home further on. Their Hindi was broken but they pointed me to the right direction that guhagar was to the left. The road went down from there and nearer the sea – Jaigad port came into view again.

A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9780.jpg
This experience gave me an inkling that how difficult it must have been to build roads and rail infrastructure around here. The topography of the place doesn’t lend to straight line construction. Here I saw what was probably the first mile post – and it showed what I was hoping not to see, that guhagar was still 31 kilometres. This was not good news at all as the vehicle and I were both very tired. My back was hurting as I’m not a habitual two wheeler rider. The clouds would part sometime and the sun came down unforgiving while at other times, it would windy and cloudy. I felt like a potato in an oven when power fluctuates - my skin would burst, just didn't know when.
Worse, the tar surface disappeared and the sharp edged stones from under abraded my tyres like a giant sandpaper. Gradient went uphill as energy went down. Each bump in the road felt higher, the scooter jumped up and down. Stopping for lunch wasn’t a luxury any longer but a necessity. All around was warm but grey and no sign of a village so I continued.

A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9782.jpg
This place, like a giant maze brings surprises bad and good in equal measure. In minutes I reached the village of Naravan – almost all of its shops lined up along the main road. In the sole open eatery I sat down, the shade gave such respite I hadn’t known, water to drink.
Lunch was a vada pao with the ingredient I had missed much earlier – dry red chilli and garlic ‘chutney’ as well as a second one of coconut.

A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1wp_20150808_008.jpg
White orbs, coated with a powder filled up a plastic bottle to the brim – they were ‘suji’ (semolina) laddus. It was the least sweet dessert I’ve ever eaten – also the least satisfying – Konkan doesn’t do dessert well. More stares from other patrons as I photograph the interior.

A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1wp_20150808_009.jpg
“Kahan se aaye?” (From where have you come?) is the question I’m most prepared to answer and my practice isn’t wasted. Guhagar is close, the shop owner tells me but after hearing how long it’s taken me to come here from Ganapatipule revises his estimate. So I make a choice, that since returning to Ganapatipule from Guhagar would be difficult before nightfall, I’d rather stop at Velneshwar instead (it’s a diversion). Mr Mallu would be so disappointed.
I leave at a half past two, and the road rises up again, slowing me down but by the time I get to a ‘top’ I don’t curse the road any more for it affords a spectacular view – it is of the temple town of Velneshwar. On top is the biggest, baddest monsoon cloud I’ve ever seen, anywhere. It darkened the sky and left a brightly gleaming sliver of sunshine on the horizon – misty and surreal.

A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9788.jpg
Amidst blustery winds, I do a short video from here as the cloud’s quite dramatic.

To save petrol, I switch off the engine of the scooter and let it roll down slowly, frequently engaging the foot and handbrakes. After negotiating two hairpin bends, I stopped abruptly as what I had feared , happened. From a gentle pitter patter, rain turned to a regimented bap bap bap sound and I barely had enough time to open the umbrella. Here’s a short phone video –

Then as abruptly it had started, the rain ended. Through this short visit of five days, this pattern of rain didn’t cease to amaze me. I’ve not seen it elsewhere in India, but in Konkan it’s the norm. I let the scooter roll down leisurely, admiring the stunning green surroundings on my way – ever leaf now washed and free of the red dust that’s so pervasive when it’s dry – even the walls have a moss cover.

A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9792.jpg
A few minutes after three I arrived at the village of Velneshwar. In the late afternoon sunlight, the place has a certain glow to it – lazy, quiet –a place that would it takes its siestas seriously. It was picture postcard perfect with washed red earth streets and green trees – the way I had imagined Konkan would look like before I had come down here.

A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9794.jpg

(p.s. Happy New Year 2016 to all who've been reading this thread!) Also, the previews of videos are not visible but the videos are, I've checked the first one. You may adjust the video quality to HD if you'd like. cheers!

Last edited by vaibhav_a_a : 2nd January 2016 at 12:59.
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Old 5th January 2016, 09:30   #40
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Default A Beach and a Temple

The first time I had learnt of Velneshwar was the night before the scootering, from a map that hung in the reception area of hotel Darya Sarang (named after Kanhoji Angre – the Maratha navy chief, whose legacy and references I were to find repeatedly during this trip). The place was said to contain a well-regarded temple, but so was Hedvi, en route – which had a Ganesh statue of ten arms. I had not stopped at Hedvi as I was exhausted from the ride, and was stopping at Velneshwar, optimistic there would be a beach at least, what if it didn’t have the ‘cleer’ water. The parking lot of Velneshwar temple was atmospheric if not sufficient. Vehicles competed for shade under a huge banyan tree, whose older leaves in this monsoon season formed a carpet on the ground.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9796.jpg

Evading the stiff competition, I opted instead for the sole shop that was open near the temple. It turned out to be manned by a lady who joyfully wagged her finger at my camera when I tried to photograph her, but smiled and posed nonetheless.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1ride-velneshwar.jpg

I was more intrigued by the names of different brands of soda sold here such as “Thums Up” – an Indian cola brand that coca cola had to buy out to become the leading soda company in India – it still continues to be the biggest cola brand in India. Mazza – the mango flavoured brand – uniquely Indian. Here, I found the drink I had been looking for since I entered Konkan – Kokam soda. This sour fruit of Garcinia Indica tree is considered indigenous to India with many subspecies native to the konkan and sahyadri regions. It’s indispensable for Konkani and Goan cuisine as a souring agent. Lady of the shop was happy to mix me a soda – it’s little more than bottled kokam juice mixed with soda.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1ride-velneshwar1.jpg

For 45 rupees it was a bottle of delicious.
Did I want more delicious?
Of course!
“Five rupees extra. Mein dalti hai” (I will pour). “Leave your jacket here, I’ll watch over it.”
Smart business-people these konkanis. The leftover soda was filled up in the same bottle it came out of – except that it wasn’t clear now but cranberry colored - tart freshness for later.
As I was a paying customer, lady’d watch over my scooter as well. I was vary of some children of the village who wanted to use it as a see-saw. Walking down the longish path on the side of the temple, I got to the sea side that lay behind a coconut plantation - the afternoon sun making silhouettes of each tree like curios but benign sentinels.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9814.jpg

I wasn’t the only one who had come to visit the temple – something else had too – an auto that was parked most dramatically on the edge of the tar surface parallel to the drop in the earth that led to the beach.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9819.jpg

The meter said 'for hire' but it had not takers. For lack of amphibious capability, this people mover could go no further and looked stranded – a machine humiliated by its circumstance.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9816.jpg

I would have liked to tell you that the beach was pristine, but can’t– it was a regular fishing village beach. Discarded fish scales, pieces of net, kitchen waste, excrement and a few empty coconut shells lined the edge beyond which the houses stood. I’m told the beach is much better in other seasons – so perhaps what I saw was the sea’s vomit – in this season of pestilence and rejuvenation.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9830.jpg

A few stray dogs roamed around while fishermen were going where fishermen on work go – to the sea.
To the sea? In these waves! Yes, they do – despite all the met department warnings that are issued daily during the monsoon season, the fisher folk of India, cast their nets when it’s not raining and get what they can and dodge the currents. In some cases, when it’s too rough, they do so from the shore itself. It was quite a spectacle – three boys, repeatedly threw a net, taking turns, while the waves came strong.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9837.jpg

They stood deep enough in the water (when the waves hit) to lose their footing but lunch is perhaps worth risking life for?
This one, in his teens most likely, completely engulfed by the waves but unwavering in his purpose -
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9832.jpg

I went closer to where these boys were and asked if they catch anything in this weather and one of them lifted up his hand to show me a small polythene bag filled with small fishes (seen in the first post). Too small to sell, this’d be their dinner.That afternoon in august, under a harsh tropical sun, the sea’s water shone greenish silver, shrill yet appealing – like a siren’s call.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9824.jpg

I tried to look beyond the waves, to find that lonely boat, battling the mighty waves defying odds but that day in Velneshwar, there wasn’t a good view to be had. The waves come hard, breaking against the shallow floor, and crashing on the beach – giving way to spray that looked like mist from a distance. Against the monsoon green cliffs and the coconut fringed edge, this group of men walking into a distance turned the scene into yet another picture postcard that spelt 'Konkan'.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9827.jpg

The breeze turned to a gale and brought with it a cloud so large it overshadowed everything around. The great Indian monsoon spares no one – not even the trees on the coastline -they were bent like metal castings mishandled by an incompetent smith. The rounded edge of the wall of the compound that stood on the seaside had a flag painted – it was our tricolour – the flag of India – something that you could see from a distance while at sea – seen from atop the waves, this is India’s western boundary. What a curious, yet perfectly sensible thing for the village to do.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9839.jpg

Not all the beach is nastily lined with refuse and sea-vomit though – I’m told there’s a cleaner stretch somewhere (per photos online). However, the photos online appear to take Guhagar beach as the same one as Velneshwar. Given the close curvature of the cliffs on either side of this village’s beach, I have a feeling there’s no way to walk along the beach side and get to the cleaner beach – must be by road.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9821.jpg

With little opportunity walk substantially on the beach without hitting a piece of refuse of some kind, I opted to return to the shop, parking lot and temple entrance all of which lay next to each other. Massive concrete blocks placed as benches (I suppose) line the boundary of the temple premises and were covered in moss.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9795001.jpg

The temple’s color scheme itself was half way between a Russian church and Disney castle – candy-land came to Konkan it seemed. It was blissfully devoid of visitors (the last set was just leaving) and I had the premises pretty much to myself.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9797.jpg

The contrast between a Konkani temple and the Maharashtrian temple is immediately apparent here. This temple here is much more open – front is open from three sides – similar to a Jain temple in fact – signalling that all are welcome. The ceramic tiles used to cover the veranda are locally available material and they top a timber frame – also local. When the tiles are gone, in a hurry they may be replaced by a corrugated iron sheet – it rains hard around here.
I can’t help but comment how much the shikharas (spires) reminded me of a cake – a really fruity cake or an ice cream cake. It must have been the skipped lunch. The three spires are for the individual shrines of shri kalbhairav (village deity and form of Shiva), Ganesh and Nandi (shiva’s vehicle). The current structure dates to 1962 but I am told an earlier structure stood here.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9801.jpg

Despite the joyous paint scheme, the temple retains many traditional elements – a gaumukh (cow’s mouth) as a water spout – a traditional design for one. The 11 meter high gerua colored deep-stambha (lamp tower) seen in the first photograph is another. Additionally, there're two wells for devotees to have a bath. The temple is important and is a family deity (kul-daivayat) of many clans - Gokhales being the best known amongst them.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9804.jpg

The rains had given the earth much needed moisture and grass sprung out of land which normally lay bare. This all-pervading green and the all are welcome attitude of the temple had invited a horned visitor that seemed unpredictable that time.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9799.jpg

A Nagpuri, with her sword sharp defences was alternately feasting and eyeing this intruder with a camera. Lest she turn truculent and scatter yours truly like a bowling pin, I abandoned plans to find the best vantage point and left the premises.
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Old 5th January 2016, 13:06   #41
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Default Re: A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond

Now, this is what I call a travelogue. Enjoyed reading every bit, in one stretch.

The joy and thrill of doing a journey like this in various modes of transport cannot be compared to driving down in one stretch in our own car. Well, that is what differentiates a traveler from a tourist.

It's not just your history, but the botany, zoology and literature seems to be doing pretty good! I would love to visit these places of historical importance with someone like you, and I recall I had been to Gingee fort and just roamed around the place enjoying the beauty and architecture but not knowing much about it then. (Later Googled it to know more). Only area where I could give a competition was on the department of food under geography division.

Waiting for the rest!
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Old 5th January 2016, 16:07   #42
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Default Re: A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond

Well Well Well.. What a travelogue. A true masterpiece!! Amazing photographs with informative details.

Frankly, I read the topic as Solo trip and opened it in expectation that I would see a bike ride travelogue in my favorite Konkan region but wow ..ended up in reading a extremely detailed true travel experience.

My hometown is nearby Kolhapur(Palus Tehsil), so Konkan is my favorite destination since childhood. I have been there in Konkan approximately 30-40 times. But I admit that I haven't tried to collect so much information in any of my trip.

I must admire that you choose to travel by local transport which many of us would think twice before opting for but IMO if one has to really experience the true Konkan, local transport is the best way for it. I have been there on cycle, Bike, State Transport and recently in my Gypsy. This place never disappointed me despite of any season.

for photographs!! Keep them coming!!
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Old 7th January 2016, 06:30   #43
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Arrow Return to waterfront

With no chance of finding lunch, I gather the remaining soda, lock the bottle under the seat (it had a small compartment underneath) and start riding back, determined to make it to the 5:40 pm ferry leaving Tavsal. I ride hard and am not troubled by rain but then something on the road side has me stop – it’s a flower I’ve never ever seen in its natural habitat and yet one that I’m intimately familiar with. I’ve watched this plant – Gloriosa Superba- come out of the ground right before every rainy season and then the vine grows steadily, the tendrils holding onto a rope-support we’d tie for it. With the heaviest showers in late July it blossomed and the magic lasted till September – the flowers slowly turning from a greenish yellow to ochre, orange, sindoori and eventually a deep blood red – in their final flourish before death.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9849.jpg

Their life-cycle is so theatrical it has inspired poets in Tamil Literature – they call it Kartikaippu – that which blossoms in the month of Karthik (November – when the NE monsoon hits TN). These deadly poisonous plants are native to much of Asia and Africa, with some subspecies being native to the Western Ghats. Yet, when my father’s professor brought a few bulbs from a field trip back home to Jaipur, the plant readily called our home, its own and has stayed with us. Like a shy resident, it goes to sleep underground leaving no trace of its existence after October, only to re-emerge next year, just about when Safeda mangoes go out of season. Why is all that’s beautiful, often so deadly and short lived?
The view all around, also beautiful, helped me snap out. The heat forced consumption of the remaining soda.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9855.jpg

I ride again and am stopped once more, this time by village kids who want a photograph taken. Accosted by this love, I have to snap one and then they let me go with no way of getting this photograph back (they ran off) -
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9844.jpg

I do not start the scooter again for a few turkeys form a roadblock – easily the ugliest birds on the planet – with little sacks resembling a man's privates hanging below their faces they strut around on the road.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9846.jpg

As in mankind, so in turkey land there were two males competing over a female. Is there no end to love triangles?
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9847.jpg

In search of food, I stop again, at the village of naravan, hoping to find the shop open. It’s not. Nourishment hasn’t been enough since the morning and I can feel the effects now from the inside. There are many attractive colors such as of this multipurpose shop, but little by way of food other than a pack of biscuits and am in no mood for that. I hope to hurry back and get a king sized dinner even if it has to be at the pinchpenny eatery.

A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9867.jpg

Yet, I want to stay longer in this village for it affords incredible photo opportunities - things I would not see back in the big city. For instance, opposite the shop, an artist worked on producing statues of the most popular Maharashtrian god – Ganapati. Ganesh Chaturthi will come, and gigantic ganapatis will be raised in a month, housed in their own pandals and given away to the elements in waterbodies all over the state. These are small in size but second to none in artistic merit. I was able to see some very uncommon themes such as Ganesha on Jatayu!
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9858.jpg

Best of all, the artist let me photograph whatever I like, including him mixing colors.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9861.jpg

The statues are constructed of plaster of paris (an inverted hollow mold), dried in the sunlight for a day or more depending on the heat. Then spray paint of a neutral color base coat is applied and that serves as a primer on which water colors, by hand may be applied. It’s the skill of the artist that makes the statue desirable and in turn determines the price that he can command for his work in the market. A finished piece stood in the veranda of the house opposite , a bit too garish (probably the market demands that) -
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9865.jpg

The lane here is very narrow, a state transport bus came through and I had to move the scooter now just for it to pass.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1wp_20150808_015.jpg

I drove over to the side of the road and turn on the lane going left, hoping to find some food but there is none to be had. A barber, razor in hand is busy counting coins in the other and doesn’t even look up when I ask him if I can find any. He does tell me that there’s little point going further on the side road and I should continue straight on to Tavsal and get to the ferry point as early as I can.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9877.jpg

So I turn back and as I’m about to take another left, from the corner of my eye, I spy a little board with names of titbits myriad – products of mango, jackfruit, kokam and other fruity delights Konkan is famous for. I go to that house and the owner is an elderly gentleman, very welcoming. He happily shows me his house and claims it is well over a hundred years old. It is possible but some refurbishments have happened, I can tell.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1ride-velneshwar2.jpg

He insists that I sit a while his wife gets me whatever they have left – they sell out quite a bit of it during the summers when these are made fresh. I enjoy dried mango pulp (the ungainly lumps) called amba poli, jackfruit pulp (the plates) and jackfruit chips (please note that ‘moov’ is an orthopaedic cream and not a fruity snack). Their orchard lies behind the house and they make all these snacks at home! No preservatives at all but these items still stay fresh for up to three months – I’m told and I believe him.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1ride-velneshwar3.jpg

I purchase some quantity of each item to carry back with me. I’m not a fan of alphonso (too sweet a mango for me) but if you are, this is the best part of the country to buy this dried mango pulp – alphonso is said to have originated here. I started towards the jetty after this and all was going well till a quarter past five when the scooter died in the middle of the road, and refused to be resuscitated.
I kicked the mule repeatedly but true to his nature he refused to come back to life. This excitement is too much for me to bear and I start waving my hands like a man robbed of everything at the first bike that passes by. He takes me for a madman and skirts past – quite unlike what I had been told. The second one takes me for a tourist and stops. He suggest I get onto the scooter and he’d push it from behind with his leg while seated on his bike and riding it. It takes couple of tries mostly due to my incompetence in understanding that this is a tried and tested method of starting these new fangled electric scooters (back in college mine was a kick-start only Bajaj) but then we get the balance right. The mule is braying in no time at all and I ride mostly uneventfully to the plateau.
At the plateau I think I have sufficient time and capture a small video to show you what the place that so impressed and baffled me in the morning looks like.
Interestingly, there’s some traffic now! Still, flashes of the mule’s intractable nature are vivid and I don’t kill the engine –

Down at the plateau, behind the casuarina thickets I suspect the boat is hidden from view. Down at the jetty, after the thickets, it is evident that there is, in fact, no boat. “Oh shit” doesn’t even begin to cover my emotional state. I curse myself for playing the hero, for overestimating my abilities, for attempting to be such a jack of all trades in situations when it’s not called for, for conducting a trip with the sole objective of getting photos and how this need for appreciation has turned my existence shallow. Lost in thoughts of doom, I ask the man at the ticket window when the 6:40 will arrive. “Sir do you necessarily want to take that one as the 5:40 is a bit late today”. Oh.
The clouds of gloom part, and after purchasing a ticket, I photograph the activities on the waterfront - perfectly spanned net by a fisherman.
A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond-1dsc_9890.jpg

A few bike riders arrive and I, by now a veteran of ferryboat riding, soothe their anxiety by saying ‘’aayegi, aayegi’’ (it will come, stay put). They thank me and I bask in the well-earned appreciation, smiling smugly.
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Old 9th January 2016, 00:52   #44
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Default Re: A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond

Logged into Team Bhp after ages and glad I saw this. Don't know what I enjoyed more - your narrative or your pictures - both really draw one in. You have such a great eye for the magic of the everyday/ordinary.
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Old 9th January 2016, 07:24   #45
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Default Re: A Monsoon Solo: Kolhapur, Ganpatipule, Ratnagiri & beyond

Thank you much. I sometimes like to use the phrase 'romance of the everyday exotic' for trips such as these.

p.s. I'd have updated today but some problem with my net. Draft is ready. :( Will try soon.
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