Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Yes, I am from Alibagh - 1

This was another completely random JLT trip that came up out of nowhere... a Ryze post, a phonecall, and suddenly I'm in a boat headed out; but you need to do this. Step back from your life, just drift for a while. You need to get perspective.

This is a group called the Nature Knights, organizing short trips out of Mumbai. Amit said they
have a reputation for making hard trips, but this one was an opposite - a deliberately chilled trip. I guess everyone just needs to
breakaway once in a while. Besides, it was too hot anyway.
Interesting group, too... once again, I'm in with a bunch of complete strangers, just like last year... interesting lot this time round, too. People working in a creative agency. People owning a creative agency. A guy who was owed money by my boss. A dog. A stage anchor. A lawyer. A reporter. A girl from the German consulate. Old hands and fresh initiates.

It's such a liberating feeling, watching those 5 little bars on your cell dwindle, flicker and disappear, and you're out of network coverage. A leash slips off. You feel like you could just... walk away.
Away from the plans, client calls, vendors demanding payment, bosses threatening dire retribution and making references to company's image in the market...
walk away from the 8:11 slow to CCG, the sharecabs and the traffic, the daily dabba and the 10-by-12 hall filled with newspaper, mattresses, beer bottles, and ash.

Walk away from the constant thinking, what's next.
Your mind suddenly sort of sticks its head up and peers around... and stretches. Incredible feeling, if you watch it. Thinking outside the usual.
We took a ferry to Mandhwa - or at least tried to - when you have 27 people gathering on a saturday morning at 7 AM, forget it. We collected at 8:30. Just in time for the ferry, if it hadn't already been booked by a corporate bunch - Syntel, I think (that's a weird name, now, brings in mind arch-villainesses with green skin and evil laughter and bodies that prepubescent fantasies are made of) - so we split up across 3 assorted ferries - Group 1, Group 2, and Vipin + Lara the dog cadging a free ride with Syntel.
Arrived at Mandhwa Ferry, lost network coverage and became liberated. Took a ST for Murud, and got thrown out by conductor who leapt a mile at the thought of allowing a pedigreed golden retriever from The City into his beloved bus. Never mind that he had just disembarked goats.

Took a bunch of TumTums from Muruda for Kashid. Passed by A Nawab's palace - Apparently he wasn't part of India till 1975, a colony of Ethiopia (of all countries). Didn't pack up and leave in '47 because of his spices business... Now there's a large rambling semi-palace gracefully and dignifiedly falling to bits. We tried getting a tour but the guard resolutely refused to grant us access, saying we need to speak with the manager. During this while, a guy on a bike comes up, exchanges pleasantries with hi, has a bidi, and goes off. Finally we give up arguing and ask where we can find the manager. Well, guess who the guy on the bike was? There is definitely a reason for the Alibagh reputation to exist.

Parked ourselves at one small hotel thing - had occupied 7 of its 8 rooms so it was practically a hostel already, even apart from it's disturbing similarity to GIM's OT First Floor. Had lunch. The usual Chicken Debate - to eat or not to eat- followed by a fish lunch.
Then head off to Janjira Fort. This is a really nice fort - and very unique. One, it's in the sea. Not on an island, but actually in the sea - no land at all. The walls drop straight in the waves. Zero landing area. Two, you can only reach it by boat. Three, it's positioned in a way (though this was probably lucky coincidence) that needs the boat to take a long dog-leg path (which would take it past the entire set of cannons on 3 ramparts not once, but twice. Nice target practice.) Boats were very Swades.

Again, the sight of the dog created much consternation. Don't know why - Lara's even lazier than Ruffles. Her most energetic activity during the whole trip was to give this pleading can-we-go-home-now look. Though she did compensate by barking at, and attacking, the small child of the family in the eightth room at the hotel, and sent him screaming in terror out in the road. Vipin told us she only attacks kids and chickens. Guess even she was bird-flu-conscious...
Anyway, she had to be cradled at one end, and cradling a plump golden retriever in the afternoon sun in April is no picnic.

The boat trip was fun, though. Just enough wind to make things interesting, and the boom swung out one time with one of the guys still hanging on it because we were sitting on where he would brace his feet, so we had to haul him back in.

Then it's hop off the boat and be sternly remonstrated by the guide for being late, gadding about and wasting time, didn't we know there was a schedule to keep? Abashed, we trailed behind him while he went from point to point, made us gather around, leaned at a boneless 45-degree angle on the wall with one hand wildly gesticulating and deliver the schpiel like a machinegun. It was so much a part of him, he could have been napping while he said it... the speech was as much him now as his vertebrae.
There was plenty of legend about the fort, though... the fresh water lake with a water level higher than sea level. Another one with a water level lower. (In typical Ugly Indian way, we found both lakes rimmed with a layer of Bisleri bottles at the edges.)

Yes, I am from Alibagh - 2

The Siddhi ruler - I forget his name - watched the fort being built, and ordered in a special cannon. A large, loud, heavy long-range one. It was supposed to make your fort (along with your ears, one presumes) ring for 3 days with each shot.
It was fired twice. At the completed Maratha fort, which had taken 22 years to build.
The first salvo blew away half the fort.
The second blew away half the island.

Sambhaji then abandoned it and went home.

I keep thinking of the Siddhi ruler, having ordered in the gun, set it up targeted on the island, and watching them build for 22 years, peering through the telescope and chortling merrily every day for 22 years, and blasting it to pieces in ten minutes... they had an evolved sense of humour, those ancient Ethiopians.

Beautiful sail back to mainland... doesn't it look like an old-time Ironclad, swollen to ten times its usual size?
Peaceful chai and cig (first of the day!) in the falling dusk at the village, then walk back in the moonlight along a completely deserted road watching the stars to Murud. The rest of the gang took TumTums, the 5 of us walked. Dinner. Long walk along Murud beach. Go back and sleep. In between, also realize the keys to the room are with a Deepesh, now missing... and the odomos is locked insideI Arrrghh! but we found him, took the keys, and went for a walk. Found him sleeping on a bench on the side of the road when we came back.

He looked so peaceful, we decided to let him have his well-earned rest, and went in leaving him there.

Apparently he was woken up by the Tourism Police later and had to convince them of his legitimate presence for several minutes at . So was a little grumpy and very possessive of keys in the morning.

Ahh, morning... walk down beach again, (that's a racing bullock cart in the distance warming up for the races) chai and bhaji, back to beach, water frisbee, dry off in the morning sun, and back into the ricks for the Phansad nature preserve. This was the wrong season - too dry - but we did manage to see a brown vine snake, and several trapdoor spiders. I performed an Insect Sacrifice and was suitably rewarded by the trapdoor spider darting out, grabbing the victim, stinging him, and disappearing back inside with him... in under a tenth of a second. Man, these little guys are fast.

And creative. One had used cotton balls to augment his webs...

Had to go to another fort, but decided against it. Admired it baking under the noon sun from a distance, and went for a nap at Kashid beach having narial-paani, listening to the wind in the trees and the joyous cries of several drunk induhviduals who had come up on bikes, gotten sloshed on beer and tadi, and hadn't yet realized they needed to drive back as well.

That was the high point, really... the wind in the trees. Watching the eucalyptus bordering the beach sway, sun flashing between them... it was quiet, calm, slow, relaxed, and so alien from Bombay... unbelievable. That one and a half hours has recharged me, spiritually, for months to come.

And finally... the catamaran back to Bombay. I managed to find a little niche in the stern, on the side, where I could watch the sun set and the Bombay skyline grow from a line of sparks to the concrete jungle, all the while getting the spray from the wake splashing up on me.
Amazing experience, the wind, the smell, the taste of the salt... and these catamarans are pretty fast in the water, too. 40-50 kmph easily.

And that's it... back in this world now. But you do need to get away, occasionally, regularly, to remind yourself - there are worlds beyond this. Beautiful ones. There for the taking, if only you just reach out... and... touch.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Tandulwadi - exploratory research

This was a very different one. A much smaller group, to begin with. And the fact that somehow ALL 3 of managed to turn up completely unconnectedly in brown tracks and grey tees.
But somehow - maybe it was just a result of this group being smaller, but... this felt like a much more quiet climb. Hushed. Tandulwadi isn't a very popular destination... Do we leave a psychic imprint on places, or something? Popular spots - even when completely deserted - never felt like this. You could hear the wind moving dozens of kilometers away. Sitting on a rock halfway up, watching the Vaitarna river, clouds, and suddenly I could feel the size of the world, its movement, it's sheer presence. Gravity ceased. I was attached to the rock with a sense of something more... I don't know, cosmic.
Or something like it.
There was also this wierd tree. It was - stark. computer-generated. more than just a tree. tree plus. tree ver 3.1. Maybe it was cursed, or blessed, or a murder site, or former human being who ran afoul of a vindictive god...
look at it. see the bigger pic for a while.
Then we reached the top, found (as usual) the remain of a fort and working reservoir; (Amit promptly turned into a reservoir dog) and a family of water buffaloes who seemed extremely displeased to meet us. In fact, for the second time in my life, I got charged in a non-bill and non-drink way. But what I'm proudest of is when there was a large black pissed muscular mammal heaving itself out of the pool glaring at us and waggling it's large untrimmed horns meaningfully, and then briskly heading my way with a evil look and slightly starey eyes with it's ears back, what did I do?
Yes! I got the shot!

All the stuff you never have time to see... how many times do we just walk by these things, in the city, unable to hear the birds, watch the clouds, see the stars... everything is the predefined flashing life running on its tracks, 8:11 fast, swipe in, log on, call up, do lunch, swipe out, head home, grab a bite, down a drink, hit the sack. When was the last time you actually saw something you had never seen before? SAW. Not just looked at and moved on?

The best part of this was the break at the top. For almost 3 hours, we were lying there close to the top on a large rock by a water pool, listening to the wind and the drip of the water. It sounded far away. The world felt bigger. Slower. Grass would rustle, a branch creak, a bird call. An eagle wheeled around the clouds for a long while. The rock was slanted, full of sharp protrusions... but the universe felt comfortable.



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