Road Trip

Toll Tales !

If there were any more objects of interest than the roads themselves, they are the toll booths.

They have been a subject of enormous interest and intense enchantment. For me, that is. Are you rubbing your eyes and wondering if my lunacy has had a fresh bout of energy infusement, well, indulge in me as you always do. Oh, I shudder at the plight of the world without kind readers like you who have progressed to the 4th line on such a topic of egregiously earth shattering importance like the toll booth.

For it is at a toll booth you catch glimpse of the moron who overtook you with such blinding speed that you really thought he was taxiing to take off to the Mars or someplace beyond. You catch the elderly grand mom kiss her sleeping grand daughter. And the grand dad looking away. I know what you are thinking here. No, I didn’t mean it that way. Whatever you were thinking.

It is also the place, where you see some strange acts performed with an intensity that bellies the seeming innocuousness of a toll booth. Like, picking their nose, brows furrowed in concentration that would befit a nuclear scientist on the verge of a mankind changing discovery.

Ofcourse, you would not be surprised to see those that would honk like there were virgins waiting in heaven for the loudest and most fervent honker ! If you are still not awakened completely, the attendants manning the toll booth wake you up in a jiffy.

Usually they talk to you from that elevated booth that somehow seems to you as though they are speaking from a distant star. Sometimes, there is paan stowed away and showing up as a lump in the cheek. By the time you comprehend and respond you realize that the line behind has grown at a pace that is faster than the birth rate in China and the honkers were having urgent apparitions of the virgins in heaven !

Ofcourse, then, that is the beginning. For the chap doesn’t have change for Rs.500 and you have nothing else but Rs.500/-. So there you are. Villain to a population on the highway with even the heavens hearing the noises !

All in all, the toll booth is such an interesting place !

In Kerala though, things are slightly different. First of all, Rs.7.50/- for a return journey is a fare that seems unbelievable. Especially to the wallet that grows lighter by Rs.150/- and more on trips to Pune. Rs.7.50/- ? That’s like a discount store selling off unsold stuff for free.

There are no high pedestals. The toll booth operators stand on the road. Ofcourse, it would take two lifetimes for you to pull out Rs.7.50 exactly. He comes in to help you.’ Give me Rs.10’ he says, not even bothering to look at you. As you hesitatingly fish out the Rs.10, wondering if you will get change in return, you get a small package in return!

The small package essentially is the balance of Rs.2.50/- packaged with the Toll Booth receipt !

Move on”. “Move on”.

In a jiffy the toll booth moves to your rear view mirror!

Ofcourse, you despair the opportunity of missing the other promised sights at the toll booth. But then, just to see that surprised smirk in the toll booth operator’s face, as he sees your expression change upon receiving the ‘packet’ from him….well, that’s priceless !

Bhimashankar Trail

That morning we broke into a mild argument. ‘There were two ways we could go’, the guide informed.

Either you could trek around the hills and go to several points from which you would get to see pristine sights of far away Mumbai.

Or, you could trek about 2 to 3 KMs through the jungle and go to Gupt Bhimashankar. The origin of the river Bhim.

Given the time that we had to see made it a ‘either – or’.

I preferred trekking around the hills and looking down into the valley and perhaps spotting a village or two en-route and that was a mouthwatering proposition.

The missus on the other hand, has a very delightfully frightening way of getting to the basics opined subtly, that ‘perhaps Gupt Bhimashankar would be a NICE idea’.

Matrimonial discord at Bhimashankar stared us in our face. We looked into each other’s eyes. The sun was beating down. But we stood our respective grounds. She determined to go to Gupt Bhimashankar. And I, in another direction.

‘We are not going to Gupt Bhimashankar’. I tried announcing that with a glory of a king at the coronation. I saw that it had the spectacularly awesome effect of contemptuous silence.

I immediately thought of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King and an array of others who stood their ground. I wasn’t going to give in.

Soon, we went to Gupt Bhimashankar. That the place is awesome is the point.

Gupt Bhimashankar is a wonderful hours trek through the forests of Bhimashankar. Thickly wooded and famous for the Shekru or the Giant squirrel. We did manage to hear the Shekru and spotted what was supposedly his nest. Seeing the White House is not the same as spotting the President, but you could still show it up on Facebook.

The nerve centre is a stream of water that jumps out between a clutch of rocks. Our guide politely corrected us that that ‘stream of water’ was indeed river Bhim. ‘At the source, everything is small’, he said. Right there is a small statue of Shiva. We dipped our legs into the water, and looked right up into the sky. Only to see the cover of green.

The place has oodles of charm and heaps of quiet. You could go there, dip your feet in flowing water and just sit there and get a polyannish high. Wishing everything else would freeze. We sat there for an endless amount of time. Most of it owing to the beauty of the place and some of it arising out of the thought of having to trek back.

Besides I was in the mood to reflect on the wins and losses of life and to bask in the happiness that I saw in ‘others’ !

But I must tell you, it’s a wonderful place. Gupt Bhimashankar can be the sole reason for a trip again to this part of the country. Again.

Ofcourse, the next time, I will make the decision and announce it with a flourish of a king who has just captured an impregnable fort : ‘Lets get to Gupt Bhimashankar’.

Hah !

Shivneri diaries

While we travelled to Bimashankar and back we stopped at Shivneri. Shivneri is the place were Chatrapati Shivaji was born.

With every pool, puddle, railway station, airport named after the gent, it was but natural that we went to see the place where the man was born. Shivaji was a childhood hero for me. Many thousand kilometers away, down in the deep south, goose bumps used to show up like mushrooms in the monsoon, with the mere mention of his name.

These days however, especially since the time we have been in Mumbai, while all what he has done still stand tall, there is a mental fatigue at the mention of his name. For, sporting his name, is every other building, bridge, bench, pool and puddle (not to mention of airports, railway stations, ports, mountains, apartments and so on), ranging from the superlative to the sub optimal.

Given all of this, It was only apt that we would want to see where it all started.

Besides with his elevated cult status, who knows, tomorrow politically vacuous minds could come up with a wise idea and a consequent agitation : Only those who have visited Shivneri will be allowed to buy Pizza in Maharashtra. Or something like that. Possible. No ?

So we went. We were told by fellow travelers with a rather straight face and straighter voice that ‘its not a tough walk up’. We trusted those folks. Such trust sometimes has disastrous consequences. Like what we discovered.

Shivneri is close to Junnar. It’s a winding road up a hill. The car takes you a fair distance. So we thought. Then a trudge begins. A flight of steps. A steady stream of entrances. A temple. Our ears should have perked hearing the huffs and puffs of all those sweaty figures on their way down. But we were blinded by confidence in our physical strength which soon began to recede like a middle aged man’s hairline. A married middle aged man’s hairline. That sounds more real.

We climbed. Walked. And climbed. Finally getting to what remains of a yesteryear residential quarter, dating back to the 16th century. Slightly ahead there is a rather pedestrian hall, with a grill gate enclosing a statue of Shivaji and his mother built in 1970s. Which was closed to visitors.

The 16th century one was open and the 1970’s one was closed to the public. Scratch scratch. Well. No reasons come to the mind. Scratch. Scratch. No result yet. Suggest you try.

The reconstructed residential quarters where Shivaji is supposed to have been born

There is a cradle with light streaming in. If only they had a lullaby coming in, the orchestration would be 100 %. They are getting there folks! People respectfully leave their footwear outside the place and every now and then, somebody rents out a cry of ‘Shivaji Maharaj Ki Jai’! Its surreal.

A narrow flight of stairs lead to a small hall, fantastic windows and some breathtaking sights.

For many, this seemed to be a ‘pilgrimage’. I cant think of a single king who has stayed on in the imagination of people for this long, inviting such passion and looking upto.

The fort has other stuff. If patience and persistence outbeats the huff and puff. There are caves. There are tanks filled with greenish water and empty plastic bottles. But the most important element is the Khadelok point.

While it could look like any other part that gives a breathtaking view, it is said that criminals were, hold your breath, ‘tossed down from this point’.

‘Tossed down ?’ asked the kid standing next to me to his mother who was half exhausted from the climb and whatever was left in her was gone in answering the kid. Two more questions and she would have jumped from Khadelok point. She looked it.

“Like this lollipop wrapper” said the kid, tossing down a lollipop wrapper, which until then held a lollipop in tight embrace. I watched as the lollipop wrapper wafted about in air perpetually, blown in different directions by a persistent wind.

This ‘Khadelok toss’ strategy was slightly befuddling. For instance, the missus would tell you that the climb itself was a punishment of sorts for her. Which was well accentuated by seeing some of those that seemed to climb as though it was a walk in the park.

Khadelok point from far down below

But then, looking at a body come hurtling down this hill would be some spectacle of sorts. Enough to inject integrity into a crooked spine.

We huff-puffed back, stopping to have ice-cream, sold by an elderly gent, sitting there and solving a crossword puzzle. The name of the ice-cream company…you guessed it right…Shivaji Ice Cream !

It was worth it all.

Beyond coverage area !

Deepavali wishes to you! Heres wishing the cheer and spirit of the festive season stays with us all through. Lightening up our futures and lightening down our loads.

The mobile phone companies thought it fit to announce ‘the person you are calling is out of coverage area’ to everyone who called us during Deepavali. Mobile companies do this as whimsy would fancy on any other day, is but a non issue, when you consider that we weren’t really complaining this time around.

(Thankfully, they are yet to spill the beans like’The person you are calling is beyond redemption’ or something to that effect).

Yes. Dear reader. I was traveling again. To a place that was indeed ‘beyond coverage area’. I must confess, as usual, I have an ocean of stories to tell with a sea of snaps to choose from. Alas, there lies the cesspool of choice and the consequent ideal condition for an air of general laziness to survive thrive.

Well, that will be worked upon.

Maharashtra has a platter that can satiate a traveler’s hunger by filling him / her up, right till the first molar! The veritable challenge therefore is much like a ‘multiple choice question’ in an MBA entrance exam. Every given choice, seems to make perfect sense and as was told to me several years back, half in jest, the best way to crack these multiple tests was the propitious ‘inky-pinky-ponky’ method.

Oops. I deviate. Sorry. As usual, that was a paragraph of verbal diarrhea to let you know that a traveler in Maharashtra is spoilt for choice.

There are ancient temples in such glorious extravagant offering of simplicity and peace. Right beside there is nature bathed in portentous silence of all urban noise. Scattered en route are forts that majestically shoot out into the sky, each with a story to tell and a tale to recall. A surfeit of beaches that beseech your soul and peaks that seem to power into the sky.

Add to that: flora and fauna that you can fawn over a lifetime.Rivers that flow and insects that glow. Not to mention, the acres and acres of paddy, vegetable and sugar cane fields, farmers and others with warmth that is well beyond a city dweller’s realm.

For a traveler that likes variety, this presents an opportunity beyond parallel to hoover-up all that comes by just having to take one road and experiencing everything. Rather nice. To put it mildly.

This time around, the sights were set in a new direction.

“No phones. No TV. No air conditioning. Just about basic facilities. You still want to go there?” was a question that was propped. It would have taken a starving glutton longer to have said ‘yes’ to food, than it took us to agree to this proposition.

Off we went. Driving through meandering roads and relishing every sight possible. Walking into villages, having tea with strangers and trying our hand at herding cattle. Not to mention pulling by the roadside to admire the Western Ghats, and the moments in prayer and points that we pondered over!

Moments slipped away as we sat in the stillness of the dawns and dusks listening to an orchestra conducted by beings that we couldn’t see, long before the first rays of the sun showed up and forever after the sun disappeared.

We are still a trifle tired in the muscle and bone but perhaps the mind is far too calmer. And that makes it worth it all.

Of course, you will hear more! Indulge me a few posts, if you will and watch this space !

The waves as witness

Harihareshwar is also known as the Kashi of the South ! ‘ Of the South !?!’ I sputtered, spilling coffee on a brown shirt. Wondering aloud if patriotic nationlists (sic) from this side of the country, object to this beautiful region being ‘ceded’ to the South !

That’s precisely when the missus chips in.

‘South of what ?’ She asks. And then replies with great glee ‘South of the Kashi of the North’ Ok ? That argument should have sent geography folks and such others whirring in their graves. But logical no ?

Relatives of people who are dead and gone come here. An annual pilgrimage of sorts, we are told. And others, come to immerse ashes.

Today there are fat cars. Fat filled fat bodies. Tonsured heads best complimented by a thin cloth on the upper body. Carrying flowers and some of them carrying decorated mud pots. ‘Urns’ whispers the missus. To be immersed in the grand Arabian Sea.

Their arrival gets the crows excited like school children who find that their class teacher has run away with the head master! Glee from the fact that two birds are down with one stone. A love stone of sorts.

Today, most of what is offered as part of the rituals will go to the crows. They sure do look well fed.

There is a small assortment of people.But in them, there is variety. There is one in whom there is so much teeth on display, that he could have been a model for a sundry toothpaste. Another gent in a corner stands glum faced. Yet another, loud. Another, could have been mistaken for a statue in Madame Tussads, if not for the occasional move to keep his dhoti on his waist.

I wonder aloud, loud enough for the missus to hear, if they have already read the will of the person who is dead !! What else would cause such a diversity in emotion. Promptly receiving a look of deep admonishment and an unsaid ‘Shut up’ from the missus. You sure must have seen a chastised puppy, with a curled tail, looking deep into the floor and avoiding all eye contact. Yeah. Thats the look that took me over.

In the meanwhile, the women in the group, are working away, arranging the pots in a particular order. The steps to the sea, where they do this is so picturesque and stately through the camera lens, that it seems to swallow the grief that people come here with.

One set of waves come crashing in.

We drive on.

There are other things to see. As we drive back, somewhere along the shoreline, the missus excitedly waves me to stop, pointing to two boys playing. Rolling. Running. Catching insects.

We alight from the car. Walk about. The boys are busy, throwing stones into the sea. For a minute I thought I had achieved my childhood dream of becoming ‘invisible’. The very boys that exclaim at the sight of ants and dragonflies, don’t even look in the direction of two well fed people and a Japanese engine to boot.

Not even a customary look to register presence. Nothing. A tinge of disappointment of a dragon fly holding precedence of attention over decades of conscious and unconscious building of firmly entrenched fat cells is quickly overcome by the sheer joy of seeing the boys in play !

The lungs soak in fresh air, eyes soak in the space and the ears soak in the shrieks of joy that the boys let go. Today’s urban kids raised in tall apartments cant shriek or throw stones into an ‘empty afar’ without the building’s secretary and his mandali landing up at the doorstep !

These kids throw with abandon, claiming victory with each throw. The waves swallow each stone with an ebb much like bribe money in a politicians pocket. Disappearing without trace!

Later that evening, we see a set of children. Playing. With such gay abandon, that it’s a joy to watch unfettered, innocent happiness. The waves come crashing in, almost teasing each kid. No supervision. No people around. Just the kids No Baywatch type lifeguard. No lifeguard.

The waves come crashing by. Again and again !

It’s a sight. Ordinary yet profound. I sit still. Except falling for the occasional urge to click a picture or two.

In a few hours from then, I am deep in slumber. In my dreams come the glum faced man from Harihareswar. The jumping kids chasing dragon flies the size of dinosaurs, and the evening sun urging the waves to splash some more water on kids !

One of those kids walks upto me, smiles, offers me an ice cream the size of a football and asks me ‘Why so serious?”

A wave comes crashing in. I wake up with a start.

Ah ! The waves. They are the witness to the dream. The new dream. To be a kid again.

Harihareshwar Diaries !

We drive on. Only mildly conscious of the fast accumulating empty packets of chips in the car. I felt full and oil rich, that I could have given an Arab shiek and all his oil wells a run for his money !

In sometime we spot a couple who have stopped their car and clicking pictures. I roll down the window, put on a sprightly smile and ask, ‘Harihareshwar?’. Upon which the lady turns away and the man, points in the direction of the road and says ‘One temple three Gods’ and turns away too. If the lady lacked social skills and the man was a veritable Dale Carnegie.

As the car noses its way in the direction the man pointed, I wonder how well programmed the man is. Sounding like a 3-in-1 offer announcer ! Viewing everything through the lens of the neighbourhood discount store. I imagined him in his fat car. Queing up. Responding to an offer that goes like : ‘Come on Wednesday afternoon, buy Rs.1000 of stuff, swipe you xyz debit card, and get one kilogram of sugar free!’

As has been our case on this trip, we miss the turn to the temple yet again. After a few kilometers more kilometers and no temple we check with a vilager. He has far better social skills. He looks at us with great sympathy and could have almost welcomed us into his home and conducted a prayer meeting at our loss : of missing the temple ‘a full four kilometers behind’ us. I felt like Columbus. Atleast I thought this is how he felt.

We drive back. To discover the temple signboard sunk in maze of other signboards of resorts and such else. We drive on, and finally reach the pristine temple.

I was mentally prepared for a crowd. Temples of Shiva and temples of Vishnu, by themselves are very crowded. Generally. I was visualising serpentine queues, dour faced priests, sullen policemen who stand and redraw patterns on the floor with lathis, only to life their head up now and then, to let go of a ‘keep moving’ in respective local language, and get back to that life giving activity of floor sketching.

But much to my surprise, none of it was to be seen here. No people. No priests. No policemen. Just us and the trimurative company of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma! Down a flight of stairs and a huge mirror later they are there. We were alone with them. The silence and the peace was so loud that I can still hear it !

Thats when a man carrying a broom walks in. Swish Swash. Swish Swash he goes. He suddenly looks up at us, and says ‘5000 years’.

‘5000 ?’ I cant believe this ! He rattles off a discourse with such élan and such a straight face, that he could have been doing the weather forecast on national television. He goes ‘swish swash’ with his broom. The only words that I catch are ‘Agastya’ and ‘Pandavas’. We say our prayers in silence. When I open my eyes, the brooms swish swash is close to me. Another moment, and I would have had a scrub down, in front of the almighty.

The peace and quiet catch me by so much surprise. What is the world doing ? I wonder if it would have been any different if it was just a Shiv temple or a just a Vishnu temple or just a Brahma temple ! Perhaps this sort of coalition rule didn’t appeal to folks of the yesteryear!

With no amusement park, mall or multiplex, it made sense to occupy your children with going to three different temples in four different directions. Imagine if the pest of the kid in the house comes here, and finishes praying to all three Gods at one go and has four days to spare !

There is a pradakshina way, which you can walk around. Except that its not necessarily a stroll in a park. It’s a flight rock cut steps up, a flight of rock cut steps down which leads you to the sea, and around a hill. You have to walk around the hillock, in the sea ! Today the rains have uprooted a few trees and they have brought along with with some electric poles and wires !

The missus has been watching ‘ mindless stunts in ‘Who Dares Wins’ and ‘Khatron Ki Khiladi’ purses her lips ! She isn’t going to come along she says. I mutter a swear at those silly programs replete with demented stunts like burying your armpit with bees and such else. I don’t know if that particular stunt was there, but I have heard of far worse. So.

Today, there is high tide, and we aren’t allowed any further we aren’t allowed to venture in to walk in the sea ! At precisely the spot which the mighty Bheem ( of the Pandava fame ) is supposed to have split the giant rock into two, temple folks have erected a gate that says ‘stay here’. Or something to that effect.

We trudge down the way we climbed up. Admiring the simplicity of the place !

Fly by night swamijis would have ashrams with security cabins as big as this temple ! Other temples a fraction of its lineage have a dubious dimwit running the devasthanom and money making schemes that would put a corporate marketer to shame.

We linger here. Its nice. The world hasn’t completely to the dogs. We just sit there. And the dog there, gives us a very sympathetic happy look.

Herd Wisdom !

One of those days, we drive. From Diveagar to Shriwardhan. It’s a nice drive. As is typical of me, I am unsure of the way ahead. We look around, alight from the car and walk a bit. The landscape is inviting. We aren’t keen on arriving at Shriwardhan ‘on time’. We are just headed in that direction.

We look around.

He walks by. He. His goats. His calfs, cows and buffalos. Bermuda shorts. T-Shirt. Baseball cap turned backwards, as a baseball player would. Umbrella. A huge stick that could almost excite an amateur pole vaulter. A tan on the skin and weary twinkle in the eye.

He squints at us enquiringly !

I ask him, ‘Shriwardhan ?’

Before I could complete, he says in what seems to be indifferent yet focused tone : ‘Go straight and stay on the right’. The speed and ease, combined with the seeming ease of getting there by just ‘going straight and staying on the right’, for 20 odd kilometers dont add up in my educated mind.

Truth be told, i dont know if he is telling me or this is a standard instruction for his cows and buffaloes !

I repeat, using my professed urban intelligence : ‘Shriwardhan’. Slowly. Like a teacher of a English pronunciation class working on a group of students who have studied through Tamil medium.

“ Shriii-Wardhan ????”…

He replies with a tinge of irritation and a twang of dismissal. Accompanied with a body language which lets me know that I asked the way to Shriwardhan and not to the South Pole. “Go straight. Stay on the right”

He speaks Marathi which the missus struggles to pick up, much evident from her furrowing eyebrows. A couple of staccato sentence exchanges. She translates. ‘The scenery is beautiful, he says, but he urges us to go straight and stay on the right’

He moves on. Tending to disobedient cow and the svelte buffalo with swagger. We drive on too. Driving by such splendid scenery as I can ever imagine.

Roads. Greens. Sea. Roads with a view. And a view with no roads. Of cattle. Of boats. Occasionally of people. And of course, of bobbing fishing boats in every fishing hamlet !

In some time, we reach Shriwardhan. A simple quaint and wonderful place.

That evening, I walk by the sea thinking of the day that’s been. The waves rush to shore, dissipating into nothingness, at the speed at which they arrive. A smile escapes my lips. Thinking of us, our lives, our strifes and such else, much like the waves in perpetual quest of the shore.

A dog runs by giving me a sympathetic look. Bubble crabs run all around the sand. A few kids are wading into to the water.

For some reason, the mind races to a svelte buffalo twitching its dirty tail. Just as a voice rings in the ear : ‘Go straight and stay on the right’ !

A pause and a full minute later, i realise that is sure something to keep in mind.

Sure !

Suvarna Ganesh !

Some years back someone found a huge copper box in his backyard. ‘It was in the backyard of a lady named Draupadi’. It was a copper box. I am no chemistry student and I have no idea how and if copper can survive 1000 years. But that’s the story. And quite a credible one at that. Ok ?

That’s atleast what the man sitting next to the priest at the Suvarna Ganesh temple in Divegar tells us with an equal nonchalance to the other big activity that occupies him : swatting flies.

With some swagger after swatting two big flies, he tells me ‘no photographs’. In a dry, desultory and dismissive tone that must have sure given great glee to the flies.

So, no pictures of whats inside the temple people. But heres an amateurish attempt at description.

The copper box sits pretty. Yes, the same one that was discovered. Its like an army man’s trunk. Today, the copper box sits inside a glass box ! If it could withstand the vagaries of the planet for a 1000 years, I don’t see how that glass box was going to add any protection.

Then it strikes me that now the box is dealing with human beings and it wont take a minute for a love struck Anand Anybody to carve out the name of Sumita Somebody!! Yeah. The glass box indeed makes sense.

Somewhere above, there ensconced in another glass cabinet is what they found inside the copper box : A 22 carat idol of Lord Ganesh ! Weighing more than a Kilogram and made of solid gold ! A kilo of pure gold !

As I stare at the idol and seem to think of it more as a mask to an idol that must have been there sometime, a voice hisses into my year : ‘A 1000 years’. Unsolicited personalized commentary with gesticulation warranting the 1000 to be multiplied by five. I smile a weak smile.

The sheer thought of someone making this, that many years back, stuns me into steep silence. I continue staring. A 1000 years back ! How did the men and women back then, have the idea to build something like this ? Only to put it in a box?

Was the town under attack or something? Was it a gang of masked hoodlums who stole it from somewhere and forgot where they hid it? Or was it a Ganesh propogation society ? Could be!

I realize that it sure must have been a ‘Mackennas Gold’ moment for the chap that discovered the treasure in 1998! Wouldn’t it be? In a jiffy, my mind races back to thinking what would have been the reaction of the folks that opened box and seeing the idol of solid gold? How different would the reaction been, if all they found was a battered cycle tyre or something like that ? Anyway, they discovered. Well and truly so !

Anyway, here is a list of stuff that’s inside the temple ! A ganesh idol made of stone, and kept inside a cage like structure. ( Don’t ask me why ). Thats the main deity. The golden ganesh in another glass cabinet. Some assorted jewellery that they found in the copper box. A clock. A trophy.

(A small trophy like the ones that I used to compete for in arbid school elocution contests on topics that shaped my career, like ‘If I became Prime Minister’). Don’t ask me what a small trophy is doing in the Ganesh temple. It is there.

The temple itself is small and non descript. We missed the temple as we drove past it, looking for a building of prominence. But simple structures are the essence of this place.

But heres the big piece : Its PEACEFUL and leaves an indescribable feeling of calmness. We are there on Ganesh Chaturti. But there isn’t much of a crowd. A small assortment of people and ofcourse the swatted flies. We amble around.

Outside the temple there is a big black ape shaped dustbin, with ‘Use Me’ written on. In the opposite side of the road is a small temple for Hanuman with asbestos roofing and all of that, beyond which is the green fields and blue mountains! That’s about the temple. Peaceful. Simple. Serene.

We shuffle our feet out of the temple, with another couple and their wailing son. Tourists like us. I hear the wife ask her husband : ‘Whats the latest price of a tola of gold?’ ! The husband whips out his phone, presumably to check.

Our feets shuffle out in a hurry.

Diveagar diaries !

Diveagar is about 200 kilometers from here. After weaving through all the traffic, insignificant seeming roads and amply aided by inconspicuous road signs that you mistake for signs leading upto something like a failed undergarment factory keen on hiding failure !

We did get to Dive Agar. Was like a treasure hunt and it indeed is a treasure ! It’s a small place. A gram panchayat. That must settle it. But for all of those that need more explanation : imagine simple dwellings. Small lanes. People sitting in their front yards, most of which is the road itself. Some of them viewing you as though you are riding a kangaroo with three legs and big moustache !

But then, they really are simple people. Simple Minds. Simple Homes. Simpe egos and such else. A home that caught my attention on the way, was the one you see below which was more exotic than the most of what those big builders offer. ( At prices that could well maket me a bonded labourer for three generations)

How would it be to retire here. With the grassland as your garden, real mountain as a wall paper !

For a big city officianado, frankly, there is nothing to do here. That sentence reads as ‘no malls here’. Those malls with parking lots and attendants who guide the cars into parking bays imagining themselves to be Air Traffic Controllers guiding an aircraft on to its parking bay. Those were 200 kilometers behind us.

The claim to fame of Diveagar is its beach. That beach is long and clean. But more important to me, is that it is a few kilometers of COMMERCE FREE ZONE! No candy. No ground nut. No silly target practice with a bunch of balloons and bent air guns, with which you cant hit a target as big as buffalo on growth hormones, not to think of those small oddly shaped balloons.

There were no swank cars. No ice creams the size of cauliflowers. No groundnut vendors. No gola. No Pav bhaji. Nothing. Just the beach and its sand bubbler crabs !

Ah. One exception. Just one old chap on a carriage pulled by horse look alikes. And no takers. We were content walking barefeet that we politely declined his offer for a ride on the beach. The horse look alikes seemed to nod and neigh in great happiness, and I strongly suspect they managed to look at our pizza powered bulges through the corners of their blinkers.

The little of the tourists that we saw, were more like us. Thankful to walk and spare the horse look alikes religiously, that we could have applied for some award sponsored by SPCA or someone of that ilk. Some time soon, the horse cart was out of sight !

It was such a relief. The only murmur and occasional shout, came from the waves and the breeze. All else was silent! The waves themselves leaving patterns on the beach which could take up all of the hard disk space on my camera !

The sun dance was spectacular, to say the least. Playing hide and seek with such élan that at one point, the missus repeated a line that she has a particular way of saying. She has said it enough times in the recent past and I usually interpret it as ‘danger’.

‘Its either the camera or me’. I stopped. Obviously.

We drove !

We drove. It was getting to us. All elements of big city living. All we needed was some quiet. So we drove. In the fond hope that would get some peace and quiet as the rest of Mumbai screamed in the holy name of Allah and Ganpati !

Armed with an array of music on an ipod borrowed from the father-in-law, resting on the direction powers of google maps, with just the two of us for company, we drove.

Unlike in a romantic movie, we drove straight into traffic.

It seemed like an exodus of sorts, for there were that many cars on the road. All intent on getting out of town. Hundreds of Tata Sumos, Taveras and the like, each with half a village packed in, and all their belongings packed on the roof ! Suitcases. Pots. Bags. Chairs. Cycles. Rice bags. We suspect that there were cows and buffallos up there too, that we didn’t see! Enough, in my opinion to last a travel to Jupiter and back !

It was quite like a Hollywood movie with aliens attacking the city and everybody moving out of town !

We then hit pristine highways. National highways that at some points could be well termed as notional highways. And state highways in such a state of disrepair, that it must be blamed on some other state ! By and large (make that LARGE), the roads were inviting with undulations and scenery that we only get to see in big budget movies!

But the drive was worth it ! The Konkan coast is beautiful!

We drove through hills and beaches. Through small towns and smaller hamlets. Chatted up with fisher folk, caught up with cow herds, asked directions from kids playing by the roadside and their burqa clad moms. All of whom responded with so much precision, kindness and care that it was an education in manners for us. And it was coming for free !!

The waves seem to dance in unbelievable style and synchrony, leaving patterns on the sand that would make designer salivate ! We saw off the sun. We walked as far as the eye could see. Stopping by streams and drinking off roadside taps! We zipped by elegant simple village dwellings that made some of the city high rises appear as straight out of ‘Architecture for dummies’ !

We stopped by long forgotten bridges, only to be looked at by the villagers as through we were from the Public Works Department ! All that remained was them handing over a petition to us !

Ofcourse, we saw the Ganpati festival in small village homes, where they were more than glad to have us ! Unspoilt, homely and simply nice ! Devoid of Salman Khan songs and Rakhi Sawant gyrations that adorn the Mumbai Ganpati mandals ! Ramzan in village surroundings was so much more simpler, quieter yet so much more splendid !

There are hundreds pictures. Some of it will make it to the blog here! And stories ofcourse ! Stories of a 5000 year old temple. A 5 Km long clean beach with less than 5 couples on it ! Stories of gold and treasure chests told in hushed tones with elaborate hand movements that made us wonder if we were state guests !

Bear with me people ! As I share the excitement ! Look out for blog posts not only on all of the above, but also on mentally stimulating topics like ‘how to endure a traffic jam’ !

Actually, I was in two minds about writing about the ‘serene’ experience. Not wanting to give the place any more publicity than they have now! Wondering if the writing would fuel more people visiting the place and spoil the tranquil.

The missus, inbetween cups of coffee chipped in, ‘Remember, people read your blog out of politeness. Don’t mistake it for following’ !

That sealed it. People, you will hear from me !