Beaches and fishy treats

Beaches and fishy treats

Monsoon Magic

Squatting before the freshly harvested groundnut spread on blue tarpaulin sheets, she continued to refuse my offer. I dangled a bigger note, but she stuck to her guns.

Crestfallen, I turned to go when she called me back. “Get a bag,” she ordered. I quickly fetched one from the car and she smiled. “I will fill it up with groundnuts but won’t take any money for it. We don’t sell.” And she proceeded to fill up my big bag with the nuts they had harvested for the family.

Money can’t buy everything, I realised as I thanked the kind village woman profusely; certainly not the generosity of rural folk in these areas. Musing over that eye-opener, I continued my journey down the beautiful verdant hills of Ratnagiri.

With rain and sun gods peeking playfully at the mortals weaving their way down the steep road, there were sudden showers interspersed with sunshine. Washed clean with rains, the trees and hills were a soothing balm for my weary eyes.

“What a foolish idea!” my friends had scoffed when I told them I wanted to drive down to Chiplun and Guhagar, near Mumbai, during the rainy season. The emerald hues of nature are at their best in monsoon, I explained.

Birds of different feathers flew overhead, languid cattle crossed our path and tiny waterfalls gurgled down the rockfaces as we zigzagged down the hills. Past the raging Koyna Dam overflowing with monsoon munificence we drove, pausing for pictures frequently.

Although the Sahaydri Mountain Range is beautiful the year round, the monsoons are when the forests ring with bird song. Delighted with rains, winged creatures seemed to be on an overdrive. Hyperactive squirrels and monkeys darted around us whenever we paused to admire the panorama stretched before our delighted eyes.

Driving about 950 metres above sea level, on a road snaking through thick vegetation, with the rain lashing around you is an unforgettable experience. Famous for its mangoes, the area wore a festive look although most of the trees were denuded of their fruits.

Dotting the landscape were men and women crouched over tiny fields, planting paddy. Children sold large jackfruits by the wayside.  Cascading waterfalls enroute demanded attention and I halted at one called Sawatsada Waterfalls. Its roaring monsoon gush had halted many tourists like me and many of them had ventured down to soak themselves under it. 

It was almost noon by the time we reached the tiny town perched by the Vashisti River. The word Chiplun means the abode of Lord Parshuram, I was told by a genial gent who shared his time and experiences with me at the restaurant I stopped for my meal. My belly sated and knowledge updated, I resumed my quest for the beauties of Chiplun. Standing atop a vantage point, I watched the smooth curves of River Vashisti snaking along the paddy fields. 

It was time to keep my date with Lord Parshuram, the reigning deity of the place, at the 700-year-old temple. Tall deep-stambhas flanked the temple, inside which stood the three idols of Brahma, Parshuram and Shiva. A smaller temple for goddess Renuka was flanked with a tank in which waded a few shy turtles.

With the objective of watching sunset at the much-touted beach of Guhagar, I began my 42 km journey through some of the most idyllic settings in the region. Passing small hamlets with red-tiled houses sitting on their haunches amidst tall coconut studded trees, I reached the Guhagar beach; and I fell in love instantly.

The pristine beach, surrounded by swaying casuarinas trees and lapping blue grey waters of the Arabian Sea, was a class apart. No fresh coconut water sellers, peanut vendors or the ubiquitous balloonwallah disturbed my peace as I sat ruminating over the past few hours of my journey.   

Grey clouds loomed teasingly overhead and a light drizzle forced me to retreat. It was just as well since I had to keep the promise of taking back kokum sherbet for a friend. Sauntering back to the tiny market, I filled my shopping bag with kokum juice and mango pickle.

That night, I treated myself to a lavish Malvani meal. Right from the spicy crabs and clams to the main course of sol kadi, sour bangda curry, fried surmai, it was a delectable fare that satisfied both my entrails and my soul. “Would you like to go back to Chiplun, the next monsoon?” asked my friends, repentant on having lost out on the experience. Drooling over the pictures, they had decided on a trip. “You bet,” I replied with a smug smile.