Vasant was coming for 3 weeks to Bangalore in hope of interviewing a few frenzied candidates eagerly waiting for this “American”. It was his desire to re-live the konkan trip we had 5 yrs ago (during the monsoon of 2005). This desire made us plan for this bike trip of konkan.
During our previous konkan trip, we had felt the pinch of not able to cover many places in the limited time we had. Places were abundant but accessibility was sparse. Still, we had covered Ratnagiri, Ganapatiphule, Guhagar, Chiplun, Dapoli, Hedvi beach, Harnai beach, Raigad, Lonavala(lohgad, visapur fort, Bedse and Karle caves), Alibaug, Kolhapur and many smaller places enroute. Having that in mind, we decided to try bikes this time. Plan was to ship our bikes on train and cover konkan as much as possible in 4 days.
8 men (myself, vasanth, ganesh, nagendra, raghu with his pulsar, naveen a.k.a kaat with his bullet, Vivekananda alias bigman with his cbz and shiva with his pulsar) and 4 machines, with 4 districts of Maharashtra (Kolhapur, ratnagiri, raigad and Satara) as their target set off on 17th feb.
This was the route planned:
18th...Kolhapur-panhala (fort)-Ratnagiri-total distance 132kms
19th..Marleshwar (shiva temple in a cave)-sangameshwar-ganapati pule-Parashuram temple-Dapoli -total distance 160kms
20th..Suvarnadurg (sea fort)-Jaigad -Panhalekaji caves and Unhavare hot spring ( all this is in and around Dapoli itself and will consume a day) optionally Diveagar(better beach than ganapati pule 40kms from Dapoli)-Janjira fort(sea fort 12kms from Diveagar)
21st (if diveagar then Raigad)-Mahabaleshwar else add panchagani-Karad total distance arund 130kms
22nd...Karad to kolhapur(Mahalaxmi temple) board the train- last day only 55kms.
Day 1 :
Task was to ship our bikes on the Rani chennamma express. All bike owners were present at the railway station 3 hrs in advance. Thanks to the corrupt and greedy system, we ended up paying 4k for 4 bikes ((ill)legal charges) + 150Rs per bike for packaging + 500Rs to the Kooli to load our bikes. Intotal 5100Rs for 4 bikes !!!!!!!!
Bikes loaded, we headed towards our coach, after long hrs of chit-chatting, we called it a day.
Train reached Kolhapur on time (1:40pm). To our surprise, we didn’t have to pay a single penny to get back our bikes. In comparison to
Panhala fort is said to be the largest among the Deccan forts. The fort has a well-sculptured life-like idol of Baji Prabhu Deshpande, in war-pose, erected in honour of his sacrifice during the conquest of Panhala from Adil Shahis.
Our guide showed us the teen darwaza, ambar-wadi, huge granaries, Konkani-darwaza and many more places like temples and palaces. We were all done by 6 and started our journey towards Ratnagiri. It was on this stretch that we had the first experience of the curves of Konkan. Steep curves, well-laid roads, well-behaved traffic; what more can a biker ask for? Kms passed by smoothly until we were just 20kms away from Ratnagiri. The massive bullet driven by Ganesh gave up in the middle of nowhere with a broken chain. While Shiva, Raghu and Naveen went ahead to look out for help, it was time to experiment with SLRs for Vasant and myself.
It was late night (around 11) by the time we loaded the bullet in a lugguage-auto and transported it to the outskirts of Ratnagiri where some help could be available early morning next day. Had dinner at an about to close dhaba and retired for the day in a lodge nearby.
Since we had time till the garages got opened, we decided to visit the bhagavati fort in the meantime. With one bike down, we were 8 on 3 bikes, driving on a foggy morning, to a sea-fort around 4kms from the city. With green grass all around, it looked as if we were driving through a golf course.
We quickly looked around the place without wasting much time as the bullet repair was still pending. Had breakfast, rushed to our rooms. While others got ready, I was the chosen one to push the monster upto the service station along with Naveen.
It was past 11 by the time we left from Ratnagiri to the next spot on our list, Marleshwar. It was a nice 1-1.5 hr drive on the winding roads with the majestic sahyadris in backdrop. Marleshwar(a.k.a Kailasa of Sahyadris) is a cave temple dedicated to Lord Shiva with a beautiful waterfall nearby. All the while I was only trying to imagine, how much more beautiful this place would look during the monsoons. It is said that this place will be full of cobras and snakes during monsoon. We found only a small one in-between the rocks nearby. Most of us were tired after the steep climb to the temple. While others decided to relax near the cave; myself, raghu and vasant thought of a better idea to cool ourselves, by standing below the waterfall. It was a fun run on the banks of the stream upto the waterfall and back; it was worth the effort.
Next spot on our list was sangameshwar (about 30 kms from Marleshwar) at the confluence of Sonavi and Shastri rivers. It has 2 age old temples (said to be dating back to the Mahabharata) Karneshwar and Sangameshwar. Karneshwar is very richly carved and somehow reminded me of our own Hoysala architecture.
It was already 5, and the next task was to reach Ganapatiphule before sunset. Ganapatiphule was around 40kms again. Thanks to the well maintained roads in Ratnagiri, we managed to reach Phule by 6pm. Ganapatiphule boasts of a 400 yr old Ganapati temple right on the beach with the Lord facing the waters of Arabian sea. The beach is said to be one of the best in Konkan. Spent some nice time playing in the calm waters during the sunset.
Our initial plan was to drive upto Dapoli and halt for the night. Locals told that the drive was around 150kms+ on the highway. There was a deserted short-cut road, which would save us around 60kms, but they discouraged us from going in this wee hour as we could easily get lost. Stayed in a home-stay at the village for 800Rs.
Strolled along the white sands of Phule, made sand-man :), filled our bellies and left to Guhaghar. The road we had to take was through the newly constructed Bhatgaon bridge. It was pleasure again driving through the curves. Farmers were burning the weeds and paddy grass leftovers in their fields as a preparation to the next sowing season. Smoke on the hills, made is look as though we were driving through the fog.
Made a quick visit to the Hedvi beach enroute to Guhaghar. Our boys were badly complaining that they couldn’t play to their hearts content at the Phule beach. We promised ourselves that we’ll not spare the Guhaghar sea as well as the sun.
As soon as we reached Guhaghar by 12:30, Shiva’s pulsar broke down. Back tyre punctured. Luckily there was a puncture shop nearby. With all the torture Shiva’s pulsar had to undergo, it looked as though Shiva’s pulsar was this Dr. Punctures’ first patient. We had no other option though…
Post lunch, we hesitantly entered the waters of the beautiful beach with heavy bellies. The sun did whatever he could to prevent us, but we urchins did whatever we could too. Played to the fullest, got buried in sand while the rest showed their erotic artistry. Left the beach at 5 after trying all various types of drinks. Headed to the Veldore ferry terminal. Didn’t have to wait much as the ferry was waiting for us J. Dabhol creek shimmered in the evening sun as we crossed. It was hardly a 15 mins drive and it saved us around 50kms on road. On the Dabhol to Dapoli road (after 4kms), is the famous Chandika mandir. It’s a cave temple 20ft underground supposed to be aging back to the Mahabharata era. The idol of Goddess Chandika is swayambhoo and looks stunning in the lamp lit cave.
It was only a few kms that we had crossed, the most anticipated incident happened, the stitches sewed by Dr. Puncture of Guhaghar had given way. We tried using our handpump to inflate the tyre and reach the next village where some help was available. But, as it was already 7 plus, the garage was closed. Luckily we found a lugguage auto going to Dapoli who was happy to help us. Dapoli was around 20kms far, and the auto driver just asked us to pay whatever we felt like.. when asked about his charges. Hmm… looks like greed has not yet reached certain parts of India. He was happy when we paid 250Rs at Dapoli. While Shiva and his pulsar were being carried away, Kaat’s bullet was the Knight in the dark carrying 3 of us with ease. At Dapoli, we got the tube replaced and retired for the day.
With all our luggage in our rooms, went to visit the sea fort of Suvarnadurg off the Harnai beach, 16kms from Dapoli. Road was not one of the best, considering the Konkan standards. But, it was being repaired.
Harnai is a hard drive-in black sand beach. We could see autos and motor bikes carrying people/fish going to and fro on the beach itself. The beach itself was a fish market with bullock carts plying to and fro from the fishing boats carrying the days’ catch. The boat ride to Suvarnadurg took around 30mins and the sailor charged Rs.100 per head (which included the guide fees as well). The sea fort looks massive and strong bearing all the brunt from the waves. But, from the inside it had given way to forest. Our guides into the fort were the boatman’s children.
Returned back to Dapoli to have our brunch; collected our baggages and headed to our next destination which was Wakawali (around 20kms) from where Unhavare hot water springs and Panhalekaji caves were 10kms each.
We first decided to have a look at the Unhavare springs. At first sight the sight looked boring with steaming hot water coming out from the earth’s crust. It was around 2 in the afternoon adding to the sun was the heat from the spring; which made it difficult to even stand nearby. Surprisingly our boys decided to take a dip at the Unhavare Jacuzzi. It was worth it.. the water had just a faint smell of sulphur. Once in the hot water, it relieved us of all body aches haunting us. The bath was rejuvenating indeed.
After such a nice hot water bath at the Jacuzzi, it was natural for our guys to lie down once they reached Panhalekaji caves. Only I, shiva and Nagendra went around the massive hillock with caves being dug all around it while Vasant followed some models (buffaloes) persuading them for a photo shoot.
Don’t know how the hell those people found so much of free time to cut 29 caves out of the hard granite. Man.. it must’ve taken decades. These caves are said to be more than 1000 yrs old (maybe dating to B.C) when Buddhism was at its zenith in India.Located on the banks of Kotjai river, the never ending line of caves transported us to another age imagining the Buddhist pupils in orange robes and shining heads walking along the riverside.
It was 5 when we left this place. Our target was karad via C. We had heard that Chiplun has a temple dedicated to Lord Parashuram, only one of its kind in the whole of India. To our bad luck, we learnt that we had passed it enroute at the Parashuram ghats. It was nearing 7pm and there was no chance we could go 8kms back to see the temple. Decided to quit on the temple and go ahead to Karad. Karad was about 110 kms away. We had to reach Karad by night as that would secure our chances of reaching Kolhapur by the next day afternoon. We didn’t want to take chances by having to travel large distances on the last day and risk missing the train. All the exhausted faces had their jaws dropped down when they heard at Chiplun that the road to Karad was through ghat sections. Adding to that people warned us about the ghats being notoriously prone to accidents.
But believe me, this turned out to be one of the best rides. 4 bikes in line with no overtaking moved on the winding roads like knife on butter. By now we had to plan our fuels so that by the time we reached Kolhapur,we could run out of it. And as it was dark we didn’t want to risk one of our mates left out due to bike problems struggling to contact the rest due to network unavailability. The whole journey went smooth, until 25-30 kms from Karad where the front tyre of Raghu’s pulsar got flat. Luckily the tyre was still able to retain some air, and with the help of our footpump we managed to reach the puncture shop. After all these adventures, we were at Karad by 11. And by the time we booked rooms and settled down, it was 1am.
Day 6( 22nd feb):
We were in Kolhapur by 10:30am, visited the Mahalakshmi temple and took our bikes to the railway station. First task was to empty the fuel tanks. We were always skeptical about running into problems while shipping our bikes from a new town with people speaking a different language. At first, the station master refused to allow 4 bikes at one go in a train giving reasons of perishable goods(which get first priority). Later on, we slowly found out that his refusal was only to extort some money from us. In comparison to Bangalore where we had to pay separately for the guys who packed our bikes, porters who placed our bikes in the lugguage compartment and needless to say about the bribe given to the officials. It turned out relatively simple in Kolhapur (a city alien to us in comparison to Namma Bengaluru). The porters charged 160 per bike (charges included packing and porting). And the station master agreed to make 2 separate challans including 2 bikes in each. He charged us 3k for 4 bikes (legal charges being 2.6k).
Slept through most of our journey with some bird-watching sessions in-between. Our boys exchanged 2 of our seats in another compartment and found out that the compartment was later occupied by a big group of college girls. Poor we.. :P spent most of our time trying to figure out how to get back our lost seats.
Day 7 (feb 23rd):
The train reached Bengaluru in time(by 7:40am) and we were back to our own greedy and corrupt Namma bengaluru. All the fun we had in the past few days drained down seeing the railway officials openly begging for bribe. Firstly, we had to pay the officer for doing a great treacherous job of signing on the challans (80Rs). Next was the shameless railway police.. he started arguing with us saying we had not emptied the fuel tanks of our bikes and he’ll lodge a complaint against us. He argued saying he could easily take out 3 litres of petrol from our bikes. From inside, we felt like challenging him by asking him to do so.. but as all knew, emptying a fuel tank without a single drop of petrol is next to impossible. Though not 3 liters, even if he could collect 100-200ml of fuel from all the bikes collectively, he could screw us. We were at the receiving end, had to shell out around 400Rs. This was discounted price, since we had one ‘policana maga’ in our group. May God save the rest. This was not the end, we had to shell out another 200Rs at the exit gate. Again thanking the Railway policeman for doing his duty of signing us off, we paid him his dues. As if this was not enough, porters swarming us to unpack our bikes. Just imagine the plight of new comers to Bengaluru if this was the reception localites got. Can’t help it.. however it is, it’s “Namma Bengaluru”.
Thus ended our bike trip with a few new scratches added on our bikes, few more kms added to our tachometers and loads of memories/fun added to our hearts.
To summarize in few words, though we couldn’t see as many places as we had planned initially, we savored whatever places we could cover. Had pavs until we could have no more (Vadapav, usal pav, missal pav, pavs and pavs for all meals. God knows who taught those people to eat pavs). Drank to the hearts content ( sol kadi, kokam kadi, jamun juice, kachcha aam juice, amla juice.. wow so many varieties. Needless to say, boozers had their nights too). Winding roads, lush green fields, pristine beaches, mountains piercing the skies, forts adding a few more metres to the mountains, smiling people and lots of fun; that’s Konkan.