Tarkarli wasn't the easiest of places to get to. Off the beaten track, as it were, the little seaside city lay 150 km north of the ever-popular Goa and made for a jaunting 5-hour bus ride from Panaji. Set deep in the south of Maharashtra, India's second most populous state, Tarkarli and the adjoining village of Malvan are more geared towards Indian travellers and much less to foreigners. But they did promise an easy pace, less noise and air pollution, beaches to make Goans jealous and, of course, great seafood. And these were enough enticements to cause us to endure the bum-numbing ride.
The bus rolled into the rough-and-tumble town of Malvan and from what we had seen, Malvan seemed like ramshackle collection of aged, wooden structures without a definite center. There was no sea in sight. The bus station was no more than a dusty, red-rubble square. Backpacks on our backs, we set off to play out a now familiar routine: negotiations with an auto-rickshaw driver. "Hello, where are you from?" "West Indies", Vibert replied. "Aaaah, West Indies. Brian Lara". "No, more like Chanderpaul and Sarwan". A big smile lit up his face. Then he said "seventy" and we
Yahoo HomeTel had no reservations about using the name of a multinational. Quite the contrary, really! It was their claim to fame. it was situated 7 km up a narrow, winding road from Malvan. Billed as a 'tent resort', Yahoo was just three concrete rooms and a caretaker's residence set in a garden that had seen better days. But the family who ran the place, the Khanvilkars, were charmers and any doubts we had disappeared as quickly as heaping plates of rice, chapati and fish curry Malvan style.
A stone's throw from Yahoo was Tarkarli Beach - a broad expanse of off-white, powdery sand which stretched the distance back to Malvan. Small waves from the mighty, blue Arabian Sea broke on the shore sending seagulls in a tizzy and cone-shaped mollusks in a tailspin. A few errant cows lazed on the sand as if mocking the fishermen who strained to rope in nets filled with fish. Stray dogs feasted on a bounty of left-over Tarli from the nets and everywhere was peace. Tarkarli was a world removed from chaotic Chennai and bustling Bengaluru. Tarkarli moved slower, was more courteous and just
seemed to savour each moment of life. And so did we. And for quite a while it was just the two of us on a long quiet stretch, the cooling wind, the lazy cows and this one mangy dog who took a liking to us. A group of youngsters, each no more than 10 years, 'discovered' us and cajoled Vibert into a spot of international beach cricket. True to form, West Indies - (un)ably represented by Vibert - 'grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory' before retiring to the spicy goodness of home-cooked food.
Before 8 am, the next day, we were already chugging down Karli River in a funky 'balance boat'. Two curved bamboo poles hung over the right side supporting a rough-cut 'ski' called an outrigger which helped to stabilize the boat as it powered thru the turbulence where the river collided with the sea. Now in open waters, it was easy to spot the family of playful dolphins we sought. About 15 bottlenose dolphins were out and about and just a few feet from the bow of our boat. These magnificent, gentle creatures glided effortlessly thru the waters in their trademark curving motion. Ever so often
one adventurous exhibitionist would break the surface, become airborne and then plunge beneath the waves. For an hour or so we cautiously followed the frolicking flock (please say this phrase slowly) until the captain decided that we had had enough and deposited us on 'Tsunami Island'. The island was a serene, soft sand heap smack in the center of Karli River and was so named because it had mysteriously appeared after the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Footprints in the sand were all we had time for before our 350 Rupees expired.
Back on terra firm, we took to exploring Tarkarli by foot. The residents of this small fishing village didn't have much by modern materialistic standards but they certainly seemed contented and hospitable. The small wooden houses, the canoe by the rickety dock and simple rural lifestyle seemed to suit them just fine. Father Albert Gonsalves of St. Peter RC Church invited us into his office for a drink of soda. He told us about his work, of how he runs a school on a shoe-string budget and about his plans for the future. Later on, Rajendra, our out-of-the-blue and for-free tour guide, took us to an
auspicious Hanuman Temple which commanded excellent views on the sea.
The sun was setting and its last rays turned the sky a deep reddish-orange. A lone fisherman, in silhouette, paddled out to sea against the unbelievably stunning backdrop. The whole place took on an other-worldly specter. Barefoot, we trudged along the waterline to the place where a boat ferried passengers over to Sindhudurg. The youngsters, of course, wanted a rematch but we politely declined in dread of a whitewash.
Sindhudurg Fort, built in 1664, was the work of the renowned Maratha warlord Chhatrapati Shivraji. Shivraji himself was one of the labourers who helped build the massive strategic fortress. Located 2 km off the Malvan shore, it occupies an entire islet on the Arabian Sea, covers an area of 48 acres and has over 2 miles of rampart walls. Now, the fort houses a small village and temple. The rest of the land space had all the makings of a young jungle and could well be the setting for a 'Jurassic Park' remake. The upside was that the trees had become the nesting area for countless egrets, crows and seagulls. They were coming home filling the air with their
cries and fluttering wings. This fort which once protected thousands of humans now served as a haven for the birds. And from its crumbling bastions we watched the big old sun sink slowly beneath the Arabian Sea.
Mr. Sadanand Malandkar somehow spotted us on the semi-dark beach and invited us to his house for a cup of chai. We couldn't resist. He was a most friendly, persistent man. Inside, we were lavished with sweets, pastries and the best cups of tea we had had in our 9 days in India. We swapped stories, jokes and email addresses for the better part of two hours and then, rather reluctantly, climbed on to the back of Mr. Malandkar’s motorcycle for the ride home.
In Malvan proper we were befriended by a very kind lady at the internet spot, Ambika Computer Center. She asked us a million questions about differences and similarities between home and India and gave us discounted internet rates. Malvan also had a most lively night bazaar which we frequented as one day stretched into three. Thus was the binding force of the place. But our time was up and as we sat in the bus steeling ourselves
for the journey ahead, we reflected on the Tarkarli experience. The easy pace, warm and hospitable people, great food, diligent fishermen and aspiring cricketers felt like home in Guyana and the Caribbean. And we realized that we loved everything about Tarkarli.
But as the driver started up the engine, a more present reality loomed. We had to come to grips with the fact that we were leaving peaceful, tropical, tranquil Tarkarli for a tortuous 14-hour ride to maddening Mumbai.
Thanks to: Ravi Khanvilkar and the kind family at Yahoo! Tejas Khanvilkar, for being one special dude Rajendra, for the impromptu tour-guiding Father Gonsalves, keep up the good work The kind folks at Ambika Computer Center
Psst: We heard, when we spoke last to the Khanvilkars, that the lady at Ambika had written and published a newspaper article about us. No wonder, the million questions and (now we remember) the request for a picture. We are still trying to get a copy of the article which will, no doubt, be in Marathi or Hindi.
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Shanna & Vibert
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