After the Mumbai-Nagpur tour, I had been toying with the destination for the next journey: Bangalore or Goa. Considering all the variables – I had to get back to base in Bangalore early, and would also have to carry a humongous, heavy laptop – I opted for the shorter trip to Goa. A solo ride.
One of the drawbacks of going solo is no one pushes you. You might, like me, take it easy and days might silently pass by. I kept dillydallying with the departure date, and eventually the ride that was supposed to kick-start in the first week of February, was pushed further to February 11.
Enthusiasm level was not high even the day before I was to leave for the trip. I felt indifferent, as if something was amiss. Mostly I have some anxiety before a trip like this; this time I had none’. Instead there was a bit of homesickness because I would not be coming back to Mumbai after I had finished the trip. Went to bed hoping I would be more upbeat the next day.
Day 1: Mumbai – Diveagar (109 km)
The previous day’s exhaustion ensured I could not wake up in time. Ended up leaving home at 7 am instead of the planned 6.30 am time. Inexplicably did not take a single flyover out of the several on the way from my home to the Gateway of India. Reached the jetty a just before 8.30. Took the ferry to Mandwa. Had thought of taking a nap during the hour-long ride, instead ended up snapping a few pics of the seagulls.
One problem I have when I ride in Maharashtra is finding a good wholesome breakfast. A carb-laden idli sambar is hard to find, and the ubiquitous vada pav, spicy as it is, does not make for a good breakfast. Nevertheless, had to make do with the Indian burger during the ferry ride.
After alighting at Mandwa, I began the ride toward Murud. The coastal roads seemed innocuous, but the rolling inclines made me sweat. The laptop I was carrying magnanimously made its presence felt during the climbs. Some sections of the road were not too good either, and that made the climb even tougher.
The ride from Mandwa to Kashid was nondescript except for a sumptuous chicken thali at a restaurant near Murud. After lunch, I headed to Rajpuri and took the ferry to Dighi. From Dighi it was a short 16 km ride to Diveagar. Short, but again the climbs made it challenging enough. Checked in at a homestay Nikunj Nivas where the Manjrekars served me a lip smacking vegetarian dinner with fried brinjal being the star of the menu.
Day 2: Diveagar – Harnai (80km)
The plan today was to ride to Bagmandala jetty, take the ferry to Bankot and then ride to Dabhol. Simple on paper. Not when I had not considered all the variables involved. One, my appetite for sleep, and two, the conditions of the roads.
So let me start from the start. Left at around 7.30 from the homestay. There were two routes to Bagmandala. One went through Harihareshwar, the other further inland. I chose the former even though it was 2 km longer than the other. After all, this was a coastal ride, so why go inland? The decision paid back my faith. Harihareshwar beach had only a thin inflow of tourists, and the long stretches of sand could infuse in anyone what Goans call susegado, a state of pure wasted living.
I headed next to the Bagmandala jetty, 4 km away from Harihareshwar. Turned out there were two jetties at Bagmandala and the one where I was initially waiting had a ferry scheduled later than the other one. Rushed to jetty #2.
By now I was fairly hungry. With no restaurants nearby, I thought I’d have an early lunch on the other side at Bankot. The situation on the other side was not too different though, and I carried on. Making matters worse, I had also emptied my water bottles. I decided to go on to Kelshi and break for lunch. Even though it was geographically only 7 km away from me, the road to the place was 25 km long thanks to the creek that jagged inland. Going by my easy pace, I budgeted 1.5 hours to get there. The road soon deteriorated further, and even worse, there was not a single village for a long way. I began feeling dehydrated and took several stops in between. Around 13 km later, I found signs of civilization. Ran to the first house, glugged down several glasses of water, and refilled my bottles. Went a little further and had a home-cooked meal. Scrambled eggs never felt any better.
In line with my travel protocol, I made a few calls to update my current location. Had a short nap, and by the time I woke up it was already 2.30. I was sure Dabhol was out of reach today, but could not decide about the revised stopover. I decided to put this off till around 5 pm. Though Kelshi was still 12 km away, the roads made it seem even longer. At this point, I was wondering why I did not take the Mumbai Goa highway instead of being masochistic by riding on the coastal roads. The way eased up a few kilometres before Kelshi. Yet, by the time I reached there, it was 4 pm. Thought of riding to Murud, some 30 km away. Pushed the pedals, pleased to see the roads were much better hereon. The road now bordered the coast and all the sweat shed earlier in the day seemed worth it. The serene shoreline with long stretches of virgin beaches were a great reward. Stopped and walked around the beaches at Paadle and Anjarle. I was losing time for my revised destination, but who cared. These were untouched sparkling beaches, one that could give a Mumbaikar’s sore eyes some much needed respite. Hurrying on to Murud now seemed an absurd thing to do. I took my time on the ride, and was rewarded with some fantastic views.
Touched base at Harnai. Checked in at a resort bordering the beach and soon headed out to watch the sunset. Saw the sun already dipped halfway in the sea. Clicked some pictures of Suvarnadurg – a sea fort about a mile away from the shore – that made me proud of my photography skills. Have a look.
Day 3: Harnai – Tavsal (93 km)
I started from Harnai at 7 am. Rode to Dapoli, then to Dabhol. Just before reaching Dabhol jetty, I met a Dutch couple who had been cycling for 11 months. They had started their Indian tour from Kochi and were heading to Mumbai and beyond. Looking at their baggage, I wondered how they must have made it through the climbs.
Reached Dabhol jetty and took the ferry to Dhapove. Next stop was Guhagar, 16 km away. A one-hour ride I estimated. Was going along smoothly until a flat tire interrupted some 10 km away from Guhagar. Changed the tube – previous experiences made me more efficient at this – and reached Guhagar beach without further drama. Instead of losing time with a full lunch, I snacked on pav bhaji and lassi, and headed further.
Saw Aussie Pat Farmer who was doing a Spirit of India run across India. The road thereafter got more tedious with several climbs and not many people around either. Trudged my way to Tavsal jetty where I was to take another ferry across the Jaigad river. Narrowly missed the 4.45 ferry. The next ferry at 5.45 would be too late for me to get to the other side and then ride to Ganpatipule. Luckily, Vaibhav, a stall owner at the jetty, offered to host me. Decided this was a better option than looking for accommodation on the other side in rapidly dwindling daylight.
Having stopped earlier than usual that day gave me enough time to soak in the atmosphere. Vaibhav’s place was on the banks of the river just as it formed an estuary. The rhythmic, almost metronomic, sounds of the water lapping the shore gave the place an unhurried look. I was happy I had stopped here for the night.
Some other highlights of the day:
Day 4: Tavsal – Ambolgad (101 km)
I had to make up for the low mileage on the previous two days, so I had decided to take the first ferry at 6.40 am to Jaigad. When I left for the jetty, it was still dark outside. Having been there the previous day helped me find my way easily though and when I reached the jetty, I thought I had arrived just in time for the ride. As it turned out, the ferry would leave later at almost 7 am.
The ride from the other side at Jaigad jetty began with a stiff incline for almost a kilometre. After around 4 km, the road eased out and thereon it was a smooth ride to Ganpatipule, not before the coastal route kept feeding me with some more scenic views.
At Ganpatipule, I gorged on some omelette – this was my way of making up for the not-quite-passable vada pav breakfast I had been having for the last couple of days. I then rode to the beach which had quite a bunch of tourists probably since it was a Sunday. Also visited the temple out of mere curiosity.
The stopover at Ganpatipule turned out to be a long one, about 1.5 hours. Left for Ratnagiri, 22 km away from Ganpatipule. The road had the usual climbs and descents. By now, I had decided I would go easy since the ride would definitely spill over into 6 days. It’s amazing how this one change in perspective helped me enjoy the ride a lot more this day. Snacked on bananas on the way. Nutrition-wise I was doing spectacularly today. Thanks to all this, I did not need to stop for lunch and continued from Ratnagiri toward Paawas.
I had tentatively decided to halt at Ambolgad for the night. This was not the best option because the Ambolgad is 8 km off the Mumbai-Goa coastal highway. Which meant I would also have to cover that much more distance the next day. Spoke to a few locals on the way; they told me I could go to Jaitapur instead. I reached the point where the road forked to Jaitapur and Ambolgad and asked around for accommodation. The locals there did not know much either. Taking a chance, I headed to Ambolgad as it seemed like a touristy place, and would therefore have more accommodation options. Turned out I was wrong. There were only a handful of places and almost all were too expensive for me. Luckily there was also an ashram (Gagangiri Maharaj Ashram) right at the end of the road. Stayed there for the night, where I would later watch India beat Sri Lanka in a T20 game.
The ashram overlooked the Arabian Sea over a cliff and a rocky shore below. I had imagined the ashram would be occupied by some priests, but it turned out it housed only a caretaker and his Man Friday. Mr. Caretaker was a middle-aged man whose tall portly frame could intimidate many. Add to it a loud raspy voice, and you had a presence that could leave an audience groping on the backfoot. I was no exception. Yet, both the inmates extended their hospitality later and served me some delectable mori (shark) fish curry and rice.
Woke up to some violent sounds in the wee hours of the night. Turned out Towering Caretaker had spied a rat near his bed and was whacking the life out of the creature. Slept the rest of the night wondering if any more rat-attacks lay awaiting.
Day 5: Ambolgad – Tarkarli (103 km)
Having had a restless sleep, I started late that day. The day’s tentative stop was Malvan, around 100 km away. Got back to the coastal highway and soon crossed Jaitapur. Hunger announced itself earlier than I expected, and I began looking around for a place for breakfast. The road though was deserted for miles, the only sign of human civilization being the vehicles that passed me. I reflected on my decision to stay at Ambolgad the previous night and felt relieved; had I carried on toward Jaitapur, I would have had to ride a tediously long way to find any accommodation, and could possibly have been stranded somewhere on the highway after dark. Another thing that I had discovered in the last few days: even though I was riding on the coastal highway, stretches of the road seemed like a torrid bald desert. The ride onward from Jaitapur was no different. With no trees for cover, the road snaked through parched land under a scorching sun – yes, a scorching sun at 9 am in the February winter – with pale yellow grass on either side submitting to the hot breeze. I pedalled on slowly, passing through a couple of villages that still had not woken up to provide any meal. Trudging on, I reached Katradevi, where I gorged on my favourite breakfast – omelette with bread.
Rested for a while, then stocked on some chocolates and packed an extra omelette as I did not intend to stop for lunch. The scene changed thereon, with mango orchards lining the roads from Padel to Devgad. By now I had decided I would stop at Malvan, and wanted to make it in quick time so I could spend more time at the beach. Rode through Mithbav and Achara, not stopping much. Soon I was 30 km away from Malvan at 3 pm. I looked up Tarkarli on my phone, and it seemed close too, across the river. Deeming it to be too aggressive a target, I rode toward Malvan. After having ridden through several ghats, the steadily downhill road was a nice surprise and a breeze to ride through. Reaching Malvan, I found Tarkarli was not too far; in fact I did not have to cross a river as my navigation app had indicated. Technology can mislead sometimes.
I checked in to a homestay near the MTDC Tarkarli resort and headed to the beach. Watched the sunset while snacking on the largest ever serving of bhajiyas. The sea at Tarkarli was choppy and no tourists ventured to swim. Otherwise, it had the sights of a common beach – kids playing cricket, some making sand castles, couples clicking selfies, a couple of camels plonking their feet in the sand. Touristy, yes. It was still good enough for some quite time by the beach.
Day 6: Tarkarli – Calangute (115 km)
Had the earliest start at 7 am. Had packed boiled eggs from the previous night to avoid having to search for a breakfast place early in the ride – learnings from the experience thus far. Next stop was to be at Vengurla, 47 km away. Though the route was sunny and bare initially, I soon rode through several mango orchards again, and also came across cashew plantations.
Quickly downed some vada pav at Parule and continued to Vengurla. Today’s ride was turning out to be quite easy. Passed Vengurla and after another omelette-heavy breakfast, continued to Sagareshwar. Somehow missed the turn I had to take and went about a kilometre ahead until I realized my error and turned back. It was uncomfortably hot at the beach so I did not hang around for long. Clicked a few pictures and headed further.
By the time I reached Shiroda, the excitement of crossing the state border was palpable. When I did cross into Goa after Aronda, I felt as though I had crossed an international border. Then onwards, rode through Arambol, Mandrem and Siolim and stopped at Calangute. The ride was a breeze except for the more bustling roads just before Calangute. Checked into another lodge, and celebrated my arrival with some beer on the beach.
So this was it. 6 days, 600 km. I am glad I took up this route; the climbs all along the way tested me. Doing the ride in the late winter upped the endurance factor. Sometimes I just had to focus on the destination ahead, and ignore the heat or the inclines. Most of the time though, I could go along leisurely, pause for a while to just soak in the sights, click a picture maybe, or just make small talk with a passer-by in my coarse, stuttering Marathi.
Over the next few days I rode around Margao and Benaulim. Met some interesting people who might have just given me ideas for the next cycling trip. Excited, but that will have to wait for a while. Till then, goodbye folks.