Velas Turtle Festival with TreksandTrails

 

I have just moved to Mumbai and I have always loved this city which has so much to offer. In the city I found my famously called -in Mumbai -pigeon holes. Coming from Bangalore it did seem that, at least it met two of my criterion. A balcony-tick. A tree in front of the balcony-tick. After squeezing in 1250 square foot furniture into this 650 square foot I found my slice of heaven.  Six months flew by and I had not explored Mumbai, exercised my elbow here and there, movies, the usual drills and I had  had enough.

One Sunday afternoon I decided this is not how I want to live in Mumbai and started reading blogs of what people did without denting wallets. I came across The Turtle Festival - I love all 4 legged things and seeing my little ninjas doing cross country across the beach, made me dwell on that page a little longer. Made some calls who were either not responsive or gave the feeling that I was wasting their time with a final call to Ankit Savla at TreksandTrails. I just had to transfer the money and everything was good to go he said (through him I learnt HDFC had become easy in terms of adding beneficiaries) Did just that and applied for the Saturday off since it was a weekend getaway . Coaxed my friend/boss into it and we were set. Friday morning a whatsapp message pops up saying Velas February 2015 and a mini group was forming. It is finally happening. The work that day was a 100 metre dash over before I knew it and was packing up my overnight bag with everything I might or will need. We had to meet in Dadar at around 10 pm where a private bus would pick us up. 

As the clock struck 10, a bright yellow tempo traveller parked a little ahead of us was looking at us curiously and we knew that was our ride. I walked in to the little group who were busy chatting away, who seemed to know each other from before, so I had to say the chirpiest Hello. Did not have the desired effect.  My boss-Siri and I squeezed in to our little seats and were literally stalking people in the bus. Overhearing conversations, looking at this guy with a cap dressed in formals who was always on the phone, another bunch teasing this guy in a  red shirt about Theplas and tea, and enquiring about someone who was a hit last tour, after a while two girls walked in, mumbled hello and moved to the end of the bus, a guy with metal in his mouth sat next to us graciously offered his soda to us. Then came a few VVIP arrivals who were fashionably late and in giggles. Looked like the cap guy who was formally dressed , this girl fashionably late and a little boy who was dropped of were all related. By then Siri was all tucked up and found a spot on my shoulders to snooze, whilst I looked at the passing scenery and thought -why am I here in the first place?-(I knew why, but that is not for this blog.)The conversations were dissipating as the vehicle movement lulled everyone into oblivion except for me and the guy in red shirt who kept having tea the whole night alongside the driver. I wanted a cup too. I do not know when I stole my 40 winks, since I woke up too  hurried voices saying 29 minutes 48 seconds …really.. How did that happen 48 seconds? 

 

It was cold and dark, I just wanted to curl up and be back in Mumbai. 6 hours and some minutes later my bed seemed far away. Arming my knapsack my little red bag Siri and I trudged on a muddy path that made its way into a little hamlet. The people living there were used to 5 am visitors since none of them batted their eyes but were curious enough to know where we were heading.I realised that the boys and the girls were separated and I found myself in a concrete house lined with asbestos sheet, piled up with bedding, pillows .Sleep was still on my mind and here was this girl (the one who was fashionably late) shouting at a decibel not suitable for mornings -saying "go go go we have 26 minutes and some seconds". Did I sign up for a boot camp? I looked at Siri and just the way she looked told me everything is going to be great. I announced that I have to brush and wash my face, without compromising on the seconds was ready and followed our little group back in to the little yellow bus. By the way I named the fashionably late girl Hitler. What’s next? - I overheard from the over excited banter "last time there were two baby turtles", "previous to that 5". Nothing mattered since I was there for those little Ninjas. I smiled and I knew I had never felt better. Suddenly we stopped and we had to get off the bus and I overheard that we walk. Great, my legs needed that as they would be in limbo. When I got off I realised it was a full blown fest there were more than 150 people who were walking with a great sense of purpose. People had driven down, bike enthusiasts had ridden all the way dressed in skull caps and bandanas. Couples were stealing shy glances and I kept walking when I heard the guy with a cap (formally dressed) call out to us. (I presumed  some ground rules.) Since some were planning on taking a dip in the sea, whilst some wanted to adopt a few Turtles.

 

However I forgot that we were not introduced at all and he used this opportunity for us to talk- First went the two girl who were seated at the back of the Bus- They were Turna and Sayonee, then Siri introduced herself and I said I am me, there was Bhavin, Jyoti and with her was Hitler-Zahida, Pranav (who had offered the Soda), the formally dressed  cap guy was our team leader Yahya Virani, the little boy Talha and the red shirt guy was Hiren with his sister Rajvi…. Now that we have a name to the faces we marched into the woods. Lined up with groves, marshes, posters about the great Riddley kept the walk engrossed till it led us to where all the commotion was. On reaching closer in a green enclosure were two baskets and everyone was waiting for the baskets to be overturned. I am guessing everyone there already knew the drill but for Siri and me it was a mystery and I was lucky to be 5.2 since I had a direct view. Two locals of the village with great pomp explained that the eggs might or might not have hatched, and if it was the former we would give them up to the sea. Supposedly if the Turtle is female she would geo-magnetically  encapsulates the co-ordinates and would come back to the same beach to lay her eggs after 15 years. To encourage the Turtles to come back we had to  contribute by switching off the flashes on our camera. All of us waited with bated breaths, fingers crossed for him to open the wicker basket. I could hear heavy breathing and… not a single one wanted to hatch that morning. Lots of sighs, resigned looks droopy shoulders met the moment. The local encouraged us to return later in the evening. I learnt later that for the eggs to hatch the temperature needs to be right, specific number of days influenced the hatch, the temperature would also decide the gender. Many had come for the fest and had gone back without seeing even the toe of the Turtle. So we had to depend on Lady Luck. Yahya decided to lift our dampened spirits suggesting we walk by the beach. Any other day it would have been great, but my tummy was rumbling and I wanted Caffeine, one more ine and Breakfast. The group staggered into mini groups and followed Yahya’s trail. I followed with Siri. Footprints, sand crabs with their tiny feet making flower like imprints reminding me of the days I had spent on the beach with my favourite cousins troubling them to come out, weathered rocks came into view which was a perfect spot for a selfie, and local canines who were sanding themselves down silly. Was this the turning point for the group or was it the fort that we had our first laugh I do not remember may be it was over dog and the bone. It was an instant connection. It reduced us to mere mortals with the objective being which team scored more points. I think Yahya’s tummy rumbled just then since he rounded us back to the little yellow bus back to the little village. Every house had hosted groups just like ours and there were two women hunched over a stove frying onions for Poha. I know that traditional cooking over a clay stove and firewood has great flavour but it also takes a lot of time and it was ages whilst the Poha arrived. I had to have that shower and get spruced up, for the next agenda on the itinerary -The Bankot fort.

    

 

    

I definitely realised the luxuries  that i was used to -first hot water, second coffee and third LPG in that order. I felt I was back in boarding school where all the girls made a beeline for the loo for their showers (bath) saying after you after you.  My turn finally arrived  the water was cold but after a couple of mugs you braved it that left me refreshed and I managed to get all the grit out of my hair . As I walked out I found tea and Poha waiting for me. Spoilt but not fussy would be me. 

The house had a cute backyard lined with coconut trees and a well which was my go to place that moment on for the rest of the time that I was there. It was threatening to rain and the little family of the proud Rooster ,were busy looking for their juicy grubs, when I heard Hitler (she loved her new name by the way) say -"time to go” and the clapping that went with it. I smiled inwardly and was up. A run down fort amidst a mango orchard overlooking a beautiful coast line, laden with an overcast sky made it the most comfortable spot. With boisterous large groups all around us I realised I loved my group. We did not step on each others toes, ragged a bit here and there without getting personal, savoured every moment, gave each one their space and still were a group. I realised Zahida Yahya and the little boy looked similar and had dented cheeks.

 

Zahida kept calling him Bhai… He became Bhai Bhai (we called him the same way like the Ram Leela song) for all of us that moment on, Zahida remained Hitler. I seemed to have become a celebrity of some sort without even trying how did that happen -I need to retrace. Smell of Mud before the Rain - Petrichor was wafting up in the air and the first drops fell and we huddled in to our little yellow bus back to the little village. Most of us were drained  and wanted that nap that was promised after lunch. The two cute ladies were whipping up a banquet over their clay stove -Dhal, 40 odd rotis were rolled out, baked, Okra, cabbage a spicy chutney to go with it and a huge vessel of rice. It might have taken them hours to prep and make lunch, it took us less than seconds to polish everything off. Together at the backyard of the house the entire group had that afternoon meal together with Hiren's angry bruise looking at me throughout (he tripped and had grazed his knee at the fort whilst playing photographer). They say that a family that eats together stays together.. it felt that way. Some of us rolled out our beds to catch up on sleep while the others played Uno. I slept….

It was dark, dull and raining and it was time to check on the Turtles. Some of them decided to stay back and be warm, some of us decided to brave the weather and check on the Turtles. Hiren, Zahida, Jyoti, Pranab Siri and I raced to the green clearing. The weather had not dampened any ones mood, in fact there were more people than the morning of that day. The wicker basket was opened and one lazy little fellow was flapping his wings.. happy to be out of his shell. The applauds and the smiles for that little bed bug looking thing was overwhelming. We walked towards the beach, ropes came from nowhere and we were cordoned off from the mini celebrity while s/he walked her/his first steps to freedom. Every step which s/he made was met with cheers and s/he would actually stop to drink everything in. Up up and away s/he went,felt a little tug when we saw the little head bobbing up and down in the waves. Siri and I had smiles ear to ear. Felt like we had dropped of a kid to boarding school of sorts. It was pouring by now and we made our way through slush and water logs back to the village, en route stopping for one of the best mint flavoured teas that I have ever had. We had seen the Turtle..armed with a little exaggerated stories we could not wait to tell what the others had missed. Drenching head to toe I decided to brave a cold bath and play a game of Uno. Bhai Bhai with headlights  which served to light up our Uno game and the rendevouz with the watermelon party. Commensalism- A communal meal.

The front of the house was for Uno and the boys to crash, the middle room was for us girls and the backyard was common. We all gathered up for dinner in the girls room and after scrumptious dinner decided to play the "country "game. Bhavin had it coming and did it rain on him that evening.  We will definitely visit him on Valentines and New Years with gajar ka halwa.Ha Ha Ha Ha.. by now I found another ine friend -Turna. When four girls are armed -boy do stay away. :-)The room was converted back in to a dorm and we snuggled in despite the electricity fluctuating due to the rain gods. Guess who was next to me apart from Siri -Hitler. I warned her of my nocturnal kicks hugged my pillow….It was again an early morning with some of us wanting to sleep in and those who wanted to see the next batch hatch. I stayed in caught up on sleep and after breakfast of Upma and Sheera we packed up to leave. The bus got on to the local ferry that also was a barge and our appetites were already whetted for the famous Vada Pavs  whose reputation preceded even before we got there that was available on the ferry.. We did absolute justice to those Vada Pavs, hot tea, and finger corns. We gave him a steady stream of business and by the time we made it to land his pockets were heavier and our tummies fuller. 

Harihareshwar was a dream with TreksandTrails… We paid our respects to the Almighty and Hiren urged to speeden it up since the best part was yet to come. We trudged up narrow steps that led us to our gorge divided by stairs leading to the beach. Here I would say a picture says a thousand words.-Romantic, getaway, selfie spot, geologists delight, water babies. The place is malleable. Our lunch was pre booked in a small little restaurant in spite of the vada pavs waiting for a decision we rained it more company. Then I hear a beep, my phone had picked up a local connection and was responding to everyone saying I am online. I forgot it existed and I did not want to know. Turna and I on the way back to the bus made a quick pit stop at an ice cream shop. Lunch had to be finished off with dessert. Chocolate ice cream bars for everyone in the little yellow bus while we made our way back to Mumbai. One night two days and it felt like forever. Some who connected are still in touch some of us friends and some of us with memories. When I think of it now-that was luxury.

Highlights: Our group Bhai Bhai Zahida (Hitler)Siri and Turna The little Ninja The Secret Cove The Mint Tea Lunches and Dinners Uno Siris Camera- the Nikon What could make it better: Perfect the way it was. May be carry coffee. :-) with Treksandtrails at Velas.

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