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. First, Six months flew by, and I had not explored Mumbai, exercised my elbow here and there, movies, the usual drills, and 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 four-legged things, and seeing my little ninjas doing cross country across the beach, made me dwell on that page a little longer. I made some calls that were either not responsive or gave the feeling that I was wasting their time with a final call to Treks and Trails India. I just had to transfer the money, and everything was good to go. They said through him I learnt HDFC had become comfortable in terms of adding beneficiaries did just that and applied for the Saturday off since it was a weekend getaway. Coaxed my friend and boss into it, and we were set. A WhatsApp message pops up saying Velas Turtle Festival February, and a mini group was forming Friday morning. It is finally happening. The work that day was a 100-meter 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 traveler parked a little ahead of us was looking at us curiously, and we knew that was our ride. I walked into the small group who were busy chatting away, who seemed to know each other from before, so I had to say the chirpiest Hello. It did not have the desired effect. My boss Siri and I squeezed into our little seats and were stalking people on the bus. I was overhearing conversations, looking at this guy with a cap dressed in formals, and was always on the phone, another bunch teasing this guy in a red shirt about Theplas and tea. 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.
It looked like the cap guy who was formally dressed, this girl was fashionably late, and a little boy who was dropped off was all related. By then, Siri was all tucked up and found a spot on my shoulders to snooze while 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 dissipated as the vehicle movement lulled everyone into oblivion except for me and the guy in the 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. How did that happen 48 seconds?
It was cold and dark, and I just wanted to curl up and be back in Mumbai. Six 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 bit of 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 realized that the boys and the girls were separated, and I found myself in a concrete house lined with an asbestos sheet, piled up with bedding, pillows. Sleep was still on my mind, and here was this girl who was fashionably late shouting at a decibel not suitable for mornings saying 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 into the small 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. Highfive, my legs needed that as they would be in limbo. When I got off, I realized 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, and 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, while 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 girls who were seated at the back of the Bus. They were Turna and Sayonee, 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 trek leader Yahya, the little boy Talha and the red shirt guy was Hiren with his sister Rajiv. Now that we have a name to the faces, we marched into the woods. Lined up with mangroves, 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 guess everyone there already knew the drill 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 were 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 our camera flashes. All of us waited with bated breaths, fingers crossed for the villager 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 locals encouraged us to return later in the evening. I learnt later that for the eggs to hatch, the temperature needs to be right, a 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. It would have been great any other day, but my tummy was rumbling, and I wanted Caffeine and Breakfast. The group staggered into mini groups and followed Yahya’s trail. I followed with Siri. Footprints and sand crabs with their tiny feet making flower-like imprints remind me of the days I spent on the beach with my favorite cousins. Troubling crabs to come out, weathered rocks came into view, 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 maybe it was over the 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 small village. Every house had hosted groups just like ours, and there were two women hunched over stove frying onions for Poha. I know that traditional cooking over a clay stove and firewood has excellent flavour, but it also takes a lot of time, and it was ages while the Poha arrived. I had to have that shower and get spruced up for the next schedule on the itinerary - The Bankot fort.
I realized the luxuries that I was used to - first hot water, second coffee, and third LPG in that order. I felt I was back in the boarding school where all the girls made a beeline for the loo for their showers bath, saying 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 that was my go-to place that moment for the rest of the time that I was there. It was threatening to rain, and the little family of the proud Rooster was busy looking for their juicy grubs. When I heard Hitler, she loved her new name by saying 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 coastline, laden with an overcast sky, made it the most comfortable spot. With large, boisterous groups all around us, I realized I loved my group. We did not step on each other’s toes, ragged a bit here and there without getting personal, savored every moment, gave each one their space, and still were a group. I realized 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. The smell of Mud before the Rain Petrichor was wafting up in the air, and the first drops fell, and we huddled into our little yellow Bus back to the small 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 - Dal, 40 odd rotis were rolled out, baked, Okra, cabbage a spicy chutney to go with it and a massive vessel of rice. It might have taken them hours to prep and make lunch, and 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 the tripped and had grazed his knee at the fort while 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 decided to stay back and be warm; some chose 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 anyone's 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 were overwhelming. We walked towards the beach, ropes came from nowhere, and we were cordoned off from the mini-celebrity while she walked her / his first steps to freedom. Every step which she made was met with cheers, and she would stop to drink everything in. Up up and away she 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 off a kid to the boarding school of sorts. It was pouring by now, and we made our way through mud and water logs back to the village, en route stopping for one of the best mint flavored teas that I have ever had. We had seen the Turtle. Armed with 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 with headlights which served to light up our Uno game and the rendezvous 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 shared. We all gathered up for dinner in the girl's room and decided to play the country game after a delicious dinner. Bhavin had it coming and did it rain on him that evening. We will visit him on Valentine's and New Year with Gajar ka halwa. Ha Ha, Ha Ha.. by now I found another friend Turna. When four girls are armed, boys do stay away. 🙂 The room was converted back into 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. Their 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 Treks and Trail. We paid our respects to the Almighty, and Hiren urged to speed 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 despite the vada pavs waiting for a decision we rained it more company. Then I heard a beep, my phone had picked up a local connection and responded to everyone saying I am online. I forgot it existed, and I did not want to know. Turna and I went back to the Bus and 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.
Velas Turtle Festival Experience: 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.