Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Net fisherman of Vengurla

Vengurla is a fairly well known beach, so my plan was to take a quick look and run along further south. We dropped the kids off near their school in Nivati, and went our way south.

The distance between Nivati and Vengurla is a little over 30 km. We were in no hurry, though. It was a cool day, thick with monsoon clouds that seemed to be waiting impatiently overhead. I had my trusty umbrella with me for protection. So there we were, me, backpack, umbrella and little camera that were off wandering the roads of Sindhudurg district.

The narrow roads wove gently up and down through mountainous roads that were still wet from bouts of recent rain. 

Wait a minute, I thought. Is this an old Fort? No, I was told, this is farm land, demarcated by walls made of large stones. This is in fact Cashew growing land, and it would get busier during the Summer. 

Being a road trip, I had the luxury of stopping off every now and then to absorb the silence, cool air and sights.  Little streams cascaded down the mountains, similar  to the ones that sped by while riding the Konkan Railway train. Only this time, I could get off and linger a while.

We passed streams that appeared to be very well fed by the rains.

A passing sign board tried to inform us bravely out of the rust and faded paint that Shiroda was 29 km ahead, and that we were 75 km from Panaji. 

The lush foliage presented many opportunities to stop and look. If I wasn't too careful, I figured I may have a hard time getting to Shiroda that day, which was likely going to be my next destination. Once again, that decision was the result of a 'place a finger on the map' operation.

There were far too many distractions on the way. A huge banyan tree was a perfectly reasonable excuse to stop once again.

Having looked enough at streams from the top of bridges, I thought to myself, why not scamper down the hillside to the water level and take a peek at life below the bridge? There it was, a stream that did not appear to be in a hurry to go anywhere, moisture thick in the air, and moss covered pillars of the bridge.

On the other side of the water body was a green meadow where cattle made the most of the nibbles that grew in abundance. Some cattle wallowed in the pool, they seemed to be having a very relaxed day. 

My previous bird sightings were restricted to crows. Here was a bird surveying the area, perhaps a Black Heron? My little camera could do no better than this. This was one time that I missed a DSLR or a large bridge camera, which we had found awfully useful in Kenya. 

I guess I should find Cashew growing here if I come back in the summer.

There was so little traffic  that it was extremely tempted to put up my umbrella and settle down by the roadside, to watch a little of nothing happening. An occasional Maharashtra State transport bus went by, painted the characteristic red that most inter-state passenger buses seem to be painted.

Vengurla is one of the better known beach areas. The approach down from the mountains provides a good view of life below.

A closer look revealed that fishermen were working very hard to pull in large fishing nets. The sea was rough, and the nets had probably got caught up in the sand and rocks below.

Over on the jetty, a lone, old fisherman was throwing his net, simple attempts to catch a fish or two for the day.

He would haul the net up, examine it, trying to figure out whether he had been successful. 

Once again, another throw.

Once again, gathering the net and inspecting it reveals: no luck.

The fisherman then changed his position, in the expectation of being successful from another point on the jetty. He threw the net, and waited. 

The are a few hotels and restaurants perched up on the rocks. I wondered about the environmental and regulatory aspects. Oh well.

Several other folks were trying their luck using fishing lines, at another point on the jetty.

Our fisherman kept trying valiantly.

Over and over again.

And, sadly, each throw of the net netted a blank.

I wondered whether the condition of the sea had anything to do with the outcome of attempting net fishing. 

The sea was rough, waves kept relentlessly crashing on the rocks and jetty. 

We left Vengurla, with the sight of our fisherman friend throwing his net once again, and then sitting down to take rest and let the net remain in the water, all the while perhaps contemplating the outcome.

Further south, Shiroda and Redi waited. 


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Nivati fishing village

How did I happen upon Nivati? I'm not too sure. I stared at maps for a long while, like you do before wandering over to an unfamiliar place. I probably put my finger on a spot that isn't too far from the nearest railway station, and that spot happened to be Nivati. Nivati is a nondescript fishing village with a tiny, colourful port. 

Kudal station is a relatively small one, the platforms are well paved and maintained. There was the usual gaggle of auto-rickshaws and drivers lined up outside, looking for business. My driver was waiting, he spotted me, like they generally do. I wonder how they tend to develop this specific skill of targeted passenger identification.

The ride from Kudal to Nivati was close to 30 km. We initially passed through Kudal town, with the omnipresent bus stop where a motley collection of vehicles invariably gather, like they do in and around bus stops. Pedestrians bravely make their way through the vehicles and puddles.

The  roads around Kudal showed signs of wear after the year's heavy monsoons, which have been the heaviest in close to two decades. We wound along on mountainous roads, passing dense vegetation and paddy fields, and a few villages on the way to Nivati.

Hardika Beach Resort comprises of three guest rooms built by Abhay, a fisherman. The rooms lead out to the sea through a little garden.

There is an open area outside the guest rooms which faces the sea, providing a grandstand view of the raging waters and grey skies. 

I was the only guest at Hardika. It was again time to experiment with my new camera, try out the self timer, run to the hammock and wonder whether the camera would work as intended. Looks like it did. 

A little tap has been placed so that guests can wash the sand off before heading into the rooms.

Though it was not raining, the skies were quite grey and the waves were rough. 

A group of brave fishermen were struggling to haul in a large net that they had cast earlier. It looked like the strong waves were pushing them back to shore, back to the stones that acted like an anti-erosion wall.

My host Abhay explained that the monsoon waves had carried away a lot of the sand, and that the beach should get back in good shape by September or October, when the water would get very calm and the beach would get much broader than it is at this time. Dolphins are a common sight in the area, he said.

After some more exploring, it was time for an extremely well deserved lunch, in my opinion. Abhay's wife and mother cooked a lovely Malvani meal for me, complete with the much awaited Kokum-kadi, a drink made out of the famed Kokum fruit which is rich in anti-oxidants and is also highly recommended during the heat of the summer months.

The rest of the afternoon was spent strolling around the village. Nivati is a one-street village. One end leads to the highway and the other to the little port. There is even a little sign in a run down building that says office of Nivati port.

I was definitely the only visitor not only in Hardika, but also in Nivati village during the two days. It's wonderful travelling during the off-season. I hope environment damaging mass tourism attractions like water sports do not get there, ever. Regulated eco-tourism may not be a bad idea, though.

Village folk went about their daily chores. Many folks were sitting around, chatting. They seemed not to be in any hurry to go anywhere.

Red chillies were being dried in the sunlight, or, rather, whatever sunlight appeared from behind the clouds.

Repairing fishing nets is a daily task, very commonly seen in many homes in the village.

A closer look reveals that fixing nets demands patience and extremely intricate skill.

The port of Nivati was very quiet that evening. The river and sea meet at this point, and the waves seemed to diminish quite rapidly.

Only a handful of fishermen were in the area, inspecting boats and nets. I had the entire beachfront to myself, and the stormy clouds. Scores of colourfully painted boats were moored next to each other on the river, earning their moments of rest.

Fishing nets and floats had been carefully folded and piled up on many boats, ready for call to duty whenever the need arises.

Back in the "resort", Abhay brought over an evening snack that consisted of a plate of roasted "pappads" topped with salad. Yummy!

Abhay invited me to his home, which was across the street from the guest rooms. He had constructed the modern structure only a year ago. Their earlier home looked like the thatched roofed building that stood next door, belonging to his neighbour. The old and the new stood side by side.

The highly valued "tulsi" plant and a coconut tree stood in front of the house, with a water outlet from the well. They drink well water, and seem to be quite healthy, however, I stuck to bottled water.

Abhay and Mrs Abhay speak Hindi, while I did not speak any common language with his mother, so she sat and smiled a lot. Abhay's elder brother Santosh has studied in colleges in nearby cities, and has gone on to earn a PhD degree in Fisheries from Mumbai. He is now a Professor in Fisheries, and was the intermediary in our communications. Abhay is not computer literate.

The elder girl studies in an English medium school a few km away. The little one is too little to go to school.

The sea had been very rough that day, so fishermen from the village had not gone out to sea. Abhay explained the fish business, the number of days available, the risks and the uncertainty of the profession. It turned out that Abhay had thoughtfully gone over to the nearby river while I was strolling around in the village, to catch a few fish for me using a net. The large fish was going to be a part of my dinner later that evening.

Delicious home cooked Malvani dinner, including grilled fish, was served in the open area near the guest rooms, under a solitary lamp. It was pitch dark outside. The sound of the crashing waves coming out of absolute darkness was a memorable backdrop for the rest of the evening.

The next morning, the sky was gloomy and the sea continued to be rough. The photograph seems to be a black and white photo. However, it is a colour photo. It only reflects the mood of the clouds and waves outside.

I gazed at the sea while eating my "Poha" breakfast, speculating on the harsh lives of fishermen.

Abhay told me that several fishermen had gone out to sea in the middle of the night, since they had received reports of presence of large numbers of fish. These are some of the risks that fishermen need to take, since they had not gone fishing for many days. It appears that the crows knew of this, and were patiently waiting for the boats to return with their catch. Abhay also told me that the fish auction would start at 09:30 AM. I wondered what that would be like.

I found a bamboo pole to hang my umbrella on, for a while. It's wise to be prepared, so I had carried it along. You never know when the clouds would give up and let go.

The boats started coming in loaded with catch. The tired fishermen appeared to be resting a bit. It was not 09:30 AM as yet.

The first auction started soon enough. It was only a few minutes past 09:30 AM. My gosh, I thought to myself, city folks have a lot to learn about punctuality from the Nivati fisher folk.

Fish of different types were being auctioned. The ladies buy the fish and sell them in the nearby local markets.

The highest bidder casually picks up each lot of fish and walks away after winning the auction. Not a single piece of paper is exchanged, it is all done in the mind. I guess settlement happens subsequently sometime. Abhay said that this tradition has been followed for generations.

Meanwhile, one of Abhay's boats chugs into the port and he runs over. I follow him. He goes down to the landing area. His relatives had gone out to sea, and have managed to catch some fish.

Abhay carries over four boxes to the auction area, and auctions them one by one.

Once again, not even a single piece of paper is exchanged.

Well, after an eventful couple of days, it was time to pack up, and ensure that the electronics had been recharged. The room is extremely basic, without running hot water. My host had offered to get me a bucket of hot water early in the morning, but I was done with my cold water shower by then, it felt quiet good.

Abhay's daughter and their neighbour's daughter are off to school. I need to be on my way, as well.

A few kids waved and clambered aboard our autorickshaw. So we were five people inside, one kid sitting next to me and two standing. Besides that, my worldly possessions consisting of my backpack, umbrella and camera.

It was a short ride to their school, about one kilometer. The kids got off and happily posed for a photo shoot.

As we waved and went our ways, I wondered about the skills that kids are learning these days, and the skills that may be needed 15 years from today. Do we even have a clue today about what we need to teach each of our kids to prepare for a happy, safe, environment-friendly and reasonably successful tomorrow? I wondered.

Next stop: Vengurla.


Posts in this series:

Monsoon Washed Konkan Railway

Nivati fishing village

The Net fisherman of Vengurla

Redi Red and Shiroda White sand beach

Shiroda to Panaji at 10:30 AM 

Calangute and Baga during the Monsoons

SJBHS OBA Connect 2013 Goa