How would you like an early morning saunter to the beach with a cup of hot tea in your hand, to look at foam capped waves the colour of sugarcane juice? Or try your hand (and your feet) at shinning up a coconut tree? Or lie on your back on a silent hillside at night and watch a million stars brighten the black canopy of sky? Hedvi stands out in my memory for this, and much more.
A sleepy village on the Konkan coast, the trip was a refreshing emerald comma that punctuated a life of work deadlines, eye-straining hours of watching computer screens, roads choked with unending traffic and pollution.
As we neared our destination in the breaking dawn, the mist and the foliage thickened; a Brahminy Kite suddenly hovered into view - a thrilling trailer of things to come!
We were already in a springy mood, raring to be off. After spending some time around the farmhouse which would be our ‘roosting place’ for the next few days, we pushed off on a trail. On the way, a lime butterfly was sighted and there ensued a discussion about the various stages of its lifecycle.
The seashore trail took us along a clean beach with the waves breaking into foam on the nearby rocks. And an awesome sight met our eyes - a clean gully had formed due to the incessant action of seawater hurling itself at the rock. As the water rushed up in high tide, it threw up jets of water about 15 - 20 feet high. The Blue Rock Thrush spotted earlier was forgotten, as we tried to estimate the depth of that slippery gully which has been a watery grave to some.
In a shallow cave, we came across a cute reddish saucer-shaped object stuck to the ceiling. It was the nest of a Dusky Crag Martin. There was a tunnel-shaped nest nearby built by a Red-rumped Swallow. A clear view of an Osprey perched on a tree in the nearby hills rounded off our trail, and readied us for a simple and wholesome lunch at the farmhouse.
The evening saw us walking along a shallow stream across fields. A heron, white-throated kingfishers and several drongos later saw us taking a road up into the hills.
Thoroughly exhausted with the long walk, we reached the farmhouse, to find a snake show on the cards. However the hot dinner and the snake show blew our sleep away, as the experts handled a Rat snake and a Saw-scaled Viper with equal ease.
As night fell, sleeping bags and chattais made an appearance, the intention being to nod off in the open coconut grove with a cool breeze fanning us.
Being an avid band of birders (bird-watchers to the uninitiated), most of our time was spent traipsing all over the red mud roads and through the jungle patches that dot this coast.
One day a local chap took us to a place where we might find a bird all were eager to spot. Languid hours were spent on the banks of a shady stream, hoping for a sighting of the Malabar Pied Hornbill. Ultimately not one, but two flapped into view. This was followed by cries of joy from some of the less disciplined of our gang. The sad news was that these beautiful birds are also hunted and eaten by the locals.
For the birders this place is heaven, with sightings of scarlet minivets, black hooded and golden orioles aplenty. One morning, we stood with out necks craned, binoculars trained towards the sky. Eight different species of raptors were circling in the same patch. The resulting crick in my neck was worth it. Then there was this deluded male Iora excitedly hopping from one branch to another, in response to an imitation of a female Iora’s call.
One morning we had travelled quite deep into a jungle patch following warblers and other birdcalls, when a Langur gave an alarm call. All froze into silence. What if it was a leopard? Or was it a snake?
While wandering through this greenery you come across beautifully crafted oblong nests of fresh leaves, sealed at the edges. They are the workmanship of red forest ants. These ants are sour to taste and made into chutney by some.
You can spend your afternoons on the sun-kissed beach, or experience solitude, treading a carpet of needle-like leaves in the casuarina grove. A foray into the village can reward you with the taste of ‘amsul’ and cool ‘Kokam sharbat’ offered by the villagers. From nearby clifftops, you can watch an amazing sunset.
And to round it off, the romance of a night spent on the starlit beach, the blinking lights of faraway ships visible on the horizon, and an endless cascade of songs sung to the rhythm of the sea.