We awoke early that morning, despite both having sore heads from drinking too much and fighting off dog attacks.
Alec was going home. He had only planned on accompanying me for a month or two and he was finally running out of money. After a series of short bus connections from Anjuna to Mapusa, from Mapusa to Panjaji and from Panaji to Old Goa, we parted company at the train station. He was heading straight to Mumbai, from which he would fly back to London the next day.
As we waited at the quaint station, he chuckled at the contrast in the size of our respective bags. Earlier that day, he had gamely offered to take my 40 litre rucksack back to the UK with him so that I could downsize into my small shoulder bag. He didn’t need to offer twice; I almost bit his hand off. Emptying the entire contents of my bag on the floor, I managed to rife through what looked like half a camping-shop of supplies and equipment:
Having flung surplus items over my shoulder like wrapping paper at Christmas, I returned to him with only the slimmest core of items that I had used in the previous six weeks: my camera and film, the Lonely Planet guidebook, a novel, several small clothes items and a mosquito net. What I couldn’t throw away was thrust into the elephant-sized bag on his back.
I now watched as he leaned out of the back of the train to wave at me, his extra large profile jutting dangerously out of the side of the carriage. Before long, the train curved around the edge of the small platform and disappeared.
For the first time in six weeks, I was alone.
What to do? I had really did have a lot of options: The entire Indian subcontinent stretched out in front of me. With £1500 pounds in my bank account and a flight home booked for twelve weeks’ time, the world really was my oyster. I sat under a tree outside the train station, unfurled my enormous map of India and surveyed my surroundings.
I had already decided to continue north along the coast and toward Mumbai. As one of the biggest cities in the world and India’s cultural capital, it was unmissable.
But in between Goa and Mumbai lay a 400 kilometer stretch of coastline that had a paltry two pages dedicated to it in my guidebook: the Konkan Coast. It was apparently little-visited by tourists, had poor accommodation options and bad food, and not much English was spoken there. Why?
It was possible that, because it was squished in between two massive tourist locations, most the fortnight-explorers would probably hop straight over the area from one over to another. It also looked like the railway and the roads that linked Mumbai and Goa ran well inland and away from the coast, which, unusually, also made the coastal area the backwater of the region.
It was too compelling to pass up on. I decided there and then to leave my Lonely Planet guide at the bottom of my bag. It would be of little use. I would be traversing the Konkan Coast on blind faith.
I had begun by attempting to reach the town of Malvan by the evening. It seemed like the nearest hub and, according to my fold-out map (and new best friend) it had a beach there. But I only made it some of the way. A train took me the first part of the hop before it curled off inland, leaving me at a town called Kudal.
Kudal was a strange place. The main road that wound through town was bathed in the orangey-purple of the late sunset. I wandered from where my rickshaw had left me, amidst the kinds of staring locals that I thought I had left in some of the rural parts of Sri Lanka. The stalls and shop-fronts that lined the busy street appeared functional and nondescript; above each was a sign whose wiggley, dense script told me that English was, indeed, in short supply here.
As I continued through the town, I passed piles of smouldering rubbish that lay unattended in the ditches by the road. A low, acrid smoke hung lazily in the air above them, enveloping the scene around me. The motorbikes, donkeys and carts, richshaws and bikes, all seemed in a hurry to make home before night fell. I began to wonder if this was the kind of place that a tourist could just turn up for the night and expect a room.
Following a collection of pretty basic interactions with various locals along the way – the guidebook did not lie about the lack of English – I found myself in what appeared to be the most solid and imposing building in the whole town. It was referred to by the various locals as “the hotel”, implying there was just the one.
Later, I opened the soundproofed window of my cold, air-conditioned room. Like an airlock, the seams sucked and cracked open, letting the warm, damp air of the night flood in. Through the darkness, the occasional bark and yell filtered across the smokey, quiet rooftops. I wondered what the Konkan Coast had in store for me.