After getting directed from this road to that lane many times, finally I was there, staring at them with wide eyes. This is where they are made! The Gods I am seeing from childhood, the brand name that is ruling the market for past many years. They were peeking from every window, every doorstep, no matter how small or big the house is. It seems all the locality has this one business that keeps it going.
The Kashid hotel’s sucking prowess increased exponentially at night, when at about 4.30 A.M. the electricity was gone, taking out the fans. I laid awake turning and twisting on my bed for one hour sweating profusely, hoping that the generator would at least now be turned on, but it never saw the day of life. Finally opened some windows, and drowsed off to the tune of the winds and rains outside. So the wake up was late, and I had too much planned for the day’s itinerary.
I hurried to the road, and Kashid beach stopped me in my tracks. It was looking beautiful and inviting, but there was no time for it, not yet. I promised it that I will come in evening, shot a few pictures and moved on.
My major halt of the day was at Pen. Pen is a town where every State transport bus stops while going on to Mumbai Goa Highway. But it’s identity is not just its bus stop. It is the major manufacturer and exporter of Ganesha idols. ‘Pen Ganesha’ are exported worldwide, and in the places where Ganesha festival is celebrated in large scales, finding anyone who doesn’t know ‘Pen Ganesha’ is a very hard task, if not an impossible one.
Ganesha has always been my most favourite God from as long as I could remember. As a child, I could instantly connect to his elephant face or the pot belly or his vehicle the mouse or the modaka in his hand. The fascination did not decrease as the years went on, and though I am not as religious now as before, the love for Ganesha remains the same. For this very same reason, I was intrigued by the Pen Ganeshas. I wanted to see their manufacturing place, how they were made? Were they produced in a factory in masses, or were they labor of love, made individually? What exactly is the process to make a pile of sand or plaster of Paris? These were the questions that lead me to Pen.
The road from Kashid to Pen goes through sleepy villages such as Chaul, Revdanda and other small ones. You pass through the coconut plantations, through ruins of history, through busy hustling lives of the villagers. Plus with the Gulmohar trees in full swing burning the sky red, the ride is enchanting.
There is a turn before 3 kilometers of Alibag that lets you skip visiting Alibag and leads you directly to the road to Mumbai – Goa highway. Pen is located about 38 kilometers from here.
Luckily the rains had taken a holiday, so I was not needed to wear the raincoats today. But that meant my half sleeve covered hands were now open to Sun’s tanning, and he did a beautiful job. No amount of sun screen lotion would help, as one rides with his bare arms in the sun in that heat. The tan would now take days to get off.
Finally I reached Pen. Finding the Ganesha making kaarkhana – or industry is not at all difficult. Everyone knows about them, though everyone will have his own way to direct you towards it. Many times, they will even have preferences as to which shop you should visit and which ones to avoid. I filtered out the information from the noise from their advices, and finally landed in the lane – the Aali – that makes Ganesha and other idols for living.
I parked Vesta in front of a shop cum home, and froze with my finger on the camera’s shutter button. Where should I start from?
It was mesmerizing. Every small house and hutment was making some idols of Ganesha. Almost every shop had different styles of the idols. I was free to roam around. The people busy in making the idols had no time or inclination to watch me while I was taking photos, and were too shy to stop my camera.
All the old and young people were involved in the Ganesha idol making process. Each had different tasks, some were brushing off the extra plaster of paris from the freshly minted idols, some were giving it the first coat, some were drawing the ornaments and clothes, while others were simply waiting for customers, having finished a batch recently.
Ganesha is one God in Hindu mythology that has undergone many artistic modifications over the years. There were hundreds of styles in which the God was made, each as fascinating as others.
The process of making the idols is an interesting one. I learned it from a sleepy boy, who was waked up by his mother to show me around.
First a sand idol is made in desired design. Its hands are removed, because any such outside hanging parts are prepared separately, and then joined together later. Then the idol is painted multiple times with rubber and cloth, to make a rubber clothing exactly in the shape of underlying idol.
Then a plaster of paris is applied from its all sides, to make the die for future idols. After it dries, the die is separated, and the inner idol is removed, to reveal a base die for next iterations.
The rubber coating that was on the idol is removed too, for placing inside the die.
It is looking elongated because it is only rubber with nothing inside.
For preparing the batch of idols, the rubber is now placed inside the die and the coats of plaster of paris are applied by hand. Then, the die is sealed shut, and is placed to dry. Once dried, you open up the die, remove the rubber, and Voila! A Ganesha idol is now ready.
Pen’s Kumbhar Ali – Potter’s lane is one of the many lanes that manufactures Ganeshas. It is not limited to the Gods though, as other earthen-made things such as pots too were displayed.
The last stop in Pen was near the riverside, where the bigger Ganeshas are made. The workshop is a make-shift shelter of plastic and patras, and houses thousands of under-process Ganeshas. I could spot at least 10 workers with many presumably gone out at 2 P.M. Ganesha making is the business that goes all year long, and provides income source to a large number of people.
Got to learn about the economy of the idols as well. Making a plaster of paris or sand idols takes about same time. But what differs is the money involved. A sand made idol costs bit higher than a plaster of paris one. Also, the finishing of the former can’t match the later. Thus, lured by low price and good finishing, the demand is naturally higher for plaster idols than the sand ones, and so is the supply.
But this is a vicious circle that is taking its toll on environment. The sand is fully water dissolvent, whereas plaster of paris is not degradable. In one of the past tours a few days after the immersion of Ganeshas, I was shocked to see many broken half pieces of the idols, and was deeply saddened to see this result of the Gods who were prayed to just a few days ago. I would request everyone, that even if it is a bit costly, to please go for a sand idol and not a plaster of paris one. It will definitely help the environment, and you will have the satisfaction that the idol you submerged is now part of the earth, and not part of the rubble waste.
Here I bid adieu to Pen, got blessings of the favourite God, rather many of them!
I started rolling back to Kashid. Much more time was gone into wandering in the Ganesha streets than anticipated, and I had no time for lunch. The animals in stomach were shouting at me, but I had to satisfy them by a hurried portion of Bourbon biscuits, for I wanted to catch the sunset on Kashid, along with roaming around in Revdanda.
Revdanda is one of the very old villages, whose reference can be found out even in Mahabharata. It was once very rich and a center of business in times of sea-trade. But by the rise of Mumbai port, the popularity of Revdanda and surrounding sea ports went on decreasing, and now it exists as a pass-along village on the Alibag-Murud road. It was called ‘Museum of India’, because almost all religions’ artifacts can be found here. While returning back, I knowingly took the inner roads, because that’s where the real road lies, not on the highway.
The inner roads are beautifully canopied by the tall coconut trees on both ways. They are in fairly good condition, and definitely motorable. I would suggest drive/ride on the inner roads; it is very different than passing through the highway.
There is a very old temple called Rameshwar. It is one of the famous temples in the area, just on the main road. It has a huge pond – Pokharan – in front of it, which was reflecting the temple nicely.
This is an old lodge ‘Om Aram’ circa 1945! It definitely looked as if hardly renovated ever since. And there were people living in it! Looking at it felt as if I am in the past, living in that time. The presence of the building is surreal.
Revdanda also housed a fort, which was now in ruins. Many people in the village whom I stopped to ask for directions, didn’t think it was worth anything. Many even didn’t remember it, and kept on insisting that the fort is in Murud-Janjira, and not Revdanda. I found the way around, and entered the rugged road that heads to the fort. It is indeed in ruins completely. It was a Portugese fort, but now only a few walls here and there and some structure is what remains. There was no one in sight, and I was riding very slowly and carefully. Suddenly a man popped up, thoroughly scaring me up.
‘HOLY SH… oh, it’s you.’
The watchman was not happy that I confused him for an apparition, and less so when I asked:
‘So is this all there is?’
Turned out it was so. But however less it was, it had a magical beauty of its own.
Here I remembered reading that nearby Korlai fort has a lighthouse, whose timings were somewhere around 6 P.M. I wanted to reach Kashid for sunset, but Korlai fort was just on way. So I twisted the throttle and let Vesta roar to speed. I am usually a sedate rider, and mostly tour two up, so I had kind of forgotten what a beast Vesta can be. She surprised me with sudden bursts of acceleration and literally throwing me back sometimes, responding beautifully to the accelerator. Riding her was always a pleasure in this trip.
I reached the little Korlai village, where the main business is of fishing industry. If someone you know can’t stand the stench of fish, and you want to get rid of him for good, bring him to Korlai. I am a fish loving person, either living or dead, so I didn’t mind the stench. The road to Korlai fort passes through the small backroads of the village, and sometimes I wondered whether I would end up in someone’s backyard, so small the roads were. Joined the incline that leads to the lighthouse and the fort.
On way up to the lighthouse
Finally reached on top from the slippery bumpy road. The Korlai fort stands majestically high up on the hill. I had neither energy nor inclination to climb up. So clicked it from a distance.
The lighthouse was open, but there was no soul nearby. The door leading to top of the lighthouse was open and unlocked, but the thought that what if someone locks it after I went up scared me enough not to venture in it.
I got down hurriedly, and went full speed to Kashid beach. This was my last stop for today. Reached there well in time for the sunset.
The beach was pretty empty, except some small groups of tourists. I chose a lone spot, and sat in silence. Silence was indeed my best friend on this tour, the other being Vesta. We spoke in thoughts, and a lot of confusion would melt away. It is surprising how just staying quiet can calm you and enlighten you. I think in schools and colleges, where we learn by speaking and hearing only, one hour should be dedicated just for silence, to learn from within.
The beach was clear of any garbage or filth. The empty sand stretch in front of me was inspiring the artist in me, and so I wrote:
While I was taking photos, two curious college boys came around me. They asked me why this Wrangler badge was written in sand. After explaining them the True Wanderer contest, they offered me to draw up a bigger Wrangler tag in the sand, and clicked my photo.
I had decided to check out from that insect zoo of a hotel, and didn’t care if I had to sleep in some shop’s cover. Anything would be better than this! Reached Murud about 15 kilometers from here, and scouted for hotels. I noticed that most hotels around the sea charged quite heftily, irrespective of what they offered. The hotel that I finally settled in had to be bargained with to install a TV set! I didn’t turn it ON at all, as was busy writing the blog and editing the photos, but it gave me satisfaction of getting my money’s worth!
Murud had a good range of Reliance, which meant my data card would finally be put to a use after many days. It also has many good hotels, one amongst them being ‘Patil Khanaval’. It is quite famous for its tasty food, and I can confirm that. Today I rode long distances, but meeting the Gods’ creators and venturing in the hidden unnamed streets of small villages made it worth.