To the Konkan

I got the bus at mid-day, a rickety, musty country bus with hard bench seats: four hours to Oni. I made a friend on the bus, an old lady who told me a great many interesting things. To compensate for my immense stupidity in understanding nothing she said (all in Marathi) I offered her snacks, which she accepted with alacrity. She reciprocated by showing me, when the bus had stopped for a half-way break, a good place behind a barn for a pee.

For the first two hours outside Kolhapur the landscape looked like Northern California: rolling straw-colored hills with green irrigated valleys. (Indians made the same mistake Californians did with the Eucalyptus tree — it was brought from Australia because it grows quickly to provide shade, but by the time people figured out how water-greedy and impossible to get rid of it is, it was too late.) Then all of a sudden we passed through a gap in the hills and I realized that we were high above sea level and there was a great golden valley stretched out a thousand feet below us, down a thousand feet of switchback road.

I wasn’t paying attention when we arrived at Oni, and they had to yell its name a few times to get the strange white woman off the bus. I was met by a rickshaw driver, a pleasant young man with good English who told me about the mangos and cashew trees on our way, about half an hour over the hills to Ganthi. The road gets worse as you approach, rocky and potholed and dusty. There are dry rice paddies everywhere, stepped terraces waiting for rain, but the overwhelming impression is of greenery in red clay. Late afternoon light is lemony, glowing around palm fronds.

Finally at the Martins’ compound I was met with great warmth and a Kingfisher on a verandah overlooking the valley. The sunset performed; the crickets sang; the peace was overwhelming.

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