Pinch me hard… Am I dreaming? I see mangoes everywhere – on either side, in front, at the back, on the top and even at the bottom. Oh, God! Don’t wake me up, I want to stay lost in this Mango-land forever and never to return. Like every dream that ends on waking up, my tour to Mango-land too came to an end (but with cartons full of mangoes) on returning back to Pune. Today I share with you my extraordinary dreamlike experience of visiting Devgad.
Devgad is a small town in Devgad Taluka of Sindhudurg district. The name echos around in the summer in Maharashtra and probably also in the neighbouring states. And the reason behind this is mangoes, yes the famous Devgad Alphonso Mangoes. With the onset of spring, various local stores turn into mango sellers and new businesses start, new stores open and they all sell this seasonal delicacy the ‘Hapus’ Mangoes which are branded into two categories – Ratnagiri Hapus and Devgad Hapus. All these mangoes are sold at an expensive rate with the Devgad variety being even more than the Ratnagiri. (Read my Mango story from this post.)
The business of these seasonal sellers bloom during these couple of months and we the consumers happily pay the inflated price to satisfy our palate. After all, the mangoes appear in the market only for a short period during this time of the year and it deserves to be valuable. Being a mad mango lover, I can give you multiple reasons and thousand excuses to justify my craze of purchasing mangoes. So this was the regular story to date, every summer.
Strangely this year my soul was not very content with the quality of the mangoes available in the market. I wanted to have the pure and rich taste of the mangoes and immediately made a plan to taste the fruit from the place of its birth. Then what? We packed our bags and started off for a long drive towards the South for our short trip to Devgad in the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra. The drive through the National Highways was pretty much the same. The twist in the scene arrived along with the twists on the road. As we approached the Western Ghats the scenery changed. The surrounding became more green with tall evergreen trees on either side of the road.
The vegetation gradually turned from a mixed variety of trees to only mango trees with occasional jackfruit and cashew trees, the only common thing was they all were laden with fruits. There were mango trees all around, be it wild, be it cultivated, on the slopes, on the planes, on the hills and by the roads – small to medium to large. All the trees were heavy with fruits. I was awe-struck, with my jaw dropped and eyes wide open, I gazed in wonder at the sight. Never in my life did I see these vast stretches of Mango fields.
It took me long, pretty long to come out of this amazement. And when I came out of this trance we were in comparatively narrower MDR (Major District Roads) meandering through the mangoes (I would prefer to ignore the trees and the orchards and directly call them mangoes as every tree in every orchard was full) of the Western Ghats. It was good as long as I was in my trance, the sooner I was out of my state the devil took over me (or shall I say the long sleeping inner child woke up). My hands were itching to pluck some mangoes as they were so close and down kissing the soil.
My gentleman husband warned me to behave myself which I followed and swallowed my utter desire. But temptation is the biggest evil and the trees kept tempting me, calling me, luring me and turning me crazy. My soul rushed out of my body through the windows to the orchards to run around and pluck the fruits and pick the already fallen ones. The running car, the seat belts and above all the warning of my husband were all keeping me in my place. After a while, my husband dear realised my inner duel and being a good spotter he saw a few fallen mangoes near an orchard and stopped the car.
I immediately jumped out of the car and picked up all the fallen fruits. Satisfying my itch to a small extent I returned back on the track. But this utmost desire to steal was driving me crazy. Every small tree seems to call me with its branches extended to offer me their token of friendship their gift of love. It was difficult to convince my husband and make him realise that there is a different kind of joy in plucking the fruit (ethically it can be termed as stealing), which even purchasing the best of it can never give.
Turns after turns passed by in utter silence, but my face said it all and my husband agreed to stop the car in front of a fruity tree presumably wild not belonging to any orchard, by the side of the road. I plucked one and then the sweet aroma of the dripping juice from the broken twig acted as an appetiser and I could not stop my hands. I plucked one more, then one, then a bunch and in this way I plucked quite a few of my much-loved fruit – some raw and some on the verge of ripening. Plucking enough, satisfying my childlike craziness and thanking the tree and giving it a tight hug I happily went back to our route.
The car was filled with the scent of the freshly plucked fruit and I was dancing in my mind. This scent also cast its charm on my husband, tickling his inner child. After driving for some time he himself stopped the car and got down to pick up some fallen fruits by the roadside. I was watching in amazement, how the gift of nature turned a man into a child. He was equally happy to gather his part. So at every turn now, we would stop and collect the fallen fruits, it was so addictive. Our moral values tied our hands from plucking but there was no bar on picking up the fallen ones on the road.
By then our back seat looked like a pretty mango stall with mangoes of all sizes and colours but fresh. Our mango picking adventure at every turn of the road extended our 8 hours journey to almost 10 hours. We reached our hotel with our proud collection. Now it was our turn to preserve them well till we return back home. I slept so peacefully that day just like a child who is happy with her achievement and tired of the enthusiasm and mischievous adventure.
Our hotel was very close to the beach and the windmills. We decided to walk to the beach early the next morning. So we started for the beach which was merely 500 meters from our stay. On the way, we passed a few trees and to our surprise, there was a fresh ripe fallen fruit at our footstep. It was a morning gift from nature. I picked it up happily and it actually marked the beginning of our day. It showed us how the day would turn out to be.
On our way back from the morning walk we took the other route and while passing by the bus terminus we came across a small local market with women selling the local fresh produce, probably from their home garden. Some were selling a bunch of fresh green vegetables along with some ripe mangoes, some were selling jackfruit and java apples and some were selling hibiscus and other flowers. We were thirsty, so we purchased the java apple to quench our thirst with the juicy fruit. There were two varieties of Java apple, one the regular white and the other (that I’ve never seen) the red variety, though the white seemed sweeter and juicer than its coloured brother. We also bought some ripe mangoes to have them in the hotel.
The rest of the day we spent sightseeing, visiting the Vijaydurg fort. I will cover the sightseeing experience in my next post. I thought of concentrating on the Mangoes of Devgad in this post as the mango stories covered the major part of our trip and experience. It was less of a tour and more of a hunt for mangoes. By now our greed for accumulating the fallen fruits has reached its next level. We became expert gatherers, our back seat was our first storage and then they were all dumped in our hotel room. The mostly empty roads allowed us the liberty to stop anywhere and do the ground clearing business. It was a great fun activity. Trust me, if you have never done it, give it a try, it’s addictive and you will definitely love it. 😉
On the way, we saw a makeshift stall in front of an orchard selling Mangoes under the banner of ‘Dhoke Hapus’. We enquired about the shelf life of the mangoes as we were planning to purchase a bulk amount on our way back for personal consumption as well as gifting to friends and neighbours. There were no other stalls selling mangoes in this way (in boxes) ready to be carried for long distances. We came to know that the orchard behind belong to Dhoke’s. We got the phone number and the timing of the stall just to be sure that we don’t miss the opportunity to buy them on our way back to Pune.
A few meters ahead of this there was some harvesting in progress. A man on the tree with a net bag on a hard rim attached to a pole was plucking the mangoes. As the net bag got full he lowered it to the man standing below and he, in turn, emptied the bag into a crate and returned the pole to the man on the tree. The process continued in this way with many workers working across the orchard.
Morning shows the day, and it truly did. We made a good collection for the day to add to our store of collected mangoes. Happy and overly content we retired for the day. The best part of the day was having the mangoes that we purchased in the morning. They were fresh, juicy, heavenly sweet and delicious. Every adjective will fall short in explaining the taste of the fresh fruit. I was so engrossed in having them that I kept on eating one after the other ultimately getting so full that I had to skip my dinner. Meanwhile, a couple of mangoes from our collection too got ripe and we had them too, but they were not as good as those we bought.
The next day we started with our regular morning walk to the sea, but not as lucky as the previous day. Little disheartened we continued our walk and enjoying the relatively cool weather in the morning, we returned to get ready for the day’s sightseeing. On this day we planned to visit the Sindhudurg Fort, the Kunkeshwar temple, Mithmumbari beach and Taramumbari beach en route. So quite a distance and high expectations for our collection. The day seemed a little dull with not so encouraging leads, as the orchards in this route were covered with nets till the ground so no fallen fruit was at our reach.
On our return journey from Sindhudurg, we took a different route which was mostly through the coastal part – picturesque as well as serene. This route also added a few to our collection. The lovely scenery and the enjoyable drive made me forget about my collection. The next day we had to return and that feeling was making me sad. We drove to the previous day’s Dhoke mango stall to place the order for tomorrow and buy some to have that day. We were a little late and there was no one around. I was just dialling the number when a bike stopped by us and the man introduced himself as Mr Dhoke, the owner of the farm.
He said that all his mangoes were sold and now he has the raw ones that will get ready in 3-4 days. If we want we can go with him to his other orchard where he also has the warehouse. We followed his bike on a dirt road uphill through mango fields. It was a drive through the mango hill, with eyes wide open I gazed in awe at the vast orchards till we reached this man’s field. An orchard with lush fruit-filled trees by the slope of the hill descending down to the backwaters which merged into the Arabian sea beyond.
His warehouse was pillared, raised floor with a tiled roof where he had crates full of mangoes and hays to cushion them and also to help them in aeration. There was also a big container full of a whitish liquid which he called ‘Ethereal’ used to dip the raw mangoes to ripen them artificially. He said that all the mangoes in the stall which had a ripe colour were pre-processed with this solution to get them ready for consumption.
We gathered a good knowledge about the Alphonso mangoes from him. He said fruits are never allowed to ripe on the trees, as this species of mango goes bad if it ripens on the branch. So the selective plucking is done at regular intervals during the season and the fruits are spread open on hay and again covered with hay. Mr Dhoke also said that fallen fruits are not of good quality and that is the reason they fell from the trees. Probably that is the reason no one picks it up. This statement broke my heart and I kept thinking of my huge collection.
He also said that the smaller sized mangoes are always better than the larger ones. At my request, he posed with his mangoes in front of the mango crates in his warehouse. I also asked his permission to pluck a couple of mangoes from the trees around and offered to pay for them. He happily agreed for me to pluck them but refused to take any money for them. He even gave us the ripe mangoes that we were planning to buy for free. Even after a lot of persuasion he didn’t take money for these mangoes and said you are our guest to the orchard and we have nothing else to offer other than mangoes. He said he will definitely take the money for the bulk order that we would carry back to Pune the next day. We were highly elated by his hospitality.
He showed us his farm and the neighbouring bay and the Arabian sea. The farm was beautifully located and the sight from there was so pleasing. He said Devgad Hapus is the best of all Hapus. There is a distinct difference between the mangoes here and the ones found even at a distance of 20 km from there. The salinity of the soil, the moist air of the bay and the amount of rainfall due to the topography all lead to the high quality and high yield of the mangoes. Mr Dhoke shared his wisdom with us and we really felt lucky to get acquainted with this wise man and a content farmer.
He said he delivers mangoes to many parts of Maharashtra, including Pune and we got the address so we can place the order with him over the phone and pick up the cartons from the said location where his tempo arrives. Any reader who is interested to have the freshest fruit without any chemical treatment can place an order to him directly from the phone number below. This is no paid or unpaid promotion. This is just a gesture to spread his good deeds among the mango lovers who would love to get the best. After all the conversation and a bag full of ripe mangoes and a few plucked raw mangoes, we were set to return back to our hotel. Again Mr Dhoke guided us through the dirt track to the main road to get back to our stay.
It was altogether a different experience, where my feelings cannot be put together well in one post. It was happiness, adventure, childlike mischief, contentment and many more to keep the list of feelings going. I would rather end my post here by delving into that feeling again to relive the moments. Oh! You must be wondering what we did next. We devoured the mangoes that night and the next morning we picked up the cartons and paid the price (which was less than half the price that we pay in Pune) and returned back to Pune piled up with loads of emotions and ‘Mangoes’.