The word that means ‘relative of a prostitute’ is a word that invites fights, arguments and for select few, even murders.

But for me, it springs showers of experiences that transports me directly to a place 500 km away from my home, Kolhapur- a land rich in heart, in soil and in bank balance.

The word dawns its glory here, even before sunrise. It’s here that I first realized the power a word holds that binds people into communities irrespective of thought, colour, breed and riches.

Kolhapur has risen and will continue to rise, ever, on the roar of this word. Young children wake up to the thud of the word by their father as an alarm for their school. Shop owners use it as a command to get the accounts of the previous day, right from their supervisors. Vegetable sellers use it hundred times against their haggling customers. Friends exchange it as an expression of humility, affection and hatred. It is in the mere phonetics and the frequency of the word that differentiates a Kolhapuri man from a non Kolhapuri one.

I stayed at Kolhapur for 4 days in my friend’s bungalow in May. And apart from the scorching sun to complain about, there are many other things that this small city has to offer.

The stunning view of lush green sugar fields, is what welcomed me at 7 a.m. when I landed on its ground. The never ending farms, the far off coconut trees, the glittering leaves and the flying birds – all seemed so orchestrated and like a painting hung on a wall.

As my encounter with its nature was coming to an end, I was offered a flavour of the city- a kating chai. To be precise – extra sweet chai. Its sweetness had the entire economy of Kolhapur blended in it which is mainly built on sugarcanes and it’s products. The sugar coated city is also known as the sugar capital of Maharashtra.

But the sweet affair didn’t last long. As the sun went down, I was exposed to another side of KKollhlhlaaprurr – the blurry side. Kolhapuri’s drink every day and whisky, it seems, has seeped smoothly into their staple diet. The city has achieved milestones in liquor consumption since decades. And Kolhapuri’s take pride in it.

Next morning, after a painful hangover and hours of endless discussion, we headed straight to Shahu Maharaj Palace- half museum and half residence of the 2nd generation of Maharaj’s dynasty. At its entrance lies a huge pond which attracts birds from the surrounding coastal area, specially, during summers. Deers, peacocks and swans all can be spotted here, besides the pond, in this mini zoo harmonizing with the nature. Right at the feet of the palace, I spotted a Maybach, from the black and white era. Legend goes, it’s the only one in India amongst the existing 4 models of the world designed by the company for royal families during that time. Parked besides it was another Maybach, one designed for common man – the Tata Nano.

The museum had taken us back to history. And history is incomplete without action. After exploring the royalties of the palace, it was time to witness the playground of action. The Panhalgad fort, yet another tourist destination of Kolhapur, claded by Sahayadri Mountains on one side had once formed a trade centre for exports, mainly food grains, from interior Maharashtra to the coastal areas during the Maratha regime. The fort is a vast stretch of land spreading across 14 kms, and its architectural brilliance spreading, globally. Numerous underground tunnels stretch out from underneath the fort. We stepped into one, but quickly ran out of it as soon as we heard a guide saying to a family, ”This tunnel is the longest. 1 km long. And has deadly snakes residing in it.”

As the sun was settling down, I rushed to Lake Rankala to capture the last sight of the city. Rankala, popularly known for boating is hardly known for hosting its evening spectacle- a symphony in the sky. As the evening grew, buds of scattered clouds started their show. Few started glowing. Others, started changing colours slowly. From golden to yellow, from yellow to orange, from orange to brown, and then finally to black. It seemed the clouds offered this as a gratitude to the sun for showing up every day and guiding them throughout their journey.

Slowly, as the day closed its eyes, the city went illuminated with lights, yellow and white, everywhere. My trip came to an end but my journey had just begun. What started with a beautiful sunrise ended with a perfect sunset.

As I was walked into the bus to Mumbai, I gave my friend a gift which Kolhapur gave to me in these 4 days. In its perfect wrap and flawless accent, I gave Kolhapur and my friend, the same abuse, as a token of sheer appreciation.

Ninad Gawhankar