“The pristine beaches of Konkan with talcum powder sand, blue sea and not a soul in sight are hidden gems,” guided my friend when we sought for travel options. This was ten years ago when very few were aware of these lesser-known, secret beaches of Konkan except for those who had families in the region. Goa was the most sort after beach destination. It was only the traveller not tourist who visited Malvan, Tarkarli or Vengurla in Konkan. They were nowhere on the tourist maps as they now figure. The boom of social media has sent everyone in search of these picturesque beaches for posting feeds on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook.
Our journey begins in Mumbai, and we drive to Chiplun, which is 237 km away. After six hours, we reach Chiplun and stay at the Pagoda resort. The next morning, we drive to Vengurla a quaint little town with a lone lighthouse, jetty and some pristine virgin beaches. We check into our hotel, which has sea-facing rooms. Yes, the waves actually touch the pillars of our hotel room whose windows open into the sea.
In the evening, we set out to visit the lighthouse, which is the undisputed landmark of Vengurla. Perched on a hill a meandering path, with a flight of stone steps, surrounded with thick vegetation leads us to it. We notice the thorny touch-me-not shrubs on the way to the hill. The kids excitedly touch the leaves of the plant which shyly curl up and droop. The top of the hill is a plateau with the homes of the staff and the striking lighthouse.
We have seen the lighthouse near the ‘Gateway of India’ in Mumbai and studied their functions in our geography textbooks. But never had we ever climbed to the top of a lighthouse. Infused with childlike enthusiasm, the kids, my husband and I; one after another; climb up the spiral staircase to the top of the lighthouse. The wind is at its best as it slaps our faces and ruffles our hair. The 300 degrees view of Vengurla with the azure sea, pristine beaches and verdant hills are unlike anything we have seen before. The sun is on the horizon, and we realise it will be ready to set soon.
After visiting the lighthouse, we head to the jetty which has several boats docked. A fisherman is casting off a net trying to catch the last lot of fish before heading home. We then stroll through the local market of Vengurla. The kids and Rafiq have ordered a birthday cake which they plan to surprise me with at midnight. I play along as I don’t want to be a spoilt sport. Soon we are back at the hotel. When the clock strikes twelve magically, the hotel staff appears with a cake which I cut as my children sing for me and hand me their handmade birthday cards. I feel blessed with all the love and affection showered.
The next day, we drive from Vengurla to Malvan less than 50 km away. We will be visiting the Sindhudurg Fort and if we are game then try some snorkelling. A half kilometre boat ride from Malvan jetty takes us to the imposing fort on Kurte island. It was built by Maratha King Shivaji to keep in check the invasion by British and Portuguese. We enter through an obscure path in the ramparts and stroll through the fort with temples and water reservoirs.
The fort is known for having a footprint and hand impression of Shivaji Maharaj cast in lime when the fort was constructed. We can see the Malvan beach and jetty from which we had started our boat ride from the ramparts. Soon the clock ticks and it is time for us to head back to the boat. Everyone is excited about snorkelling.
The Malvan Marine Sanctuary was declared a protected area in 1987 and is Maharashtra’s pride. It is home to corals and numerous sea creatures like sea anemones, molluscs, oyster, corals, seaweed and others. Crystal-clear waters with rich marine life make it the perfect spot for snorkelling.
I, for one, don’t know how to swim, forget snorkel. I have always wanted to learn to swim and snorkel, or scuba dive ever since I visited Hawaii and Maldives. My daughter and I watch as my son and Rafiq decide to try to snorkel. The instructors help first-timers by providing clear instructions on using the gear and swimming with a safety ring. Most importantly, to observe the corals and sea creatures underwater.
My daughter and I are nervous and have decided to watch others. Soon I remember the words of my friend who had called to wish me on my birthday. “Do something different. Do something that you haven’t done before, so that you remember your milestone birthday!” To add to that, the instructor’s voice at a youth camp, for which I had volunteered, resonates. “If you haven’t done something new in the last six months then something inside you is dying!” That’s it. I just muster the courage and tell my daughter we are going snorkelling come what may. Goggles, snorkels, fins and a safety ring- we get them on and jump into the sea.
The guide drags us with a rope, and we look down and see the corals and underwater sea plants. Seventy per cent of the earth is water, and we will be deprived of seeing this marine world if we don’t swim, scuba dive or snorkel. I am enjoying this experience and am learning to face my fears. I am also trying to set an example to my kids that life begins at 40! And it’s never too late to do something new.
After that incredible experience, we head back to Malvan jetty. All that snorkelling and walking around the fort has got us hungry. We try some Malvani cuisine, a fusion of Maharashtrian and Goan cuisine. Generous amounts of coconut, dried red chillies and spices along with some tangy kokum are thrown in. Savouring a gastronomical thali of appetising solkadi, crisp fish fry, fish in coconut curry, rice and bhakri is sheer bliss. It can’t get better than this.
After that sumptuous meal we decide to go to Tarkarli beach but somehow due to the confusing GPS directions end up at Devbag beach. It’s a secluded beach with some boats anchored. A boatman sees us the only tourists and tells us he can take us on a boat ride. We excitedly hop on the motorboat as the engine is turned on and the boat races against the wind.
The entire coastline has several beaches backed by a thick emerald green curtain of lush vegetation and swaying coconut palms. There are rustic homes nestled in the foliage. The villagers have learnt to live harmoniously with nature and enjoy living life at a leisurely pace. The boatman tells us he will take us to Tsunami Island created after the 2004 Tsunami struck the coast. It is located on the delta where the Karli River meets the Arabian Sea.
We get off the boat and step on the island. We feel like Robinson Crusoe stepping foot on a virgin island with no sign of human inhabitation. The sand is so soft we think that we might sink if we stand for too long at the same spot. The sun is setting, the sky has turned Persian blue with a hint of orange at the horizon. The water is as clear as can be and we are the only souls on the beach. Our footprints are cast on the sand, and we are running around. This is heaven on earth. Sometimes you have to travel the farthest to see the best sights. Tsunami beach is a case in point. Even after all these years, I can still feel the soft sand under my feet, and it’s something I have never experienced since.
Today, the tsunami beach is a far cry from what it was then and is a popular spot for water sports: jet skis, banana boat rides, kayaking and the like. Kiosks are dishing out snacks, and it is sometimes jampacked with tourists. A strange mix of emotion runs through me. While on the one hand tourism has definitely improved the economy of the villagers, I wonder whether it was worth sacrificing the natural virginal beauty of the island? A question not easy to answer as there is often a tug of war between development and environmental conservation.
On the way back to Vengurla, we briefly stop at the MTDC resort on Tarkarli Beach. A Kerala style houseboat is docked close by, and numerous cottages dot the seashore. One needs to book cottages here months in advance, we are told.
We head back to our hotel in Vengurla. We are dead tired after a marathon beach hopping session and snorkelling. The kids are sleepy, and we barely manage to eat dinner and hit the bed. This birthday has been truly memorable.
The next morning, we set off to the Sagareshwar Beach near Vengurla, which is unknown to many. Access to the beach is through a pathway lined with Casuarina trees. The long stretch of powder-white sands and foamy electric blue sea waters is a photographer’s dream. We can see the Vengurla lighthouse on the verdant hill in the distance. One after another, tranquil, aesthetically pleasing beaches in Konkan are leaving us captivated and amazed.
For Mumbaikars like us (before we moved to Pune), the Juhu Beach and Chowpatty beaches are the popular options. These are forever overcrowded and littered with filth and garbage and have lost their natural beauty and charm. So, experiencing these pristine secluded beaches; which you only hear about until you visit them; is refreshing. My kids play football and cricket with their dad, and it’s a pleasure to watch them enjoying. The sun, sand and surf at Sagareshwar don’t cease to please.
We then drive to another beach called Nivati beach. There are no prizes for guessing here too we are the only tourists. This beach wins for its crystal-clear waters, white sands and a crescent arc bordered by vegetation cloaked hills. Very soon, the kids and my husband just let go off all inhibitions and jump into the water. I park myself on the shore and spend time in quiet contemplation and reflection.
Amboli Hill Sation
We then drive to Amboli, a British-era hill station and tagged as an ‘ecological hotspot’ due to its diverse fauna and flora. As we are nearing it, we notice a milky white waterfall cascading down the hills. Several picnickers are getting drenched under it and are making merry. We then head to sunset point, which provides a panoramic view of the mountains and forests. The mist envelopes the hills and the sunlight trickles through it, creating a vivid canvas in myriad shades and tints of colour.
We then head to the local village and see a shop selling wooden toys. My daughter wants a kitchen set and my son a car. We pick up some cashew barfi and mango candy and head to our resort and retire for the day.
The next morning, we visit some of the vantage points in the hills near the resort. Butterflies are fluttering around as several wildflowers grow. Amboli is a favourite with nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts. Reptiles like snakes, geckos, lizards or butterflies and insects or even the state animal of Maharashtra, Indian Giant Squirrel and the occasional leopard have been spotted here. Rafiq on his early morning jog had seen on the tar road a scorpion crushed perhaps by a speeding vehicle. On our subsequent trips, we have even seen the Indian Giant Squirrel and deer.
Our trip to Malvan has come to an end. Today there are numerous websites, blogs and social media posts about these secluded beaches. But ten years ago, except for a few friends’ recommendations and a book on weekend getaways from Mumbai we had no reference points. Little did we imagine at the beginning of the trip, the beauty and secrets that would unfold. Sometimes when you don’t have any expectations life surprises you with the unimaginable and the best it has to offer. All you need to do is surrender and embrace it!
|GETTING THERE- |
Nearest Airport: Sindhudurg Airport is the closet. It is 12 km from Malvan. The other option is Dabolim Airport, Goa.
Mumbai – Vengurla: 545 km/10 hours
Malvan- Vengurla: 50 km/ 1 hour 15 mins
– Amboli: 55km/1 ½ hours
Where to Stay: MTDC has properties in Tarkarli and Amboli. You can do a net search for hotels based on budget and comfort.