Serene sands

Print edition : October 21, 2011

A view of the beach at Vengurla. The recorded history of this coastal town goes back to the early 1600s. - PICTURES: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation has opened up the State's coastline to tourism.

WHAT do you get when you have a coastline that stretches for several hundred kilometres with isolated sandy beaches, safe waters and easy access by road and rail? The answer: very desirable holiday destinations. The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) twigged on to this years ago, with the result that beach enthusiasts now have a huge choice where they can soak up the sun, laze under casuarinas or indulge in adventure sports or in any of the numerous activities on offer in glossy tourist brochures.

The MTDC has a couple of dozen beach resorts along the Konkan coastline that range from the simple to the swanky and is now promoting properties in the three main coastal districts of Raigadh, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg. The Sindhudurg resorts are among the newest and come in the five-star range. Tarkarli is the biggest facility in Sindhudurg. This relatively untouched region is blessed with white sand and clear water and is emerging as a popular destination for scuba diving and snorkelling. A small coral reef here is a big draw for visitors. Traditionally a fishing area, boats from the nearby villages are drawn up on the sands, and when the tide comes in at dawn, the fishing fleet sets out.

The MTDC's quaint resort at Tarkarli has all the facilities to make one's stay memorable. There is also the option of living in the MTDC's luxurious houseboats, Karli and Hiranyakeshi. The double-decked Hiranyakeshi is equipped like a five-star hotel room, with a personal valet in attendance. Binoculars and fishing rods are thoughtful additions.

It is sacrilegious to actively do anything while in Tarkarli, but those who are still charged with urban energy can visit the imposing Sindhudurg fort. Time would perhaps be better spent sampling the Malvani food spicy fish, vade and, of course, the eternal curries of the Konkan. Unbelievable and Unspoilt is how the MTDC bills its Tarkarli resort, and indeed the words are well chosen.

Vengurla is the other wonderful beach of the area. The thriving port and towering lighthouse are reminders of the long history of this old coastal town whose recorded history goes back to the early 1600s. A trading post, it experienced its share of piracy, plunder and attacks and, as a consequence, had fortified settlements. The two coastal forts of Sindhudurg and Padmagad are located here. Other beaches in the area are Bhogve, Shiroda and Aravalli, the latter two being close enough to Goa to entice tourist traffic from there too.

The prominent beaches of Ratnagiri district are Velneshwar, Ganpatipule and Murud-Harnai. Ganpatipule is possibly the most famous beach in the State and is a popular pilgrimage destination because of the Swayambhu Ganpati temple in the village. The MTDC hotel here is located on a bluff overlooking the sea. Spread out below is the characteristic vista of the Konkan houses with red-tiled roofs, paddy fields and mango orchards.

SHASHI ASHWAL

The beach at Murud-Harnai is also gaining in popularity, especially with those who like a spot of birdwatching. Sea birds such as the white-bellied eagle and the white-backed sea eagle, notoriously shy, live on this isolated part of the coast. The relative isolation also means that Olive Ridley turtles occasionally use this beach as their home. So, birds and turtles are the chief attractions that await those who explore this MTDC destination.

The MTDC offers basic but comfortable holiday homes or home-stay options in Murud-Harnai. Velneshwar is the epitome of tranquillity with its riverside location, but during Sivratri the village comes alive as the local Siva temple is besieged with pilgrims.

Raigadh district, the closest to Mumbai, offers the beach destinations of Kihim, Kashid, Harihareshwar, Sreevardhan and Murud (not to be confused with the Murud in Ratnagiri district), which have for long been popular among Mumbaikars as weekend getaways. In fact, the MTDC started tented accommodation on the beach at Kihim many years ago, a novel and affordable idea that proved to be popular. Just a furlong away from the shore is Kolaba fort, and a longish rickshaw ride of 15 km gets you to Chaul, a history enthusiast's delight with its Portuguese ruins, Buddhist caves, a hamam khana, a church, a temple and even a synagogue.

Harihareshwar, popular because of its proximity to Mumbai and Pune, has many small temples around it and is known as the Kashi of the south. Actually, most of the Konkan beach resorts of the MTDC have temples of varying antiquity near them.

Road and rail are the most direct ways to get to these beach resorts though some of the Sindhudurg beaches can be accessed by landing at Goa's Dabolim airport. While the impatient urban mind might fret at the unavailability of air travel to these destinations, it is actually a blessing not only does it reduce the tourist traffic but the lack of this sort of development is precisely the charm of these holiday destinations. Unlike the beaches of Goa that have been overexposed, the beaches of Maharashtra have retained their pristine quality and offer the quietness so essential for a true vacation.

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