Early in March 2020, we had the good fortune to visit Konkan. In retrospect, we were truly blessed to have been able to make the trip, considering the subsequent turn that events took. In just about two weeks, the entire country would go into an unprecedented lockdown because the pandemic had landed on our shores. Then there was the heartbreak caused by reading about Cyclone Nisarga, which bore down on Konkan with all its might and fury in early June. Many of the places that suffered were names that were now familiar to us, since it was barely three months ago that we had enjoyed their hospitality and taken in the beautiful sights they had to offer.
Konkan’s allure lies in the splendid beaches, the forts and the temples that dot the beaches and the simply amazing vistas of the Arabian Sea you can see. We took the panoramic SH4 highway, skirting the coast to travel through Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg. The journey also involved four memorable ferry trips, car and all.
Our first stop was the Korlai fort in Alibaug, built by the Portuguese. It was an unexpectedly sharp climb. There were steep steps but missing at pretty crucial points, which especially mattered, as we came downhill. As the beaches were full of Sunday crowds, we headed straight to our hotel for the night at Murud village. The following morning, we took a boat from the nearby Rajapuri Jetty to the Murud-Janjira Fort. A ban on tourist guides was in effect then but one of the helpers on our boat seemed to be one and we cajoled him into giving us an impromptu lecture on the fort. A grand sight to behold, it is surrounded by water on all four sides. Built by the Siddis, it remained the one that Shivaji Maharaj was never able to conquer. After a long exploration, we returned to the shore and set off for Diveagar, taking the Agardanda-to-Dighi ferry.
Mealtimes were a delight, since the coast is dotted with a number of Khanavals - authentic local cuisine at reasonable prices. Afterwards, when we finally dipped our feet in the waters of the sprawling Diveagar beach, we realised what we had missed over the last few months. The scent of the beach, the air and the vast expanse of the sea set the tone for the remainder of our trip. On our way out of Diveagar, we paid a quick visit to the Ganpati temple, of the 2012 stolen gold idol fame.
We then proceeded to Harihareshwar, to see the sunset. On our way, we stopped by the twin, serene beaches of Kondivli and Aaravi, which run parallel to Highway 4. It was an experience to savour, walking along the beaches on a late, lonely afternoon. At Harihareshwar, it is customary to first visit the Kalbhairav temple and the main Shiva temple after. There is the pradakshina route to the left of the temple. A steep climb and then a narrow descent of 70 steps between two hills leads you to Ganesh Gully and the rocks. The landscape was amazing, with the temple behind us and the beach to the right, down below. The waves were lashing against the rocks as we watched the sunset from there, a surreal experience, one which we will forever cherish.
The following morning, we went to the Shrivardhan beach. It was a pleasant surprise. Majestic, calm, clean and orderly. The ferry from Bagmandale to Veshvi crosses the Savitri River into Ratnagiri district. We made our way to Bankot fort in Bankot village, situated atop a hill. Repairs at the fort were stalled but the views of the sea from the fort were simply breath-taking. Lacking the innate ‘homing’ instincts of the Olive Ridley turtles at Velas beach who never fail to reach the waters, we missed the exit to the beach. Next time.
The road to Kelshi beach from thereon was very rugged but we had an experienced driver at the helm. There was not a living soul at the beach that Tuesday afternoon. It was all ours.
The Kadyavarcha Ganpati temple at Anjarle is an interesting landmark. The temple had to be relocated to the hill from the seashore, hence the name. It is believed that Ganpati’s first step was on the forehead of the hill and the second, in the temple. Hence, the temple houses a Ganpatiche paool (Ganpati’s foot), a rock monument.
Karde beach runs parallel to Highway 4 and is a very pretty sight to behold. After spending some time there, the next day, we proceeded to the Bhagwan Parshuram Bhoomi in Burondi near Ladhgar. There is a 21-foot majestic statue upon a 40-ft semicircular globe, representing the earth. The Tamastirth beach, whose waters have a reddish tinge, is visible from here. But it was the idyllic Kolthare beach we wanted to dip our toes in that afternoon. We stopped to see the Chandika Devi temple in Dabhol, upon our driver’s recommendation and were glad that we did. The underground idol of the goddess is believed to be swayambhu. Next was the ferry ride from Dabhol to Dhopave.
We did the rounds of the Vyadeshwar temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva in Guhagar and then the Dashabhuja (ten-armed) Ganpati temple at Hedvi. Sigh! Already it was time for our last ferry trip. The picturesque ride from Tasval to Jaigad offers a spectacular view of the Konkan and the evening colours just enhanced the mood. We reached Ganpatipule just in time to witness the sunset on the beach. The aarti at the temple, which is right on the beach, started at 7 pm and we were happy to be part of the proceedings. We spent the night at a delightful farmhouse in Kothawade village.
The beaches of Aare and Ware in Ratnagiri are unrivalled in natural beauty and are must-sees. The beaches are separated by a hill. Since we spent a tranquil hour on Aare beach, we didn’t have time to actually visit Ware but got some stunning views of both the beaches from a vantage point on Highway 4. Over to Ratnadurg Fort, offering more exhilarating views of the sea. There is a Bhagwati temple inside the fort. Little did we know then that we were about to hit a roadblock. Our plan was to travel to Sindhudurg and see Vijaydurg fort. But then our car broke down, putting paid to our plans. The repairs would take a couple of days. However, a replacement was provided to us for this time. That day, all that remained to do was proceed to our homestay in Naringre village in Sindhudurg district. On our way, we visited the Ganesh temple at Ganeshgule. The talking point here is a 70-foot deep step well, which had once been a source of water.
To make up for lost time, we set off early the next day. This time around, we hired a guide at Vijaydurg fort. He told us how the fort was referred to as the Gibraltar of the East and was restructured and redesigned adroitly by Shivaji Maharaj, enabling him and his Marathas to efficiently employ their favourite strategy, guerilla warfare. The fort is hemmed in by the sea from three sides. There is a plaque on the very spot where the discovery of Helium was reportedly made by the British astronomer Norman Lockyer in 1868.
Onward to the Kunkeshwar temple near Devgad and the Gajbadevi temple near Tambaldeg. The latter is on an ascent and offers some superb bird’s eye views of the Tambaldeg beach.
Sindhudurg Fort, another of Shivaji Maharaj’s forts, is accessible by a small boat from Malvan beach. It was 5:15 pm when we reached the parking lot of Malvan beach. There was just enough time left to either visit Bhogave or Vengurla beach and enjoy the sunset. We decided on the former. We enjoyed a nice sunset, perched on the mounds of sand and listening to the sound of waves. Our wish to see Vengurla remained unfulfilled but hopefully, there’ll be a next time.
We will fondly remember the authentic Maharashtrian fare we had the privilege to enjoy on the trip – Ghavan with ras and chutney, Amboli, Thalipeeth, Varan Bhath, which included Indrayani rice, bhakris and numerous cutting chai swigs of Solkadi (‘soulkadi’). We have solemnly sworn to be back.