A colourful welcome at Ganpatipule. Pic courtesy: Sameer Salvi/DNA
Gustasp/ Jeroo Irani
Every few kilometres, different sights, scenes and flavours await you on the Konkan coastline.
Lonely, bone-white beaches and sandy stretches with attitude embrace the blue Arabian Sea. Brawny forts, ancient temples, seafood, forests bristling with life untamed…the Konkan Coast fills your senses with images, experiences and tangy flavours.
The 76-km stretch from Mandwa across the waters from Mumbai, down to Murud-Janjira is studded with holiday homes of the city’s rich and famous, who retreat to their plush hideaways to recover from their stressful lives. Golden beaches of Kihim, Alibaug, Nagaon, Revdanda, Korlai and Kashid are graced with hotels, lodges and PG facilities, allowing people with a limited budget to share in nature’s largesse as well.
Sea forts straddling this stretch include Murud-Janjira, the stronghold of the Siddis, descendants of the migrants from the Horn of Africa, who once flexed their muscles at passing vessels or greeted them with a volley of cannon balls to let them know who ruled the waves. Over 40 sea forts in Maharahstra alone are relics of battles fought by the Marathas, Mughals and the British to gain control over the coastline.
Just off the coast is Phansad Bird Sanctuary, where the safari is on foot and the rewards in terms of bird and small game sightings are plenty. Wait, there’s more wildlife–the highlight being the toothy grin of a crocodile–as you cruise further south on Chiplun’s Vashishti River. Atop the cliff, overlooking the river, is Parshuram Temple. Legend goes that when the ill-tempered Parshuram of Mahabaharata fame was banished by his guru to these parts, there was nothing but the sea.
The sage pushed back the waters by hurling his battleaxe and created a new territory, and discovered nine dead bodies, which he resurrected and purified. They became the first inhabitants of the Konkan.
Not surprisingly, the region’s cuisine is biased towards seafood, flavoured with kokum, coconut and local spices. Deep-fried, breadcrumbed slices of fish, tangy prawn curry and rice served at local eateries all along the coast give gourmets a run for their money. Vegetarian fare? Try the wholesome thali served by priestly families at Ganapatipule where the tinkle of cowbells is dinner music. Your host will also share titbits of history: Rani of Jhansi was born in a village just 3 km away. Ganpatipule’s beaches compare with the country’s best, but long before it was discovered by tourists, it was an important pilgrimage because of the swayambhu (self-formed Ganesh idol) at one end of its endless stretch of powdered sand.
Further south is mango country: orchards here grow the finest Devgad/Ratnagiri Alphonsos.
Off-shore, the Sindhudurg Fort floats on the ocean like a mighty marooned ship while others hump over land like crouching prehistoric dinosaurs. In secret caves, forests and valleys, temples hum with devotion. And water sport facilities at Tsunami Island are a paradise for adrenaline junkies.
It’s the perfect prelude to Goa, the country’s ultimate party destination. Of all the images that Goa throws up–whitewashed churches, luxury resorts and boutique hotels; prawn curry and rice, and cashew or coconut feni; green paddy fields, the Mandovi and Zuari rivers; music and Portuguese susegad–visions of its beaches are the most enduring. Water scooters buzz the shoreline and colourful parachutes float overhead. People of all ages, shapes and size splash around in the water. Others indulge in beach cricket, volleyball and football...
South of the border, the language, which has already changed from Marathi to Konkani, changes again. Gokarna in Karnataka is rooted in cosmic legends. Circling a fresh water kund are temples dedicated to Shiva and Ganesh.
Beyond the pious hum of the temple town is the common thread that runs through the Konkan: a cluster of beaches called Om (shaped like the sacred symbol of creation), Half Moon, Paradise and Kudle–the classic sun, sea and surf expanses with the occasional ash-smeared sadhu, meditating on his navel, thrown in.
Pic two- Ganesh Temple at Ganpatipule. Pic Courtesy: Gustasp and Jeroo Irani. Pic 3- Pic Courtesy: Gustasp and Jeroo Irani.