I put my head out of the window of the speeding car, squinted my eyes and tried to spot the ocean in the horizon. It had been a long 7 hours since we started our Ganpatipule trip from Mumbai, but the ocean was still giving us a miss. Up till then what we had seen was dry scrublands, barren riverbeds and the occasional green patches of forest. The serpentine turns of the hill road triggered multiple bouts of retching in my body.
Ganpatipule is a tiny beachside village about 343 kilometres south of Mumbai in the district of Ratnagiri. The temple of Ganpati, a Hindu God who is revered in India forms the heart of the little village. The temple is located adjacent to the beach. According to mythological tales, the deity is believed to have sprung up from the soil. The unique feature of this temple is that Ganpati, the deity, faces westward, unlike all other Hindu temples of India.
It was 2 in the afternoon when we caught the first glimpse of the blue water of the Arabian Sea. The sound of crashing waves couldn’t have been sweeter. As if swept by the wand of a fairy, the view of the ocean instantly cured me.
“We are full, ” read a board at the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) resort – the resort having the best location in Ganpatipule. If you are in the right place at the right time, things happen. We got a room because someone scheduled to arrive on that day cancelled exactly while we were having a conversation with the hotel staff.
I haven’t felt sand beneath my feet since approximately half a year. The last time I did, it was on Chinchalani beach, a narrow strip of sandbank in a forgotten part of Konkan coast. The Ganpatipule beach was impressively clean. Walking on the sand was a pleasurable experience. The dazzling water of the sea reflected the clear sky; I was fixated to the shade of blue for several minutes.
One hearty meal later, the four of us, me, Sayan and our two friends decided to plunge in the blue water. MTDC Ganpatipule overlooks the sea, and the beach is a mere 2 minutes walk. The flight of staircase which led us down to the beach was shaded throughout by leafy coconut trees. In the bright sunshine, the sparkling tinge of blue was incomparably beautiful. The sand was burning hot and all of us hopped and skipped on the beach until we reached the water.
In India, people generally don’t swim in the ocean; the maximum they do is waddle in knee deep waters. Our friends waddled close to the shore, while Sayan and I went quite a distance away, floating on the playful ocean waves. This was the first time I went into the ocean with Sayan and though my man-child is capable of exercising extreme self-control, the ocean is probably the only place in the universe where he ditches this nature. I have been in the Bay of Bengal in West Bengal and Orissa but the Arabian Sea at Ganpatipule was definitely saltier. We were carried away by the ecstasy of being in the water after ages, but before the ocean carried us away any further, we saw men in orange blowing whistles and waving at us, in a less than cheerful way.
We were in trouble for going too far away from the shore during the last hours of daylight.
We hurried ourselves out of the water and got ready to witness the sunset over the ocean. The humdrum of human activity in the Ganpatipule beach tapers off completely after the beach strip near MTDC. As the sky got painted in tangerine hues, I walked with Sayan hand-in-hand, along the shore away from the village centre. We saw the fishermen and the water sports guys speeding back to their coastal villages on their boats. The breeze caressed my hair and the tune of the sea waves drowned us in its rhythm. I wish I could freeze moments like these.
As the Sun dipped into the yonder, the splash of red in the western sky gave way to a dark expanse. The tinge of the water reflected the drama that was unravelling in the sky. A group of five, our only companion in the otherwise uninhabited part of Ganpatipule started walking back with us.
The camels and horses were still there on the vibrant part of the beach ready to take tourists on a joyride. The beach facing shacks sold food; we stopped in one such counter to slurp flavoured cold Ice Gola. Along a very narrow alley facing away from the sea, just by the Ganpatipule temple, a handful shacks sold souvenirs and collectible like shells and various products made of shells.
We stopped for an hour on the seaside swings of the resort to hear the roar of the sea in the dark. It is odd how a constantly restless piece of nature can build around itself an aura of tranquillity.
Food in Tarang, the in-house restaurant at MTDC Ganpatipule
During the entire time of our stay we took all our meals from the in-house restaurant of MTDC – Tarang. Out of all the meals, my fish lover husband, Sayan, was most excited about the dinner since he had ordered an entire Pomfret fish. The restaurant was buzzing with activity and had provision of both indoor and outdoor seating. Food took time to arrive on the table but tasted fresh and good. We had chapatti and Kolhapuri chicken for lunch, chowmein and pomfret fish in dinner and masala dosa in breakfast. I found the sambar which accompanied the dosa too sweet for my liking.
Brightening up of the eastern sky heralded a new day. We went for a beach walk again. We searched hard to find mortal remains of starfish or some other marine life washed ashore but the only residents on the beach were clams.
Shenanigans on the Aarey-Warey Road
The sunny day had brightened up the Arabian Sea in a vivid blue hue. Our car zoomed along the ocean-side road; no wonder the drive from Ganpatipule to Ratnagiri is one of the most scenic drives of India. Clutches of people stood at various spots of the driveway, soaking in the uncommon beauty of Indian roadside. If the temperature of Maharashtra would have been close to comfortable, we would have ditched the car and hiked the distance.
The vista was enhanced when we came across deserted beaches, opening up as little bays which took the careening ocean waves. Finally giving in to the seduction, on one such beach our friend decided to drive his car. The car teetered through a thin opening in the otherwise impenetrable stretch of coconut trees. In a distance a flight of birds were lounging on the sand. There were no shacks, no huts and no resorts around this beach. The only man-made object was our friend’s car.
Our overzealous friend got in the driver’s seat and sped through the waves along the shore; we saw his car getting thrashed by the waves. The birds clearly hated the human intrusion and flew farther away from us in unison. He ran his car along the waves a second time, this time with us inside the car.
A bullock cart with two villagers trudged on the beach, stopping to collect sand. They were villagers who stayed in the coastal village which stands where the sand strip ends.
Before visiting this part of Maharashtra, I have read a lot about Kokum juice. Ratnagiri is home to the Kokam fruit. Though kokam juice is available in almost all the leading retail chains in Mumbai, I couldn’t bring myself to miss a chance of drinking the kokam juice served by the roadside shack on the Aare Warey road, overlooking a quaint beach. The kokam juice was crimson red in colour and had a tangy taste.
Ratnadurg Fort – A fort built on a natural cave and surrounded by sea on all three sides
The sting of sunrays pierced our skin when we got out of the car to visit the Ratnadurg Fort.
The Ratnadurg Fort is surrounded by sea on three sides. It is a mere couple of kilometres from the main town of Ratnagiri. Shivaji Maharaj, the hero of Maharashtra and pride of all Marathas, won this fort at some time in 17th century from Adil Shah. In later times, the fort went under the custody of the British.
A wide road with a sharp incline led to the entry point of the fort. The heart of the fort resides in the Bhagawati Temple. The fortification runs surrounding the temple overlooking the open sea. A pleasurable walk around its perimeter reveals routine coastal life thriving on the shores of the sea. There is no sandy beach in view and most of the coast is rocky. A cove along the fort’s perimeter labelled as ‘Baskya Buruj’ had a small vertical edifice and three tiny windows in three different directions.
The most dominant structure that captivated our view from along the perimeter of the fort walls is the pier which jutted out into the sea. Our friend, desperate to walk on the concrete pier asked the villagers for direction, drove through wafer thin rural alleys and finally reached the point. The entry point to the pier was boulder-strewn but our friend drove through the uncertainty very carefully until his car was safe on the concrete pier, then he reversed his car and drove backward with all of us inside the car until we reached the end point of the pier.
We watched a floating jellyfish come close to the water around the pier. We observed the fishermen spread their net deep into the sea, wait patiently for some time, then pull the net up. It was hard for us to spot the fish trapped there, but when sunshine dazzled within the net while they pulled up, we knew there was a fish.
Four-legged boulders or tetrapods are installed all around the pier, exactly like they are placed along Nariman Point and Marine Drive in Mumbai. While we were taking advantage of the bright sunny day, calm sea and walking along the parapet of the pier, we noticed broken beer bottles, cigarettes and plastic wastes littered all around. They were not just on the walkway but also on various tetrapods.
The base of the pier meets sheer rock rising up, on top of which is the fort.There was a small crack at the base of the rock and a poster pasted beside it read ‘guided cave exploration’. Some fishermen sitting on the edge of the sea were stitching fishing net. On enquiring, they said there exists a cave right below the fort and that little crack serves as its entry point where adventure enthusiasts often squeeze in under surveillance of an expert.
Our short little Konkan coastal roadtrip concluded with the pier visit. We aspire to return to one of the quaint Konkan villages again sometime in future. Our Ganpatipule trip from Mumbai was definitely a success.
How to reach
By train: The nearest railhead is in the town of Ratnagiri which is 26 kilometres away from Ganpatipule. MRSTC buses ply from Ratnagiri to Ganpatipule along the Aarey Warey road.
By bus: MRSTC buses ply between Mumbai, and all other major towns of Maharashtra, and Ganpatipule. Alternatively, if you are seeking comfort and convenience, search for private buses in bus aggregating websites like Redbus.
Where to stay
The MTDC resort has the best location in Ganpatipule, but they get quickly sold out, specially during holidays. So it is advisable to book well in advance.
What to eat
Seafood (think Pomfret, crab) , kokum juice, coconut water.
Have you been to Ganpatipule? Do you wish to visit the place whenever you plan your Mumbai trip? Comment below and let’s get talking!
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