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Text and Photographs: Nilesh Korgaonkar
Chiplun and Guhaghar
On the highway to Goa, about 300 km from Bombay, is Chiplun. Once a quiet town, hardly bigger than a village, Chiplun has expanded into an important railway junction with the coming of the Konkan Railway.
About 40 km directly west of Chiplun is the coastal village of Guhaghar, attached to which is a picturesque stretch of sand. But it's not the beach that is the highlight of the place. On reaching Guhaghar, if you haven't seen Anjanvel already, turn due north and head for the villages of Anjanvel and Veldur at the mouth of the Vashishti river opposite Dabhol.
The road climbs up the hilly coastal slopes and offers panoramic views of the area around. As soon as you start seeing signs of construction, indicating the proximity of the famous Enron power project site, look for the track that will take you to Anjanvel. The last half kilometre or so is a very steep slope and beware of speeding buses careening down the track. You are now at the foot of the ruined fort of Gopalgarh. A short climb up the slope through the village brings you to the battlements of the fort.
As you emerge through the trees and fields, and negotiate the final gentle plateau, you catch sight of the breathtaking view of the sea crashing against the rocks. The ramparts of the ruined fort snake downwards right to sea. The cliff face to the south, dotted by a lighthouse, reaches right out to sea. At each end of this spur of land are two ancient temples. A truly stunning sight. The gentle chugging of a passing fishing trawler only adds to the sounds of silence. A real patch of pristine scenery, that I hope the Enron enterprise will not destroy.
To get to the lighthouse, you take the paved footpath, hardly visible, just above Anjanvel. A more scenic walk would be to reach the south-western part of the fort, where the fort walls meander down to the sea and then turn left and walk along the edge of the cliff till you reach the lighthouse. Like all other lighthouses in the area, this one occupies a commanding position, with terrific views both to the north and south.
The temples nearby are now renovated and only an old pillar stands to tell you how ancient it really was. The light keepers are friendly folk and you should not find any problem in climbing up the tower with their permission. On a weekend or holiday you are likely to encounter people from the project site. I found an old couple in the village of Guhaghar who offered me their spare room to bunk for the night and a lodge where I could fill up on – you guessed it – fish and rice. There are some other alternatives where you can put up for the night. But on my last visit I found that some of the folks working on the project had taken up most of the available lodgings at Guhaghar and Dabhol. So accommodation could be little hard to come by.
Guhaghar beach is definitely worth a visit. It is a wide expanse of white sand, set in a gentle curve of the coastline. To get to the beach -- on foot -- just take any footpath that goes west from the village's solitary road and a short walk through some coconut plantations should soon find you treading sand and your ears filling with the musical sound of breaking surf.
There is a small road that will allow you to take your vehicle on to the beach. Early evening on a full-moon night a walk on the beach is an exhilarating experience. There are no artificial lights to dazzle your vision or destroy the atmosphere. The sky, if it is cloudless, is ablaze with stars and even the Milky Way is discernible. The regular sweep of the beam of the lighthouse at Tolkeshwar from the north adds to the aura and mystery of the night.
Velneshwar, to the south of Guhaghar, is worth a visit if you have the time. If you are on a two-wheeler, this is the direction to head for if you want to cross over south to the next portion of the Maharashtra coastline. You may find the ferry services to take you further south either at Hedvi beyond or perhaps even at Velneshwar.
To get to Jaigarh directly, don't turn towards Ganpatiphule, on the road from Hathkhamba, but continue north west. Explore the quaint and solitary temple just next to the sea with its palm-fringed cove. You will know you are near the temple when you see a cobbled footpath at the edge of the plateau. There is a perennial fresh water spring literally 10 feet from the sea and it is an ideal place to camp.
If your wheels are in good condition or you fancy a trek across a rocky plateau, try and make it to the lighthouse. It is unique. It is so old that there is no electric supply up to the source of the light in the tower. To put matters simply, the lighthouse is just like a huge kerosene stove with a pump to match.
Every evening the lighthouse 'keepers' pump the kerosene to pressurise it in its tank and then slowly release it to the mantle at the top behind the huge array of lenses for the light to shine. The lenses turn by a clockwork arrangement that has to be wound regularly throughout the night for it to turn around the mantle and cast its beam out to sea.
If you are keen on angling, take the road to the jetty and try your luck. There is an old fort near where the road to the jetty meanders down. Instead of going down to the jetty, continue on straight to the police station, beyond which is the fort. It is abandoned and you can have the precincts all to yourself. It overlooks the creek and the area beyond and presents some good photo opportunities.
An offbeat way to journey to Jaigarh would be to take the boat ride. As you drive down the highway, you will pass the town of Sangameshwar where the Shastri river begins to widen and becomes navigable. I am told a boat plies the length of the river from here to Jaigarh and back everyday. It is worth enquiring about this route especially if you are on a two-wheeler or going by bus.
The road from Hathkhamba towards Ganpatiphule, crosses over one of the longest tunnels on the Konkan Railway line. The road ends at this temple town quite spectacularly when it climbs down a steep hill with a magnificent view of the ocean. We once approached it just as dusk was beginning to set in. There was a slight nip in the air, and the sun had just disappeared below the horizon. The scattered clouds were lit up and coloured in glorious shades of orange and red. At one point we were so distracted by this celestial drama that I almost drove off the road.
Ganpatiphule is truly a fabulous beach, but it has been colonised by hotels, both private and those belonging to the Maharashtra tourism department. People come here not only to enjoy the sea, but also to pray at the temple of Ganesha, which is located inside a hill. To pay obeisance to the god inside, pilgrims have to circle the entire hill, for which a paved footpath has been provided.
At any given time, Ganpatiphule is crowded. During the holiday season it is impossible to get accommodation in any of the hotels. We suggest you spend a short while sightseeing and then head for the neighbouring beach at Bandarphule.
It is just a couple of kilometres south from Ganpatiphule and any passerby can guide you onto the right road. Else, follow the signs for the Krishnali Resorts. The road bounces up and then down and literally hugs the hillside. At one point, right at the top, you can get good views of both beaches. Bandarphule beach is left alone by the crowds and if you have money to spare you can relax at the rather upmarket Krishnali Resorts, that has come up recently just behind the beach.
Ratnagiri is further south on the coast from Ganpatiphule. Not a particularly attractive place, it is a large town gaining in importance day by day because of the Konkan Railway. It is also the place to head for if you cannot find accommodation at Ganpatiphule and want a comfortable place to stay.
Ratnagiri has a beach resort at a place called Bhatya, just south of the Bhatya creek. The state government tourism department runs a tent colony here. To get there ask for the road to Pawas, and exit the town from the south. Cross the bridge across the creek and you are at Bhatya. You can see the tents pitched inside a grove of casuarina trees. To get a flattering view of the town, continue further south on the road and after it climbs the cliff bordering the southern end of the beach, get off the road to the right.
The wonderfully patterned sands of Bhatya beach below… the creek beyond… a solitary lighthouse on a whale-backed spur jutting out into the sea… and the portion of Ratnagiri town peeping out behind the green slopes is a view worth enjoying for some time. Small wonder that Maharashtra Tourism has not got around to promoting this little piece of heaven. Reservations for the tent colony at Bhatya beach are also available at any local Maharashtra Tourism office or at its Bombay office.
Purnagad and Pawas
South of Ratnagiri has been declared as an industrial zone for small and medium scale industries by the government. Therefore, the road that leads south of Bhatya beach up to Pawas and beyond to Purnagad is dotted with factories and employee colonies. There is not much scenery around and the road runs about a kilometre too much inland, missing out on much of the exciting sea views. At Pawas creek, Finolex Cables has put up a huge jetty for its factory.
Pawas is a place of special religious significance to Hindus and at any given time you are likely to encounter a horde of pilgrims at the couple of ancient temples that are located here. Pawas is not on the coast and to get to Purnagad, continue on south on the road for another 15 km or so.
There are a couple of rough unpaved roads that go west from this stretch to Purnagad and lead to the few villages that are located north of Purnagad. I once made my way to one of these villages and then walked along the coast towards the south to Purnagad creek. It was a six kilometre walk and I really enjoyed myself for the three leisurely hours that it took me to complete the journey.
The sea was a bit rough, as it was the monsoon season and my only companions was the constantly pounding surf to the right and the breeze trying desperately to blow my hat away behind me. As you near Purnagad, you encounter an ancient paved bridle path. The fort is located high above on the left and if you don't look out for it, you are likely to miss it.
On our last visit, however, we drove all the way to Purnagad. The road ends at the mouth of the creek just below the new bridge that is nearing completion. To get to the mini-fort from here, get to the end of the road that is marked by an old temple, now gaily painted with bright colours. You are likely to find the local boys playing cricket in the compound. From here go through the village which is situated on the slopes; footpaths link each huts. Ask the villagers the way to the fort as you proceed since there are simply too many paths going in all sorts of directions. It takes about 20 minutes of continuous walking through the village to get to the fort. Once there, you will find noon but cows grazing inside. A great place to camp.
Places to Stay
Ratnagiri has hotels and lodges with tariffs that can suit all budgets. It is not a big place and asking around in the town should get you to a hotel that should suit you. With numerous industries, their offices and an airport coming up apart from the Konkan railway, Ratnagiri is no longer the remote town it once was, approachable only by road. Therefore, there are now hotels in town that cater even to upmarket tastes.
To stay at Ganpatiphule’s MTDC hotel, phone: 02357-35248,35061, 35062 or fax: 02357-35328, you best bet is to do the booking in Bombay, before you embark on your journey. It has rooms, suites and independent bungalows. But being government-run unfortunately it is full of free-loaders, especially during the holiday season. It is right on the beach and you can literally step out from your room onto the sands.
There are privately run hotels that have better facilities and restaurants. But since they were built after that restriction forbidding construction on the beach, they are located slightly away from the beach. Getting to the water involves a short hike or drive from your room.
The Krishanali Beach Resort at Bandarphule is built just behind the beach. The address:
Pawas has no commercial places to stay at. But if you pose as a pilgrim then you can get a place to stay in one of the dharamshalas or temple dormitories, meant for pilgrims. Such places are usually just a hall where pilgrims just unroll their bedding and lie down for the night. You are expected to make a small donation to the temple’s collection box that may be conveniently located outside the door. But it is purely voluntary. You may even try and enquire if they have rooms to give for a price.
Purnagad has no place to stay. It is a very small village. Try asking at the temple if they will allow you to rest for the night in the compound.
There are plenty of local buses that ply from the main bus terminus at Dapoli further to the west to the villages of Anjarle via Harnai, to Dabhol and Burundi. Check the timings for your destination on the timetable that will be displayed prominently or ask at the enquiry counter.
If you are not on a restricted budget use a chauffeur-driven rickshaw cab. Buses may not ply to all the hotels mentioned here, especially those that are located on the rough track. You may have to get off and walk a little from the main road. Ask the bus conductor to let you know when your stop approaches.
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