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South central coast
  Text and Photographs: Nilesh Korgaonkar

Vijaydurg

The chief attraction of this sleepy village is a seemingly impregnable post-Shivaji period fort. Maritime history records that the fortress was the scene of many a bloody battle. It was attacked from sea by the British.

A dilapidated board at the entrance of the fort tells you its history. Some of the board is readable, whilst the rest needs guess work, since the paint has peeled off. Once upon a time the steamer from Bombay to Goa used to halt at the jetty near the entrance to the fort. Now the catamarans whizz past oblivious of the fort, the town and the beach.

Devgarh beach Incidentally, one of the best views of the fort is from this jetty. The fort stretches out into the sea and a walk inside its precincts is worthwhile. When I was there last, the organisers of the McDowell Bombay-Goa Regatta had established a staging post inside the fort. There was quite a bit of revelry. Otherwise, no one bothers to come here. The locals inform us that Vijay Mallya, the booze baron and United Breweries boss, has bought over a hundred acres of land just north of here to build a resort in the future. That gives you an indication of Vijaydurg's potential.

Vijaydurgís beach is hidden from view and not obvious to the casual visitor. Head towards the small bus stop, just before you get to the fort and where the road ends. Itís tucked away in a corner. Go beyond the bus stop and you are on the beach. Itís a stretch of about a kilometre with good views of the fort at the right and a small plateau with a hut to the left. Itís relatively clean and peaceful and the locals don't bother to come here.

The golden sands of Devgarh light up under the rising sunNorth of Vijaydurg is a flat plateau that can be seen from the southern end of the fort. It looks very attractive with casurina plantations and some small isolated beaches. There is no ferry service from Vijaydurg north. One has to go back to the highway and then turn north towards Rajapur.

Just short of Rajapur, look for the turning to a place called Jaitapur. The road leads back to the coast and should take you to the area that you were looking at from Vijaydurg. Itís a stony plateau with a lonely lighthouse at its western edge, the road towards which is quite rough and unmarked. I once banged into a rock and bent the rim of my carís front left wheel. Fortunately, the damage was slight, the tyre did not puncture and I could wait until I got back to Bombay to have it straightened out.

Devgarh

A short 25 km drive southwards, without going back to the highway, brings you to the larger town of Devgarh, famous for its Alphonso mangoes. It also has a post-Shivaji period fortress. Its ramparts now house a lighthouse.

Devgarh is a fishing village. It has a wonderful natural harbour because of the manner in which a finger of land juts out into the sea and then suddenly turns north forming a protective barrier. The beach is set in a gentle curve and on my first visit I missed it completely. The approach is not quite apparent. Go through the town and negotiate the bazaar that is located on a steep slope. A little after that the slope peters out and the road progresses, hugging the parked fishing trawlers, in various stages of repair and disrepair. Turn left and a short drive will bring you to the beach. Thereís a brightly coloured temple located to the left. The road continues up a hill and ends at the southern entrance to the fort.

Secluded beach of Mithmumbri south of Devgarh The view from here in the evenings is magnificent, especially on cloudy days when the sky rapidly changes hue just before sunset. The waves crashing on the rocks below provide a fitting serenade to this spectacle.

Just like the Taj Mahal, I am of the opinion that Devgarh beach must be visited on a full moon night. (The daily newspapers, available here on the same evening, give the phase of the moon). A peculiar phenomenon of phosphorence in the water makes the surf on the waves glows in the dark. When you kick the sand as the wave recedes, sparklers seem to emanate from the sand and water. Like stardust on the beach.

Fishing at  Devgarh Southwards along the coast, beyond the creek at Mumbri, is a lovely walk all along the rocky slopes. It ends at the temple of Kunkeshwar, a lonely stretch of sand that simply sparkles in the sunlight. You can approach this temple by the road that branches off at Jamsande. The drive has a grand finale when you near the temple and the panorama of undulating fields and swaying palms against the backdrop of a deep blue ocean unfolds beyond your windscreen.

About half an hourís drive north from Devgarh is the village of Padavnewadi. The road is not metalled after you leave the main road to Vijaydurg. Also, the beach does not have shade and the sun can be quite fierce in such circumstances. So time your visit either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Padavnewadi, I feel its worth mentioning, because the local technique of fishing is much in vogue here and if youíre lucky you can time you visit to coincide with one such event.

Fishermen at MumbriJust south of Devgarh is the village of Mumbri. If you want to get to its beach, you have to cross the backwaters of the creek by a local rowboat. Actually, the boatman just punts across, by pushing against the riverbed with his bamboo stick. There is a rather large boat-building yard near the mouth of the creek. When we were there last, we got to witness the elaborate ritual of launching a newly built boat. Thereís lots of puja, prayers and then begins the hard work of literally manually winching the boat into the water for the first time.

You can drive right up to the jetty and safely leave it there under some shady spot. After crossing the backwaters for the price of Rs 2 (!), just head west by means of any footpath that you see -- never mind if it means going through someoneís garden, he wonít mind. After a while you should come to a beach; one of the rare ones that has sand dunes and shady palms. The dunes lend a different perspective to the way the beach appears.

Padavnewadi beach If you have the time, head north along the beach and take the bridle path up the hill and head for the temple of Kunkeshwar and another beach. Or try your luck and see if the locals are going to indulge in fishing. You may be able to capture some Ďethnicí faces and people on your camera.

Achra

AchraIt is possible to go south from Devgarh without getting back to the highway as there are no creeks to impede your journey. Halfway to Malvan on this inner road is the village of Achra. Just west of it is its twin by the name of Achra Bandar.

I harboured fears of a smelly jetty with the stench of dried fish when I read the word bandar since locally the word is associated with a jetty where fishermen dock after they return with their catch. Imagine our surprise when after driving west for about 6 km from Achra Bazaar, through some rather unique mangroves, we came upon one of the loveliest beaches on the coast. We could go right up to the beach. The sands stretched out for almost a couple of kilometres to the south.

KunkeshwarTo the north there was a grove of coconut trees all bent to one side. On the sands were catamarans silently waiting to be put out to sea again. Local urchins frolicked in the huge waves and shouted at each other in gay abandon. The strong breeze gently rustled the leaves above us completing a picture of serenity. Some bandar. If you have time to spend, you could easily spend half a day picnicking and sun-worshipping here.

Sindhudurg and Malvan

Itís possible to continue on to the town of Malvan without getting back to the highway. The road goes through the village of Achra and then enters Malvan from its north. The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation has established a tented resort at Tarkarli, approximately 2 km south of Malvan. I stayed there once and even though it is located on the beach, the hygiene leaves much to be desired and therefore it is best left alone.

SindhudurgThe beach is one long stretch from Malvan and the fort of Sindhudurg, which once was Shivajiís naval headquarters, is visible from almost anywhere along the beach. A short boat ride from the jetty at Malvan takes you to the island on which the fort is situated. Thereís a guide to take you around. Villagers live inside; there are three fresh-water wells and the village folk are completely cut off during the monsoons.

The most interesting activity at Malvan is the auction of the dayís catch when all the trawlers come home in the evening. Resembling the trading floor of any stock exchange, with various types of fish being sold to the highest bidder, it is an exercise in organised chaos that an outsider will be at an utter loss to understand. It is all over within an hour or so with the catch having exchanged hands, loaded on to trucks, and despatched to the markets in the larger cities inland. I managed to buy two large surmais, a local variety of salmon that my friend and I cooked for the evening meal on the beach over a log fire.

Vengurla

Fishing at VengurlaThe last outpost before the Maharashtra coast merges with that of Goa is Vengurla and the beach at Ubhadanda. There are many lodges with basic amenities. Standing on the beach one night, I gazed at the blinking lighthouse located marooned on Vengurla rocks, about 10 kms out in the sea. The light-keeper at Nanwell told me he had once been posted there for a couple of years. I imagined how tough and lonely life must have been there, being completely cut off during the monsoon. He also narrated tales of some foreigners who had come there once to study marine life and birds. There must be a way to get there. But it eluded me. Nor did I have the time and wherewithal to locate it. Maybe some other time.

A bus out of Vengurla will take you to Sawantwadi and then on to Goa (Do check out our Goa Guide).

So friend, here ends our guide to Maharashtra's Konkan coast. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed researching it. Cheers!

Places to Stay

VengurlaBecause of the proximity of this area to Goa Ė the tourists are rushing through to stay in Goa -- and the fact that it is quite far away from big cities, like Bombay and Pune, there arenít many places to stay around here.

Vijaydurg is absolutely barren as far as accommodation is concerned. At Devgarh there is a lodge, with common toilets for the cheaper rooms, just behind the main bus terminus. He also dishes out a reasonable meal, with fish and the local delicacies, at a very reasonable price. Achra also has no lodging options. But the coconut grove is an ideal place to tie up your hammock and while the night away. The trees are ideally placed for such an adventure.

Malvan does have some basic lodges, but you cannot make bookings for them in Bombay. But bookings for MTDCís resort at Tarkarli can be done at Bombayís main MTDC office (tel # 022-2625406). However, for whatever it is worth, the phone number for the tent colony is 02365-52390.

Vengurla and Sawantwadi have any number of lodges and guesthouses where you can stay for a reasonable price.

Getting Around

VengurlaAll the towns in this area have auto rickshaws, run privately. You can either pay by the meter or negotiate a flat price for going to a place or by the day. Buses depart from the main bus terminus at Devgarh to all the places around. To get to Achra Bandar, take any bus going to Malvan from Devgarh and then disembark at Achra bazaar, which is on the main road. After that, to get to the beach, get hold of a rickshaw or walk if you feel like it.

To trek to Kunkeshwar, organise at Mumbri jetty, preferably a day earlier, that a boatman should ferry you across the creek at an early morning hour. Pay him the Rs 2 or Rs 3, he will demand, for the trip across and then head north along the coast. Once you have trekked across Mumbri beach, you should be able to see a bridle path climbing up the hill in front of you. Follow the path and you should reach Kunkeshwar via the temple in an hour's time.

To get to Padavnewadi beach, either hire a rickshaw or find out at the bus stop the bus timings. There should be at least two bus services Ė one in the morning and one in the evening. It's not advisable to take a bus to Vijaydurg and disembark there and walk to Padavnewadi. It's rather long and dusty trek.

To reach Vijaydurg, hop on any of the buses regularly departing from Devgarh. And there are buses leaving from Viajaydurg for other places also. Tarkarli is only a couple of kilometres from Malvan, which is connected by bus with Devgarh. You can either take a rickshaw or wait for the bus that regularly plies to Tarkarli and another place beyond.

To get to the Sindhudurg fort from Malvan, go to the town jetty, which is behind the local State Bank of India building. Since it is frequently visited by local tourists and also the villagers, living inside the fort, regularly commute to the mainland, there is a regular service to the island and back. It takes about 10 minutes and costs about Rs 10 per passenger.

Vengurla and Sawantwadi are both fairly large-sized towns. Regular bus services ply from Malvan and Devgarh, as well as from Goa. Check the timings at the bus stop.

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