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Text and Photographs: Nilesh Korgaonkar
Maharashtra's coast -- the Golden Strip as I fondly like to call it – begins just where the bustling metropolis of Bombay ends.
Mandwa is where we began our journey. And this is an account of the great beaches we encountered along the way. We have restricted ourselves to describing only offbeat locations we discovered on our journey. We have skipped the well-worn places that may have been mentioned in your Lonely Planet or Rough Guide.
We would be failing in our duty if we did not take time out to tell you about Kihim beach, which is in every guide book and is just a few kilometres from Mandwa. The islands of Khanderi and Undheri can be seen from there. We are told that the names are a bastardised versions of ‘Kenry’ and ‘Henry’. Khanderi now houses a lighthouse; you can see its beacon flashing from Bombay.
Both islands have ruined fortresses. It is possible to ride out to these islands by boat from Naigaon, which is a couple of kilometres drive south of Kihim. I once attempted an expedition, but the fisherman let us down in the morning. You can try your luck. The great Maratha warrior, Shivaji, is supposed to have engaged the British in fierce naval battles at Khanderi for control of the entrance to Bombay harbour.
Alibag, the largest town in the neighbourhood, is worth a passing mention. It attracts hordes of day trippers from Bombay, especially during weekends and holidays. The fort out at sea is only approachable during low tides. It's a hard half-hour trek from the beach and has to be timed to avoid the sun and getting marooned. There is a small village inside the fort. So you won't be lonely even if you get marooned.
There is an old temple, right next to the road, that has survived from those days. There are no milestones announcing the arrival of this village and it is better to stop and ask for directions. It's just before Revdanda.
Till a few years ago the coastal road that goes south from Alibag used to terminate at Revdanda where it encountered the Kundalika creek. A bridge now spans the creek and the whole stretch southward of Revdanda up to Murud-Janjira has now become accessible. Revdanda is a pretty little place. Part of the town is situated within the premises of an old Portuguese fort.
If you drive through the town, the road enters through an old archway and then exits from another before getting to the bridge.
If between these two archways you turn right and make a detour to the western portion of the fort, which reaches out into the sea, you have found a great vantage point. During high tide the waves crash onto the palm-fringed ramparts of the fort and you get a magnificent view of the creek to the south and the beach to the north. There is an entrance from the beach to the fort, but it is clogged with trash.
To get to the beach, you will have to double back north along the main road to Alibag and then inquire at at the edge of the local market for the road. The beach has very little shade and the sand is made up of black rock, giving it an unattractive shade of dark grey. The view from the fort is rather pretty.
Before you proceed on from Revdanda towards the relatively well known beach of Kashid, be sure to check out Korlai village, its beach and ruined Portuguese fortress. The beach is approached by a rough, unpaved track that branches off west from the main road approximately 2 km after you cross the bridge. The junction of the road and the track is marked by an autorickshaw (a local three-wheeler taxi-cab) stand.
If you pass a church at a steep downward gradient immediately after you get off from the road then you are on the right track. The beach is beyond the village. Take a right turn in the centre of the village and go right past the fishermen’s cove. In all probability you will find the white sandy stretch all to yourself. For the more adventurous there is the lighthouse and the fort further north of the beach to explore. Both these are approached by a wide footpath on the hillside that snakes up towards the lighthouse colony.
Views of the creek, the meandering ramparts and the fort itself are picture perfect on a clear day for photography or sketching. The footpath has now become motorable and you can drive right up to the lighthouse if you have a vehicle. Look for a group of very shady banyan trees on the slopes just below the gate of the colony. It is an ideal spot to picnic and even has a small patch of sand that you can call your 'private' beach while you are there.
A steep 15-minute climb from behind the lighthouse leads to the fort. The fort is an Old Portuguese outpost that probably once guarded the entrance to the river and its hinterland. Unfortunately, as is common with almost all heritage sites in our country, the precincts are entirely in ruins.
It is advisable to exercise caution while exploring as the insides are overgrown with grass and trees and a few snakes are likely to powling around. But the fort is interesting all the same, with an old church, some old tombstones with interesting epitaphs. On the northern side, the view of the narrow battlements as they meander down to the mouth of the river are atmospheric.
Kashid and Nandgaon
The scenery, as the road progresses further south from Korlai, sometimes hugging the shoreline, sometimes climbing up thickly wooded slopes and then climbing down again offering stunning glimpses of Kashid’s beach, rates a perfect ten.
Don’t be surprised if, unconsciously, you find yourself parked at a spot enjoying the vista. Or, if travelling in a bus, you get the sudden urge to dismount and walk. Though Kashid is now fairly familiar with Bombayites it is a spectacular and secluded enough place that you must not miss on coastal rambles. The beach is set in a gentle curve of the coast with a thickly wooded hill on one end and a low rocky cliff at the other. The dense green forests on the higher slopes to the west only add colour to the scene and provide a fascinating backdrop.
There are two small hotels to the west of the road where you can freshen up, have a meal or stay. Nandgaon is a little further south towards Murud-Janjira. The beach is visible from the road and is surrounded on three sides by verdant and gently sloping hills. It makes for a lovely camping site if you have the wherewithal. The beach is tucked between stony precipices and almost far enough from the open sea to be called a cove. Rumour has it soon may be the site of an upmarket resort. So make haste before nature’s work is masked by man’s.
This Muslim town once had its own nawab and his palace is prominently visible on a picturesque hill overlooking the entire area. We are told that these days he prefers to live in Bombay and the palace is open for visitors. But we have never found it open whenever we have been there. You can try your luck.
The main attraction of this town is the island fortress by the same name that is located about 4 km south at the mouth of the Rajpuri Creek. It’s not a very remote location and tourists from Bombay and Pune do make a beeline here during weekends.
To get to the fort, make your way to the town of Rajpuri either by bus or a local rickshaw. Huge sail boats take loads of tourists to the entrance of the fort and during high tide it is possible to jump off the boat and straight onto the steps outside the main gate. But during low tide, it is a painful walk without shoes over shingle and broken barnacles.
The fort was said to have been inhabited by a tribe called Siddhis, whom we are told were descendants of people from Assyria (now Ethiopia and Somalia) from the Horn of Africa. This fort has three lines of defence and the guide will tell you that throughout its entire history was never conquered, though Shivaji was said to have staked his pride over it. There are tales of his lieutenants having camped for years on the mainland opposite and of having tried to tunnel under the short stretch of sea separating it. Strangely, there is a huge fresh water lake right inside the fort, which must have sustained the population inside. It seems the nawab also used to live inside the fort till about a decade ago.
The fort is a pretty sight when you approach it from Murud town. The road climbs steeply up a hill and at the top of the climb the fort suddenly bursts into view below. The odd sailboat milling around the water bound fort adds colour. Definitely a spot to take some pictures if the sun is right. Though located on an island, the land is nowhere visible. You can only see the outermost ramparts of the fort with the sea lapping at it. It appears as if the fort has sprung up from the water.
What remains a mystery is the material the builders used to cement the huge pieces of rock together so that the constant action of the seawater does not affect it. An Indian pop group made it the venue for one of its albums and since then it has achieved some prominence.
Places to stay
There are two places to stay at Kashid:
These hotels have air-conditioning and are located on the hill slopes, \away from the hustle bustle. The upmarket Prakruti Beach Resort was still being built when I was there last and should now be complete. For cheaper accommodation there are plenty of hotels and lodges in each town, all advertised by prominent sign postings in Alibag and Murud-Janjira. The road from Mandwa to Alibag is dotted with hotels
Buses ply on the coastal road from Kihim right up to Murud-Janjira throughout the day. The biggest bus terminus is at Alibag. You can take the bus from the jetty at Mandwa as soon as you get off the ferry from Bombay and get off at any of the destinations mentioned.
To hail a bus mid-route just stand on the correct side of the road and when a bus arrives, wave your hand with a big smile – the driver will normally oblige. Otherwise, ask where the nearest 'request stop' is and hoof it up to there.
A little more expensive method is to hire, or 'reserve', an autorickshaw to move around. It is better to negotiate the deal before starting off . You can either pay by meter or the driver may quote a fixed amount after you tell him all the places you need to visit. The drivers usually know various places where you can stay or have a meal and can take you there with a minimum loss of time.
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