Visit Sawantwadi, a former royal kingdom of Maharashtra, on a long weekend or if you are travelling by road to or from Goa. This picturesque town can be a base to explore a part of the Konkan region. Make day trips to the coastal towns, learn about the folk art of the Thakar tribal community or buy the traditional wooden toys to encourage the local craftspeople holding their own against competition from foreign manufacturers.
Nestling in the heart of Sawantwadi is the Moti Talav; its lakeside a popular recreation centre for the local people. A bridge cuts through the lake and there is a paved pathway running around the waterbody. Lined along its banks are offices and commercial complexes, an old market, hotels and restaurants. On the other side of the lake is the royal palace. The best time to visit the lake is early morning, before the chaotic traffic takes over or in the evening when the illuminated fountains cast a pattern on the water. Boating and other water sports activities are usually available here.
About 30km by road from Sawantwadi is Vengurla, a popular sea beach on the Konkan coast. Make a day trip covering the old port of Vengurla, Vithoba Temple, Redi Ganpati, Terekhol Fort and Sagareshwar Beach.
A short uphill walk from Rajwada/Moti Talav will take you to Chitar Ali, a lane lined with shops selling colourful wooden toys. It is the Chitari community who specialise in this art. Although there is no end to the things that these people can shape out of wood, it is the fruits that deserve special mention. From a distance, it is not unusual to take the wooden fruits for real. As with most traditional crafts, these wooden toys are also facing a stiff competition from Chinese goods. While exploring the toy shops, you may also check out the grocery stores for genuine Malvani spices.
In a little over two hours’ drive, you can be at Sindhudurg, a coastal town famous for its island-fort in the middle of the Arabian Sea. Built between 1664 and 1667, the fort is a reflection of the architectural prowess of the time. The fort contains a temple dedicated to the valiant Maratha leader Chhatrapati Shivaji. There are several organisations who conduct snorkelling in the vicinity of the fort. The fort mostly remains out of bound during the monsoon. On the way back to Sawantwadi, make a detour through Malvan, another coastal town of the Konkan region, known for its unique cuisine.
Although the misty green hills of Amboli deserve a visit on its own, you can also make a day visit from Sawantwadi, which is around 30km away by road. The best time to visit Amboli is during the monsoon if you want to see the hillside covered in innumerable waterfalls. Do not be surprised to find people clambering up the slopes to go underneath the waterfalls even during torrential rains. Do be careful if you want to venture too because the rocks can be very slippery and accidents are not unheard of. Origin of the Hiryankeshi River and its temple, Kavaleshwet point, Mahadevgad point, and Shirgaokar point are some of the other attractions of Amboli.
Rajwada (The Royal Palace)
Khem Sawant Bhosale founded the kingdom in 1580. Entrance to the Rajwada lies through the Lester Gate, ‘opened for carriages and general use in 1895’, according to a plaque here. Made of red laterite, the two-storied palace, with arches decorating its façade, sits pretty in the middle of a landscaped garden. The simple style combines local and European architectural styles. Do not expect much by way of grand displays. The Durbar Hall with its painted ceiling, chandelier, royal portraits, throne, weaponry and other artefacts, and animal trophies is interesting. A few other rooms have been converted to museum galleries. You may also find a master artist and his students illustrating Ganjifa cards (an ancient card game) at the Durbar Hall. The royal family takes a keen interest in preserving some of the old art and crafts. To ensure that the art of painting Ganjifa cards survive, artists are now encouraged to transfer the art to making utility artefacts, boxes with lids, etc. Permission (ticketed entry; guided tours available) required to look around the palace. The palace may remain closed to visitors during heavy monsoon.
Follow the National Highway 66 to reach the Thakar Adivasi Kala Angan, a cultural centre and museum in Pinguli, a tribal village, nearly 30km away by road from Sawantwadi. Run by the Gangavane family, it is an attempt to preserve the folk culture Maharashtra’s Thakar tribe. The family specialises in string and shadow puppetry, and Chitrakathi (a musical narrative explained through paintings). The entry to the complex lies through a lightly wooded area where you will find specimens of the art painted on tree trunks and dioramas explaining the tribal lifestyle. At the museum, you will find puppets, paintings, musical instruments, some of them a few centuries old, part of the family’s legacy. With prior arrangements, they will also hold a short kalsutri (string puppet) show for you. Contact: +91-9403804631 / 9987653909.
Getting there: Sawantwadi is right on Maharashtra’s border with Goa. Hence the nearest airport is Goa’s Dabolim, about two hours’ drive away. Mumbai is over 500km by road from Sawantwadi. If you are travelling from Mumbai, you may take an overnight train on the Konkan railway route.
Stay: There are several hotels and resort in and around Sawantwadi. You may try Dwarka Homestay, located in the middle of a 15acre farmland and an orchard full of mango and other fruit trees.