A narrow of flight of stairs flanked by two steep rock walls dropped to the boulders on which sea waves lashed furiously. From the top of the stairs, it was a sight to behold the water’s fury. A lonely security guard was trying to shoo away the crowd that had gathered on the boulders to enjoy the surf trickling in among the recesses in the rocks. Apparently, there is a statue of Ganesha hidden among the rocks, which becomes visible when the tide is flowing in. Some of the pilgrims were hoping to catch a glimpse of it. But the entire area goes under water while the tide lasts and it can be dangerous for visitors. So we traced our way back to the top of the stairs. On the other side, below us lay the half-moon beach of Harihareshwar.
Located in the Raigad district of Maharashtra, about 200km by road from Mumbai, Harihareshwar is better known as a pilgrim centre. But if you are looking for a stress-free weekend getaway, with no compulsions to pack in sightseeing or go shopping, this little town by the Arabian Sea might just be the place you are looking for. Watch the sea changing its colour dramatically through the day, with no pollution to sully its water. Take long walks on the beach, with only the sound of the waves and the breeze for company. Hold a bon-fire and party on the beach if you are travelling with friends or family (but remember not to litter the place).
The Arabian Sea hugs the town in one sweeping semi-circle. In between rocky stretches extend pockets of golden sand beaches. There are two stretches of beach, on the north and the south, respectively, which are popular with visitors. Do not expect much of activities on the beach except for groups of pilgrims taking a bath or youngsters frolicking in the surf. In season, there might be private operators offering quad bikes for a ride.
Do not stray into the deep water because there is strong undercurrent here. Local people can advise you about the safe spots. The MTDC complex, on the beach to the south, situated on a lightly wooded hillock that descends to the sea, offers speed boat rides. Or, you can spend some time enjoying the tranquil surroundings from their open-air café overlooking the sea.
Even if you are not religiously inclined, the temple is an interesting place to enjoy local colour. Shops and restaurants line the path that leads to the main temple complex. Do not miss a glass of homemade ‘kairi panna’ (raw mango drink, often served with soda) sold here.
Harihareshwar is also referred to as Dakshin Kashi. According to the priests, the place finds a mention in the Sahyadri chapter of the Skanda Puran. There are two main temples, one dedicated to Kal Bhairav and the other to Harihareshwar. In the second temple, Brahma, Vishnu, Maheswar along with Parvati, are worshipped. There are other shrines dedicated to Ganesh, Garud, Nandi, etc. For pilgrims, it is customary to first visit Kalbhairav (who earned a place among the divinity by killing over a hundred demons), followed by the lesser shrines and then the Harihareswhar Temple, and then a final visit to the Kalbhairav temple.
Pilgrims also circle the temple along a specified path, which begins behind the main temple, goes up the hillock, descends to where the rocky boulders meet the sea (known as Shukla Tirtha), and goes round the rocky wall to emerge at the other end of the temple, off the beach. From the top, you catch a panoramic view of the coast. The blue waves breaking on the golden beach in a mass of milk-white surf. Strewn around the temple complex as well as in Shukla Tirtha are pieces of old sculptures. Even though people worshipped them as divine representatives, no one could say where these carved blocks of stones came from.
If you want to explore further, take a local ferry to Bankot on the other side. Trekkers can go up to the fort here. Or you may take a local vehicle to reach the Velas beach. The lonely beach is partly hid from view by a high rock wall. Usually between November and March, Velas plays host to the Olive Ridley Turtles who arrive here to lay eggs in the sand. Members of an ngo named Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra protect the turtles and the eggs from poachers. When the hatchlings arrive, they are released into the sea. The Turtle Festival held around this time is attended by many people from Mumbai, Pune and other places.
Getting there: Harihareshwar is 200km from Mumbai. Mangaon is the nearest railway station from where one has to take a local vehicle to reach Harihareshwar, about 60km away. Accommodation is limited here. The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation complex offers cottages strewn along the wooded hillock. There are a few private resorts too. Harihareshwar can be visited almost round the year; avoid peak summer.