Ratnagiri: Of History, Mangoes and the Sea

Ratnagiri: Of History, Mangoes and the Sea
Thibaw Palace, the residence of the last Burmese king who was exiled to India by the British, Photo Credit: Snehal Jeevan Pailkar / Shutterstock.com

Sprawling on the Konkan coast of Maharashtra, Ratnagiri is the gateway to some scenic beaches and forts, far from the touristy radar

Uttara Gangopadhyay
July 08 , 2020
08 Min Read

The Thibaw Palace, named after the last official residence of King Thibaw Min of the Konbaung dynasty of Burma (now Myanmar) stood at the end of a sprawling green field.  The monsoon rain had washed the grime off the red laterite bricks and the double storied building shone under the bright autumn sun. But that was about all the splendour it had retained. There was not even a shadow, let alone a spark, of the royal residence that once it was.

Inside, a long corridor ran along the ground floor with rooms to one side. There was an office of some kind in one of the rooms and the rest were shut. We bought a ticket to the first floor ‘museum’, a single room with a painting of the deceased king on one wall and a few scattered royal memorabilia.

There was little to fuel the imagination that was born out of reading Amitav Ghosh’s ‘The Glass Palace’, where the life of the last Burmese king exiled to Ratnagiri in the western coast of India by the British is an important peg. And being in Mumbai, I thought it would be a good idea to see the palace.

Ratnagiri in Maharashtra is on the Konkan Rail route and a little over 300km by road from Mumbai. An otherwise sleepy town, it wakes up to a buzz of activity in early summer when the famous alphonso (or hapus) mango are brought in from the farms that dot the eponymous district, sold, and dispatched to Mumbai and other metros.

The second time that it takes on an animated look is during the Ganapati festival when pilgrims flock to the temple of the elephant-headed god located right next to the Arabian Sea at the edge of Ganpatipule town. So if you are looking for a quiet retreat, the best time to head out would be monsoon (if you love the rains) or winter (when the weather is balmy).

 
 
 
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Although local auto-rickshaws will insist on visits to the Bhatye or the Mandvi beach, these are best avoided. Besides the palace, the other must-see in the town is the house where one of Maharashtra’s famous freedom fighter, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, was born. While the Tilak Ali Musuem inside the house will acquaint you with his achievements, do not miss the architecture of the building – a typical Konkani house of yore.

 
 
 
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Spend a day visiting the Ratnadurg Fort, also known as the Bhagavati Fort, named after the temple dedicated to the goddess. Cars go up to the base of the fort and then you have to climb a flight of stairs. Little remains of the fort proper save the temple. Take a walk along the high wall for a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea that almost encircles the hill on which the fort is located. You may combine a tour of the town on the day you visit Ratnadurg (as the latter is only 6 km from town).

Ganpatipule Temple, near Ratnagiri

Essentially a pilgrim town, Ganpatipule is being slowly discovered as a beach resort. The hill rising from the beach is considered holy and an incarnation of Ganpati himself. The temple enshrines the rock that is worshipped as the idol. Earlier one could walk right into the temple from the beach but now it has been barred with a high wall. Pilgrims have to pass through a side entrance beneath a metal detector. A footpath encircles the hill and is taken by pilgrims who want to make a ‘parikrama’. Right opposite the temple and across the road is Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation’s tourist complex, which goes right down to the sea.

 
 
 
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And if you are looking for a place far from anywhere, plan a trip to the Aare Ware Beach, about half an hour’s drive from Ratnagiri. Better still, pack a picnic hamper for lunch, go right up to Jaigad Fort (you can catch a glimpse of the golden beach and the foam-flecked blue waters from a wind-swept bluff on the way), about 45km from Ratnagiri, soon after breakfast, and enjoy the panoramic sea view from here. On the way back, you may stop at the beach for lunch, with the gulls for company. There is also a backwater here and speed boat rides may be available.

You may stay in Ratnagiri but it would be more enjoyable either to stay at the sea-hugging cottages of the MTDC in Ganpatipule, beach resorts, or in a homestay  set in the middle of a sprawling farm and orchards with a stream running at its foot.

 
 
 
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Note: Relaxation or implementation of travel restrictions depend on the containment or spread of the COVID-19 and the government’s decision. So always check with the local tourism department or hotels before planning for latest directives. And of course, do not forget to pack adequate number of masks, gloves and sanitisers required for the journey and the stay.


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