With the sun above our heads, we came upon a path that was a switchback of hills and wooded dales. We took to the red, dusty road which signalled Kotawade village, just 15 km before Ratnagiri city. A narrow trail led the way to a place where mango trees stood, on what seemed like an unending stretch, till we understood they were mango farms, often fenced by the multi-stem danda thor (resembling the cacti family). Minutes after, bucolic, rural Konkan helped slow our stride.
The car turned a corner, and laterite cottages with Mangalorean tiled roofs peeped out of thickets. Mango and coconut trees appeared at regular intervals. A shaded courtyard with views of the farm made up a dining space. The super-friendly host Medha took us around 2.5 acres of land that grows rice, pulses, vegetables, spices, other than mango and coconut.
Around us were inviting hammocks tied to the barks under the cool shade of trees.
The farm's laterite-stone packed cottages, clay-tiled roofs and cowpat brushed floors are a throwback to the building tradition of the region. This was our home for the next few days. And just when the trees began swaying and rustling in the mirthful spring breeze, I longed for the beach.
The twin beaches of Aare Ware, a 5 km drive from our farmstay, was the first stop. Crossing through wadis (settlements), we joined the coast-hugging Aare Ware beach road that glides down a hill along the pristine beaches proving to be a jaw-dropper. Ware came first, fringed by a rocky cliff and views that are spectacular at all times of the day.
A little further down sits the crescent-shaped Aare beach, marked off from its twin Ware by a hillock. Aare Ware's geological story is something like this: Eons ago, seawater gushed inside, causing submergence of mountainsides, giving way to these beautiful white, sandy twin beaches of Ratnagiri.
It thrilled me to see how seawaters drift away to create a tranquil inlet of backwaters waylaid by wooded hills beyond.
On the drive via the coastal road of Ratnagiri-Ganpatipule highway, we pulled up several times to look for beaches. I couldn’t stop admiring the virgin Kalbadevi beach, fringed by dense clumps of casuarina trees, almost looking like a jungle beach – wild and serene.
We made stopovers seeing tidal waves create dozens of tiny creeks along which mangroves slump down into thick foliage. This place was also home to many coastal birds and I was lucky to spot a beauty - a white-bellied eagle preying on a snake.
On our way to Miriya beach, we stumbled onto another fund - the quiet Alawa beach, a narrow palm-fringed bay with not a single soul around. This is the perfect beach if you want to come early every morning and have a dip just before breakfast.
We reached the point of the Miriya where the Kalbadevi beach stood, just opposite the bay. There were big fishing boats grounded on the shore, and as the sun came down to the horizon, those out on the sea sailed homewards.
After sundown, villagers paddle their way back home, women in twos or threes march off with a head load, and a handful of locals, happy just to potter by the beach.
It all felt like Goa, back in its early days.
We entered Ratnagiri city - not that we missed the city life, but only for the food we had heard so much about. Hotel Amantran was the Mahesh Lunch Home-equivalent of Ratnagiri. For starters we ordered tawa-fried crispy pomfret. It was tender inside and crispy outside, marinated in the regional Konkani masala, and served with a spicy chutney.
Mutton sukka with bhakri (flatbread made of rice flour) followed for the mains. Slow-cooked mutton and flavoured in Malvani masala, this dish was melting-off-the-bone delicious. I could clearly get the hint of garlic and dried red chillies. And you’ll want to mop every bit of the thick gravy with the bhakri. We didn’t want to miss aamras for dessert, made of Alphonso mango pulp. The texture of this frozen dessert is halfway between a sorbet and an ice cream, and bursting with flavour.
The city lights and clamour faded as we crossed over bridges and into hilly winding roads back to the village, post dinner.
Next day at seven I was up to go for a spot of bird-watching. Even seeing a bulbul or spotted dove reminded me of childhood happiness. After a delicious breakfast of thalipeeth (a tasty and super-healthy multi-grain flatbread brushed in homemade white butter) and perfectly cooked poha, we headed off for another round of adventure.
We reached Ratnadurg fort, located about a kilometre to the west of Ratnagiri. Twenty-six bastions protected this entire fort spread over 120 acres which was once a stronghold of Shivaji Maharaj. Built on a craggy cliff, the rewarding, spectacular sea views on all sides, makes Ratnadurg fort the Instagrammers' delight.
We continued on a beach crawl, crossing the famous Ganpatipule to the northern reaches of Jaigad fort. I found Nevare, another white sandy, wind-swept beach rimmed by dense casuarina groves converted into a park. Scanty advertising boards fill you in on adventure sports that includes scuba diving.
I could peg this trip as a slow immersion in nature that the Konkan coastline has aplenty. Malgund, Bhandarpule and many beaches came our way, pristine, clean, and some also busy - like Ganpatipule beach - until you realise most are draped in the same landscape. The common sights were local boys playing beach cricket, a couple of shacks outside selling water apples, coconut, roasted corn on open fires, kokum juice and mineral water. It felt so comforting to relish the creamy, tender coconut after supping the sweet water.Jaigad fort sits on the peninsular tip of the coast and has uninterrupted views of the sea. After a change of hands, Jaigad was won for Peshwa, Shivaji Maharaj by Kanhoji Angre, the head of the Maratha navy. The mighty ramparts speak of a time when India’s great empires used the sea for trade, and prosperity and these fortifications never failed to safe keep the regional supremacy of the reigning rulers. Of course, today it feels like discovering a lost secret.
If looking to enjoy chilled beer or a seafood platter on tables that overlook the stunning white sands, then it might disappoint. But I hear our Maharashtra Tourism has announced some eight beaches (including my favourite Aare Ware) are to get eco-friendly beach shacks that would be offering high-quality food and drinks.
I would love to believe that a few years from now, by night the beaches will glow with open-air waterside shacks, bars and restaurants and there'll be music everywhere. And my travel story would end up reading like a fable from a long time ago.
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