If you chat up locals in Palghar, they will tell you that the town’s visitors largely comprise factory workers or those visiting the court premises here. Nevertheless, as you head towards the industrial town, high-rises gently give way to petite rolling hills, making you wonder if there isn’t something here for the tourist as well. Those suspicions are thankfully confirmed later in the day, when children take out their bicycles for long rides, shared auto-rickshaws–locally called dum-dums–roar as they cart people to and from the station, and the resident fishermen bring in their catch for the day.
It’s certainly true that there is very little about the main town that would endear itself to travellers, but the pretty beaches of Palghar remain a big draw. Here, palm trees and casuarinas sway gently by the waves, and ancient forts full of history and adventure hold secrets as old as the land and the sea. Around the beaches are villages where the locals grow bananas and chikoos when they are not out fishing in the sea.
If it’s a quaint but heady combination of tranquility, sea and history that you are looking for, this relatively unknown slice of North Konkan is just about perfect.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
Palghar is an ideal weekend getaway for people who do not expect a beach holiday where parasailing and candle-lit dinners by the sea are the order of the day. It is serene, relatively uncrowded and perfect for a quiet vacation. Three days are ideal to explore Palghar and its beaches.
About 11km from town, Shirgaon has a fort to its credit, and one that offers an impressive view of the Arabian Sea as well of Shirgaon village. A climb up to it, however, can be precarious. The fort was erected in the 18th century, has under-ground tunnels, hideouts and a cannon to its credit. All that, however, lies under much neglect and undergrowth. You can relax at the beach, where you will find children playing cricket on weekends.
There are various routes from the main road leading to the sandy shore, and since the fishermen’s dwellings are en route, it’s easy to lose your way while heading back. However, people are quite helpful, and you can even convince one of them to take you for a boat ride. Once every year, according to the Islamic calendar, a fair is held in February at a dargah that is on the way to Shirgaon Beach. Qawwalis are sung at the mela till the wee hours of the morning.
Satpati, close to Shirgaon, is a sleepy hamlet with many palm trees. The beach here (13km from the town centre), is the least crowded of all the beaches in Palghar. There isn’t much to do except watch the fishermen’s boats with their identifi-cation flags float by, and visit the Shri Ram Temple, established in 1881.
About 13km from the main town, this beach is by far the most scenic in Palghar. Here, the black sands end where the suru trees begin. The sea is not as clean as it used to be once but thanks to the fact that it stretches for 7km, it has a large number of tea stalls and cold drink vendors. There is a fort towards one end and the Kelva Dam 10km away. Low tide is the best time to visit the fort. The long climb up to the walls of the fort is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Close to the beach is the Shitladevi Mandir. Make this your base to catch the sunset and sunrise.
Kelva, along with Bordi beach, also in Palghar, are also in the reckoning to get Goa-style beach shacks soon.
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WHERE TO STAY
There’s a suitable variety of hotels to make Palghar a decent enough vacation option. Plus, in and around Kelva there are several enter-prising folks who offer homestays, including Visawa, Shreya and Sheetal Chhaya.
Kelva Beach Resort has coco-hut-style accommodation and pleasant green environs. There is a restaurant and a swimming pool here. Ya Niwant Beach Resort, formerly Sai Shibir, also houses a good restaurant, swimming pool and games.
The MTDC-approved Anand Residency is near Kelva Shitladevi bus stop. Sai Residency, on Mahim Road, has 16 basic rooms and a restaurant. Usha Resort has eight rooms, restaurant and a swimming pool.
WHERE TO EAT
Suruchi Restaurant at Sai Residency has a good selection of Malvani, Gujarati and Chinese dishes. Ya Niwant Beach Resort’s speciality is seafood.
Situated at Paanch Batti, Manisha Dairy Farm is a landmark in its own right, at least as far as the locals are con-cerned. For about Rs50, you can have a tall glass of kesar (saffron) or mango lassi; Srikhand is available in exotic flavours such as black grape, apple and anjeer (figs).
This destination is completely off the radar – in fact, even the residents of nearby Palghar seem to be unaware of its existence. Devkop is a lovely surprise hidden in the hills, frequented mostly by photographers and picnickers during the monsoon.
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A 10-minute trek along a fairly easy path dotted by straw huts on one side and fields on the other takes you to a tiny hill, beyond which lies the Devkop Lake. The lake is surrounded by low hills on three sides, casting stunning reflections on a clear day. Even during the dry months – when you might just turn around with-out even completing the trek, and thereby missing the lake entirely – it’s a beauty to behold. If you have some time to spare, carry a picnic basket and a few books to make a day of it.
Look out for a small board to your left on the Palghar-Manor Road, and thereon ask locals for directions. Swimming is not al-lowed and drowning accidents have happened here in the past. It is a good idea to take a special auto from the station which takes you directly there instead of the shared auto which drops you off at the main road from where you have to walk.
Manor, a sleepy hamlet at the confluence of the Vaitarna and Deherja rivers, is a much-favoured weekend destination with harried Mumbaikars who come here for weekends. Vaitarna Lake, connected to the epynomous river, is extra-ordinarily pretty, with both sunrise and sunset being the best times for photo ops.
The Silent Hills Resort is a big draw. Spread across 30 acres of lush greenery, it has tastefully decorated rooms with balconies that open out to an incredible view of the confluence of the rivers. Stop by at Vithal Kamaths or Anam Restaurant, on NH48, for a quick bite.
Air Nearest airport: Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport at Mumbai (122km/ 3hrs). Taxi costs Rs3,500–4,000.
Rail Palghar Station
Road Take NH48 to Mastan Naka in Manor via Shirsad. Take a left off the highway for Palghar. BusThe bus connections between Mumbai and Palghar are not very good. But most ST buses plying between Mumbai and Ahmedabad halt here