The Sunday Times, London, has called it one of the best beaches in the world. You will agree when you drop anchor at the Tarkarli Beach, a long stretch of white sand that seems to run forever. The water is emerald-green, and when the sun’s rays fall at the right angle, you can see all the way down to the seabed.

From the little town of Malvan, it’s a beautiful drive down shady, winding paths, past tamarind and coconut trees, to Tarkarli. Further out on Kurte Island, Sindhudurg, the imposing sea bastion built by Shivaji, floats like a battleship. It’s such pure bliss that you understand why an international cruise liner like the Hebridean Spirit has a place for Tarkarli on its itinerary.

BEACHWATCH

The water is safe to wade in but swimming is not recommended because of strong undercurrents. There are no lifeguards on the beach.

THINGS TO SEE AND DO

At Tarkarli, you can spend days just relaxing in your hammock, listening to the call of the sea. It’s also a place where you can rediscover the child in you – trawl the beach for tiny shells or build sandcastles.

Tarkarli Beach

Apart from lazing on the beach, which extends for 8 km along the coast, you can go for walks, play in the sand, or simply take in the beautiful surrounds. If you are visiting in November–December, then take a walk on the beach at midnight. You may be rewarded with the rare sight of turtles laying eggs on the sand.

Malvan

This little Konkan town has a bustling jetty, a tangle of boats, a laid-back air and Man galore-tiled homes, from where the scent of wood-smoke and aroma of fish curry dominate. It is rustic at heart but at the same time striving to be something more than a village, with its restaurants and hotels and an odd Internet café. To explore, hire a bicycle from one of the small cycle shops here and drift down its shaded streets. You are most likely to witness a cricket match in full swing on a ground in the shade of banyans, a little church, and a peepal tree standing in the middle of the town, a veritable landmark. Beyond it lie the jetty and pier. A stone’s throw away is the fish market. Fishing boats also double as ferries, and leave for Sindhudurg Fort (see p186) from a tourist pier here.

Malvan’s waters hold the only marine sanctuary in Maharashtra, spread across 29.25 sq km. Declared a protected area in 1987, it is rich in marine life.

Chiwla Beach

Located just 2 km from the bus stand, the Chiwla Beach in Malvan is a well-kept secret. A semi-circular stretch of soft white sand, just over 1 km long, this beach is a travel writer’s dream. The sea is as azure as the sky and the vista almost prompts you into striking a yogic pose. At one end of Chiwla are boats moored at the docks and further down, the Sarjekot Island. At the other end is Malvan’s Rock Garden. In the last days of December, up to New Year, the Chiwla Festival is held in Malvan, with song and dance performances.

Deobaug Village

A little fishing village attached by the hip to Tarkarli, Deobaug enjoys the privilege of being strategically placed between the sea and the Karli river. Take a leisurely walk through the village, when dappled sunlight filters in through the palms. You’ll pass women sorting dried fish outside their homes, boys practising with their cricket bats, and men sitting by the fisheries factory, waiting for it to open. Deobaug is also great for birdwatchers: warblers, white egrets, cuckoos, Indian pond herons, laughing thrush, arrow-tailed swallows and yellow-beaked mynahs have all been spotted here.

Backwaters and a Beach

You can hire a boat in Deobaugh to cruise down the backwaters of the Karli river, which is flanked by gently swaying palms on both sides. You’ll spot men bobbing in water up to their waists, harvesting mussels with their toes. Schools of little fish slide away as colourful boats, their bellies half in water, wait for their turn to be taken out to sea. The point where the river meets the sea serves as the exclamation mark at the end of the journey. Here schools of dolphins glide so close you can hear them breathe. You can also spot striped eels leaping across the water. Next on the itinerary is Bhogwe Beach, a huge sandbar at low tide that’s a stopover for seagulls. Clap and watch them rise in the air like white tangled kites. A trip down the river and onto the beach costs Rs. 600 for a group of ten people.

Forts

To the north of Malvan stand a few forts possibly built to serve as support systems for the Sindhudurg Fort. Cross the Kolamb Creek and you reach Sarjekot Fort, which was built by Shivaji in 1668. Set on a hillock, at the mouth of the Kalavali Creek, it was once ideal for anchoring ships and shipbuilding.

Padmagad, set on an island, is said to have been the main shipbuilding base of Shivaji’s navy. The once-imposing structure is now in ruins.

Courtesy MTDC
Tarkarli Beach, as seen from beachside eatery
Tarkarli Beach, as seen from beachside eatery

SHOPPING

There isn’t much by way of shopping in Tarkarli. However, the market at Malvan is a delight. As the slate-boards outside the shops indicate, they sell kokum aagal, a sour kokum drink used in curries, amla candy, cashewnuts, cashew laddoos and even kokum wax. The wax is used in Ayurvedic preparations, and is sold as a ball of white that is rubbed on rough, dry cracked skin to heal it.

WHERE TO STAY

On Tarkarli Beach

MTDC Holiday Resort, Tarkarli
MTDC Holiday Resort, Tarkarli

The secluded MTDC Holiday Resort (Tel: 02365-252390; Tariff: 2,300– 5,900) is the best hotel here. Do book in advance; an online booking facility (W maharashtratourism.gov.in) is also available. Saagar Sangam Resort (Tel: 248440, Cell: 09403946969, 09969179444; Tariff: 3,500–5,800) is located 1 km from Tarkarli, in Deobagh on the banks of Karli river. Sea View Resort (Cell: 08275668265, 09168166853; Tariff: 1,500–3,000) is on the beach and has a restaurant.

Hotel Gajanan (Tel: 251401, 253021, Cell: 09420424681; Tariff: 1,200–2,000), on the beach, has 14 cottage-style, spacious non-AC rooms with clean bathrooms. Chintamani (Tel: 253817, Cell: 09422434296; Tariff: 1,200–3,500) has ten rooms, and is located near the beach. Sai Sagar Beach Niwas (Tel: 253920, Cell: 09757483001; Tariff: 1,000– 2,500), previously Apoorva Resort, is located near the MTDC Resort here.

On Chiwla Beach

The Nath Pai Sevagan (Tel: 252250; Tariff: 600–800), on the beach, has eight sea-facing rooms. They have a family-run canteen, Krishnayee here. Om Shraddha (Tel: 252727, Cell: 09420822595; Tariff: 800–1,500) has nine non-AC rooms and a dorm available.

Sagar Kinara (Tel: 252264, 253910; Tariff: 2,500–4,000), near the Malvan Jetty is also good stay option.

WHERE TO EAT

As you dig into bangda curry, surmai fry, prawns fried in rava, both succulent and crunchy, you learn to say prayers before your meals, after your meals, and in-between.

Most restaurants specialise in seafood such as Malvani surmai, prawns, karli and pomfret. At the top of many people’s list is Chaitanya, close to the bus stand and the market. Also check out Arun Bhojnalaya, near the peepal tree at the centre of town, and the House of Bamboo near the main market.

Krishnayee is a little eatery under the trees attached to the Nayak House, close to Nath Pai Sevagan. They serve excellent vade sagote (vada made with multigrains, served with pieces of chicken in thick gravy) and fresh ghavne (a dosa-like pancake made of rice), with chutney and syrup made from coconut juice and jaggery, and hot tea. Order an hour in advance.

Hotel Ruchira in the market area is an economical option. They serve a great Malvani fish thali.

At Tarkarli, you could dine under the blue and white canopies of MTDC’s Sea View, at Hotel Gajanan’s thatched shack, or at the residence of Mithbhavkar.

AROUND TARKARLI

Dhamapur Lake (20 km)

Sindhudurg’s picturesque five-acre lake is famous for its crystal-clear pure waters. The serene, ancient Bhagwati Temple sits by the water’s edge. Boating facilities are available here, and MTDC is developing a lakeside resort, though they do not associate themselves with the current boating facilities on offer. The auto fare to Dhamapur is 250–300; the drive will take about 45 minutes.

Sindhudurg: Banners Waving High

From afar, the Sindhudurg Fort looks like an intimidating battleship at sea, just as it was meant to. The fishing boat that takes you to the fort rides the waves somewhat crazily, making your heart beat faster, and is an apt way to begin discovering all that this magnificent structure stands for.

Sindhudurg Fort
Sindhudurg Fort

Stepping onto the sandy beach on Kurte Island and looking up at the fort, you realise why this imposing citadel was the archetypal symbol of Maratha naval dominance. Its walls are 30-ft-high and 12-ft-thick. At present though, it is home to 18 families, descendants of the Maratha warriors, living in tiled houses all over the island.

It takes strong legs to climb the big steps to the top of the 2-mile-long ramparts, but the heritage on offer is rewarding. First in line is the fort’s most prized relic, the foot and hand imprints of Chhatrapati Shivaji, preserved in a slab of dry lime on one of the turrets above the entrance. Walking through the palms and the low shrubs inside, you will see that much of the fort is in ruins.

There are three shrines here, each with a dark cave-like temple of its own. The Sri Shivarajeshwar Temple, built by Shivaji’s son Rajaram in 1695, houses a statue of the warrior king. It is the only temple where he is worshipped. Another shrine hides a secret tunnel, an escape route that led to Kolamb, a few kilometres away.

Over 15,000 tonnes, of iron were used in the castings at Sindhudurg, and the foundation stones were laid firmly in solid lead to protect the 53 bastions against the relentless pounding of the sea. Standing on battlements that once held cannons, it will be evident that Sindhudurg deserved to become the naval headquarters of the Marathas. Unfortunately it was denied this honour. Local legend blames this tragedy on the curse of the local high priest who refused to consecrate the sea fort when it was completed in 1664 CE. He believed that Shivaji belonged to an inferior caste and did not give the fort his blessing.

Though Sindhudurg is a tribute to man’s strategic brilliance, nature makes its own contribution. Right here on this island, surrounded by sea and salt water, are three freshwater wells, Sakharbaun, Dudhbaun and Dahibaun. And near the entrance stands a palm with a split trunk. All indelible images from a memorable trip.

FAST FACTS

When to go Avoid the monsoons. Few, if any, boats will be willing to take you to Sindhudurg Fort in the rains. Winter is the best time to visit

Tourist Office

MTDC Holiday Resort
Tarkarli
Tel: 02365-252390
STD code 02365

Region Konkan

Location On the South Konkan Coast, where the Karli river meets the Arabian Sea, just 7 km from Malvan

Distance 521 km S of Mumbai

Route from Mumbai NH17 to Kasal via Chiplun, Rajapur and Kankavli; SH to Tarkarli via Malvan

GETTING THERE

Air Nearest airport: Dabolim, Goa (100 km/ 3 hrs). Taxi to Tarkarli costs 1,500–2,000 approx. But do negotiate

Rail Nearest railhead: Kudal (35 km/ 1 hr). Autos to Tarkarli charge 350– 550 and private cars approx 1,000

Road Turn off NH17 at Kasal, 14 km ahead of Kankavli. Take SH118 to Malvan, 33 km away. Tarkarli is 7 km further down the Malvan Coast.

Bus Regular ST buses ply to Malvan Bus Stand from Mumbai Central. Volvo buses and AC buses do not ply directly to Tarkarli. They leave from Dadar and stop at Kudal, the closest stop to Tarkarli, and from there one can take an auto to Malvan, and thereon to Tarkarli (approx 300–500). The road conditions are good