The time of Christmas and the last week of December is generally a holiday period in most of the western countries. Most of the people are on leave and those who are in the offices are not in a mood to get into any serious stuff. Everyone is enjoying the Christmas decorations, shopping, gifts and kind of looking forward to the year end, to greet the new year and start again with a bang. Now after having a chill out party on 31st December and getting a bit lethargic for past few days, coming to the real world and getting up to speed does take some time. So the start of the year is also quite slow most of the times.
But then for us who are sitting here in India and working mainly on these European and American projects, last week of December is again a good opportunity to relax, a get some vacation and enjoy few moments with the family. The 2011 December does not seemed to be that chilly and I wanted to go to some place, where I can shiver a little and be able to wrap myself in hot rugs. Although now, when I am writing about all this the cold is really on, quite late in the season. January has given all the winter fun, that we generally expect during December. So as I said, to get the feel of winter going towards green Konkan was the best option. Our swimming pool attendant Sanjay, who is from Mangaon, gave me few tips and I was charged to plan my trip to Harihareshwar.
Train booking was an option, but local transport in this part has not developed to the extent of getting a pickup from train station or getting a vehicle for a day with a driver. One has to be lucky to make all this arrangements without hassle. So driving down to the place to reduce all this transportation hassle was the best option. Now the biggest challenge was, well, well, I never drove farther than 80-90 kms and I don’t really enjoy sitting in a driver’s place, while other are enjoying the trip. But then to make the commuting easy, within the place of our stay and few places that we had shortlisted to visit, having own vehicle was the best option. I took this challenge and got all maps and directions on paper from internet.
We left at 7 am sharp from Borivali. The plan was to cover as much distance as possible, during morning, when the traffic is low and get to Harihareshwar early in the afternoon. Although the average time required for this journey was 5-6 hours, we had added a buffer of an couple of hours, taking into account my unfamiliarity with the road and the need to take few breaks as my back starts yelling, if I sit for more than a couple of hours.
Reaching thane and then finding direction from there, wasn’t a big hassle, but then we did our first mistake when we took the Vashi bridge. We were quick to be on track again and were on Panvel road again. But we had few more surprises waiting for us and it was going to be my driving test as well. After a few minutes of being on the track, we found ourselves on a posh speedy highway, with few vehicles zooming by the speed of 120 to 130 km/hr. I had almost started enjoying this ride and the great road, a doubt struck my mind. Boy !!!! Are we on Mumbai Pune Expressway ? 🙁 A big bubble rose from the pit of my stomach. I knew I was in trouble and it’s really too late. We were on our way to Pune at 120 km/hr and Lonavala at few kilometers.
There are no official U turns on this expressway and even if there are few places where you can manage the U turn, we happened to skip minimum two of them because I was not supposed to slow down over here. I got myself into the rightmost lane now, but soon we were passing through a long never ending tunnel. My discomfort was rising and was afraid of ending up reaching Lonavala. At one point after the Tunnel, I could find some clearing and could manage to get onto the other side of the expressway. Well, I was again zooming back towards Panvel :).
Now we were extra cautious and made sure we get onto the Mumbai Goa highway, after this great adventure and losing considerable amount of time. As we drove onto Mumbai Goa highway, I realized how comfortable was to drive onto the Mumbai Pune Express way. This road did not really seem like a highway at all and we could somehow manage a speed of 60 to 80 km/hr because of traffic, narrow road and few bumps and pit holes.
We had our first break at Shirdhon village and enjoyed the “Indyaal” (Spicy chicken in Vinegar) and “Chapaati” that we had packed in the morning. After getting a little fresh at the Dhaba, we were again back on the road. Now quite sure that we are too late and this is not going to be such a fast track journey, we got a bit relaxed and decided to cover the distance to suit our comfort level. Ride through the thickness of Karnala forest was enjoyable, with people enjoying the greenery and feeding the monkeys on the way.
We crossed Pen and we were soon at Nagothane. Harihareswar was still far away and now the hunger struck us again. We parked at a beautiful “Yaatri Dhaba” with a natural setting nestled between coconut trees. A hot veg biryani, some rest, a walk around this cute Dhaba, some photography and we were ready for our second phase of the journey.
After quickly passing Kolad, Indapoor we were soon at Mangaon at 2:30 pm and took a turn for Harihareshwar at Morba. Harihareshwar was still 56 kms from here and considering a winding road with sharp turns across the mountains (Ghat Road), we were sure to take a minimum of 2 hours. This was also a new experience, as I never drove on a “Ghat road” before and had to really change the gears quickly and press the accelerator hard to take those sharp turns. The scenic beauty was apparent, with the roadside greenery, wide spread farm fields; cute villages welcomed us with warmth and hospitality.
After again a short break at “Mhasala” we reached Harihareshwar at 4:30 pm. The “Konkani” village culture was quite prominent and gave such a contrasting view even after being not so far away from Mumbai. Due to the remoteness of these villages, the culture seemed so different. The sheep herds with their sheep, the village women with a basket of her farm produce on their head, the people relaxing on the “Vharanda”’s of their small , but cute, red roofed houses, people waiting at the bus stops for hours and the grocery shop in the center of the village, satisfying all the meager needs of these simple people.
A train, AC bus, a posh mall, with products coming from across the best brands in the world is all irrelevant things to them. A quick smile and a talk about their village and the next village (fun) fair is what make them happy. A son working in Mumbai and visiting them in couple of months gets a bounty of joy for them. The presence of good percentage of Muslim population reminds us of a long Muslim rule in this part of the country. Both these religions go hand in hand here and it’s an integral part of their culture.
Finally we were in Gokul (Our Resort in Harihareshwar) and quite surprised to not to get even a single call from our host, as we had got really late in the day. The rooms were cozy and gave us quite homely feeling as even the owner Mr. Shettye also stayed in the same premises. What we wanted was a hot water bath and some rest, before we get started with the exploration. After the rest and a hot tea, we set out towards the sea shore, which was not even two minutes from our cottage. The evening Sun was about to dive deep into the sea and after the daylong journey, as we touched the soft sand with our bare feet, we could feel the absolute bliss of being in this land of beauty, history and mythological significance.
As we were returning and thinking about dinner, the Harihareshwar beach resort caught our attention. The lady at the counter, with a friendly smile was quite friendly and soon we were talking about the place, the resort, places to visit and the food options, her restaurant offered. We ordered for a mix of “veg and a fish Thali” and the local taste of Konkani cuisine, topped with the “sole kadhi “ (Tangy flavored juice made of konkam and coconut) delighted us.
Harihareshwar seemed a lot non-touristy and peaceful, with most of the tourist buses making a quick visit to the “Mahadev and Kalabhairav” temples and then continuing their exploration of the rest of the Konkan. The people staying here for long time were quite few. Each house adjoining to the temple had sign board advertising about homely food and a place to stay. Close to a
“bed and breakfast” kind of arrangement. As it was not too late and the movie on the cable TV happened to be quite intriguing (Jonny Depp’s The Tourist), we got engrossed into it, before getting into a deep slumber.
The morning was fresh and we were ready for visiting the temple and the famous “Pradakshina” around the “Vishnu Pad and Kaamadhenu”. Visiting the temple was almost like going back in time. The temples have been there, right from the times of Pandava’s and have been a worshipping place for the first Peshava’s from the Maratha Empire. The interior although not so well maintained gave the glimpses of those times. The huge pillars, stone work, dark interiors with good amount of wood work, the mezzanine floor (Pot Mala) typical to those days.
This place is called as “Dakshin Kaashi” becuse of its significance as one of the oldest shiv temples in India and the pradakshina (Walking a full circle around the temple) around this place is one of the unique aspects of Harihareshwar.
The village itself is quite tiny, with a few 100 people staying close by to the temple. The temple is right at the bottom of mountain separating the temple from the Arabian sea at the back, but then the all encompassing sea does take turn around these mountains reaching out towards the farm land right in front of the temple, extending this shoreline towards Shrivardhan and Diveagar. The Pradakshina starts right from behind the temple as you climb the twin-mountains, watching the shoreline in front of the temple. As you reach the top, to your surprise, you meet the same sea right at the back between the peaks of these two mountains, extending to the horizon.
The view is amazing and the vastness of sea through this tiny V shaped gap between these hills keeps you glued for some time. The stone staircase let’s you descend down on the rocky surface. The sea is little rough here and the caves and different shapes, formed by the constant abrasion caused by the strong, thundering, dashing, ominous water is one more element of attraction. The “Manadhenu” and “Vishnu Pad” are some of the such shapes and worshiped religiously by the devotees during the “Pradakshina” for years.
The Pradahshina can be completed during low tides, as it’s really dangerous to walk across this rocky and slippery surface during high tides. As you walk around these hills during the Pradakshina, you would again come back in front of the temple, as you complete your Pradakshina. The dashing waves as they collide head-on onto the solid rock, they make this peculiar roaring sound. If you are sitting little close, be aware you would definitely get some taste of this salty water, as the foamy white water creates a giant wall and lands in the laps of these rocks, showering everything and everyone around with the cool water.
After being party to this celebration of sound, sprinklers and foamy white waves and admiring the beauty of this unique stone carved structures, we headed back for our lunch. The afternoon was reserved for a visit to Shrivardhan and Diveagar and really wanted to start early to cover as much as we can.
We started really late for Srivardhan and Diveagar. The plan was to spend some time in Dieveagar and then be at Srivardhan beach for the sunset. But then, this was the winter period and the sunsets happened at 5:30-6 pm itself. Maitri and Sheetal insisted on not going to Diveagar at all and spending the time at Srivardhan beach. We were at Shrivardhan at 4 pm and I somehow managed to convince both of them that we would touchbase Diveagar and come back at Shrivardhan by 6.
The road from Harihareshwar to Shreevardhan was silky smooth and I just enjoyed that ride with my Swift, but then the story was a bit different for Diveagar road. As we got closer to Valvati and could see the pristine, secluded beach of Valvati we were convinced that we made a right choice.
The beauty of this particular part of Konkan is that, the sea and rocky mountains keep meeting each other, and the driving on the road here makes you feel, as if you are landing into the sea from atop the mountain and at times as you take a turn along the pristine beach you start climbing another mountain peak. The sea and the mountains keep playing hide and seek here and driving on this road running through, these meeting point of sea and the mountains is an absolute bliss.
The Suru trees, Coconut greenery and the thickness of Kevada bushes make the landscape quite catchy and cute. The silver stand and the miles and miles of long beach lines keep you riveted to the place and you tend to take halts trying to capture this beauty with your eyes and if possible in your camera as well. I am pretty sure no angle can catch all the beauty from this classy mountainous sea line here. It’s a perfect mixture of greenery, jet black and silvery white beaches and cliffs and slopes that makes your heart keep pounding with joy as you take sharp turns and try to catch the glimpses of these views driving down the winding roads.
We were absolutely jealous of all those village folks, who stay close to this stunning beauty and enjoy those sunsets and sunrises day in and out as they carry out their daily chores in the midst of this greenery.
Diveagar beach seemed to host number of water sports as well right from the Para sailing to Jet skiiing (water scooter). Maitri got into her swim suit, as soon as we reached this beach, as she didn’t want to lose a single moment of her salty fun and wavy sprinklers, before the Sun says good bye. A huge flock of sea gulls in the back ground of the shiny sea line kept me busy for a while and I could capture some of their artistic group flights against the shining sun.
On the way back it was really dark and driving on the narrow winding road was really challenging. Finally we reached Srivardhan at 6:30, in the evening, but it was really dark. We did pay a quick visit to the beach to get the feel of this huge beach. The beach was still buzzing with people and ample vehicles and buses were parked along the road. This seemed to be more happening area than Harihareshar as this is the district place. We got a suggestion to try food in Vichare Bandhu’s Hotel “Prasad”. The serving took little time, but the food was really awesome. We enjoyed the hot Chappati’s Naan, Dal Tadka and Egg Bhurji.
Trip to Harnai was a suggestion from our host Mr. Rajan Shettye. We had hired a driver as I just wanted to enjoy the trip and watch the beauty rather than just concentrating on the winding road and my driving. Having a driver, would also have a distinct advantage of, being always on a right track and not wasting time in finding the road. This trip was along the lower coastline of the Konkan across Ratnagiri.
The interesting part of this trip was a boat ride across the creek formed by river Savitri touching the Arabian sea. The names of these two ports were equally catchy and interesting. The one on the Raigad end was called as Bagmandala around 4 Kms from Hariharshwar, while the one on the Rangiri side was called as Bankot. Bankot has been derived from “Bavanna Kot” a marathi representation of the word fifity-two forts. Shivajai Maharaj captured this tiny fort and added to Swarajya, which was the fifty second fort and hence the name “Ban Kot”.
The ferry has a schedule of every one hour from each port and we were suggested to leave by 7 am ferry to make sure we start early and be back on time. The main attraction was Harnai beach and Kadyavarcha Ganapati. But It was equally interesting to watch the village life as we passed through Kelshi, Anjarle and other tiny villages on the way. The road turned out to be real pathetic and Sheetal started having her road sickness quite early in the day. A quick break near “Padle” beach gave us some relief and we were back on our way. But then the road consistantly disappointed us and we decided to drop Dapoli even before we could reach Harnai.
The coconut greenery, tiny slanting roofed houses, rocky mountainous road kissing the sea line at every few minutes distance, making us wonder, if the mountains are extending their arms to touch the sea or the sea has got into the narrow cliffs and spaces left out to hug the mountains. The portion of the land seemed to be rich with the agricultural activity, with the rice fields turned into “Papadi (Valachaya Shenga)” fields for the winter season. No doubt, this place is blessed with ample water, evident from the high levels of river flow, as we crossed huge bridges across the winding river.
The temple of Ganesha popularly known as “Kadyavarcha Ganapati” was built in 12th century and we were amazed to visit a temple having such a long history dating back even before Shivaji’s reign. The temple was cute, with its unique architecture and pristine silence as you enter the “Gabhara”. The majestic statue of Ganesha and the beautiful architecture keeps you riveted, taking you back into the time machine as you start wondering about those times, with limited resources and lack of today’s technological advances. The skills and efforts were commendable and this temple served as a living testimony of their dedication.
The view of the “Padle” beach from this temple is picaresque and the curvature of this beach lined with the thickness of coconut greenery is soothing to watch from the top.We did some Papad, Masale and Thecha related shopping here and the freshly prepared Kande Pohe got some relief for our complaining stomachs.
As we left Anjarle and moved towards Harnai, the terrain turned more mountainous, with sharp turns on the road taking us up the top. The view from here was most picturesque, the sealine deep down the cliff, with a cluster of red roofed cute houses of a fisher-man village, in the arms of this rocky mountain, right on the waterfront, a beautiful temple right close to this village captures your attention and a sea-fort of Harnai appears quite tiny from this spot. Could not really get the name of this point from our driver, but seems to be the best spot to capture the beauty of this part of the coastline.
I could not resist the temptation to walk down the winding road to get a right spot for capturing the C shaped coastline of Padle and Anjarle from the other side of this mountain. The view depicted the richness of the Konkan coastal line, lined with coconut trees and the farm land in the interiors. A huge bridge over the river we had just crossed looked quite tiny and cute from this spot. The Sun had spread its golden hands and the shining sea water dashed against the golden beaches trying to touch the emerald greenery of the shores.
After visiting so many beaches on the way, picking up pebbles (Shankha aani Shimple) and admiring the Suru and Coconut tree beaches, finally when we reached Harnai beach, it could not attract us so much. It was much rocky, less crowded. The only thing that was cute about this beach was, two brownish looking hills right in front of the beach creating amazing landscape, as we descended through the winding road towards this beach.
Our plan was to spend some time at Anjarle beach on our way back and take a late lunch at any of the villages. After spending a lot of time in the car along the bumpy road, a quiet and peaceful half an hour, spent at one of the beaches near Anjarle cooled us off, even at 1:30 pm’s hot Sun. The touch of soft brownish sand to your bare feet and the soothing and playful waves dashing against your feet, makes you forget all the troubles and efforts and mind just gets into the rhythm of nature being one with the surroundings.
Sadly we could not find even a single hotel or restaurant on the way back and have to get back to Bankot to wait for the ferry. The ferry had some gear issues and we got stuck for another half an hour. The “Diet Chivda” in my bag came to our rescue, till the time the gears were fixed and we were on-boarded again. The number of truck and cars on-boarded to the ferry scared us at first, but then a quick chat with a local guy, gave us some relief. The ferry does have a good capacity. This ferry is a life line for lot of people travelling between these two adjoining districts in Konkan, Raigadh and Ratnagiri. A bridge construction is underway and would surely take some more time. Off course this was quite a unique experience of getting onto a ferry with your vehicle, to cross the river on the way.
After a quick and light late lunch and some rest, we had a real lively evening. We went to the MTDC beach nearby and enquired about the boat ride. MTDC resort is situated at a height surrounded by hills with thick forest of “Subabhool” trees. These trees seem to be very strong and known to survive even in the most difficult situations. Their roots go deep into the soil and extract water, making sure the trees are green all the year round. Other weaker trees don’t survive this competition and mostly die.
This beach is quite secluded and probably that is the reason the name MTDC beach, giving a notion of having a private beach to the MTDC tourists. The route to the beach, descents from high hills into the laps of the rough stones and black sand. A view of Bancot fort, the Ratnagiri shoreline and Savitri river creek in front, while a Suru beach at some distance along this shore.
After the hectic morning trip, this place with cool breeze, rhythmic waves dashing against the rocks and chasing against the crabs running on the black sand made us relax. With this cool and peaceful atmosphere the whole mind and body got engross into the tranquility. Life was at its best at the moment and all the worldly worries were left far away.
We just needed a nice and hot dinner to put some icing on this fine evening and “Grasshopper Inn” the MTDC restaurant, came out to be the best option. Apart from the multi-cuisine menu, with good variety of soups, the option to seat close to the shoreline, under an outdoor thatched canopy was most interesting. The nice songs being played by a Bengali family sitting nearby added more romance to the atmosphere.
The Sun was long set. The twinkling lights of Ratnagiri shore across the shore, the softened sound of waves, the cute MTDC cottages and the few tourists enjoying the weather sitting in the verandas, a perfect laidback setting for adding some oxygen to life and setting tone for the mind and body. This is what they call as distressing or rather just immersing oneself into the nature and its serenity, isn’t it.
The food did not disappoint us and hot chicken man chow soup and a well prepared triple shezwan, made us indulge into this worldly pleasure of satisfying taste buds. It’s good to indulge at times, just to pamper self and letting oneself soak into the surroundings, just being part of the flow.
A quick few dance steps by Maitri and Sheetal on the tunes of “Tum Joaaye, Jindagee mein ” after the dinner could not let me be just an audience and watch. Soon we were doing this little jiggy on the tunes of some romantic music, not very much concerned about reactions from the people watching :). It’s good to immerse self in the atmosphere and do few crazy things at times, that keeps life flowing and makes it more unconventional.
Our last day was reserved for the “Agar beach”, right in front of the temple, boating at MTDC and an evening visit to “Pradakshina Path”. It took some time for me to find the way to the agar beach from the other side of the temple, as a tiny canal separated the access to the beach from the village. I was happy with this new discovery, as I could discover few more cute resorts and local houses and their farm lands right in front of the beach.The narrow path towards the beach was lined with thick growth of beetle nut trees, attributing to a pleasant walk, with cool breeze and soothing greenery all around.
This beach is not so frequented by tourists and so retains its charm. The brownish white sand and warm, foaming waves keeps you busy as you build those castles and let the waves play around you, while you lie there looking at the blue skies, feeling contented and happy. We did spend ample time at the beach, playing with the waves and getting a nice Sun bath.
The typical “Konkani mutton rassa” at Gokul and the cabbage vegetable preparation gave the taste of local cuisine. A quick nap, we were again ready for our boat ride at the MTDC beach. After a good bargain the operator agreed for ride for Rs 250. The positive part was he was giving few tits and bits, about the surrounding area.
The Veshvi beach on Ratnagiri end is famous for turtle culture and huge turtles are found in this area. The boat ride also gave the glimpses of the rocky and mountainous sea shore, with the rocky hills covered with the thick greenery of the “Subabhool” plantation. The sea goes rough during monsoon here and the aberration of the rocks has created peculiar shapes, quite unique to this part.
We didn’t want to miss the sunset from the “Pradakshina Path” near the temple, so we had to rush to the other side of the sea shore near the temple. The golden orange globe was spreading its arms across the shiny sea shore, the weather was really pleasant, while the rushing waves were trying to reach out to the end of the shore, falling a little short, the waves at the rocky shore were stronger and more mischievous.
The waves dashed against these rocks with all their might, creating thousand sprinklers as high as few feet, creating a natural fountain show, with spectacular reflections across the orange rays of the setting Sun. Watching the enthusiastic people, trying to catch some of those events in their camera’s was fun. As we sat there looking at the setting sun and the changes in the colors and admiring this beauty, letting the waves play with our feet, the time was standstill and the life, at its best.
As the sun moved down and about to go into oblivion, we reached out to the back side of the temple, to get some glimpses of the sea through the thin slit of the Twin Mountains. The serene atmosphere, the colors on the sea and the view from the top through these mountains as we climbed the stairs, was amazing. Contented and happy we had ample memories now to cherish and were truly in love with this place.
We had one more contented outdoor dinner at the grasshopper inn with a bit chilly but pleasant weather, soft sound of the waves, twinkling stars and hot soup. The next day was our day of return. We didn’t expect to end up staying for 4 long days in here. But the beauty and serene beaches of this places kept us glued for so long and now we were trying to cherish even the last bit of it, by lingering around the beach, talking about the activities of past few days and really happy about choosing to visit this place.
Earlier plan was of going to Raigadh and then starting the return journey. But this plan had to be altered as it would have been too much of driving and then cramping the whole schedule in a single day would have been really difficult, making the return much more hectic. We were quite contented with our stay in Harihareshwar and keeping the Raigadh for a separate visit made sense.
After a nice break at Mhasala, we were heading towards Morba village. The “Winding Ghat” road kept the challenge alive, but since the road was quite smooth, driving was quite a fun. A “Misal Pav” and few fruits was our spicy plus healthy breakfast at “Mangao”’s famous hotel Anand Bhuvan and soon we were again heading towards Panvel. The weather was nice and the traffic conditions favorable. After passing Panvel we decided to stick to Ghdbandar rout via Thane.
One more break at one of the scenic spots on the banks of Ullas river enroute Ghodbunder and we were in Borivali at around 4:30 pm. The Distance Guage showed 225 km and the time we took was 8 hours with lots of long and short breaks. In all a very interesting trip, with exposure to some of the best parts of Konkan.