Konkan, the Jewel of India

Konkan… When you utter this word, it conjures up images of long stretches of clean and sandy beaches, huge varieties of fish and fish delicacies, small beautiful villages, quaint cottages, narrow winding roads lined with stretches of rice fields, simple yet clever people…et al.
Best way to go to the konkan from Mumbai is to go by the Mumbai Goa highway. Of course, Konkan can be reached by going by the Pune route too, those who like to drive on wide expanses of excellent motorable roads will prefer this route but those who prefer driving through scenic surroundings, will always prefer going by the narrower Mumbai Goa national Highway .
This national highway is anything but a highway. There are no dividers between the two traffic directions, and test the skills of the most experienced drivers. Especially the night driving is a pain and calls for high levels of concentration and alertness. Of course, the authorities have now woken up to widen the roads and the road widening process is in full swing. The unfortunate result of the widening process is the cutting down of ancient trees lining the roads, but this is an inevitable sacrifice of progress and safety on the roads.
Another excellent means of reaching Konkan is by the various trains running on the Konkan Railways. Best time to travel is morning time. As soon as you cross Diva station, the fun starts as you see wide expanses of rice fields on both sides of the tracks. But don’t sit inside the compartment, especially of the air conditioned bogies…stand near the door to really enjoy the morning air and the scenic beauty which changes from green fields to winding rivers and rivulets…of course, stand well inside from the door, don’t do anything risky although I have seen many boys sitting at the door and staring into the horizon. For foodies, these trains are a blessing with good quality of assorted foods ranging from idlis, wadas, chicken lollipops, soups of all types, sheera, poha…you name it…they have it. I sense many mouths are watering by just reading this. And the stations which line this route are out of this world and have an old worldly charm about them…just see the Khed, Chiplun, Ratnagiri, Sawantwadi and many other stations. After all seeing is believing.
But I will take you on Konkan Darshan through a road journey on the Mumbai Goa highway. Till you cross Panvel it’s the same old city. But once you cross the Panvel city you are on the highway and the fun starts. Within no time you are passing through the karnala bird sanctuary, and the first thing you notice are the monkeys sitting on both sides of the road, either waiting to be served by their car driving cousins or frolicking within themselves, the little ones clinging to their mothers tummies. This is the monkeys drive-in restaurant, where the cars bring the goodies. Recently the forest authorities have banned this due to accidental deaths of the monkeys, who sometimes come too near to the cars, the ban is not actually followed by the homo sapiens as well as simians.
Anyway, the Karnala bird sanctuary is the first attraction on this highway, with the eye-catching Karnala fort in the background, showing its thumbs up, to the people embarking on this highway. The road is lined with small and large eateries as well as a few resorts.
As you drive further, you will come across a few nurseries and one should visit these nurseries, if not to buy , then to just experience the assortment of trees, shrubs and showpiece flowering plants available.
As you then move ahead, you cross the creek and are on your way, tackling the traffic at Pen town, you reach the first landmark which is Wadkhal Naka. This can be your stopping point to freshen up and fill up at one of the eateries, gorging on Wada pav, misal pav and a steaming cup of tea. Here you are at a junction, with one road proceeding straight ahead to Alibag beach while the second on the left proceeding to Goa.
So all beach enthusiasts, will of course be very enticed to reach Alibag, the road to the playground of the Who’s Who of Mumbai, being lined with potholes of various sizes. Those who just want to enjoy the comforts , they are spoiled for choice with many small and five star hotels in the vicinity. But those who want to experience the village life, should branch off to Nagaon and stay with the local people.
To continue on the onward journey to Goa, you take a left turn from Wadkhal Naka. Then for a long stretch you have the railway line on one side and lush green fields on the other. In a few hours you reach the next landmark which is the village of Pali which is famous for the Ganpati temple. For this you have to take a detour to the left, and the Ganpati temple welcomes you with open arms. Once you have the blessings of the lord, no one can stop you and you continue on your onward journey to Goa.
As you proceed, you cross the first real ghat section, immediately after Pali and on the other side of the ghat you then travel through the towns of Roha, Indapur, Mangaon. After crossing Mangaon, on reaching another town, Goregaon, if you take right turn, you are on the way to the beach of Harihareshwar, a very idyllic beach.
This route will also take you to the Mahabaleshwar of Konkan, Dapoli. Near to Dapoli are the beaches of Murud, Anjarle , Burundi and Karde. Murud is having many stay options, Anjarle is famous for its Ganpati mandir on a cliff, Burundi is famous for its Brahmins whereas Karde beach is for those who love the water sports. It has a wide variety of water sports. If you reach here in the morning, you will only leave well past lunch time. And the way to Anjarle Ganpati mandir, known locally as “kadyavarcha Ganpati” is the most mesmerizing experience since you are driving on a cliff, with the wide expanse of the Arabian sea stretching to the horizon. The mandir itself is so silent and peaceful, you feel like not stepping out.
From Dapoli another road goes to a sea side town, Dabhol. Near Dabhol, there is a Mahalaxmi Devi Mandir, which is one of its kind, since it is underground. As you go down, first you cannot see anything, but as your eyes get used to the darkness, you really appreciate the Devi Murti. You will really feel blessed with this experience.
Now coming back to the Mumbai Goa highway…once you cross Goregaon and Veer, you near the town of Mahad, which has 2 main attractions…one is the Kolad river rafting which is nearby and another is the access to the Riagad fort , by means of a ropeway.
Raigad fort, the pride and capital of Hindavi Swaraj , established by Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj…
As you drive further from Mahad, you reach Poladpur. If you take a left from Poladpur, you are on the way to the actual Mahabaleshwar…oh, what a road! So many turns on this Ambenali ghat section , such lush green scenery….its as if you are driving through the heavens.
Next major town on the highway is Khed but for reaching Khed you have to travel through the long and winding Kashedi ghat. 10-15 years back this ghat section was the most treacherous since it was narrower with steep cliffs on one side and took the lives of many travellers. But now it is much wider and can be crossed safely. But it remains awe inspiring due to its great height.
Once you reach Khed the next town on the route is Chiplun and there are many small and large industries on the way. If you love non-veg food, please stop in Chiplun and have your fill, there are some very good restaurants (though not of 5-star variety but very tasty food). Lest I forget, before entering Chiplun, you pass through the Parshuram ghat and the Parshuram mandir here is a must visit. Said to have been renovated by the Peshwas, the stone architecture is awesome. As you must be knowing, Parshuram is the great Brahmin who is said to have shot an arrow and reclaimed the land called konkan from the sea. Another attraction in Chiplun are the Chiplun backwaters. Yes! There are backwaters in Maharashtra too. You can do boating here through the crocodile infested waters…yes, crocodiles too…
The Chiplun to Ratnagiri stretch is very beautiful…nature at its best and the best time to travel is just after the rainy season. For a long stretch, a river meanders along the road side at a lower elevation and there is greenery everywhere. There are 2 hot water springs situated between Chiplun and Ratnagiri. The water is so hot, you can boil eggs and rice, just by lowering them in the water.
If you want to visit Ratnagiri, then you have to leave the highway at Hathkhamba and take a right turn and then drive for almost 4-5 kms.
The main attractions in and around Ratnagiri are many…Ratnagiri is famous as the birthplace of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the great freedom fighter and we can see his house here. Nearby, about 45-50 kms from Ratnagiri,is the wonderful beach of Ganpatipule with the Peshwa built temple of Lord Ganpati. Here again you should taste the locally made fish dishes…yummy. On another side of Ratnagiri are the Pawas mandir of the great saint, Swami Swaroopanand. Still further is the Mahalaxmi temple situated in Adiwre. Ratnagiri is also famous for the wooden palace of the Burmese king, who was incarcerated by the British in Ratnagiri. Another well known landmark is the Ratnagiri fort.
Coming back to the Mumbai Goa highway, the next towns after Ratnagiri, are Lanja and Rajapur. Rajapur is famous for Rajapurchi Ganga. This is a spring which waters in every 3 years. This area is at an elevation of 25 metres above the city level and the ponds are bone dry. But when the time arrives, suddenly water starts flowing and lasts for almost 3 months. This event is marked with a great festival to celebrate the occasion.
As you drive down further, for almost 1.5 hours, you reach the town of Kankavli. After crossing Kankavli, you have the option of going to Malvan and Sindhudurg, which are towns situated near to the sea. Sindhudurg town is famous for its Sindhudurg fort, built in the middle of the sea by Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. The main attraction in the fort is the sweet water well when the whole fort is surrounded by the salty sea. If you want to enjoy the village life while driving, leave the highway and drive along the inside roads which meander through the quiet villages , which have small cottages lining the road.
The next major and final town before entering Goa, is Sawantwadi. This town is very beautiful with a centrally located artificial lake and the Sawantwadi palace. Sawantwadi is famous for its wooden toys even today. Buy some as a keepsake.
Then you cross the final ghat section between Maharashtra and Goa and then…finally you have reached Goa.
Hope you all enjoyed the journey. Please do visit this jewel of a place since I have missed out on many other goodies like the Tarkarli beach and Amboli hill station and many more.
Yatindra Tawde