What a sight it is! I look back towards the beach and people of all shapes and sizes are walking splish… splosh… splish… splosh… into the water, away from the land. The beach and its cluster of buildings are slowly receding to the background. Most people have their dresses hitched up, a meaningless ritual really because below the waist everybody is soaking wet, and by the looks of it, liking it too. I am part of a throng of people, the water is knee deep, then a wave comes and the water rises waist high. Every face carries the laughter of disbelief. We are crossing the sea; we are simply and incredibly walking across it!
At Alibaug Beach, this sea crossing is not unusual. Walking across the water is a daily pilgrimage — the walk, or the wade rather, being undertaken to the Alibag Fort (Kolaba Fort). People wait for the low tide all day long. The locals knowingly look at the sea and can figure when the time for the crossing will come. Visitors ask around, looking longingly at the Kolaba Fort, which is tantalizingly close to the beach. However, the water is deep and the fort is inaccessible most of the day. As the water drains from the narrow divide between the beach and the fort at low tide, people start walking towards the fort. People in hundreds, and with them a few horse-driven buggies for those who do not want to or are unable to make it on foot.
As you leisurely walk on the broad walls of the fort, surveying the Alibaug Coast and the sea beyond, the strategic location of the stronghold gives you an insight into the guile of the Marathas that made them so fearsome in the late 17th and the 18th centuries. Both the Kolaba Fort and Alibaug town owe their existence to the Marathas. Kanhoji Angre, an important admiral of Shivaji, created Alibaug town and its port. Kolaba Fort was built by Shivaji to counter mainly the prowess of the Siddis of Murud-Janjira, but also the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English.
Today the popularity of Alibaug lies in its small-town beachside charms, that too just a hop away from Mumbai. The well-heeled from Mumbai zeroed in on the beaches and green pastures here to build their ‘farmhouses’, a mere hourand- a-half away from the Gateway of India. Weekenders followed suit and now they repeatedly grace the vast sprawls of soft sand on offer here.
The name Alibaug refers to two entities in Raigad District of Maharashtra: a small town and a bigger administrative region (taluka). Creeks border the Alibaug Taluka to the north and the south. On the west is a long shoreline stretching from Rewas to Revdanda. Alibaug town is right in the centre of this western shore. The Alibaug Beach is about a kilometre south of the town centre. The Kolaba Fort is less than a kilometre from the beach. The Alibaug Taluka has many beaches on its shores: Versoli, Kihim, Awas, Sasavne and Mandwa (from south to north) are to the north of Alibaug Beach; and Akshi and Nagaon to the south.
The Bus Stand marks the centre of the town. The offices of the boat services (PNP, Ajanta, Maldar) to Mumbai are located here. It’s also the place to find autos (unmetered, but even so, never unreasonable) and shared tempos. Most hotels are located near the Alibaug Beach and the Bus Stand.
You need to be careful off the beaches in Alibaug. They are safe for swimming at high tide; be cautious during low tide, and don’t go far from the coast in any case. There are no lifeguards on the beaches. Wearing beachwear is okay, but you would not be able to buy it here. To cross to Kolaba Fort enquire about safe timings from vendors and locals on the beach. It’s best to start 2 hrs before the time of the lowest tide (that happens twice a day) so that you have enough time to return safely. You can go one way on foot and the other by horse-buggy. The time of the lowest ebb shifts by 45 mins daily. Don’t try to cross at or near high tide; people have lost their lives attempting that.
Alibaug offers many beaches in and around the town. The beaches are safe and clean enough to enjoy gambolling in the water. None of the beaches have facilities for water sports such as boating, diving or snorkelling. The Alibaug Beach is the most popular of the beaches and has a lot of visitors at most times. Other beaches are relatively less frequented. Mornings are ideal for quiet walks and birdwatching. Only those who plan to be continuously in the water should visit the beaches in the afternoons as they are warm and there is not much shade on the beaches to escape the sun. Evenings mean big playful crowds at the beaches — groups, families and lonely souls, all flock here to join the fun. A lot of people come to Alibaug to spend a leisurely weekend, but in fact another day or two won’t exhaust its possibilities.
By Amit Mahajan
About the author
Amit Mahajan is engaged in ordinary pursuits of life: love, happiness, health, travel, knowledge. He lives in Delhi, and wants to spend a long while on Goa’s beaches.