The Sunday Times, London, has called it one of the best beaches in the world. You tend to 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. A line of casuarinas hides it from the outside world, and when you walk past the trees and out on to the beach’s powder sands, you involuntarily let out a long, satisfied sigh.
As I wiggle my toes in the sand in the stillness of the morning, I look out far to the little town of Malvan hugging the sea. From 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 fort built by Shivaji, floats like a battleship. Around me children race down the talcum beach and dunk each other into the welcoming, warm, whitecapped waves of the sea. At my feet, crabs draw spiral designs in the sand. It’s such pure bliss that you understand why an international cruise liner like the Hebridean Spirit fits Tarkarli into its itinerary — this beach is truly world-class.
Tarkarli 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, it’s easy to just relax 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, nature’s miniature works of art, or build sandcastles. Keep aside at least three days for Tarkarli.
Apart from lazing at the beach, which extends for 8 km along the coast, you can go for walks, play in the sand, or watch the changing colours of the sea. If you are visiting in Nov-Dec, then take a walk on the beach at midnight. The walk may also reward you with the rare sight of turtles laying eggs on the beach.
This little Konkan town has a bustling jetty, a tangle of boats, a laidback air and Mangalore-tiled homes, from where the scent of wood-smoke and aromas of fish curry waft into your memories. 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.
You can hire a bicycle from one of the small cycle shops here and drift down its shaded streets. You are most likely to glimpse a cricket match played on a ground in the shade of banyans, a little church, and a peepal tree standing in the middle of the town, a landmark for everyone giving directions. Beyond it lie the jetty and pier. At shouting distance is the fish market. Fishing boats also double as ferries, and leave for Sindhudurg Fort (see page 254) from a ‘tourist pier’ here. They charge a nominal round-trip fare (Rs 30-40 per head approx) to ferry tourists from the mainland to the fort in 10 mins. (It’s not a good idea to take the ferry in the monsoon.) They give you 1 hr to explore the imposing island citadel.
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.
TIP: Power-cuts are common in the Sindhudurg region and there is usually a fixed time for load-shedding
Located just 2 km from the bus stand, the Chiwla Beach in Malvan is a well-kept secret. A stretch of soft white sand, just over 1 km long, that makes a small ‘C’, the beach is a travel writer’s dream. The sea is as azure as the sky and lulls you into striking a pose for meditation — well almost. At one end of Chiwla are boats sunning themselves 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 songs and dance performances.
A little fishing village attached by the hip to Tarkarli, Deobaug enjoys the privilege of sitting 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 a bird-lover’s paradise, with warblers, white egrets, cuckoos, Indian pond herons, laughing thrush, arrow-tailed swallows and yellow-beaked mynahs having been spotted here.
Backwaters and a beach
You can hire a boat to cruise down the backwaters of the Karli River from Deobaug. As the boat starts, palms sway on both sides, and the river snakes far into the horizon. You see 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 Bhogwe Beach costs Rs 600 for a group of 10 people.
Though the boat rides are not official, they’re safe and run by locals. Ask your hotel about organising a trip. Tours leave at about 8 am and take about 1-11/2 hrs.
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, 2 km north of Rakjot, which was built by Shivaji in 1668. Set on a hillock, at the mouth of the Kalavali Creek, its location 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.
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 or gooseberry 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.
Sindhudurg: The iron fort
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 it is an apt way to begin discovering all that this magnificent structure stands for.
Stepping onto the sandy beach on Kurte Island, 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. Right now though, its 48 acres are home to 18 families, descendants of the Maratha warriors, living in tiled houses all over the island. During the monsoons, they’re virtually marooned out in the sea. The rest of the year, they depend on country crafts to reach the mainland.
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 see that much of the fort is in ruins. Small patches of crops and a handful of shrines are to be seen on the ground where the barracks that housed soldiers and sailors once stood.
There are three shrines here, each with a dark cave-like temple of its own. One is the Sri Shivarajeshwar Temple, built by Shivaji’s son Rajaram in 1695, which houses a statue of the warrior king. It is the only temple where he’s worshipped. One of the three shrines hides a secret tunnel, an escape route that led all the way to Kolamb, a few kilometres away.
Over 2,000 khandis, or 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, you agree 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 AD. He thought that Shivaji’s caste was too inferior for him to give the fort his blessings.
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 images that you take back home on the boat ride.
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 JOURNEY TIME By rail 9 hrs + 1 hr by road By road 101/2 hrs By air 1 hr + 3 hrs by road
Route NH17 to Kasal via Chiplun, Rajapur and Kankavli; SH to Tarkarli via Malvan
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.
MTDC Holiday Resort
STD code 02365
By Joan Pinto