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Malvan – A land of warriors and virgin beaches

 By Rehana Jawadwala

      “Can you feel a thermal experience visually?” I wondered. That was exactly what the mountains were conjuring up in a distance, as my bus wound down the Sayadhari ghats. The early morning sunlight was cutting through the cold night of the hills. How often do our controlled environments within city limits permit such a treat? A treat it is, not very far away from the hustle of Mumbai, spread on the west coast of India, like a seductress just using her eyes to lure you in a crowd, lies Malvan, a small taluka on the shoreline of Maharashtra, a subdued calling for every piped out urban dweller.

        Often less known places conceal severe beauty. And Malvan is one priceless jewel. Literally, complete with live coral reefs, brave stories of pirates and warriors and unexplored beaches. It is a land still protected by the historicism of Chatrapati Shivaji. The small villages and towns of Malvan taluka live in the shadows of the great fighter both contented and fulfilled. This place is more of an exploration rather than revisiting an earlier pre existing itinerary. Especially an itinerary that various governmental resources promise, is conspicuous by its absence. There is no international airport here or the much talked of 66-hectare Taj rejuvenation resort. Nor is the over promised Marine Park in existence. The government has yet to shoulder responsibility of its declaration of Sindhudurg as a tourism district. Unkept promises of lip serving politicians however give way to a journey that is un-spoilt by commercial vendors yet.

The best way to totally etch the various landscapes of Malvan is to have your own mode of transport, whether a rented bike from your continual journey in Goa or a vehicle you drove all the way from home. Once you beat, the crippling problem of transportation all there is left is to suck in the sheer pleasure of untouched land and drama. Like my rare experience of dining out on a star packed sky on the seashore of Malvan beach, with the twinkle of the fisher boat lights for ambience and the famous ocean fort of Sindhudurg setting the backdrop. I sat there digging my feet deep in the cold sand and savoring a leisurely prepared meal of local kingfish and prawns. To top it, my cook and host joined me at the table relating maritime stories and tales from the times of Shivaji. The magic complete with the distant humming of anglers returning from a whole days work.

Early next morning I set out to discover the local village of Katta known for its interesting china clay pottery. Perfectly proportionate vessels were lined up outside most hamlets in the village. They too made of red china clay bricks dug from local mines also called as Chira. I had to feel the vessels, feel what the potter with his perfect sense of symmetry had achieved so dispassionately. Although they seemed totally unaware and humble of the skill so reclusive to most of us who try their hand at the wheel.

This same sense of deep understanding and complete mastery of skill is what you see in the local fishermen. Their boats are unyielding, difficult, dated and almost run down. Despite the health hazards and the dangers of unavailable navigational support, it is a sheer pleasure watching fishermen pull their motor boats into life and yell local slang to communicate with other boats. Even the anchorage and balance beams are old technology made of curvaceous wood barks. There are about 585 fishing boats operational on the Malvan jetty with numerous small boats called Pagaar dotting the entire shoreline of Malvan beach. This is one spot where it is dreamy in the dark rather than most beaches that look their best at sunset.

Inspite of its chilled pace, the whole district of Sindhudurg, of which Malvan is a part, boasts of 100% literacy rate. It is not uncommon here to find engineers, chartered accountants or management graduates. Having worked in metropolitan cities, they have chosen to come back to their homeland to live a low key and stress free existence of fishing and rice farming. This is Malvan, where Shivaji’s molten lead cast fort of Sindhudurg withstands generations of wave lapping, where live and unattended coral reefs beckons the scuba divers of the world, where virgin beaches and coconut palms are for anyone’s taking.

 Things to do and See –

 Sindhudurg Fort

This is one of the most daunting historical trips in the region. Sindhudurg or the ocean fort is Shivaji’s cenotaph and in its chief shrine Shivaji’s image is worshiped. The image is of stone and the head is covered with silver or in high days with a gold mask. In the stone of the walls, prints of Shivaji’s hands and feet are held in reverence. Giving testimony to the Maratha maritime supremacy, the construction began on 25th November 1664 and completed 3 years later. The boat ride to the fort is quite playful, but it is easier if you are visiting during tourist season. It costs Rs.27/- but will costs you the fare of 11 seats if no one but you are to go. The fort conservation trust runs 22 ferries for this purpose. Once you reach the fort and when the boatman who doubles as the guide begins to unravel the thinking and the strategies behind the architecture of the fort, it leaves you in wonderment about the capabilities of the lost minds of yesteryears. The fort itself is very extensive, a little less than 2 miles round the ramparts. The walls are low, ranging from 29 to 30 feet. They are on an average 12 feet thick and have about 32 towers from 40 to 130 yards apart. The towers are generally outstanding semi circles with fine embrasures for canons. Here and there, narrow staircases lead from the inside to the top of the walls.

The area of the fort spans 48 acres. Once full of buildings it is now a mere shell with nothing but a few temples dedicated to Mahadeo, Jarimai, Mahapursh, Bhavani and Shivaji, the only one of its kind in the country. If you visit the fort in the early evening it is most likely you will hear devotional music from the radio in the huts of a few gabits. These gabits are actually 8th generation of the servants of Shivaji. They continue to live within the confines of the walls at a salary of Rs.80 per annum, the same sum their ancestors received from Shivaji raje.

In 1765 after the rule of Shivaji an expedition under the joint command of Major Gordon and Captain John Watson of Bombay marine were sent to speedily reduce the fort and they gave it the name of Fort Augustus. As the fort was very hard to dismantle and unprofitable, it was returned back to the Marathas, then Kolhapur chief, in return for peace in the area. These Kolhapur pirates known as the Malwans were the most active and desperate of all coast corsairs.

The sunlight plays visual treats on the limestone walls of the fort and the sunset from its peak is breath taking, where every year politicians fly down their choppers to hoist the Indian flag on Independence Day. On your way back from the fort, there are many things that you begin to understand about the ocean you are treading on and the brave warriors who conquered lands in these spaces of water many centuries ago. It feels like a live trip into a history textbook chapter. It brings back words forgotten long ago in elementary school. A must do when in Malvan.

 Malvan Beach

 This is one of the most commercially active beaches in the Konkan. It is buzzing with life at the jetty where most of the fishermen anchor their boats of various dimensions and colors. There are a few bars and restaurants on the beach unlike most other seashores on the Sindhudurg coast. Especially to try here is a humble seafood specialty joint called Khot, run by an ex mechanical engineer. It is one of the friendliest atmospheres alive with banter among the locals.

This beach is not a place for relaxation; however, it is close to the city centre and perhaps the most accessible beach in the area. Another promising forthcoming attraction here is a one of its kind marine park in Asia. The government has proposed the marine park since 2000, but there has not been any action on it yet. The area of Malvan is a fortified island on the coastal reef. Coral patches have been recorded in the interstitial regions around the Sindhudurg fort. Most of these marine flora and fauna from the inter-tidal area is exposed during any low tide. So keep an eye out for a great opportunity for scuba diving. However, for now the best attraction on this beach remains to be the Sindhudurg fort. 

Chivla Beach

This is a beautiful stretch of clean sands and clear waters bordering Malvan town from North West. It is a very small beach and there is nothing much to do here but laze around and watch the sun go down. A small restaurant called Silver Sands serves local fish and refreshments.

 Asra Mahal Beach

 This beach extends from the Chivla beach and there is a Navy detachment and petrol centre. It also has a modest government rest house; one can watch the sea from a distance sitting on a low wall created to confine the guesthouse. The Sindhudurg fort is visible from here as a far away horizon spot.

Tondavali Beach (19km North of Malvan)

This is perhaps the true manifestation of an untouched beach. It was one of the most difficult beaches for me to uncover. I had to hike almost a km from the road to get to the shore but it was totally worth the drain. When I first saw a glimpse of the shore from the end of the tree thickets, I could identify with a feeling of someone who discovers new land. Not a single soul here and the sand had just patterns of sea wind. Fine grains of soft white particles urged me to feel them without my footwear. Cool waters splashing away you almost feel sorry no one watches this phenomenon abundantly.

A definite must visit. Highly recommended to have your own vehicle.

Achara Beach (22km north of Malvan)

This one is a paradise for swimmers and dolphin watchers. Dolphin season is between October and February. It is a few km ahead of Tondavali beach. It is quite popular during season time. There are some fishing activities around here but mostly it is a good space to chill with the sea waves. 

Rameshwar Temple (23km north of Malvan)

Situated deep within the heart of the town Achara, it is a temple of lord Rameshwar worshipped and highly regarded by the locals. Everything carved in this temple is the work of locals some 600 years ago even before the time of Shivaji. Gavpalne is a tradition that is followed here every five years and during this time, the villagers have to reside outside the village.  The entire village of Achara has been a gift from Shambhaji Raje, the son of Shivaji to the temple trust or Devastaan. Rameshwar temple has a great political as well as devotional backup and is one of the most influential authorities of the area. 

Tarkarli Beach (8km south of Malvan)

 When you ask any local, what are the places to visit in Malvan, a unanimous answer is the Tarkarli Beach. True to its promise, this beach is a favorite with sand particles devoid of any red tinge and sky reflecting waters. MTDC has a luxury resort around the beach. Most of the time you are not allowed if you do not live at the resort, but exceptions are made quite easily. This is also one of the most notorious beaches to swim in and 21 tourists have died until date. So be careful whilst going deep into the waters.

 Devbaug Beach (12km south of Malvan)

A confluence of the Karli River flowing into the Arabian Sea. This point marks the southern most tip of the malvan taluka. An interesting geographical site, it is far more enchanting to see it atop the bridge built to cross over the river into Vengrula. 

Other attractions

Dhamapur Lake, which is a quite place, in the future may transform into a Mecca of boating and water sport activities. Jain vestiges at Pendur, Agnewadi Temple near Masure and the Brahmanand swami memorial at Ozar are interesting cultural and devotional statements in Malvan- A place where nature and history have definitely kept their promise. How long will the government take to fulfill theirs, is for us to see.

 Where to stay: 

In and around Malvan there are a few luxury resorts and Hotels. The MTDC resort at Tarkarli is among the most popular. Rooms costs around Rs.1100/- per night. Tel: 02365- 252390.

Hotel Sagar Kinara right near Malvan jetty is an affordable place at about Rs.650-850/- per night. Tel: 02365- 252264.

Other hotels such as Hotel Green park Tel: 02365-252374 and Abhiruchi resort. Tel: 02365- 253156 are considerable options.

Most other beaches are barren to accommodation or even eateries. At Achara there is a hut resort called the Rameshwar resort. Tel: 02365-46319 interesting looking, but is shut most part of the year, so do not quite depending on it.

 How to go around:

 Commuting is the single most crippling problem faced by tourists in Malvan. You are invariably dependant on privatized rickshaws. These are extremely expensive a mode to travel. A return trip to Achara (22km) would cost you anywhere around Rs.300-Rs.350/-. Here there are no two wheelers to rent out, unlike its competitor in tourism, Goa. ST buses are economical, but their timings are not always conducive to plan a perfect itinerary. The best possible way to cover most beaches and temples is to hire a car, bike from Goa, or drive your own. Some people here are not very comfortable with tourists and are apprehensive to help. Nevertheless, at large people are quite friendly and will easily go an extra mile for you.

 Where to eat:

 Most tourists’ spots have no commercial eateries or the kind. I was advised to knock on any door of the local china stone hamlets and would be presented with something to grub on. People merrily feed you with whatever is at home. Having said that, the true Malvani cuisine is very distinctive from its Konkani and Goan counterparts. A superfluous use of a local fruit Kokum (Garcinia) and just a hint of coconut is what marks the deep colored gravy and bright fish curries. Mackerel, Kingfish, prawns and pomfret are the famous locals, boiled instead of fried in curries and battered in light gram flour or semolina (rawa) when fried. The fish is best savored with generous showers of limejuice. Mackrel alone is made with more than 50 recipes; the more popular of these are Trifalancha, Kalputi and Dabdabeet. Then there is ‘chamchamit masali tikhle’, or a combination of mackerel and pomfret, ‘zanzanit kombdi suke’, or dry chicken, and ‘masaledar kurlya’, a spicy crab concoction, ‘kolambi fry’ (prawns), ‘mori’, ‘kalva’ and ‘tisryache suke’, different varieties of fish and shellfish. A must have is the staple Solkadhi, a carmine colored brew made with coconut and Kokum. A fish thali, consisting of fish curry, rice, vegetables, roti and Solkadhi costs anywhere between Rs.100- Rs.40. A very popular joint called Chaitanya is a bit expensive but most local restaurants are cheaper.

You can even buy your own fish in the most interesting of ways and get it cooked. Every evening seafood is auctioned on Malvan beach to the highest bidder. Thus, meal prices even in restaurants fluctuate accordingly. Malvani food comes in an entire package deal of unique trading ways, to preparation, to taste bud stimulation. More than once, you will wish to stay here just a little longer if only to eat one more meal of the freshest possible seafood.

 How to get there:

 By Road: Sindhudurg is 510 km from Mumbai via the Goa highway. If traveling by a bus get off at Kudaal and take a rickshaw to Malvan (30km) (costs 250-300/-). ST Buses are also available at every 40 mins in the day time for Rs.15/- 

By rail: Kudaal is the nearest station on the konkan railway.

 By Air:  International terminal – Sahar, Mumbai.

             Domestic terminal – Dabholim, Goa.

 Places around Malvan: 

The talukas of Devgad in the North and Vengrula in the south have some of the most beautiful beaches to explore. Mithbhav, Kunkeshwar (temple and beach) and Tambeldeg beaches are brilliant in Devgad. Mochemad, Shiroda and Nivete beaches are the well-known ones of Vengrula. The Rameshwar temple at Vengrula is 300 years old in Konkani architectural style. The Shri Mutt Sansthan located about 3 km from Vengrula is a must see synthesis of two mountains at Dabholi. The Mutt follows Vedic traditions established by Adi Shankaracharaya.

 Statistical information on Malvan:

 Temperature – Max 32°C

                         Min 21°C

 Rainfall – 2482.10mm (average)