“Simla-Manali!” “Spiti valley!” “No, Kinnaur, its easier to get there and back,” “Noooooo, we should see Manali and Rohtang Pass,” “Oh no, Rohtang won’t have opened yet!” argued eight of us back and forth, while planning an impromptu May vacation (in end-April!). “Bali!” cried the husband, and we were enchanted, dreaming of endless sandy beaches and coconut trees and hammocks over clear blue waters, when the kid piped up, “We aren’t going anywhere, don’t you know that I have my boards next year?” “Next year,” I said, “not tomorrow.” “Nope, I am NOT going anywhere,” she insisted.
We kindly offered to leave her with her grandparents as we vacationed, while we furiously researched very different places. Finally it was clear that Bali was off the cards and Himachal Pradesh too crowded.
That’s how the gem of a “mini-Bali” was thought of, Tarkarli, a small beachside village on the Konkan coast, just north of Goa, rapidly becoming the scuba-diving destination of India. The trip was planned swiftly in one evening, hotels booked, drive itinerary planned and payments done before anyone could change their mind.
That’s how we set off on a sunny weekday at 5 am to drive the 480 km to Tarkarli. On the way back, we planned to halt overnight at Kolhapur to break the journey, but the drive to Tarkarli was covered in 11 hours.
Mumbai-Kolhapur was a stunning drive, via the expressway in the dark, watching the sunrise over Lonavala ghat and breakfasting at the famed Sri Ram vadapav just ahead of Pune. The road continued as a well surfaced, wide dual carriageway ahead of Pune, curving gently and trucks jostled with us for space in the fast lane, making this a much more enjoyable drive than the expressway with it’s straight lanes and an 80-km speed limit. Gulmohar trees in full flower dotted the road, adding beautiful patches of color.
Of course, it got hotter and hotter as we drove on and it was a relief to see the green sugarcane fields as we approached Kolhapur. Naturally, we slowed down to stop and enjoy a cold glass of sugarcane juice.
Crossing Kolhapur, we veered off the national highway to a smaller state highway, taking care to take the road that led to the Gaganbawda ghat as it is a wider road with a gentle ghat. On the way, we drove on gorgeous tar-surfaced country roads with tall trees providing a totally canopied road.
Reminiscent of the dark hedges of Game of Thrones? We drove a good distance on this stunning road before turning off towards villages and then the circuitous ghat.
By the time we reached Tarkarli, we were terribly tired and sleepy, but keen on visiting the beach. So after a short rest, we scrambled up the steep sand bank opposite our hotel to walk a tiny distance to the beach.
Our hotel was at a distance from the main beach access, so it was almost as though this section was only for us. We ran and jumped in the water and dug our feet into soft sands as good as any Goa beach with one-tenth the crowds.
Tarkarli is known for water sports, scuba diving, snorkelling, dolphin sighting, a fort and numerous temples. Oh and for delicious Malwani cuisine. While the hubby thoroughly enjoyed the fish, I loved the ghavan-chatni and alu sabji.
The next day, we merrily headed to the close-by Deobagh beach for the water sports. Deobagh is a small tongue of land sandwiched between the Karli river and the Arabian sea. It certainly is pretty as a picture with a lot of small bungalows and beachfront homestays.
The water sports here are on a tiny island in the Karli river, a long and narrow bit of sand smack in the middle of the river, to get to which, you need to board a tiny fishing boat.
At the end of Deobaugh beach is the junction where the river drains into the sea. The still waters of the river meet the turbulent choppy waves of the Arabian sea, a distinction seen even more clearly from high up in the air.
The water activities are an organised business with the touts hurriedly strapping you with life jackets and bundling you off on a series of activities that might not be very safe, but are great fun. The kids in particular loved the jet ski, but I spent most of my time on the ski screaming “slower, slower, please,” while the driver took me over bigger and bigger waves and almost turned me over into the water. It was when I got off, totally shaken and drenched, that he revealed that he had heard “faster, faster!”
The best thing that we did that day was parasailing. We were taken on a small boat deep out in the choppy sea, where we struggled to get harnessed and then got thrown up into the air and flung down again in the sea and dragged along behind the boat, before being lifted off again into the air. Needless to say that I spent my time screaming loud enough to be heard on the boat. My brother-in-law was even more scared, he was desperate to be let down so he could get back to Mumbai and work!
I must add that the few minutes that I was up in the air, I actually looked down to see the clear divide or “sangam” between river and sea and wished I had a Gopro to capture this beautiful view. Then they lowered us again, and I was back to screaming.
Exhausted and thrilled, we suddenly realised our hunger and hogged at a small Malwani home-made food restaurant that served the freshest food possible.
In the evening, we just roamed about the area around our hotel and admired the tiny bungalows and the mango trees.
Living opposite the beach necessitates dunking oneself in the pristine waters at least once a day, as part of our routine: breakfast, beach, lunch, siesta and an evening out. This evening, we set off to Sindhudurg Fort, Shivaji’s majestic fort off the Malwan coast. We had to park our cars right on the beach, making us hope we could return before the high tide set in!
We took a very unstable boat packed with people to the fort, which is entirely surrounded by water. It was very windy and our boat rocked vehemently on the waves and water splashed over us multiple times, prompting lots of Oohs and Aahs.
The fort itself was a solidly built engineering marvel with outstanding views all around. Scuba diving is done in these waters off one edge off the fort.
I was so entranced by this view that I didn’t notice a tiny step coming up and promptly fell onto the hard stone floor and tore my jeans and the skin beneath. Trust me to be clumsy at ground level! There went all my dreams of scuba diving and snorkelling. After cleaning up the wound, I struggled to walk into the fort and found myself at the base of steep steps leading to the walls of the fort.
Climb, one must, even if limping and grimacing in pain. Was it worth it? Most certainly!
It was very hot and some icecream and a windy rocky ride helped cool us down. I was thrilled to see some souvenir stalls at the exit, that reminded me of toys we’d buy as kids.
We proceeded to see the sunset at the nearby rock gardens. While waiting, we found a little ‘tapri’ selling delicious piping-hot chai and pakoras. After the best meal of an already gastronomic trip, we rested on the broad rocks at the edge of the sea. Rather, I rested, others tried stunts.
Though it was very sunny, a cool breeze blew over the sea.
But when the sun actually sank into the horizon, it was well worth the wait.
On our last day, we went back to Deobagh beach, this time to walk along the sandy edge of the meeting point of the river and the sea.
We walked happily in the cool waters, a gentle breeze blowing over us, the coconut trees nodding away in the distance and we felt that this was probably better than even Bali.
We had had a very relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable mini vacation. We were actually happy that none of the initial plans materialised and would be happy to come back to Tarkarli in the winter season. Fingers crossed!