Whether it’s a gentle pitter-patter or an endless deluge, the rains are all anyone can think of right now. You may have tweeted about everything from the #smellofrain to your #monsoonmood. But why relegate it to just a hashtag? If you really want to chase the clouds, leave behind the city where the rains turn the roads into rapids, and your life into never-ending traffic jams. The real adventure awaits you along the west coast.
We drove from Mumbai to Goa, completely skipping the efficient NH 17, in order to map out a coastal route of over 600km that makes for a perfect road trip. We saw magnificent island forts, virgin beaches, picturesque seaside hamlets and abandoned ruins. Add to that stunning views from the endless stretches of empty roads that are wonderful in parts and bumpy in parts. But hey, what’s a few bad roads when you are on an adventure? Get your rainy day playlists ready, an umbrella and gather a friend or two. It’s time to hit the road.
We were determined to get out of Mumbai early, but it was almost 11am before we were en route to Alibaug, a favourite with Mumbai’s weekend travellers. If you’ve been there (we’re sure you have), continue down the coast on the Revdanda-Murud Road for a little less than 50km. Around 6km away from the Murud-Janjira Fort (that remained unconquered by the Marathas, the Dutch and the English), we noticed a majestic palace at a distance, on a cliff overlooking the sea. We drove down to it to discover the Ahmedganj Palace, the private (and off-limits) property of the Sidi Nawabs of Janjira. Even if not in the best of conditions, the palace, built in 1885 by the British in Gothic-Mughal style, commands a stunning view of the sea.
Since we aimed to reach Harihareshwar in the evening, we decided to skip Murud Fort and other popular attractions. But a little over a kilometre on the Rajapuri Road showed us an interesting sight — two giant baobab trees standing imposingly on the Janjira Beach like old souls watching over the land. To their left stood ancient tombs on an unattended ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) site which didn’t even have a signboard. A quick Internet revealed them to be the Khokari Tombs, or the Khokari Gumbaj — 500-year-old mausoleums of the early Siddi rulers of Janjira — which now lie forgotten. After a leisurely exploration of the tomb, we continued our drive towards Agardanda.
We zeroed in on a homely lunch spot — Hotel Sai Shraddha (call 92736 21105) — with a sweeping view of Port Dighy where we feasted on a delicious Konkan thali with chicken curry. Try and take the ferry from the Agardanda Ferry Point to Rohini that can save you at least 20km of the 42km stretch of dreadful road to Mhasala, en route to Harihareshwar. Unfortunately, the ferry wasn’t running that day, so we had to drive the whole stretch; but the stunning seaside views made up for it. At one point, we were looking at long stretches of mangroves that opened straight into the sea. From Mhasala, it was another 44-odd km to Harihareshwar on a decent road.
We reached Harihareshwar having hit 220km on the odometer. We needed a place to crash for the night. We found the MTDC Harihareshwar cottages to be overpriced at `3,000 a night. Instead, we opted for a very basic room for a steal-deal of `400 (Hotel Nandanvan, close to the temple; call 090283 84439). If you are here while there’s still light in the sky, catch the sunset on the beach or visit the ancient Shiva temple.
Harihareshwar-Bankot ferry point (HT Photo/Lovell D'Souza)
We were back on the road after a good night’s rest, ready to take the first boat out from the Harihareshwar-Bankot ferry point. The coastal village, cradled by emerald hills, looked bright and happy in the morning. In five minutes and for `150, the ferry crossed the River Savitri to get us to Bankot, from where we continued down the road to Harnai. We negotiated some of the most dreadful roads here, but only until Murdi. From here, the SH 4 forks out into two parallel routes to Harnai — one goes high up the hills, overlooking the sea, and the other goes right along the Harnai Beach. We felt rewarded for choosing to go up the hill. Every turn took our breath away; as we climbed higher, these virgin landscapes revealed themselves — sweeping panoramas of sandy beaches dotted with fishing hamlets.
Coastal town of Harnai (HT Photo/Lovell D'Souza)
We reached Harnai and enjoyed a hearty breakfast of upma and kanda bhaji from a roadside joint overlooking the sea. Places like these make you wonder why we pay a premium for a ‘sea view’ table-for-two back in the city. We hit the road again, on the Harnai-Palande Road (SH 4) by the coast to reach Dapoli at 11am. From here, the roads are wonderfully smooth.
After crossing the Vashishti River at the Dabhol Ferry Point, we reached Dhopave, from where we took a small detour to check out the Takaleshwar lighthouse on a cliff, overlooking the sea. Note: The lighthouse is closed from 3-5pm, but go there anyway to see the outside of the stone fort (the gates of which are locked). We resumed our journey. The roads were open, the skies were blue and the idea of driving along the endless coast with no pressing agenda was liberating.
We reached our next ferry point at Tavassal. As we waited for our ferry, we had a misal pav for lunch as we watched fishing boats bob up and down over the sea. The ferry rides were a welcome break from all the driving, and a great way to absorb the beauty that surrounded us. We reach Jaigad on the other side of the river and decided to explore the Jaigad Fort, just a few kilometres away. The ramparts of this 17th century fort offer a commanding view of the bay. In ruins now, this fort has a surreal feel to it, with ancient trees and fresh leaves shooting out of the old stones.
We continued our drive towards Ratnagiri, our pit-stop for the night. From Ganapatipule onwards, the road hugs the beach, making it the prettiest stretch of this trip. The incredible Aarrey Warrey Beach Road made up for every bad road we took and every extra kilometre we drove to avoid the NH 17. One of the most virgin beach stretches in the country, this is a slice of heaven. You will drive by kilometres of white sandy beaches lined with casuarina groves. As the setting sun dipped into the horizon, we were on a patch of road with the river on one side and the sea on the other. We stopped and walked down to the beach, had kokum juice and snacks, and waited for the sun to set.
Ahmadganj Palace, Murud (HT Photo/Lovell D'Souza)
As the sun set, the spell was broken and we were on the road again, just 12km from Ratnagiri. We reached the busy coastal town after having logged 434km. We found a clean room for `900, enjoyed a Konkan-style thali and slept the slumber of happy people.
The morning was cloudy and our excitement levels high: we stood outside the one place we were yearning to see in Ratnagiri — the Thibaw Palace. Any reader of Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace will know that this three-storeyed brick and teakwood palace was where King Thibaw, the last king of Myanmar, was under house arrest when he was exiled to India by the British. His story is one of a king who never saw his kingdom again, destined to die in a sleepy coastal town. Even today, the beautiful structure seems to exude his sadness. Converted into a museum (of sorts) with a few keepsakes, there are relics and photographs of the royal Burmese family, apart from archaeological treasures from the Ratnagiri district. The dilapidated Thibaw Palace (restoration work is underway) is open 9.30am onward, for a meagre fee of Rs 3.
Konkani fish thali
We had another 200-plus kilometres ahead before we reached Goa, and were thrilled to find them in good condition. We drove along the SH 4 to enjoy the coastal views. As you move out of Ratnagiri, the stretch of road at Bhandarwadi lined with casuarina trees, will make you want to stop driving and walk through the symmetric rows of tall trees shooting into the sky. A few kilometres down, we took an adventurous detour into a small road to discover the isolated and stunning Vetye Beach, with a gentle, uninhabited creek.
We made our way through Chavatwadi to Shirse. Note: There are multiple small roads that go along the coast here. Pick any one based on how far/close you want to be to the sea. We joined the SH 4 again at some point and made our way down to the temple town of Kunkeshwar, where we stopped for a lunch of Dahi Misal with Pav and masala dosa. You can visit the temple on the shore here. From here, we drove through hundreds of kilometres of winding roads, past mango orchards, bridges, rivers, lakes, tiny villages, islands, stretches of seas, a sudden fort or an obscure town.
We reached Malwan, where, if you have the time, visit the lovely Sindhudurg fort on an island. You can also spend time snorkelling or indulging in other water sports at the beautiful beaches (particularly at Tarkarli Beach). We, however, continued driving, and went past Vengurla, 60km from Panjim.
We finally crossed Goa’s northern border — over the Tiracol bridge — at 5pm.
In the end we’d been in two states, logged 675km, and been on open, traffic-less roads for over 55 hours. And already, the memories of this Konkan seaside drive feel like a distant dream of a slice of coastal paradise.
Sindhudurg Fort(HT Photo/Lovell D'Souza)
Essentials to pack
> First aid kit
> Portable music player and speakers
> Books/board games
> Extra set of clothes
> A clean towel
> All weather footwear
> Opt for a good view.
> Make sure there are mosquito nets/insect repellents.
> Easy accessibility to local transport and attractions.
Two words: fish thali. If you’re going down the Konkan coast, it would be criminal to not sample it at every stop. Skip the tourist traps near places of attraction and stop at the homely joints in the villages.
Get the freshest of fish fried to perfection, curry, steamed rice, salad and a serving of sol kadi to wash it all down.
When you are thirsty, find roadside vendors selling fresh kokum juice. It’s refreshing and with the right amount of tang.
No matter what time of day it is, even if meals aren’t available, misal pav is something you will always find. Every village has its own variation of the Maharashtrian dish, with some of them even setting your tongue on fire.
The coastal road from Alibaug to Revdanda Beach (MH State Highway 91) is filled with potholes, but it gets easier on the Revdanda-Murud stretch.
The stretch from Murud Fort to Agardanda is quite a pleasant drive.
If you don’t get a ferry from the Agardanda Ferry Point to Rohini (which saves you 20km), you have to negotiate around 40km of dreadful, nondescript roads to Mhasala.
Mhasala onward, the MH SH 99 is bearable to drive on until Harihareshwar.
The road through Kelshi until Murdi (en route to Harnai) is the worst stretch. The SH 4 is bumpy and tedious. Murdi onward, it’s an amazing drive, all the way to Dapoli.
The best stretch starts at Ganapatipule. The MH SH 4 is in an amazing condition, adding to the fun of driving along stunning beaches all the way to Ratnagiri.
From Ratnagiri, all the way to Goa, the MH SH 4 is in great shape, save for rare bad patches.