Sea and smile in the Konkan

Three clusters of beaches within hours of Mumbai? The thought might be enough to tempt the most die hard of home birds to get behind the wheel and set out for a November seaside escape. C Gangadharan Menon coasted along the North Konkan shoreline to discover a few rare gems

Egend has it that the coast from Kihim to Kerala was created when Lord Parashuram threw his axe into the Arabian Sea in disgust. So in a manner of speaking, this entire coastal belt is 'God's own country'. But a smart copywriter (name unknown) in an advertising agency gave this sobriquet exclusively to Kerala, and it stuck.

A fisherman at Shirgaon

The part of Maharashtra's coast that extends southwards from Kihim to Redi on the border with Goa is called Konkan. The coast that stretches northwards from Mumbai to the union territory of Daman is mistakenly called North Konkan. But be that as it may, with due apologies to Shakespeare one could safely say, 'A North Konkan beach by any other name would have been as beautiful!'

One decided to explore this stretch starting from Mumbai, but had to change plans at Arnala as it turned out to be an extension of the very crowded Versova.

Goat-feet thrives on beach sand

Coast away
The first cluster was discovered around Palghar: the beaches of Shirgaon, Satpati, Mahim, (yes, Mahim with a nearby Sitladevi Temple like its namesake in Mumbai!), and the most beautiful of them all, Kelwe. These beaches are roughly about 140 kms to the north of Mumbai.

The secret lake at Devkop. Pics/ C Gangadharan Menon

After plenty of coaxing, one managed to hop on to a tiny fishing boat that belonged to a certain Rajaram Shirgaonkar from Shirgaon. He anchored his wobbly boat in the midst of the deep sea and cast his net as he waited endlessly for the right catch. The enormity of the sea made one realise the intense faith that fishermen have in a supernatural power to sail.

One feels totally helpless against the forces of nature in the middle of a raging sea. In fact, the life of a fisherman is so uncertain that he doesn't even know if he might reach home in the evening. His family and his community, live their life to the fullest as if there's no tomorrow. Their cuisine, their songs and their dances are a celebration of the living moment.

From Shirgaon, we took the road to Palghar. On the way back, we swore we picked up a silent whisper from a water bird about a secret lake called Devkop, tucked away in the folds of the mountains between Palghar and Manor. It was water at its tranquil best, a stark contrast to the turbulent sea we just saw an hour back. Every frame here was picture postcard-like: sky-blue mountains crowned white clouds as these reflected in the glassy mirror of the sky-blue lake.

Round two to the birds
The next cluster of beaches, around 75 kms further north, was around Dahanu: Bordi,Gholwad, Narpad and Nargol. Every beach had the typical row of tall casuarinas standing erect like sentinels, but the striking difference was the lush green chikoo orchards as the second line of defence.

Another unique aspect about these beaches was witnessed during low tide. One needs to walk up to a kilometre to touch the waters of the! All along, purple carpets of flowers of the Goat-plant were spread out on the beaches as a welcome sign. Water birds including seagulls, terns and cormorants could be spotted along this shoreline.

Tourist trail
The third cluster of Devka and Jampore beaches was in the union territory of Daman, around 90 kms to the north of Dahanu. These were reminiscent of the beaches of Goa for their scenic beauty. But here too, the pressure of tourism was slowly taking its toll.

Gujarat being a dry state, adjoining Daman was the inevitable watering hole and oasis for the spirited soul. Every second store was a wine shop, and the beach was littered with beer cans and glass bottles that added up to a forgettable landscape. One had to work hard to capture a photograph of the beach without having the garbage creep into the frame.

It left one wondering. Will we ever become responsible travellers who care for the environment, leaving the pristine beaches as we found them? Or will it take another tsunami to bring back all the trash we have been throwing into the forgiving sea? And without an answer blowing in the wind, I moved on.

Great news for foodies!
This coastal stretch is a melting pot of the culinary delights of three cuisines: Koli, Warli and Parsi. Don't miss out on Bombay Duck delicately shallow fried with a crisp coating of rawa or rice flour.

How to go about it
The beaches can be divided into three broad clusters:
* The first cluster of Shirgaon, Satpati, Mahim and Kelwe is around Palghar, about 140 kms from Mumbai.
* The second one comprises Bordi, Gholwad, Narpad and Nargol. This is clustered around Dahanu, which is 180 kms from Mumbai.
* The third group of Devka, Jampore and Udwada can be found around Daman, roughly 200 kms from Mumbai. You can best explore it over an extended weekend, with Palghar, Dahanu and Daman as your hubs.

How to go there
All the three hubs mentioned above are railheads on the Western Railway. You could either take the train to these hubs or hire local transport from there. Or else, hit the road from Mumbai itself.

When to go: Winter or post monsoon
Where to stay
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