The trip to the Konkan coast with Ratnagiri, Ganapatipule and Jaigad is one of the must - dos of anyone planning to travel in the state. It needs a bit more than a weekend (slightly cramped even in a 3 day schedule), and serves up a holiday combining leisure through fabulous beaches, culinary joy in outstanding konkani seafood and the most luscious mangoes, spirituality in a one of a kind religious pilgrimage, and history via the legend of Jaigad fort.
Though well connected by train, I would recommend embarking on the eight hour road trip to Ratnagiri as there is a lot to see and do, and transport on demand is a great advantage.
We had hired a car for our trip and enjoyed one of the more complete travel experiences that we have ever embarked on.
Ratnagiri is approximately 370 km from Mumbai and we left at around 7 AM to beat the Friday traffic. We would be taking the old Mumbai - Goa highway and were keeping our fingers crossed as travel can be disrupted easily on a two lane highway. The plan was to hit Chiplun for an early lunch, and then reach Ratnagiri by around 3:30 to 4:00 in the afternoon. We were lucky, with the traffic and reached Chiplun by around 1.00 for a hearty lunch.
I always research my food when on travel and knew exactly where I wanted lunch in Chiplun.
Hotel Abhishek is easily one of the more famous eateries in Chiplun - at least for the tourist and the restaurant prides itself on its popularity as is evidenced by the numerous pictures of Maharashtrian politicians and theatre and film personalities on its walls. There are so many pictures that it sort of overshadows any other aspect of the decor. The restaurant has a mezzanine floor as well and the seating is what you expect in a typical Maharashtrian Thali joint with very basic, but practical seating arrangements.
Konkan food is one of my favourite cuisines and the food at Abhishek did not disappoint. I ordered Surmai Fry and a prawn curry plate.
The surmai was obviously fresh and was fried with just the right amount of spice. The prawns curry plate was served with the typical reddish curry and with a bowl of rice and two "vade" (which are effectively puris). The vade were slightly different than the version you get in Mumbai as they had a hole in the centre and were almost resembling flattish doughnuts. The taste though was exactly like the ones you get in Mumbai. The meal was expectedly tasty though the taste can take some getting used to if your palate does not have a liking towards sour which is the very essence of "kokum" - the hall mark of Konkan cuisine.
After the hearty meal we almost dozed off as we navigated the rest of the way. Truth be told, we did not miss much. We had initially thought that the road was by the sea, but were slightly disappointed as there was no sea visible until we took the right into Ratnagiri and made our way to Ratnasagar resort where we were to stay.
The resort is located on Bhatye beach and is spread over 3 Km of coast line with over 30 cottages. The rooms are nice and clean, the service is well meaning if not always prompt, and the hotel has an outstanding restaurant serving multi cuisine food aided with access to the freshest sea food and alphonso mangoes which form the culinary bed rock of a Ratnagiri holiday.
The combination of direct beach access, great food, clean and hygienic rooms make Ratnasagar Resorts a definite thumbs up for your Konkan holiday. The only down side I guess would be local transport if one does not have a car as the resort is a bit outside the main town.
There was quite a bit that we planned to achieve in Ratnagiri on Day 1, and we immediately left after freshening up to the palace of King Thibaw from Burma, who had been banished by the British to India to spend his last days in a quid pro quo swap with Bahadur Shah Zaffar ostensibly to quell any rebellion rallying around the former premier in either British colony.
Thibaw's palace is still in relatively decent condition but is obviously not a happy place, given the background of its existence. The palace obviously holds more interest for people who have read Amitava Ghosh's glass palace, and is worth a visit if you have read the novel. We were too late to visit the museum inside the palace as it closes at 5 PM.
The place that is a definite must for all is Thibaw point, the spot from where the exiled king use to stare out into the sea, apparently dreaming of the vessel that will take him back to Burma. The view from Thibaw point, at sunset with the backwaters winding their way past the mangroves to finally reach the Arabian sea is outstanding.
The effect is multiplied by the sight of the fishing village on the banks of the shore near to Thibaw point with colourful fishing boats lining the shore. The evening "azaan" from the number of mosques in the village added to the surreality of the setting as we took in a spectacular sunset.
The last thing to do before we retired for the night was a visit to the home of one of India's greatest freedom fighters - Bal Gangadhar Tilak. One is actually allowed entry and can roam about in the house compound and get a sense of the typical house of a Ratnagiri resident.
The Bharatiya Janata Party take care of the ancestral house of Tilak and deserve credit in maintaining the house in decent condition.We retired for the night after paying our quick respect to one of the founding fathers of India and a sumptuous Malvan lunch at Ratnasagar resorts. The sweet dish of fresh Hapus Mango with Vanilla Ice Cream was the star of the meal as we retired, tired, and very happy with the first day of our "long weekend" break.
We had ear marked Day 2 of our stay for our visit to Jaigad fort and Ganapati Pule and left early right after having break fast. Jaigad is around 45 km from Ratnagiri and the coastal road from Ratnagiri to Jaigad is one of the most scenic drives that I have ever been on. The road winds along a slightly rocky coast winding up and down smallish hills with the vast Arabian sea and virgin beaches a constant companion all through. The fort is another one of the famed forts of Chhatrapati Shivaji and was built for the strategic purpose of protecting the meeting point of the Arabian sea with river Shastri. The view from the forts walls is stunning and one can look far out into the sea as well as a significant way down the river inland.
Legend has it that the fort got its name "Jaigad" from the sacrifice on one "Jai" who was an ardent follower of Shivaji Maharaj. The builders were facing issues in construction due to the rough seas and Jai apparently sacrificed himself to the Gods to enable the fort to be built.
Apparently the sacrifice worked and the legend of Jaigad was born. I personally enjoy forts a lot and with the legend adding to the charm, I would not have missed the trip for the world.
We left Jaigad and travelled back 20 km to Ganapati Pule which is one of the most famous destinations in Maharashtra for the religious traveller. The destination also has pristine white sand beaches which the Marathi Manoos claims to be among the best in the world. Ganapatipule is famous for Swayambhu (self originated) Ganapati idol that mother nature herself has created with her waves lapping against the rocky sea shore. A truly unique story and the reason why the place is packed to the brim with devotees paying obeisance to the elephant God all around the year.
We paid our respects at this most unique temple and proceeded to have lunch at the MTDC resort in Ganapatipule. The lunch unfortunately was highly forgettable with the service really slow. Maybe they were too busy with the guests already staying at the resort but the food itself was also nothing to really write home about. The experience was doubly disappointing as I had heard nice things about the resort, but I left there thanking my lucky stars that we were staying at Ratnasagar and not at the MTDC resort in Ganapatipule. Back at Ratnagiri we retired early for the day after taking in another glorious sunset from Thibaw point.
Day 3 was a travel day again and we decided to set off early to track back to Mumbai. But this was Mango Country and there was no way we would be allowed back to Mumbai without purchasing some Mango products. The locals had recommended "Bhide" in the main Ratnagiri market and we found every imaginable Mango product available there from squashes to pickle to preserves. The Alphonso Mango or 'Hapus' as the locals call it, is what Ratnagiri is famous for and Bhide was testament to a roaring and thriving business, but our trip served testament that there is a lot more to see and do and love Ratnagiri for.
The trip back to Mumbai took slightly longer than our trip to Mango country mainly due to the weekend market at 'Khed' which took some time to negotiate, the same is pretty unique with all the neighbouring villagers coming to trade their wares and is pretty colourful. We were also stuck for quite a while due to a traffic on the two lane highway which is clearly a peril to tight schedules as even a slight issue with the traffic could hold up many for ages.
One experience which will stay with me from the trip from Ratnagiri and Mumbai was the unique and in our case extremely successful advertising strategy employed by Green Village Hotel which made me decide to stop and have our lunch at this particular hotel.
The hotel is slightly off Khed but what really strikes the traveller is the kilometers of the highway that they have covered with spectacular photographs of their fish, meat and the odd vegetarian dish.
Atleast 30 km either side of the hotel are tantalising posters and hoardings of the dishes served at the restaurant which I think is a fabulous marketing ploy for the slightly hungry traveller. On the way to Ratnagiri we were well fed at Chiplun and avoided the temptation through sleep and a satisfied stomach but on the way back there was no escape from the temptations posed by the posters. Unfortunately the food at Green Village was decent at best and does not live up to the expectation promised through the hoardings, but they do deserve a commendation for their marketing ingenuity. Very hard for anyone to resist! We returned to Mumbai, tired and happy, having spent one of the more fulfilling three day weekend breaks I have ever embarked on. The Mango country is definitely worth more than one weekend visit!