Things To See And Do
Vengurla’s beaches are untouched and it’s hard to come by another person here, which is perfect for the beach buff looking for a quiet holiday.
Located about 3 km from the bus stand, the beach is hidden away behind rows of tall casuarinas swaying in the wind. Here you can plod up and down soft sand dunes that are white and thick with powdery shell deposits. At night, to the north you can see the lights of the jetty and the Vengurla lighthouse’s red beam. Up in the clear sky, the flickering constellations have their own light show. On some mornings, dolphins can be seen near the southern end of the beach.
Access to the beach is either through the MTDC Tent Resort or via the path that leads to the ancient Sagareshwar Temple of Shiva. The temple, which is on the beach, has a huge deepastambh. The structure itself is small; the temple is open only when the priest visits.
About 3 km from the town and near the jetty is the lighthouse, reached via a winding path that passes through shrubs and vegetation. Perched on a hill, it’s set on a small plateau. It offers a spectacular view: the sea below you, stretching far into the horizon; the jetty and its boats; the palm-fringed coastline to the left; and a creek far away trailing out to the sea. To the right is a sheer drop down to the sea past jagged cliffs. To the north-west are the Vengurla Rocks, also called Burnt Islands, which was an important pointer for seafarers in times long gone.
It’s well worth strolling around the lighthouse. The northern tip overlooks an alluring horseshoe-shaped beach. Small winding pathways lead down to small coves, which are in reality tiny strips of sand with the cliff-face rising on both sides. Only experienced rock-climbers should venture down, and only after checking the timings of the tides.
Entry fee Rs 5 Timings 4-5.30 pm
Note Strangely and implausibly, single woman travellers aren’t allowed up the lighthouse by themselves as the authorities are afraid of suicide attempts! Requests, however, usually work
From afar, the jetty and the area around looks like a shot from a classic Cary Grant movie: a sea veiled in shifting blue, fishing boats in the foreground, a pier, red-roofed houses clinging to a hillock in the background, and a lighthouse looking over it all.
Once a bustling port, Vengurla’s jetty was part of a trading settlement set up by the Dutch (the ruins of their warehouses are still found in the town). The best time to visit the jetty is in the evening around 5 pm when the boats return with the day’s catch. The place comes alive with the sounds of fisherfolk; fisherwomen slip silver fish into their baskets and men anchor their boats with ropes. A little ahead of the slope that leads down to the jetty, look for an inconspicuous set of steps going down to a patch of beach and rocks, hidden by umbrella-like trees.
Vengurla’s Fruit Research Centre
If you would like to know how mangoes keep getting bigger and more delicious, head to the Konkan Farming University and Fruit Research Centre at Vengurla. You are more likely to find it if you ask for the ‘Sanshodhan Kendra’ though. At the university, they experiment on mango, cashew and fruits indigenous to the region, and study the effects of pests and fertilisers on fruit. The centre also has a nursery where you can buy all types of saplings. If you want to see the entire process of how cashews are separated, roasted and packed, head to the cashew factory nearby. Do remember that you can’t buy cashews here.
Centre location About 15 mins from the beach, in the Camp area
Vengurla’s tiny yet bustling market will surprise you with its exotic fruit. Most eye-catching are the plump cashew fruits in all shades of yellow and red, which as the seller will warn you, are to be eaten with salt, first thing in the morning before it ferments. Also sold are pink jaam, a slightly sweet fruit the shape and size of a top with a marble-like seed, sour-sweet bulls-heart (ramphal, a relative of the sweet custard apple), green betel leaves, and Alphonso mangoes that are as expensive as the ticket back home.
Mochemad and Vayangani
Vayangani and Mochemad lie on either side of Vengurla Town, the first two gems in the string of stunning beaches that trail the coast. Vayangani is a tiny beach, 7 km from Vengurla, and is accessed via shady paths that wind through Vayangani Gaon, darting between towering supari and casuarina groves. The way to Mochemad, 9 km from Vengurla, is past a little blue and white church reminiscent of Goa’s churches, looking over green fields. The beach is on the road to Shiroda (see below), and to access it, you have to get off your vehicle and walk for about a kilometre. With a backdrop of towering hills, the beach is the most scenic on this stretch. There is no accommodation near either of the beaches, so it’s best to do a day-trip. Carry some snacks along.
Shiroda and Aravali
Keep your camera ready as you drive past these villages. White egrets dot paapdi (a locally grown bean) fields. Small bridges slide over creeks that eventually snake out into the sea. The wind ruffles paddy fields, brushing it with different hues of green. Shiroda, 10 km south of Vengurla, is home to the Mauli Devi Temple whose presiding deity is the kul devi, or patron goddess, of the region. The saltpans in this village are memorable, particularly because Mahatma Gandhi visited the place during the Salt Satyagraha of 1930. The saltpans are located on either side of the road through the village, with fields separating them now and then.
Aravali, Shiroda’s twin village, houses the Sri Vithoba Temple and the Sateri Devi Mandir. The stalls near the temple sell tiny yellow bananas and pink lotuses to offer at the feet of Lord Vithoba.
Temple timings Open from dawn to dusk Note Open to people of all faiths
Both Sagarteerth and Velagar beaches are in Shiroda.
Sagarteerth and Velagar beaches
These beaches are about 14 km south of Vengurla, and are attached to the towns of Shiroda and Aravali. Though both have become popular with tourists from Kolhapur and Belgaum, the beaches are still pristine. The beaches lie in a line, one continuing from where the other leaves off. The white sand glitters silver in the moonlight, thanks to the high content of shell deposits. Dolphin cruises are offered at Velagar Beach by the resorts located there. Cruise rates are Rs 700 for 10 people.
Located about 21 km south of Vengurla, Redi is the southernmost beach in Maharashtra, bordering Terekhol and Goa. Redi is known to many as a small mining town. But it’s most famous for its Ganapati Temple, close to the beach, and the 6-foot high statue of the elephant god. The signboard outside tells us the story of how the statue was found: Narendra Kambli, a miner, was visited in his dream by Lord Ganesh, who directed him to a mine where he’d find a statue. With the help of a few locals, Kambli dug up the site, and found a stone monolith that today attracts pilgrims from all over Maharashtra. Here you can ask to see the photograph of the statue as it looked originally. Stroll down the path behind the temple for a view of a stretch of the beach that goes right down to Mochemad. The access road to the temple is bumpy. Also visit the Redi Jetty, 5 mins from the temple, from where you can see barges being loaded with ore from the region, to be taken to Goa to be refined.
Nivati Beach (25 km)
Located to the north of Vengurla, the beach has its own lighthouse on Burnt Islands, thus named because in the old days wood was burned constantly to warn seafaring vessels about the rocks, and to guide them to safety. Also explore Nivati’s sea-fort built by the Marathas. Here, watching fishermen head out on their boats and turning into tiny silhouettes on the horizon, their nets flying over the water, is like watching a play unfolding. Take an auto from Vengurla to Nivati Beach; the fare is approx Rs 200.
Sawantwadi (28 km)
For the longest time ever, Sawantwadi was just a station on the way to Goa. Today, it has morphed into a place where you can stop over, and one sign of this transformation is the number of hotels sprouting up all over the place. This is a good thing, for the place has much to offer the tourist.
First on the itinerary is a glimpse of the town’s royal past. Built in the era of Khem Sawant Bhonsale III (1755-1803), the palace here is unlike most others you’ve seen. A simple, red stone structure covered in ivy, it sits peacefully in the shade of palms, facing Moti Talao, the storybook lake at the centre of town. Only the Darbar Hall at the palace is open to the public. Crane your neck to see its striking black and white ceiling. There’s a huge silver throne, with the marble bust of Queen Victoria looking a bit out-of-place behind it. Also note the intricately designed wrought-iron balconies from where women could watch the court proceedings. The wooden furniture in the hall has miniature paintings.
Stop to appreciate the artists who painstakingly paint ganjifa cards. The artists bring round, coaster-sized cards, or rectangular sets, to life, with colourful and finely detailed miniature depictions of royal life: kings holding court, queens, and warriors in battle, among other things. A queen of the Bhonsale dynasty, Rani Satvashiladevi still lives in a part of the palace complex. The artists are here as part of the rani’s attempts to revive the traditional miniature art. The rani can be met by appointment or during her morning open hour, when she sits out in the porch between 10 and 11.30 am.
The palace museum houses statues of Brahma and other deities, dating to the 10th and 11th centuries. You can buy a papier-mâché life-size rooster, ganjifa cards, whizzing tops and chess sets at the showroom. Depending on the item, the costs vary; a papier-mâché pumpkin, for instance, costs Rs 25 while a rooster is priced between Rs 250 and 350. The spinning tops come for Rs 5 each.
Palace entry fee Rs 25 Timings 9.30 am-1 pm and 2-5.30 pm Museum entry Free Timings 9 am-8 pm
Sawantwadi is also famous for its painted wood toys. There are plans to start boating on Moti Talao, which is circled by heritage buildings — the courts, the Sawantwadi Palace and the colleges. After a day of sightseeing, plonk yourself at Balkrishna Coldrinks on College Road, and enjoy their famous fruit-cocktail — a concoction of ice-cream, fruit, cherries, jelly cubes and nuts, topped with a waffle.
You can also buy some amla petha, dahi mirchi, kokum squash, mango jam and cashewnuts. Pick up jamun juice, particularly recommended for diabetics. You will find all this at Hotel Vrindavan on College Road and at the Konkan Dry Fruit Centre near Gandhi Chowk.
Minstrels and their magic
Pause awhile at an inconspicuous grocery shop near the village of Pinguli just off the highway near Kudal, 25 km before Vengurla, to meet Ganpat Sakharam Masge, an amazing artiste. Being the ‘police patil’ of the area, he will probably be busy working at large formidable ledgers or sorting out life-and-death matters. But he likes to be disturbed by visitors who request to see his art. Even at short notice, he can call his troupe to organise a performance for the same evening. And in the darkness of the night, he will bring out his marionettes, convert the mundane into magic, and the team will hold spectators spellbound with their theatrics, music and words.
Masge is one of the surviving puppeteers of Pinguli, whose nomadic forefathers settled in the village in the mid-18th century, where they lived under the patronage of the erstwhile princely state of Sawantwadi. Now their numbers are sadly dwindling and they’ve been forced to take up agriculture or fishing. Yet, during festivals, Pinguli’s puppeteers bring out their treasures. Crafted with care, their lively, endearing puppets throw dramatic shadows on a screen. The string and leather puppets vividly convey war stories from the epics as the puppeteer shows one folio after the other to construct a chain of mythological events.
If you are passing by Pinguli, you could meet with a puppeteer and request him to put up a small show for you. Settle the payment beforehand. You could request him to tell you the narrative that he plans to emote before he begins, so even if it’s in Marathi, you’ll be able to follow it. According to the rani of Sawantwadi, Parshuram Gangavane is one of the best puppeteers of Pinguli. He migrated south to Maharashtra along with the Sisodia kings of Rajasthan several hundred years ago. These puppeteers once played an important role as spies, burrowing into enemy camps as entertainers and bringing back information.
Today, you can watch Parshuram in action at the Vishram Puppet Theatre at Pinguli Village. Along with a troupe of 11 people, he narrates stories through leather and string puppets. The artistes perform the dramatic scenes in an open garden theatre. To watch a show you have to call Gangavane a day ahead. Also stop by at his newly opened museum at Pinguli, right opposite his home, covered with murals, and see his collection of puppets, some of which are 500 years old.
Museum entry fee Rs 10 Camera fee Rs 50
Note Parshuram Gangavane can be reached on 0236-2222393
By Brinda Gill and Joan Pinto
Toy story retold
Stroll down the lanes of Chitarali in Sawantwadi to appreciate the skill that goes into making some of the most exquisite wooden toys in the country, ranging from Rolls Royces that are the size of your palm to multi-coloured kitchen sets, jewellery boxes and painted fruit. Most of the families in this village have been making these toys for over 40 years, though the most famous shop here is PD Kanekar’s. It’s also where you can ask to see a ‘fruit’ changing its avatar from a piece of brown wood to a yellow mango or a melon.
You can visit a little ‘factory’ shed near Raghuvanshi Market, where the magical process of wood turning into high art takes place. Here blocks of wood are run on a lathe, chiselled, and shaped into fruits after several levels of sandpapering and smoothening. At Kanekar’s, past the shop counter, a dim corridor opens into a courtyard. Here, artists hand-paint wooden bananas, mangoes and oranges. In another corner of the courtyard, like an upside-down orchard, painted fruit dry in the sun. With most of the youngsters today choosing other professions, this art form seems to be dying a slow death.