The Great Holi Drive to Tarkarli

Beaches, India, Maharashtra, Travel

We booked our car at midnight. And we were leaving at 05:00 am that very day. With no plan in mind and just a general destination – the golden beaches of Tarkarli, in Malvan. It promised to be an epic road trip.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to planning travel. I usually have things planned down to the very minute with backup plans A, B, C, D … you get the picture. Its a different thing that when I am actually on the road, all the plans become more like guidelines. So, going on a road trip with no firm plan in mind and just a destination was a new experience for me.

It all started with me pondering on what to do on the upcoming long weekend thanks to the occasion of Holi. Now, this year is a good year for travel in India, with a lot of holidays falling on a Friday or a Monday. So one of my resolutions for the year was to travel as much as possible and make full use of these holidays. But this time round, I unfortunately hadn’t done much planning.

At the very last minute, me and a couple of my friends thought of heading to the beaches of Tarkarli. Now Tarkarli is a small seaside hamlet in Malvan and is home to some wonderful, and rather undiscovered beaches. It helps that the village is also fairly close to Malvan, which allows for a quick excursion to see the ancient sea fort of Sindhudurg as well as indulging in some snorkelling or even some SCUBA diving.

Our first port of call was the good old IRCTC. Predictably there were no train tickets available just two days before our planned travel. Next we figured we’d probably be able to get a bus headed that way. After all there are a lot of buses that head towards Malvan from Mumbai. Since it was a night journey, we wanted to travel fairly comfortably and so opted for a sleeper bus. And that was our mistake !!!

Seems the sleeper bus tickets cost more than a one way flight ticket to Goa !!! Our hopes dashed, we were wondering what to do, when at the last minute  we decided to just book a cab for our three day trip. After much running around, our cab got confirmed at approximately midnight and we were to go at 05:00 am the same day. So we set off, with no plan and just a destination in mind.

The ride to Tarkarli is about a 10 hour ride from Mumbai and is fairly scenic with multiple climbs through the various “ghat” sections. Early morning we stopped at a small roadside eatery for breakfast. Our driver vouched that this would be probably the best South Indian breakfast we would taste outside of the South. And boy was he right !!! Fortified with some wonderful idlis and vadas with sambhar and coffee, we set off on our journey. We made decent time and reached Tarkarli at about 03:00 – 04:00 pm, after stopping for lunch at another stupendous small eatery on the way.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, we had made no plans, so the first thing to do was to find a place to stay. Since it was a long weekend, we expected to find most places full and were worried about getting a place to stay for the two nights or so we would be there. But seems our fears were unfounded. After asking around at a few places, we were able to get a room just off the beach. With stay settled, it was time to explore the beach a bit.

Soumen catches the sun
Soumen catches the sun

Tarkarli is blessed with a long coastline and pristine blue waters. The waters are fairly clear and on good days visibility is often 20 ft or more. We just about managed to catch the sunset at the beach and after shooting some photographs we headed back for dinner.

Thanks to our driver we discovered this marvellous eatery, near the MTDC resort, called Unnati Hotel. The place is actually a house where you can get made to order Malvani meals, the cuisine that the region is famous for. For dinner that day, we opted for freshly caught kingfish, fried in Malvani spices along with a thali of regular vegetables and rice. The fish was so fresh that I suspect they caught it just before frying. Having this fresh seafood along with wonderful solkadhi to wash it down was something that we enjoyed all through our stay in Tarkarli.

Diving with fishes
Diving with fishes

The next day we set out to do some diving and explore the sea fort of Sindhudurg. In the last couple of years, Tarkarli has become a popular destination to indulge in snorkelling and SCUBA diving. A number of outfits offer quick snorkelling trips as well as diving trips. Usually, one is taken down, assisted, for a quick 15-20 minute dive and the package includes a few photographs and videos of you posing underwater. Diving is usually done off the sea fort of Sindhudurg. You can see a number of fishes and some corals there. We opted for the quick SCUBA dive over snorkelling. The diving instructor took me maybe 10-25 ft below water and there I hung on to some corals and admired the passing fish. My vain efforts to grab some of them though ended in failure but I had a great time.

Sindhudurg Fort
Sindhudurg Fort

After the diving session, we returned to the mainland for some breakfast and then set off to explore the sea fort. Maharashtra’s coastline is dotted with numerous forts out in the sea which are a testament to the engineering and maritime prowess of the Maratha empire. Sindhudurg Fort was built in the year 1664 by the orders of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who was a visionary ruler for his time. The fort is spread over 48 acres and has a massive 3 km rampart with walls that stand 30 feet high. Not much remains within the walls of the fort, with a lot of the structures having fallen prey to vagaries of war and time. We reached the fort by ferry from Malvan and spent about an hour or so marvelling at the fort and exploring its ruins.

A Plover on the beach
A Plover on the beach

I spent most of the evening that day on the beach, roaming barefoot on the sands and hunting for seashells. Along the way, there were numerous wonderful photo opportunities such as driftwood on the beach, leftover debris and even a dead turtle !!! I spent a fair amount of time chasing down a group of plovers. The little birds would keep running ahead of me, just tantalizingly out of the range of my camera. However I did manage to get a few good shots.

The Full Moon
The Full Moon

That night was a full moon night, and we decided to have a moonlit stroll. We walked on the deserted beach in the late night as waves gently hit the shores and crabs scuttled about in front of us and the moon lit our way for us. In the distance we could see a group of college kids who had made a bonfire on the beach, but barring them there were almost no other souls on the beach. For city dwellers like us, finding this kind of solitude is rare and we drank in as much of it as possible, but not before taking a “selfie” on the beach 😉

Ajay, Soumen and Me on the beach
Ajay, Soumen and Me on the beach

The next day after hitting the beach in the morning we began the journey back to Mumbai. Forever the intrepid explorers, we figured – let’s take a different route back. We took the slightly longer route via NH17 on the way back. The route cuts through Radhanagri Wildlife Reserve and passes by backwaters of the Radhanagri dam. Its a fairly scenic route before it joins the rather straight but excellent road connecting Kolhapur to Pune. Once we hit that stretch it was smooth riding and we got back to Mumbai by the evening.

The trip taught me that sometimes unplanned travel can be fun as well, especially if done with friends. I’m hoping to do more such spur of the moment trips this year so do come back for more adventures. Oh and in case you are wondering, the trip cost way way less than taking a bus to Tarkarli 😉

More Information

Getting There

Tarkarli is about 550 km from Mumbai and is a bit off the beaten track. The closest airport is Dabolim in Goa. By train, the best way to get there, is to catch any train on the Mumbai-Goa route and get off at Kudal. From Kudal, you need to either catch a bus or hire a cab / auto-rickshaw to get to Tarkarli. Several buses also ply from Mumbai to Tarkarli and rates vary depending on type and class of bus.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Tarkarli is between October and April. Summers are extremely hot and humid, but the proximity to the sea makes it somewhat bearable.

Where to Stay

The best property at Tarkarli is probably the MTDC resort. The resort is just off the beach and has its own secluded space under the trees with hammocks for you to relax on. It even has a restaurant on the beach. But book early, as this popular resort is usually quite full on weekends. There are also several other stay options with small resorts and shacks in and around the beach (Starting at INR 1,500 a night). We stayed in one such beach side shack.

Getting around

Regular buses ply to the main town of Malvan and back and this can be a good option for day excursions to Malvan. Auto-rickshaws are available as well, but they may be steeply priced.

Things to see and do

The first thing to do in Tarkarli is obviously the beaches. Both Tarkarli and the neighbouring Devbagh beach are superb pristine beaches. Near Devbagh it is also possible to go Dolphin watching and indulge in some water sports.  Tarkarli on the other hand has para-sailing available on the beach. Further away from Tarkarli, Malvan offers SCUBA and snorkelling along with a chance to explore the sea fort of Sindhudurg. Finally, if you are a fan of coastal cuisine do not forget to sample the spicy Malvani food. Uttan Hotel, near the MTDC resort, offers delicious home cooked and made to order Malvani food. Highly recommended.

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