Life’s a Beach: Great Escapes in India

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY list the best sun-sand-surf experiences across India for the beach bum in us…

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With a 7000 km shoreline caressing the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, the Indian sub-continent boasts several enviable beaches where one can catch captivating dawn breaks, sunsets and the blissful songs of the ocean’s incessant rolling waves. For people largely wary of water whose idea of beach fun meant waddling fully clothed in the shallows, the evolution of India as an adventure beach destination has been slow. However, with the emergence of water sports and a fearless younger generation, India’s beaches are a hive of activity… 

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Yoga & Surfing at Mulki (Karnataka)
Launched by American surfing expert Jack Hebner and run by Krishna devotees, the Kaliya Mardana Krishna Ashram, better known as Ashram Surf Retreat at Mulki (30 km north of Mangalore) promises yoga, meditation, veg fare (served as prasad), detox (no smoking/alcohol allowed), plus surfing lessons! The Zodiac boat takes you to local surf breaks like Baba’s Left, Tree Line, Swami’s and Water Tank. The ashram’s 3 guest rooms and sparse beaches provide the ideal terrain to learn in seclusion. May is a great season for beginners with 1-2 m high waves, though June-September sees 8 feet waves that are only for experienced surfers.

India Surf Club Ph 9880659130 www.surfingindia.net Tariff Rs.3500-4500, surfing lessons Rs.1500/p/day with complimentary lessons in yoga and use of river kayaks

Also try: Further up the Karavali coast, stop by at the basalt formations and aquamarine waters of St Mary’s Island off Malpe harbour. And don’t miss the sattvik charms of Sai Vishram Beach Resort at Baindoor, ‘a non-alcoholic, pure-veg resort’ with nice shacks, plush hill chalets and high adrenaline adventure sports.

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Moplah cuisine at Thottada (Kerala)
The 369 km drive from Kasaragod to Kochi down NH-17 traces the historic route along Kerala’s Spice Coast. But you needn’t go all the way down to Kovalam and Varkala for a taste of the sea. Kannur leaves you spoilt for choice with its beaches – Meenkunnu, Payyambalam, Thottada and Ezhara. Stay at seaside homestays like Kannur Beach House, Costa Malabari, Chera Rocks and Shanti Theeram while enjoying excellent Moplah fare. Nearby, skim the surf in your vehicle at the 5km long stretch of Muzhappilangad, India’s longest drive-in beach. Watch fishermen draw their boats and empty loads of green mussels and fish or catch the golden sunsets silhouetting Dharmadom Island.

Kannur Beach House Ph 0497-2836530, 9847184535, 9847186330 www.kannurbeachhouse.com Tariff Rs.2,400 with two meals.
Shanti Theeram Ph 9947193896, 9995868880 www.shantitheeram.com Tariff: Rs.4,500 (Non AC) with two meals.
Ezhara Beach House Ph 0497-2835022, 9846819941, 9846424723 www.ezharabeachhouse.com Tariff Rs.2,400

Also try: The Valiyaparamba backwaters near Nileswaram offer magnificent views and the best way to experience it is on a houseboat with Bekal Boat Stays. Choose from day trips, overnight rides or sunset cruises with delicious seafood served on board.  

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Artist Residency at The Dune (Pondicherry)
The lone door to the 700m seafront reminds you of a Floyd album cover. Set on a 35-acre patch, The Dune Eco-village is a concept resort with fusion food, exotic wat-su (water shiatsu) treatments and unconventional architecture, using upscaled materials from homes, palaces and shipyards! Recycled wine bottles, CFL lamps, solar heating, bicycles and organic farming ensure that the resort’s carbon footprint is 75% less than industry standards. Ranked among the world’s best eco hotels, spa destinations and luxury resorts, The Dune also runs an Artist Residency Program for longer stays. Shop at Artyzan, a vocational academy and design studio for handmade local crafts.

The Dune Eco Beach Village, Pudhukuppam, Keelputhupet (via Pondy University) Ph 0413 2655751, 3244040, 9364455440 www.thedunehotel.com Tariff Rs.5,500-17,950

Also try: A 10-minute drive north of Pondicherry takes you to Serenity Beach, which lives up to its name especially on weekdays. The remote Paradise Beach near the Chunnambar backwaters is a clean haven with limited boat access. Besides backwater jaunts and boat rides, Chunnambar Resort organizes treks, picnics with packed lunch and beach sports.

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Act like a local at Aare-Vare (Maharashtra)
While tourists flock to Ganpatipule for temple darshan and camel rides, locals in the know head to the quiet yet curiously named Aare-Vare beach. Literally ‘This side, that side’, these strips of unusually dark sand dotted with seashells are ideal for beach cricket or volleyball. The winding cliff road opens out to stunning seaside views of rows of waves crashing onto the shoreline below. Base yourself at Atithi Parinay, a beautiful homestay equidistant from Ratnagiri and Ganpatipule for the vegetarian pleasures of Konkanasth Brahmin cuisine. Ratnagiri-based Ocean Adventures, the only surfing club in Maharashtra, offers bumper rides, stand-up paddling, sunset wakeboarding, kayaking and Jet Ski tours at Ganpatipule. (Watersports closed during monsoon, reopens on Oct 15.)

Ocean Adventures Ph 9975553617 www.oceanadventures.in

Also try: Take the Sagari Mahamarg (Coastal Highway) down the Konkan Coast to lesser-known beaches like Mithbav, Kunkeshwar’s temple built by Arabian sailors and Sagareshwar, basing yourself at Dwarka Farms.

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Go gourmet at Ashwem-Morjim (Goa)
While first-timers to Goa converge on Baga-Calangute and backpackers favour Anjuna Vagator, the hip crowd mostly heads to Ashwem-Morjim. Easily the most pristine beach in North Goa, sparse crowds and some of the best shacks and restaurants have turned Ashwem into a gourmet paradise. Stay at Sur la Mer or Marbela Beach Resort and dine at La Plage with the ‘it’ crowd. At Morjim, witness the nesting and hatching of the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles as you relish delicious seafood at Sublime.

Also try: Head north to Mandrem and Arambol, with its cliffs and a freshwater lake right on the beach

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Radhanagar, Havelock (Andamans)
For an island that boasts just two arterial roads, Havelock is quite a buzzing beach haunt with resorts, seafood restaurants and dive centres. Its crystal waters, rich marine life and coral reefs entice adventure seekers from around the globe to take the plunge. Ringed by forests of Andaman Bullet Wood, the gently sloping Radhanagar is considered the best beach in Asia with is white sandy shore. Barefoot Resort, which put Havelock on the tourist map, offers signature plushness with wood interiors of Nicobari huts and great scuba experiences. Take a nature hike to Hathi Tapu for snorkeling and diving lessons in an underwater realm of corals and rainbow hued marine creatures.

Barefoot Resort Ph 044 42316378 www.barefoot-andaman.com

Also try: The more offbeat Neil Island has a few beaches that present quite a few surprises – Laxmanpur 1 or Sunset Point, natural rock bridge and seaside walks at low tide at Laxmanpur 2 and limestone caves at Sitapur.

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Marine adventures down ECR (Tamil Nadu)
From Artist Villages to ATV rides, wildlife and architectural wonders, the ECR or East Coast Road south of Chennai is an assault course of many adventures. Go for a dash of adrenaline with OffRoad Sports, between Madras Crocodile Bank and Mahabalipuram, which offers ATV adventures on a 5-acre racetrack and cross-country trails through casuarina woods and beach dunes. Temple Adventures, a PADI certified scuba diving outfit on Covelong Road offer snorkeling lessons for Rs.800/hr, surfing (Rs.800/3hrs) scuba (Rs.2,000–21,000 for PADI courses). Or enroll for surfing lessons at Kallialay Surf Club. For kite-surfing, head to the temple town of Rameshwaram to tackle strong winds with Quest Adventures.

Offroad ECR Ph 9840922122 www.offroadecr.com
Temple Adventures Ph 9789844191, 9940219449 www.templeadventures.com
Kallialay Surf Club Ph 9442992874, 9787306376 kallialaysurfschool@hotmail.com
Quest Adventures Ph 9820367412, 9930920409 http://quest-asia.com

Also try: At India’s only Danish outpost, savour the ozone-rich beach of Tranquebar. Stay at The Bungalow on the Beach overlooking the old Danish Fort and take heritage walks around the quaint town.

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Tajpur Beach (West Bengal)
Escape the done and dusted beach of Digha and head 16km east to Tajpur, now touted as Bengal’s adventure hotspot. Set between Shankarpur and Mandarmoni, Tajpur possesses one of the few motorable beaches on the east coast and is dotted with many nature camps and adventure outfits. Choose from a range of water sports like kayaking, parasailing, snorkelling, rubber boat propelling and zorbing to taking off on coastal bikes or treks. Scale the 35-feet high artificial rock wall at Tajpur Retreat Hotel, besides a high-rope activity system.

Tajpur Retreat Ph 98302 71064 www.tajpurhotel.com

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Rushikonda Beach, Vizag (Andhra Pradesh)
The serene Rushikonda Beach at Visakhapatnam is considered the most promising wind surfing site in Andhra Pradesh. After successful explorations a few years ago, the beach is the adopted home of surfing enthusiast Melville Smythe who teaches surfing basics at his surfing academy Waveriders.

Waveriders Surf School Ph 9848561052

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as part of the 13th Anniversary cover story on Great Escapes in India in the June 2014 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine. 

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