Tag Archives: Nandan Farms

Konkan Cool: Where to stay along the coast

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY travel down the Konkan coast from Mumbai to Goa to handpick boutique villas and quaint homestays, with a bit of sightseeing thrown in 

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Ccaza Ccomodore, Mandwa
If anyone told you could be at a vacation home outside Mumbai within half an hour from SoBo, it would be hard to believe, right? Not if you hop on to a speedboat for a 20-minute ride to Mandwa from the Gateway of India. Bypass the traffic of weekend revelers and practically teleport yourself to the family home of the Mongias, run as a luxurious boutique villa. Commodore Surinder Mongia served in the Navy and his yachtsmen sons Ashim and Nitin (also a gourmand) have three Arjuna awards between them. And a seafarer’s pad can never be too far from water! With a sheltered pool and the beach just 1½ km away, the villa is perfect for some R&R. Enjoy barbecues, wood-fired artisan pizza and made-to-order gourmet meals like spinach and fish roulade and red wine lamb with thyme scented rice, with flexible meal timings! The in-house Shiivaz Spa offers Balinese and Swedish massages, besides Shiatsu, Aromatherapy and Reflexology treatments. Two spacious bedrooms and a large suite for four, make the Med-style villa ideal for a group of friends.

What to see around
The quiet nook has not much to see except a splendid sunset at Mandwa Jetty with dining at Kikis Café & Deli. Or relax at the quiet Sasawane, Saral and Awas beaches nearby.

Getting there
50 min by ferry or 20 min by speedboat from Gateway of India to Mandwa Jetty and 3 km (7 min) inland at Mhatre Phata, Dhokawade. By road it’s 95 km (3 hrs) from Mumbai; turn right at Pen and continue via Vadkhal and Kihim for Mandwa.

Tariff Rs.12,000/couple, including all meals

Ph 9820132158 Email ccazaccomodore@gmail.com http://www.ccazaccomodore.in

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Firefly, Alibaug
Set on a 4-acre hill overlooking the Revdanda river and estuary, Martin and Sagarika’s holiday farmhouse south of Alibaug offers breathtaking views. The luxury villa has 5 bedrooms spread across three air-conditioned cottages (Poolside, Glass and Gatekeeper Cottage) with a 12.5 m infinity pool overlooking the valley and creek. If you bring provisions, the live-in staff rustles up meals at the poolside kitchen and barbecue (Rs.1,500 per day for the two ladies). Stocked with books, games, satellite TV with DVDs and Wi-Fi, Firefly is a self-sufficient farmhouse that is pet-friendly. If you’re nervous around dogs, the resident pets Sniff and Skylar can be kept at the base of the property by caretaker Dalip.

What to see around
Should you choose to head out, Firefly is excellently located with both Alibaug and Kashid half an hour’s drive away. Closer home are the Jesuit monastery and seaside fort at Revdanda besides the lighthouse and 16th century hilltop Portuguese fort at Korlai.

Getting there
1 hour drive from Mandwa Jetty or a 3-hour drive from Mumbai.

Tariff Rs.32,000 per night for 5-room villa, ideal for 10 guests, minimum stay 2 nights

http://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/469202?s=SgFK

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Serene Ravine, Kolbandre
A small family-run homestay near Dapoli run by Shekhar Tulpule, Serene Ravine is a 15-acre nature retreat ideal for painters, photographers and nature lovers. Wild flowers, butterflies and orioles, eagles and hornbills keep you company, so go birdwatching by day and stargazing at night. Set on the banks of the Kotjai river, you could relax in a riverside shack or spend time between the waterfall and the porch swing. Being a farm, you can watch cows being milked and walk through coconut and betelnut plantations with a tour of the cashew-processing unit. Choose from family suites, rooms and dorms and enjoy delicious Konkani and Maharashtrian meals including house specialties like fish and modak.

What to see around
Head downstream on the Kotjai river to the 1000-year-old Panhale–Kazi caves with old Hindu and Buddhist sculptures. Make an offbeat temple trail to the scenic Keshavraj temple, Chandika cave shrine and Kadyawarcha Ganpati at Anjarle built in 1150 AD on a kada (cliff) with wooden pillars. With easy access to a wide swathe of beaches between Kelshi and Kolthare, you can catch the fish auction at Harne beach (7:30 am and 4:30 pm) and witness a geographic marvel at Ladghar – the beach has a patch of red sand that gives the illusion of a red sea!

Getting there
238 km from Mumbai via Veer, Khed and Dapoli (8 km away)

Tariff Rs.3,500 for two, includes breakfast & dinner, meals Rs.300/head

Ph 9225609232, 9209139044 Email tulpuleagro@yahoo.com http://www.sereneravineholidays.in

Atithi Parinay Kotawde IMG_1934_Anurag & Priya

Atithi Parinay, Kotawde
Midway between Ratnagiri and Ganpatipule, the riverside homestay is run by mother-daughter duo Mrs. Vasudha and Medha Sahasrabudhe. Surrounded by hills on three sides and set on the banks of the swirling Kusum river, the 3-acre plantation is lush with mango trees, kokum, pineapple, chikoo and paddy fields. The laterite and stone house has bungalow rooms, besides cottages with cowdung floors and modern amenities, Swiss tents and a 12 ft high tree house, popular with couples. Walk across the bamboo bridge over the river for a slice of village life or catch the daily rituals at the Mahalakshmi temple. The highlight is the excellent home-cooked Chitpawan Brahmin cuisine served on banana leaf – poli (thin oiled chapati), koshimbir (dry veg raita), aamti (sweetish thin daal), kulith usal (stir-fried horsegram), bhopla bharit (pumpkin mash), sandhan (jackfruit cake), patodey (rice cakes steamed in turmeric leaves), chunda (spicy mango preserve) and moramba (mango preserve), besides unlimited mangoes and aam-ras in summer!

What to see around
The closest beach Aare-Vaare is 5km with the more popular Ganpatipule Beach 13km away – visit the beachside Ganesha temple and the Prachin Konkan open-air museum. Continue further north to the cliffside Karhateshwar Temple or watch ships being built at Bharati Shipyard in Ratnagiri. Don’t miss the coastal town’s famous landmarks – Tilak Smarak where freedom fighter Balgangadhar Tilak was born, the Thibaw Palace built for a Burmese king exiled by the British and the horseshoe-shaped Ratnadurga fort spread over 120 acres with a Bhagwati cave Mandir and lighthouse nearby.

Getting there
Kotawde is 350 km from Mumbai and 13 km from Ganpatipule and Ratnagiri

Tariff Rs.3,500-4,000, inclusive of breakfast

Ph 02352-240121, 9049981309 Email info@atithiparinay.com http://www.atithiparinay.com

Oceano Pearl Tree House Ganeshgule IMG_3258_Anurag & Priya

Oceano Pearl, Ganeshgule
Located in a 1.5-acre coconut grove, this beachside homestay south of Ratnagiri is run by Mithil Pitre and family. Unlike Ganpatipule further north, the remote hamlet Ganeshgule, rarely sees hordes of tourists. Swing lazily in a hammock in the shade of coconut trees enjoying the sea breeze, relish fresh coastal fare and relax in your own private beach. Choose from a wide range of rooms and a tree house. Hike to beachside cliffs to watch the sunset and the twinkling lights of the Finolex factory.

What to see around
The old Ganesh Mandir is just 1 km away or drive 6.5km to Swami Swarupanand Math at Pawas. Discover other offbeat beaches like Purnagad and Gavkhadi (10km) or visit the Surya Temple at Kasheli 20 km away.

Getting there
358 km from Mumbai and 23km south of Ratnagiri

Tariff Rs.2,800-4,800, including breakfast

Ph 02352-237800, 9689559789, 8605599789 Email oceanopearl@yahoo.com http://www.oceanopearl.com

Pitruchaya Homestay Shirgaon IMG_2387_Anurag & Priya

Pitruchaya, Shirgaon
Set amidst mango orchards, laterite quarries and brick factories, Pitruchaya near Shirgaon is run by a sweet couple Vijay & Vaishali Loke. What started off as a wayside eatery for people driving to Devgad Fort soon turned into a small 3-room homestay. Besides authentic Malvani fare like kolambi (prawn) or kalva (clam) fry and Malvani mutton, the highlight is the stunning terrace suite, with paintings done by artists from Pinguli Art Complex and bamboo furniture from KONBAC (Konkan Bamboo & Cane Development Centre) at Kudal.

What to see around
Drive 27km to the coast to the quiet Devgad Fort and continue 18km south to Kunkeshwar, site of an unusual 400-year-old Shiva temple built by Arab sailors who survived a shipwreck. The serene Mithbav Beach 10 km further south has a Betaal Mandir dedicated to a wandering spirit that supposedly induces madness in passersby at twilight! The clifftop shrine on the dungar (hill) is dedicated to goddess Gajbadevi who appeared in a dream and instructed villagers to install a temple for safe passage.

Getting there: 439 km from Mumbai, Shirgaon is located on the Devgad-Nipani Highway or SH-117 and is 13 km from Nandgaon on the Mumbai-Goa highway.

Tariff Rs.1,500-2,000, meals extra

Ph 98699 81393, 97645 93947 Email sindhudurg@rtne.co.in

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Maachli Farmstay, Parule
Maachli is a great place to experience life on a farm without compromising on comfort. Four rustic themed cottages with thatched conical roofs and modern amenities overlook a lush coconut, betelnut, banana and spice plantation, providing seclusion and serenity. Run by Pravin Samant, the family-run farmstay is accessible after crossing a perennial stream, which doubles up as a natural fish spa if you dangle your legs from the bamboo bridge after a hike! Besides plantation walks, there are longer trails like the 1½ hr Morning Nature Trail to a gurakhi (shepherd) temple or the 2½ hr Sunset Trek to the coast. Enjoy excellent Malvani cuisine like masala sandhan (yellow idly with turmeric), amboli (multi-grain pancake), dhondas (sweet cucumber or jackfruit pancake), varieties of poha – spicy tikat kanda pohe, gode pohe sweetened with jaggery and the smoky kalo lele pohe, seasoned with ghee and live coal! An earthen stove is used for all cooking and fish fry and chapatis are served in areca fronds.

What to see around
Besides the Adinarayan temple at Parule dedicated to the setting sun, visit the Vetoba and Ravalnath temples. Don’t miss the hike to a centuries-old devrai (sacred forest) overgrown with dense trees and creepers. At the open shrine of Devchar (protector of the tribal community) locals offer alcohol and beedi (country cigarettes) to propitiate him. Within a few paces, orange pennants and bells announced the shrine of Dungoba or Dungeshwar, worshipped by the kolis for a good catch and safe return when setting out to sea.

Getting there
494 km from Mumbai, Parule is 21km south of Malvan and a 22km drive via SH-119 from Kudal (20 km north of Sawantwadi) on the Mumbai-Goa highway.

Tariff Rs.5,400, inclusive of all meals and nature trail & plantation tour, activities extra

Ph 9637333284, 9423879865 Email prathameshsawant@maachli.in http://www.maachli.in

Aditya Bhogwe's Eco Village IMG_2520_Anurag Mallick

Aditya Bhogwe’s Eco Village, Bhogwe
Just south of Tarkarli, away from the boatloads of tourists and adventure seekers, six bamboo cottages on a quiet hillside overlook the scenic confluence of the Karli River as it empties into the sea. The tiny strip of land sandwiched between the river and the sea is called Devbag or Garden of the Gods. Enjoy the warm hospitality of the Samants as you dig into flavourful fish thalis with poli (thin chapatis), rice, papad, stir fried beetroot/greens or raw banana fritters washed down with sol kadhi and a generous dollop of shrikhand. Absorb the view from your balcony or take a short hike to the riverside farm, where a ring of coconut trees act as a buffer from the saline creek. Ride in a country craft through the mangroves for some birdwatching and visit a cashew factory to watch local ladies process raw cashews. Round it off with sunset at Sahebachi Kathi, named after an 8ft long geological survey pole erected by the British.

What to see around
A boat ride from Korjai jetty down the creek takes you past the scenic confluence of Devbag Sangam to Bhogwe Beach, a long swathe of untouched sand. Disembark to see the Panch Pandav Shivling Mandir, a laterite shrine allegedly built overnight by the exiled Pandavas and continue by boat to Golden Rocks, a jagged ochre-hued hillock jutting out of the seashore. The forlorn Kille Nivti fort has a desolate beauty far from the frenetic adventure activities at Tarkarli, Tsunami Island and Sindhudurg. Mahalaxmi Parasailing & Water Sports offers banana boats, bumpy rides, jet skis, parasailing, snorkeling and scuba. Ph 8412023789, 8007273664 http://www.mahalaxmiwatersports.com

Getting there: 500 km from Mumbai, Bhogwe is 4km from Parule on the coast.

Tariff Rs.2,200, including breakfast (Meals Veg Rs.150, Seafood Rs.200)

Ph 9423052022, 9420743046 Email arunsamant@yahoo.com

Dwarka Farms Homestay Talavada IMG_3369_Anurag & Priya

Dwarka Homestay, Talavada
An organic farmstay near Sawantwadi, Dilip Aklekar’s 15-acre Dwarka Farms is tucked away in a mango orchard with 230 alphonso trees besides cashew, coconut, banana and pineapple. With a vermi-compost plant, biogas for cooking, milk from the farm’s cows and fresh fruits, pulses and vegetables grown on campus, Dwarka follows a ‘plant to plate’ philosophy. The food is an amazing Malvani spread of farm produce, fresh seafood from the coast and delicious kombdi (chicken) curry. The large homestead has rooftop dorms and 9 rooms with large balconies opening into the orchard. A passionate advocate of Konkan’s natural wealth, Dilip’s friendly exuberance is just the stimulus one needs to head out of the comfort of the farm on excursions to beaches, ghats and temples nearby, besides forays into Goa.

What to see around
Drive 14 km to Vengurla on the coast to see the port and old lighthouse and drive south to a series of beautiful beaches – Sagareshwar, Mochemad and Shiroda. Drop by at the Redi Ganpati Mandir, the scenic Aronda backwaters and Terekhol Fort.

Getting there
Located 534 km from Mumbai, Talavada is 11 km from Vengurla and 14 km from Sawantwadi on the Vengurla-Sawantwadi Road.

Tariff Rs.2,800-3,600, meals extra Rs.250-300/person

Ph 02363 266267, 9167231351, 9422541168 Email dilip@dwarkahomestay.com http://www.dwarkahomestay.com

Nandan Farms Sawantwadi IMG_3020_Anurag & Priya

Nandan Farms, Sawantwadi
Half-hidden in a beautiful farm near Sawantwadi at the base of a small hillock, the terracotta-toned bungalow with a sloping tiled roof and earthy interiors is livened up by colourful floor tiles, bamboo furniture and fish-shaped wooden doorjambs. Stone pavers for pathways and garden lamps add a rustic appeal. Run by ace cook Amrutha Padgaonkar or Ammu, who hails from Vengurla, it’s a great place to savour Malvani coastal delights. With just 2 rooms in a 12-acre property, privacy is guaranteed.

What to see around
Visit Sawantwadi Palace to watch Ganjifa artists make ancient playing cards under the supervision of HH Satvashila Devi, drop by at Chitar Ali (Artist’s Alley) near Moti Talao where local artisans make lacquerware toys or drive 30 km to Amboli Ghat to bathe in waterfalls, drive through the mist and reach the source of the Hiranyakeshi river flowing out of a cavern.

Getting there
Drive down 517 km on NH-17 to Sawantwadi and head 2 km from town on Amboli Road

Tariff Rs.4,000/couple, including all meals

Ph 94223 74277 Email amrutapadgaonkar@yahoo.in

Kashid-Murud Janjira drive DSC02199_Anurag & Priya

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 14 October 2015 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the story on CNT at http://www.cntraveller.in/story/konkan-cool-where-stay-along-coast/

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Drive down the Konkan Coast: NH-17 and beyond

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY drive down the Konkan Coast from Mumbai to Goa to discover quaint homestays, a Burmese palace in Ratnagiri, a temple built by Arab sailors and delicious Malvani cuisine

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Located just off the busy NH-17 or Mumbai-Goa highway lies a slice of Konkan many tend to overlook. Hop on a flight or an overnight bus bound for Goa and you are likely to miss the charms of the countryside, but take a drive down the coast and a magical world reveals itself. Pristine beaches, seaside forts, unusual temples, imposing palaces and dramatic landscapes are always close at hand from Konkan’s diverse homestays, which range from tree-houses and organic farms to earthy cottages of wood and laterite.

However, Konkan’s biggest draw is its signature cuisine, spiced with kokum, tempered with coconut and synonymous with iconic dishes like kombdi vade (chicken curry-puri), Malvani mutton curry and a wide array of sea food. Lesser known, but as varied as the creatures of the sea, is the diverse world of Konkanasth Brahmin cuisine. Mild yet full of farm-fresh flavour, meals are usually eaten off a banana leaf plucked straight from the tree and washed down with kalan (Maharashtrian kadi) and that amazing Konkani concoction, Sol kadi.

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As the road weaves past Khed, the perfect mid-stop is Ratnagiri, about 350km south of Mumbai. Though famous for its hapoos (Alphonso) mangoes, the historic town is also the birthplace of freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The unobtrusive double-storey house with sloping tiled roofs is a showcase of his achievements and personal memorabilia. But what’s surprising is a palace in Ratnagiri for a Burmese scion.

After the British forces defeated and captured Thibaw, the king of Burma (Myanmar) in 1885, they shipped him here to prevent a possible revolt by his subjects. When the rented bungalow where he was placed under house arrest proved inadequate, the British permitted the king to build a royal residence for himself known as Thibaw Palace. Set on the far end of a grassy field, the stupendous red edifice has quaint windows with wooden slats, a small museum and unusual artefacts like a bed made of medicinal herbs!

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Soon, the busy town of Ratnagiri slips away and we reach the village of Kotawde. Surrounded by hills on three sides and located on the banks of the Kusum river, Atithi Parinay is a beautiful homestay on a 3 acre patch. Choose from immaculate rooms with wooden floors in the main house constructed out of laterite and stone, or a tree house overlooking paddy fields, a Swiss tent with a stone floor and two rooms with a designer cowdung floor. Medha and her mother Vasudha Sahasrabuddhe offer the sattvik (vegetarian) delights of Chitpawan Brahmin cuisine and leisurely walks to the river and paddy fields.

The homestay is an ideal base to cover Ganpatipule, the sandy lair of Lord Ganesha, where the waters of the ocean come up once a year to touch the image as a symbolic oblation. As per legend, a cowherd’s cows refused to give milk and would magically empty their udders on a rocky reef. A stone image of Ganpati naturally emerged from the hillside and a temple was contsructed by Shivaji’s minister Annaji Datto Sachiv. Ater a quick stopover at the cultural showcase of Pracheen Konkan we visited lesser known beaches like Aare-Vaare and Marve before heading down the coast to Devgad.

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South of the virtually impregnable bastion of Vijaydurg and the nodal town of Jamsande is the quiet seafort of Devgad. The coastal road continues to Kunkeshwar where a 400-year-old Shiva temple stands on the shore lashed by waves. Ironically, it was built by Arabian sailors who survived a storm and erected the shrine to the region’s patron deity as thanksgiving.

The entire coast is dotted by such unusual temples, each with its own mythology. Mithbav nearby, has a Betaal Mandir dedicated to a wandering spirit that bears a malefic influence on passersby at dusk. Equally fascinating is the Gajbadevi temple overlooking Tambarde Beach, where the goddess appeared in a dream and instructed villagers to install her there for safe passage.

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Our base for this sector Pitruchaya, is a sweet homestay near Shirgaon on SH-117 or the Devgad-Nipani Road. Surrounded by brick factories and Devgad’s legendary mango orchards, the house has a stunning terrace suite and bamboo furniture from KONBAC (Konkan Bamboo & Cane Development Centre) at Kudal. Vaishali and Vijay Loke also run a Malvani restaurant for occasional drop-ins and we are treated to unusual fare like kalva (clams) and modka, a small tasty fish. The real surprise however, is Mr. Vijay’s 106-year-old mother Savitri Devi, who still washed her own clothes and cut vegetables!

We find ourselves back on the highway and turn from Nandgaon past Kankavali and Kudal to Sawantwadi, our final destination. Blessed with a 60% forest cover (the highest in Konkan), the town is swathed in green. Tucked away in a 12-acre cashew, coconut, banana and pineapple farm at the base of a small hillock is the picturesque Nandan Farms. Its mud walls, terracotta tiles, wooden beams and furniture lend an earthy appeal while Amruta Padgaonkar or Ammu’s cooking and warm hospitality make the stay worthwhile.

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The cultural hub of Sawantwadi teems with rare arts and crafts. At the ivy-laden 17th century Sawantwadi Palace, artists hand-craft Ganjifa (traditional playing cards) under the guidance of the queen Shatwashila Devi. Across Moti Talaav, families on Chitar Ali (Artist’s Lane) busily churn out lacquerware toys. Dilip Aklekar of Dwarka Farmhouse takes us to Pinguli Art Complex, where Prakash Gangawane strives to nurture the 11 loka-kalas of the Thakar community – leather puppetry, Chitrakathe and performing arts. 

After a wet trip to Amboli Ghat, a 690 m misty pass riddled with waterfalls, we are greeted by an elaborate meal at Dwarka. The 15-acre farm with cashew, coconut, banana, pineapple and 230 hapoos trees follows a plant-to-plate philosophy and acts as a migratory corridor for elephants, wild boar and exotic birds.

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Dilip remarks ‘Next time, visit Sagareshwar beach and Aronda backwaters; you’ll forget Tarkarli. In fact, you’re so close to Goa, you can take a ferry from Kiranpani to Tiracol’. But we realize, the best part about Bombay to Goa is what lay in between, as we head back up the magical Konkan coast.

Getting there: From Mumbai, take the Goa highway (NH-17) to Ratnagiri, 329 km south. Continue south on the highway till Nandgaon and turn right on SH-117 towards Devgad via Shirgaon. Take the coastal route via Kunkeshwar and Mithbav to Malvan and Vengurla. Or continue on the Mumbai-Goa road to Sawantwadi via Kankavli and Kudal. From Sawantwadi, it’s just 46km to Mapusa or a 525 km ride back to Mumbai.

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Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 16 May 2012 in Conde Nast Traveller online. 

At Home by the Sea: Konkan Coast

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY visit Konkan’s delightful homestays to explore seaside forts, Malvani cuisine, the mango trail, Sawantwadi’s artistic heritage, a Burmese palace in Ratnagiri, a temple built by Arabian shipwrecks and other surprises

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The train sped past the green landscape of Chiplun and Sangameshwar, criss-crossing rivers, cataracts, tunnels and bridges as the Mandovi Express slowly pulled into Ratnagiri. The Konkan rail journey is easily one of the prettiest in India and we were half disappointed not to continue on the coastal route to Goa and Mangalore. But a visit during mango season and the odd chance of rain made us cheer up. 

Ratnagiri is legendary for its hapoos or Alphonso and we were shamelessly headed for a homestay that promised unlimited mangoes for breakfast. A short 13km drive from town took us to Atithi Parinay at Kotawde where Medha Sahasrabuddhe greeted us cheerfully outside a beautiful laterite and stone house. Surrounded by hills on three sides, the 3-acre patch was located on the banks of the swirling Kusum river. Medha promised us a walk to the river and paddy fields beyond. ‘But all discoveries will have to wait’, announced her mother Vasudha, bringing out fresh banana leaves.

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Though the Konkan Coast is synonymous with its seafood and spicy Malvani fare, we were about to be introduced to the wonderful world of Chitpawan Brahmin cuisine. Out came hot polis (thin large chapatti cooked with a little oil), koshimbir (dry uncooked vegetable raita), aamti (sweetish thin daal), moramba (mango preserve) and a cabbage-bean stir fry. ‘We have typical preparations’, explained Vasudha aunty. ‘There’s kulith usal (stir-fried horsegram), bhopla bharit (pumpkin mash), padwal (snake gourd), sandhan (jackfruit cake), patodey (rice cakes steamed in turmeric leaves), chunda (spicy mango preserve) and gawasni chi poli (rice flour paratha).’

Over an extended lunch, we also learnt how the Sahasrabuddhes got their unique family name. Originally called Ganpules, they were once employed as warriors and advisors with the Peshwas, who gifted them a village. They came and settled in Kotawde, but another family laid claim to the land. The Ganpules put forth a proposition that one representative from both sides would burrow in a hole; whoever could last longer would be the true owner. The wily Ganpules stocked up their hole with provisions, outlasted the opponent and got their land back. The Peshwas granted them the title ‘sa-hastra-buddhi’ or someone who had knowledge of both weapons and brains.

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After a quick tour of the property to see the tree house, a Swiss tent and the bamboo bridge over the river, we were off to Ganpatipule. Besides a touristy beach lined with hotels and eateries, the main attraction was Lord Ganesha’s shore temple. The priest told us that once every year the surf comes up as if to touch the feet of the idol as a symbolic gesture. Legend has it that a cowherd’s cows had stopped giving milk and would offer milk only at a particular spot on the reef, leading to the discovery of the self-manifest stone image. Devotees whispered their entreaties into the ears of the large brass mouse outside the shrine while some circumabulated the hill by a paved path. After a quick peep at Pracheen Konkan, a showcase of the region’s culture, we visited the birthplace of freedom fighter and statesman Bal Gangadhar Tilak at Ratnagiri. The humble two-storey house where he grew up is now a museum, displaying his personal belongings and achievements.

What we least expected was a palace in Ratnagiri for a Burmese king. After the British forces defeated and captured Thibaw, the erudite king of Burma (Myanmar) in 1885, they shipped him first to Madras and then Ratnagiri to prevent a possible revolt back home. The rented bungalow where he was placed under house arrest was unfit for a king and the British permitted him to build a royal residence for himself. The king supervised the construction of Thibaw Palace every day till 1910 and both he and his wife breathed their last in the same building. Built out of laterite, mortar and Burmese teak, the majestic brick red palace on a grassy embankment had a small museum dedicated to the king.

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Our royal obsession was the hapoos, the king of mangoes, and the trail led us to Devgad. It was ironic that India’s most popular variety of mango was named after a Portuguese Governor. Alphonso is allegedly named after the second governor of Portuguese India Afonso de Albuquerque (1453-1515). Enamoured by this fruit, the colonists undertook mango grafting using European methods. A graft from Brazil provided the perfect fruit, was baptized Affonse and came back to India in the 16th century as Alphonso. Locals in Goa mispronounced it as Aphoos in Konkani and by the time it spread to Maharashtra, it was called Hapoos. There was something about the soil, air, landscape or optimal proximity to the sea that made Devgad’s Hapoos unlike any other. The best mangoes came from a patch 20km from the coast. There were other varieties too – the tangy Pairi, the sweetmeat-sized Dudh peda, the tiny Bitki aam or the pumpkin-sized Bhopali amba.

Set amidst mango orchards and brick factories on the Devgad-Nipani Road (SH-117), was Pitruchhaya homestay near Shirgaon. One of the earliest homestays developed by Culture Angan, the house came with a stunning terrace suite, paintings done by artists from Pinguli and bamboo furniture from KONBAC (Konkan Bamboo & Cane Development Centre) at Kudal. The warm couple Vaishali and Vijay Loke gave us an authentic taste of Malvani fare from kolambi (prawn) and kalva (clam) fry to Malvani mutton and modka, a small tasty fish found at the edge of the sea.

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A brief stop at the quiet Devgad Fort and we continued down the coast to Kunkeshwar. Situated on the very edge of the sea and lashed by waves was a 400-year-old Shiva temple with a strange past. Caught in a storm, sailors of an Arabian vessel saw a light and promised to build a shrine to the region’s chief deity if they survived. True to the promise, the Arabs constructed a temple out of laterite on the shore. Knowing that they won’t be spared for this irreligious deed if they went back, they jumped from the temple and gave up their lives. Their samadhi can still be found here. The serene Mithbav Beach nearby had its share of unusual shrines like the Betaal Mandir dedicated to a wandering spirit that induced madness on any passersby at twilight. The clifftop temple of Gajbadevi on the dungar (hill) was dedicated to a goddess who appeared in a dream and instructed villagers to install her there for safe passage.

After much meandering, we finally came to Sawantwadi and found ourselves at Nandan Farms homestay, 2 km from town on Amboli road. Tucked away in a 12-acre farm at the base of a small hillock, the ochre bungalow had a sloping tiled roof and earthy interiors. Cloaked in green, it was like being in an enchanted garden. Our friendly host Amruta Padgaonkar or Ammu, originally from Vengurla, was an expert in Malvani cuisine. We negotiated our way through a maze of modaks, endless polis, okra coconut fry, rice, aamti and phanas (jackfruit) fritters.

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About 12km from Sawantwadi on the road to Vengurla was Dwarka, an organic farmstay that followed a ‘plant to plate’ philosophy. Dilip Aklekar showed us around his 15-acre farm with cashew, coconut, banana, pineapple and 230 hapoos trees. ‘We grow our own fresh fruits, pulses and vegetables, have a vermi-compost plant, use bio gas for cooking, all the milk comes from our cows and we even practice ‘gomutra kheti’ or using cow urine for agriculture!’ Orioles, hornbills and paradise flycatchers flitted about the trees as we too hopped from room to room, each with a colour and style.

The food was amazing spread of kombdi (chicken) curry, deep-fried raw banana fritters, beetroot stir fry, red gram curry and other delights. It was with great difficulty and the indolence of debauched nabobs that we could move out of there. As if justifying the adage ‘Only when the belly is full can the arts prosper’, we set off on a leisurely cultural tour of Sawantwadi.

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Unlike us, the wizened hand that held the paintbrush was rock steady as it hovered over an old wooden table. It swept down to make a few deft swirls and strokes and a warrior’s white horse reared out of the table. MV Kulkarni, the old artist smiled at our awestruck expressions before he nonchalantly rubbed it off with a rag, saying  “Now I’ll paint a figure”. Again, we saw a masterpiece complete in under a minute. No pencil sketch, no reference image…just endless years spent painting Ganjifa cards had made artists like Kulkarni ‘imagine things right before the eyes’.

We were in the durbar hall of the 17th Century Sawantwadi Palace. Sunlight filtered in from a row of windows as we watched a clutch of artists engrossed in the detail of their design, struggle to keep an ancient tradition from vanishing into the mists of time. Each card is a complete handpainted artwork. The group of chitrakars (artists) spend hours to produce diverse styles and decks. Their work was clearly demarcated. Some gave the base colour to the cards, others work on symbols, few worked on the borders and the senior artists painted the intricate court cards of the suit.

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Seated in the portico of her beautiful Palace, Her Highness Satwashiladevi, the Queen shares more about this unique art which was saw a revival under her royal patronage since 1972. “Ganjifa, possibly of Persian or Urdu origin means ‘stacking’. It was probably the Moghul rulers who introduced these playing cards in India as early as 7th century. It became popular in other princely states like Bengal and Kashmir and gradually moved to Mysore and Orissa.

The original Moghul Ganjifa or Changa-kanchan has 96 cards in the standard eight suites of 12 cards each based on the eight departments of the state – treasury, armoury, music, etc. Soon, artists started adapting it for the masses with Hindus themes of mythology and astrology. The Dashavatara Ganjifa has the avatars or incarnations of Vishnu in ten suites of 120 cards. Rashi Ganjifa based on the zodiac has 144 cards and the Navagraha based on the planets has 108 cards. The antique collections were made of cloth, ivory, leather and Palmyra leaves and can only be found in some royal homes and museums.”

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In Chitare Ali, a rambling lane ascending from the picturesque Moti Talav, Prakash Balu Chitari intently slathered kitta (a paste of tamarind seeds, pebbles, powdered and dried jute pulp and sawdust) on a wooden banana with a palette knife. “We always use pangara wood, it’s porous and light. The paste fills the pores and acts as a base. After this dries, we apply paint using brushes made of animal hair (squirrel, goat or bear).” He was one of the few surviving practitioners of the age-old tradition of handcrafted wooden lacquerware. From 36 families, it had whittled down to five. “It is time-consuming but lucrative. Brahmin families in Goa and Maharashtra buy entire sets of these toys as part of a bridal trousseau. So, besides domestic sales and exports, one wedding helps us earn Rs. 8000” he says.  His wife chuckles, “But we do all the hard work. My children and I cut leaves from recycled paper, paint them, fix the stalks and add the finishing touches.”

Like in a scaled down version of Karnataka’s toy town Channapatna, vibrant wooden handicrafts, artificial fruit bowls and strings, lacquered bangles and beads, corkwood flowers, spinning tops, puzzles, rattles, paats (wooden dais) were stacked for sale and a few shop-cum-factories lined the street. At PD Kanekar’s shop, we saw a live demo of the quirky toys – collapsible giraffes, kissing pigs, monkeys on wire, a brood of pecking hens, etc. Besides the signature vegetables and fruits collections in all sizes and colours, we also found Mexican-style ristras (chillies, onions and garlic ristras on strings) and local versions of the enigmatic Russian Matryoshka dolls. 

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Just a few kilometers away at the Thakar Adivasi Kala Kendra at Pinguli, Parashuram Vishram Gangawane’s live demonstration of the dona vadya (vessel instrument) had us captivated. On a large upturned trough used to serve kanji (gruel), he scraped two ladles to produce a wailing tune and sang a haunting melody. “We are ‘paramparik kalakars’ of the Thakar community, a forest-dwelling tribe who inhabited the tekdis of Sahyadri paat (hills of the Western Ghats). What you saw was one of our 11 loka kalas (folk arts), performed by our women during Ganesh Chaturthi as a symbolic gesture to rouse Lord Ganesha.”

Legend has it that when Shivaji encountered them in the forest, he was surprised by the artistic sophistication of the unclothed, unlettered Thakars. Using natural dyes, artists painted on leaves and a sutradhar narrated stories or Chitra-kathe while these moving pictures were shown to the audience. Craftsmen fashioned cutwork figures from animal hide while an ensemble of singers and musicians set a background score to the Jaiti or Shadow Puppetry. Applying simple laws of light and physics, images projected on a screen by campfire were enlarged or reduced to create drama. The amazed crowds often believed that the shadows grew bigger because of the blowing of the conch! Such unique forms of storytelling were the purest form of entertainment long before the advent of cinema.

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Shivaji gave the Thakars raj-ashray (royal asylum) and they received further patronage from Sawantwadi’s rulers like Khem Sawant and Bapu Maharaj, who helped them develop their arts and showcase it over 9 days at the Kelbai temple in Kudal. With royal consent, they could take their tambura and taal to collect one ser of dhaan (kilo of rice) and alms from each house. For nearly 6 months of the year, the Thakars travelled from village to village carrying their jaiti (box) of nearly 50 puppets. As soon as they placed their bundles down at the headman’s house, word would spread about their arrival. They would perform the same evening before moving to the next village in the morning. Not surprisingly, the kings of Sawantwadi often employed these nomadic artistes as spies and informants!

They were given imperial handmade paper and commissioned to paint permanent artworks. “I have a priceless cache of nearly 500 old paintings that have managed to survive, along with hundreds of puppets that are not displayed”, Parashuram gestured at his makeshift museum, a renovated gothan (cowshed) cramped with artefacts. “Where’s the space here or the money to build a bigger complex? How much can I do alone, without any support? Of the 125 Thakar houses here, only one or two strive to keep this 500-year-old tradition alive. And what of Pugdi geet, Tarva geet, Povada, Kal-sutri bavlya, Gondal, Poth raja…” his voice quavers. “In Panglu Bael, a bedecked bullock accompanies a dholki player, reminding all those who hear it of the departed souls. There’s Pingli, where a man with a rattledrum leaves home at 3 am and returns at dawn, serving as a watchman and alarm clock on the move.”

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With the odd shows and homestays like Nandan Farms and Dwarka Farmhouse as platforms, Pinguli’s artists have found a tiny window to exhibit their talent. At the souvenir section, we browsed through stunning paintings on epic themes available for a song. An hour’s show with 8 people could be arranged for as little as Rs.5000 while traditional frescos could be created for as little as Rs.300-400 per sq foot.

It was a far cry from the old days when they were gifted as much grain as they could carry away without losing balance over ten paces. As we boarded the Konkan Kanya Express for the train journey back to Mumbai, it seemed nothing short of travesty that urban malls showcased a glut of mass-produced branded goods, while rural artisans struggled in hovels to keep ancient traditions from vanishing into the mists of time. 

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the June, 2012 issue of Rail Bandhu, the Indian Railways’ in-train magazine.