As the Nethravati Express screeched to a stop at Ratnagiri a mere 45 minutes behind schedule, my heart soared with expectation. On this section of Konkan Railway, where single-tracks were not uncommon, a delay of under an hour was a good omen. Paradise was beckoning us, and we were stretching our ear to listen to the roar of its gatekeepers.
Expectation it was, which was driving us to Ganpatipule for a full 5-day sojourn. Leaving our Indirapuram home at an ungodly (and unsafe, too) hour of 2.30 am, we took the first Mumbai-bound flight of the day. The train-journey from Mumbai to Ratnagiri was uneventful, though I must mention the food (I was surprised to find more non-veg options than what we get even on our home-stretch, Delhi-Kolkata). All through the journey, a picture from a fellow-traveler posted on flikr.com stayed entrenched in my memory – a blue sea with white sandy beaches, and the caption stating ‘…the colours are real’!
Remnants of last night’s battle
The trip from Ratnagiri station to Ganpatipule was comfortable, in a spruced-up three-wheeler, on a smooth well-tarred road. The 50-odd kilometers were covered in an hour, and by 9 pm we had checked into MTDC’s resort by the sea. As I stepped out to the sprawling balcony, strains of a symphony welcomed me – the base notes of the waves crashing on the shore, interspersed with the crescendo of the sea-breeze passing through the palm-leaves.
After a hearty meal at MTDC’s Tarang restaurant, I slept a contented soul, with hopes and promises of my date with heaven the next day.
The next day broke late for me. Stepping out at the balcony I took the first look at the sea. Tranquil, blue sea.
I must be bleary-eyed. Had taken an Alprax last night. Went back to the bathroom, splashed some more water on my face, came out rubbing my eyes, looking for the blue.
Sky-blue? Azure blue? At least a dull shade of grey-blue?
What welcomed me was a very impressive-looking Arabian sea. Strong waves. Mighty breeze – refreshing, invigorating. But very, very un-blue.
The famed beach
Move on – what’s in the blue, I said. Let’s go to the beach. Explore the clean white sand – no one can take that away from Ganpatipule, I told my wife and daughter.
The resort connects to the beach through several twisting pathways. A few hundred yards, and we were at the beach.
A dumpyard of plastic bottles, styrofoam glasses, straws, discarded shoes (a variety to choose from, sneakers to sandals), and a myriad range of empty alcohol bottles. Hard ones – not the usual lager-type that you encounter occasionally on Goan beaches. And yes – a can of industrial adhesive too! Someone was seriously trying to mend relationships here!
The sea, shoe-ed away!
The beach at Ganpatipule tells you a story of an everyday battle between man and sea – that between man’s careless desire to dump filth on the beach, and the sea’s relentless effort to reclaim its purity. The result is telling. Every morning, you can sea a battle-line drawn on the beach. The line, till which the sea has pushed back the filth the previous night – this becomes the starting line for the next day’s war.
Fixit on the beach
And regrettably, the sea seems to be fighting a losing battle here. The beach is already half-gone.
If, however, you can withstand the initial shock, Ganpatipule can becalm you in no time. The rooms in MTDC’s resort are clean, basic, and the air-conditioners efficient (one of the few resorts I’ve come across that has split air-conditioners in the room). The resort is built on a height (except the Konkani huts), and offer a stupendous view of the sea from almost all its rooms / balconies. The main beach, closer to the temple, stays crowded almost all the while, so move away from it further towards right, beyond the Konkani huts. Walk along the edge of the sea, and you could possibly find a stretch which is relatively less filthy, and go frolicking in the water. There are a few rocks jutting out, so be careful not to get crashing onto one. The sand is soft, but the sea is generally stable, the waves regular and do not surprise you with under-currents.
Another high-point on the beach would be crab-watching. Certainly a lot less glamourous than bird-watching, but the sand-crabs residing the Ganpaipule beach are a treat to watch, especially if you have time on your hand (which you have aplenty, at Ganpatipule). They are unafraid of human proximity, so find out a few prospective ‘crab-holes’, settle down with a zoom, and you can watch them scurrying about busily at length to your delight, and that of your kids’.
I had enquired with a few locals about the colour of the sea (or the supposed lack of its blue-ness), and the usual explanation was that it turns grey when the wind is too strong. The wind is indeed strong, invigorating, and appetizing. And when you feel the first pangs of hunger, look no further beyond Tarang, MTDC’s in-house restaurant. The range is awesome, wholesome, and very, very reasonably priced. A day’s meal for three, including a can of beer would easily fit under a thousand bucks. A few points to remember though – bed-tea is served with a calling-bell in between 7-7.30, no room-service is to be expected, and Wednesdays are dry.
Make a day-trip to Ratnagiri. For the temple / memorial-lovers, there’s a local tour operator that takes you through a fixed agenda, but if you want to make your own itinerary, then the best option is to book an auto-rickshaw for the day. On the way to Ratnagiri, we traveled past the beautifully secluded Aarey beach, which is a reflection of what Ganpatipule possibly was some years ago. The Thibaw Palace at Ratnagiri was another jewel, as much for livening up the memory of the last exiled king of Burma, as for being able to spot a pair of cooing pigeons that to me embodied the spirit of the exiled king and his queen.
The question that remains to be answered is if something can be done to reverse the losing battle that the sea is facing at Ganpatipule. I had a chance to speak with a few locals. The reaction is mixed. People realize that continued dumping of the filth will turn off tourists. However, this will not affect the livelihood of the locals, because the presiding deity of Ganpatipule will continue to attract enough devotees to keep this place running, even if purely as a place of pilgrimage. So, the way forward is to create a mix of enough administrative pressure and awareness, to clean up the existing mess, and arrest future dumping of waste, to bring back Ganpatipule to its pristine glory.
Romance at Thibaw Palace
The lead has to come from the district administration and MTDC, and can be started in the following three steps;
1. Clean up the existing mess: appoint beach-cleaners to collect the existing garbage; use volunteers / local NGOs / paid rag-pickers. Do it over a month – that should get the beach cleaned up substantially.
2. Prevention of further dumping: declare and maintain the whole area as a ‘no-plastic’ zone
3. Build awareness: educate the locals, involve the school-children, and set up collection bins at different parts of the beach (and dispose the garbage off in time)
Can we, ghumakkars, do it?
PS: If you’re not an atheist, do experience offering a puja (preferably the ‘abhisheka puja’) of Ganpatipule’s presiding deity, the swayambhu Ganpati at the dawn. The chantings at those early hours, with the sound of the sea at the background, take you almost as close to heaven as permissible.