Alibag is not known as Mini-Goa without reason…… For one thing, it is near enough from Mumbai to be more accessible. Secondly, it is much cheaper (both accommodation as well getting around), which attracts tourists with all budgets. And of course, there are the beaches – so many of them, the entire coastline boasting of some lovely panoramic views of the sun, the sand and the sea.
My first memories of the beach at Alibag are those of dirt and litter – this was when I visited the beach as part of a picnic when I was in my 12th standard. We had visited the Akshi beach (I think!!) and stopped over at Alibag for a visit to the fort. I couldn’t understand why everyone wanted to visit this beach – it was so dirty! Now, things are a bit better, certainly. Of course, there is still litter – we Indians are great at littering – no one bothers to look for a dustbin, but at least, it seems to be cleaned regularly now. Secondly, the food area has been moved outside the beach, and steps have been built so that those not interested in the water can sit in peace. This may have contributed to the litter being restricted to one area, and the general cleanliness elsewhere.
Now that I am through with my pet grouse (littering), I can continue with my travelogue. We went to the Alibag beach in the evening, which was a good thing, because it was low tide, and we could go to the Kulaba Fort. The disadvantage of the low tide was that the water was really far far away…. It was also just the day after the new moon (Amavasya) so, I suppose the tide was even lower than usual, and all we could see was the sand, and patterns left by the water as it had receded. We were reminded of our visit to the Bordi Beach, where we saw a similar sight…..Shankar was determined to go to the water, and walked for almost half an hour before he could get satisfactorily wet. The rest of us decided to stick to the sand, and tried our hand at making sand castles. Even that wasn’t an easy task, as the sand seemed to have been packed tight into the ground – no, that’s not my description, that’s Samhith’s.
We also saw a few birds, mainly sandpipers (at least, I think they are sandpipers), which weren’t the least afraid of us and stayed still long enough for me to take a few photographs.
The best thing about the timing was the sunset, which was absolutely fabulous!!! I have taken scores of photographs of the sunset… and here are my favourite ones…..
The Kulaba (sometimes called Colaba) Fort is one built by Shivaji in 1652, and is the most easily accessible fort in this area, located 2 Kms into the sea at Alibag. One can walk to the fort during low tide in less than ankle-deep water. During high tide, boats are available, but this is a mode of transport I have never heard of anyone using to get here. Horse- carts are also available for hire.
Instead of walking in the water, we chose to take a horse-cart ride, which Samhith enjoyed. (Left to me, I would have walked…. It is not everywhere that you can walk in water, along the less-polluted area of a beach!!!!)
Though it must have been a grand fort at one time, built to keep an eye on the naval activities of the British, Portuguese and the Siddhis, the fort lies in ruins now, except for the temple in the centre, which is fairly well maintained. It is still possible to walk on some portions of the fort walls, and the view from there is breathtaking!!! I just stood there and wondered what it would have been like in the days of the brave Maratha king’s glory, and what he would think of the activities carried out in his name….. Yes, that is the effect most forts and historical places have on me……….
Also in Alibag, very near the beach are two interesting places.
The Geo Magnetic Observatory - Established in 1904, the Magnetic Observatory is the only one of its kind in Asia and one of only 13 in the entire world, with whom data is exchanged every 12 minutes. The building echoes the British style of architecture and houses rare valuable instruments like a magnetograph, which is built only in stone, with no steel used. The Observatory records magnetic movement in the earth's' crust and also magnetic storms caused by solar storms. A destination of pride for the Indians, the Magnetic Observatory stands apart for being unique.
I was looking forward to visiting the observatory, and coaxed the auto-wallah to take us there (he told us there was nothing to see there, but I can be quite stubborn when I want, and insisted). We reached the place only to find the door locked. The auto-wallah threw me a triumphant glance, but I persisted, and hunted for the watchman, who informed me, quite politely, that the observatory was closed to visitors following the 26/11 terror attacks. I returned, deflated, as well angry. Angry with the idiots who barged into our lives with their guns and lack of respect for human life, and also with the authorities, who, by denying us entrance to such places are falling prey to these terrorists, playing into their hands, succumbing to the terror they created, and adding to the fear.
The Samadhi of Kanhoji Angre – Kanhoji Angre, the great Maratha Admiral hails from this place, and it is here that he was laid to rest. His Samadhi is a structure with 8 faces, and exquisitely sculpted pillars. However, this again I was unable to visit, as it was being renovated. I shudder to think what the renovated structure will look like….
Kihim is one of the most popular beaches in Alibag, 9 Kms from the town. As our auto driver repeated at least thrice – most famous (read – film) personalities have their farmhouses on Kihim Beach! We went to the beach early in the morning, ready to face the water, and found only more sand. The tide hadn’t come in yet! Again, Shankar decided that if the water didn’t come to him, he would go to the water, while Samhith and I collected shells. We walked quite a long way along the beach, and collected some wonderful specimens of shells. We even saw these patterns in the sand, which looked like they had been made by starfish or some sea creature.
After a while, thankfully, the tide started coming in, and Samhith went in to join his father in frolicking in the water, while I happily clicked their photos……
Kihim is a really nice beach to go to, both clean and vast. There is lots of place for all the tourists who visit the place, but early in the morning when there was hardly a soul around, was a wonderful feeling.
Two forts are visible from Kihim Beach. These are the Kandheri and Undheri Forts, built right in the middle of the sea by the Siddhis. Both these forts are accessible by boat from Thal village.
The Khanderi Fort is 3-4 km into the sea from Thal beach, and was built in the year 1678. It stands on a small island. A lighthouse was constructed later on. The fort was under the British control for a long time. The various attempts made by the British to capture the island fort of Khanderi were not fruitful till the year 1750, when the Fort was finally handed over to the British as part of the Peshwa territory. Today the Fort is under Bombay Port trust administration.
At a distance of 300 meters from Khanderi is the fort of Undheri which is also an island fort. It was built by Siddhi Qasam in 1680. The fort changed hands from the Siddhis, Peshwas, Angres and the British.
I was extremely enthusiastic about visiting these forts, and asked our host about them. He directed us to Navgaon, which is a fishing village. We reached there, only to be told bluntly that they were fishermen, and they did not take tourists to see the fort. In fact, they were so busy unloading the catch of the day; they had no time for us at all. Finally, while we waited in the sun, surrounded by mounds of fish of all kinds, covering our noses to avoid the smell (unsuccessfully, I may add!!!), Shankar walked to the next village, which was Thal, where he managed to find a chap who would take us there in his boat. By this time, it was approaching noon, and the tide was coming in fast. While we waited for the boat, we amused ourselves looking at the sea gulls and egrets which thronged the beach, looking for bits of fish the men had left behind.
The boat finally arrived, and we got in and started towards the beach. Just a few minutes in, however, I started feeling extremely queasy – the boat was rocking just too much!!! It was a narrow and long boat, running on a motor, which turned the motor-end of the boat downwards, and the other end upwards…… while all the others, including Samhith were fine, it was me, who, in the first place was the person to insist on coming, who just couldn’t handle the boat ride. With no resort left, we abandoned the trip, and returned ashore, much to the amusement of the fishermen! I am never going to hear the end of this at home!! The next time I insist on getting anywhere difficult, Shankar is sure to remind me of this incident!!!!
For those who have a sturdy constitution and can handle difficult rides, you can go to Thal village and contact the customs office there, which is right on the shore. Check out if you need permission to visit the forts. Find a fisherman to take you. They charge about Rs.500/- for the whole trip. Make sure that you make all the arrangements and then turn up for the ride. Check about the tides and best time for the ride in advance. I am told that at low tide, the ride is much easier! Also catch hold of some chap from the village who can act as a guide. Very few people visit the fort, and it is usually deserted. Carry water and eatables with you. The journey to the first fort takes about half an hour, and further to the second fort about 15 minutes. The whole trip will easily take at least 2 hours.
There are many more beaches in Alibag, which we did not visit, but just passed through, on our way to other places. Among these are the Akshi Beach, 5 Kms from Alibag, where the sand is lined by rows of rocks, followed by rows and rows of casuarina trees... the Nagaon Beach,7 Kms from Alibag, and Kashid, the beach well known for its silver sands, which is 30 Kms from Alibag.
We also passed by Revdanda, where a boat race was on, the day being Gudi Padwa, the Maharashtrian New Year. The sight of the port on one side, the Vikram Ispat Jetty on the other, with a conveyor belt going all the way from the jetty to the factory, carrying their raw material, was a sight I shall never forget!
Here are some more photographs taken on the beaches ----