Sands of time: BEACHES OF MAHARASHTRA -- Sabira Fernandes

Sands of time: BEACHES OF MAHARASHTRA -- Sabira Fernandes
When it comes to beaches, India is a peninsula that has a staggering lot of them,  from the upper reaches of Gujarat, in the West, to the Southernmost tip of the country, where the waters of the Arabian Sea, The Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, meet and form a confluence, at Kanyakumari, to the Eastern corners of the Ganga (Ganges) river delta, and the Bay of Bengal ocean, around the state of West Bengal.
The 720 kms stretch in the West, along the Arabian Sea, known as the Konkan Coast, has holiday destinations that rival the best beaches anywhere in the world. Dotting Maharashtra, are some pristine beaches; some secluded, some bustling with people, some pilgrimage centres, some tourist hubs. Beaches in the extreme north of Maharashtra touch Gujarat, and to the extreme south, they overlap into the tourist paradise of Goa. 
Salt-water therapy was traditionally the reason why people visited beaches; nowadays, with international exposure, and the lack of private public spaces, beaches have become a meeting place, a place to enjoy nature, go angling, pray at the various holy  places, and, sometimes, just to chill! For inhabitants of cold climes, where the sun and sea are both rarities, a beach is great escape.
Focussing on the state of Maharashtra, there are many beach holiday destinations and attractions. Drive down the Konkan coast, and stay at the most cost ideally located hotels and resorts  along the way, and if you fancy 5-star accommodation, that is also increasingly available, at some places. 
Beginning with Mumbai, the most famous Juhu Beach has nostalgia reminiscent of Hindi films of the 50s, 60s and 70s, with  yesteryear stars prancing on the beach and singing playback songs. There is also the Gorai beach, off the western suburb of Malad, where the unique pillar-less golden Global Vipassana pagoda has its stately presence. Madh Island Beach has the Erangal Fort, and East Indian village clusters. (East Indians are a community of fishermen, ancient inhabitants of Bombay, who derive their clan name from Britain’s East India Company that ruled India as a colony in the 19th and early 20th century. Many of them served the Company, but, nowadays, they are into a host of professions).  
Marve and Manori beaches are ideal holiday getaways, with locals providing cottages and delicious meals. Swimming is permitted, though currents tend to be dangerous during the monsoons (June-September). Mumbai also has the famous Queen’s Necklace, in South Mumbai, curving along the 3.75 km stretch of the sea, with the Chowpatty beach at the northern end and the reclaimed-from-the-sea Nariman Point and Backbay areas, at the south
Other Mumbai beaches are the white sands Bassein Beach (Vasai, Thane district) and a historic Fort, resembling a beach in Goa, along with its Portuguese influences. Close to that are the hot springs at Vajreshwari and the temples and churches alongside. Dahanu-Bordi beach, close to Thane but spilling over into neighbouring Gujarat, is another serene and secluded beach. Uttan, again in Thane District, is famous for its beaches, and access to Esselworld and Water Kingdom, the theme park and amusement arcades, popular tourist attractions. 
As we traverse further south, outside Mumbai, there are the Elephanta Islands, with the famous 5th Century BC Buddhist caves. Further along is Alibaug, the weekend destination for the rich and famous, who own many cottages there, built by Bene Israel Jews and made famous by Kanhoji Angre, of Maratha king Shivaji’s army. It has the famous Magnetic Observatory, Korlai Fort and a Lighthouse built by the Portuguese, in the 1500s, which is still functional, over 500 years on. It also houses an Indian naval base.  
In and around Alibaug are the Kashid Beach, Kihim Beach, the main Alibaug Beach and Fort and the Khanderi and Underi Islands. Other attractions are the various synagogues, churches and temples that dot the landscape, along with exotic vegetables and fruit farms and aquaria. 
Drive along the Konkan coast for a breath-taking view of the sea and the myriad soil changes. If you are an angler, explore Harnai, Mandwa, Diveagar; visit forts and lakes at Murud and Murud-Janjira, visit Ganpatipule; go snorkelling, scuba diving and indulge in water sports at Tarkarli; go fishing and beach running on the several kilometres long stretch of beaches at Shrivardhan; get in touch with you inner self and sun bathe, bask or do some yoga and meditation at Harihareshwar and Dapoli, and as you approach the state of Goa, enjoy Vengurla, with its chikoo, coconut, and other summer fruit staples. Explore this almost unexplored, almost virgin land.
The soil changes from brown, to deep brown, to black basalt rock; the beaches go from grey/brown, to white, to black sand. The trees tall, straight and upright, to undulating patches of grass and paddy, coconut trees, suru trees, mango, jack-fruit and cashew trees; the vista is colourful, with the azure and teal sea, to green fields, dotted with colourful temples and houses. View the dress patterns, from geometric prints, to paisleys, or as they are called in India ‘mango’ print. Count the colours, you will be hypnotised at the blends that have emerged out of a land ruled by the Mughals, Portuguese, French, Marathas and British.
Hungry for more? Don’t forget to sample the local cuisine--irrespective of whether you are vegetarian or non-vegetarian. If possible, sample the wild hunt delicacies, get used to seeing vegetables and fruits you haven’t seen before; expand your palate with exotic flavours, and burst your taste-buds. Eat with your eyes, and never, ever, ever forget to appease the dessert goddess in you! 
Sabira Fernandes A Branding and Communications Consultant, Sabira holds a Masters Degree in History, and a Diploma in Marketing Management. A veteran web content writer, she relaxes by reading, and pumps up her adrenaline by running the Mumbai 21 kms half-marathon every year..
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