Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Velas - Life starts from this sleepy village

Velas - A sleepy village in Ratnagiri on the Konkan coast lies 200kms and some 7hours drive from Mumbai mostly populated by Brahmin's. The most famous son of the village was Nana Phadnavis - a great statesman in the Maratha empire during Peshwa administration in Pune. But this tiny village is on the world map due to the conservation programme run by NGO - Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra and equal participation of the villagers to save the endangered Olive Ridley Turtles. A few years back these same villagers used to eat the eggs of Olive Ridley Turtles which were on verge of near extinction but today they are the epicenter to save the turtles from near doom.

Velas beach


Its rightly said "A journey of thousand miles begins with one step" and it all starts on the beach of Velas. Its a sheer exhilaration to see hatchings of Olive turtle take their small baby steps - the first step in their long journey of life from here - Velas beach. It is these moments which draws crowds from different parts of India to tiny villages in and around Velas like Anjarla, Kelshi, Dapoli, Harihareshwar.



My Trip: I had missed the trip to Velas last year and I was super excited to watch these Olive turtles take their first step in journey called Life. It was going to be a unique first hand experience in many ways for me. First I had heard about these Olive turtles in news but never seen in real. I had never been to any place in Konkan coast apart from Ganapatipule. 2nd, Velas village is small tiny village with no hotels to stay and for lodging and staying, one needs to stay in homes of villagers who arrange for food and bedding. I knew it was going to be a trip of a life time as I joined trekking group Shikharved by Jagdish Patil for a 2nights 2 days trip to Velas, Bankot fort and Harihareshwar.

We started on Friday night from Dadar around 11pm with group of 27, It was a bus journey for 5hours but when we reached Velas finally it was journey of 7hrs with a bumpy ride in middle of night. I managed to squeeze some sleep before we reached our destination early morning around 6am. Our stay was at villagers house - huge house I would say which not only could accommodate our group but I also found that other families already there who like us were on a trip to watch these tiny todds. It was early morning but the village was full of people who had come to Velas Turtle festival 2013. Narrow lanes were bustling with people heading in one direction - towards the beach. It was quite a walk of around 10-15minutes and we all rushed, keeping our luggage. Morning chores and breakfast could wait !!!















Velas beach lined with pine tree was one of the most clean beach I have seen, comparing it with our Juhu beach or Gorai or few others in and around Mumbai. Crowd easily numbering around 250 - 300 had gathered, I could see a protected enclosure on the beach with baskets covered with gunny bags. There were around 5 baskets lying on the ground. Villagers open these baskets which covers eggs which lies in the dugged hole in the ground everyday at 7.15am and 5.30pm. These eggs take around 2months to hatch. So the mother turtles comes to these beaches between October to Decemeber to lay eggs covering thousands of nautical miles. It still remains a mystery as to how these baby turtles with no knowledge of sea or their mother, like pre programmed robots rush to the sea immediately after their birth. Their instinct and ability still unknown to mankind who uses hi tech   gadgets like GPS and other navigation system but still cannot match these small turtles abilities.




It was around 7.30am when the villagers went inside the protective enclosure to check if there was any hatchings today. Crowd gathered around, waiting with excitement. Though uncertainty prevails, villagers ensures that at least eggs gets descent chance to hatch. They ensure vigils at night on the beach and no one is allowed to enter the beach in the night. SNM and villagers have in total released over 19000 hatching's in the sea till date, ensuring a major drive in conservation of these endangered species and by doing so have not only put this tiny village on the tourist map of India for a amazing offbeat experience of a lifetime but also it helps in bringing a source of income for villagers from tourist  visiting this place.


Finally at around 7.30 am our wait was over, villagers lifted the basket and here it was !!! first glimpse of tiny turtles and crowd shouted in excitement. One by one they lifted all baskets and total of 15 turtles were born. they would start their journey of life from here. Slowly lifting them in the basket, villagers took them close to water from where they took their first baby step !!!!! it was wow experience. It was like a all turtle race, each turtle slowly inching towards sea water. Waving their flippers as if saying "ADIOS" to the crowd gathered, they gave each one in the crowd, pics of a lifetime before slowly making way into the sea.

Will they survive ? Will they ever come back to same place as mother turtles to start a new generation ?  We all in the crowd could only pray for these little fellas to have strength to endure difficult life which lay ahead of them... Bye bye babies !!!






We bidding goodbye to the first batch in the morning, spend some time on the beach in the morning before heading back for first ever unique stay at villagers house - Mr Prakash Doshi. A middle age couple in late forties, who had ensured tea and Poha breakfast was ready for us. The best part of the village is that it doesn't have cell phone towers. So no mobile signals and no contacts with outside world.





Our group was ready by 10am and we now decided to explore nearby small fort of BANKOT. a 15min drive along the coastal road to nearby village of BANKOT which houses a small fort and mango orchards.













BANKOT FORT : A small fort close to Velas village lies around 15min drive away. Best part is the coastal road which leads us to Bankot village. Small and attractive beaches on the way. Bankot was part of Bombay Presidency and first residency of British Raj. The name of the fort derives from "Bavanna kot" - 52nd fort, Shivaji captured and added this fort to his Swarajya and it was 52nd fort, hence the name. One could get good view of Savitri river from the fort. We also saw that efforts were on to conserve the fort with some restoration work being carried on. Not a big fort but worth a visit and is always a integral part of one's itinerary while on a  visit to Velas.










It was afternoon around 1300hrs and sun was in its prime when we decided to head back for lunch and small nap after which there another visit to Velas beach was planned. Our host has prepared complete veg Maharashtrian lunch and was served on banana leaf. The best lunch I had ever tasted. A sumptuous lunch !!!!!


All we needed after lunch was a nap and what better place than the house verandah which was covered  from the top, cool breeze even in afternoon sun. Around 4.30pm we all got ready for another round of turtle watch and to watch Sunset at Velas. Crowd had started to gather again. But evening was not lucky for us as there was not a single turtle hatching !!!!! a disappointment for some who has walked in the afternoon to watch this phenomenon. But we decided to watch sunset from a small hilllock on the beach. I along with few trekmates climbed the hill, experienced cool evening breeze apart from amazing sunset at Velas beach. Crowd on the beach enjoying their share of sunset from the beach. Nothing else to do, we just sat and enjoyed the moment to the fullest away from the daily hustle - bustle of Mumbai life.








With evening getting dark we all moved back to the village, the villagers had arranged a small video session at village temple about the activities carried out by the NGO and villagers towards conservation and protection of endangered species. Not only they works towards turtle conservation but also into Vulture and Indian swift bird conservation in nearby villages. It was eye opener for us with lot of information shared. Evening was followed by a small stage show done by village children which was quite interesting and appreciated by one and all present. Village was host to many groups like us as many villagers earn additional income by being a host to groups like us, providing food and lodging. Our host had already prepared evening meal and again it was best Maharashtrian dinner we all hogged on to. evening was spend by some our group in playing cards while we decided to roam the village, It was pitch dark on the roads except for the lights from the houses. It was amusing to see all most all of the village houses were host to some group of people or families who had come to visit Turtle festival.


Early morning next day again we were back on the beach around 6.30am. And again when the basket were lifted to check for any hatchings and Voila !!!!!! there were total of another 15 baby turtles ready for their first step in journey of life. Crowd was all excited again to bid good bye to these new borns. Another precious moment to see life starting at Velas beach. By 10am,It was now time to say goodbye to our host and village, thanking both for the wonderful and precious memories we had which I am sure everyone would cherish for a life time. Hoping to come back next year to watch another "Journey of thousand miles beginning with one step" at Velas beach.

We now begin our journey to Harihareshwar - again one of the most famous village with its unique temple and famous beach resort on the coast of Konkan. Another surprise was in store for me. We first moved to Vesvi village from where we were to cross Savitri river to Baagmandla village on ferry boats. The boats not only carry passengers but also carry buses and cars along. It was worth watching how buses and cars are maneuvered to fit in the boat and then crossed to other side of the village.













We waited for over hour for our turn to come on the boat, then moved to famous Harihareshwar temple and beach which was drive of around 30minutes from Baagmandla village.













Harihareshwar is surrounded by four hills named Harihareshwar, Harshinachal, Brahmadri, Pushpadri. River Savitri enters Arabian sea from Harihareshwar. Famous temple devoted to Lord Shiva and Kaal Bhairav is here and is major pilgrimage center. After having darshan one needs to do parikrama of the hill which houses the famous temple. We got most amazing view of Harihareshwar beach from the hill as we moved up and then one needs to descend the hill for the parikrama where one can see sheer beauty of the place. It was worth a thousand visit to the place to see how waves from Arabian sea had created natural carvings in the rock.





I really fell in love with the place so did other group members. We had a gala time, taking pictures on the shore and then moving back to the temple town. After having lunch we started our journey back home, cherishing every moment spend in last two days. It was trip worth remembering for a lifetime.













A trip to VELAS, BANKOT & HARIHARESHWAR


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