A road trip from Mumbai to Goa, through the Western Ghats and along the Arabian Sea coast.
For a quick recap, read the first part of our journey here
We ended our journey on Day 2 at Daman, a former Portuguese colony nestled between Gujarat & Maharashtra. We made an early start from Daman (around 7 am – but the sun was just making it’s way to the western coast). After a quick visit to Devka Beach for our first sighting of the Arabian Sea, we headed back towards NH8 via old Daman (Motidaman). The drive along SH5 as you get out of Daman is quaintly pretty – -winding two- laned roads lined with dense coconut trees, dappled sunlight fighting the early morning mist and painting the kucha and sem-pucca shanties in shades of liquid gold. We passed some government buildings and caught a glimpse of the still-imposing Moti Daman Fort, a 450 year old structure built by the Portuguese in 1559 to girdle the colony.
Onwards towards the Western Ghats
As soon as we hit NH8 on Day 3, we knew that we were close to the Western Ghats – oddly shaped hillocks loomed majestically ahead of us, one shaped like a temple, another akin to a lingam. We let out loud hoots of joy as we drove along the excellent 6-laned highway, and even the arduous 3 hour ride through Mumbai’s notorious traffic did not douse our excitement. Around noon, after a quick brunch at a McDonald’s in Panvel, we finally hit National Highway 17 (now renamed NH 66), a 1300 km road that runs along the Western coast of India all the way south to Kochi in Kerala, crisscrossing the magnificent expanse of the Western Ghats and spanning four states.
A quick word about the Western Ghats , which have been in the limelight lately due to concerns about excessive commercialization in this delicate biodiversity hotspot (amongst the top 10 in the world). Though the ghats appear mountainous (the section close to Panchgani is oddly reminiscent of the Grand Canyon), in reality they are the faulted lip of the Deccan Plateau, formed over 150 million years ago! The Ghats are a visual delight – carpets of lush green dotted with numerous rivers, streams, reservoirs and waterfalls. They are also home to an amazing diversity of plants, birds, reptiles, mammals and precious minerals and metals – apparently, of the 5,000 species of plants found in the Ghats, 1700 are found nowhere else in the world.
Goodbye Chaotic City, Hello Lush Greenery
The drive along NH17 gave us the opportunity to enjoy some of these treasures – thick luxurious green (even during winters), the sound of birds chirping, frequent sightings of butterflies & large troops of monkeys and the pleasantly citrus “forest” smell for company. The road is 2 laned with numerous sharp turns (4 laning in some stretches is currently in progress, with plans to build tunnels along the Ghat sections to make the entire stretch 4 laned), but this also imposes a natural speed limit and gives you the opportunity of soaking in the breathtakingly beautiful surroundings. Being a commercially important route, the road is packed with restaurants, hotels, petrol pumps and repair shops. Villagers often visit the toll booths with the day’s fresh produce, from fruits to fenugreek leaves (methi) – don’t miss the chance to sample the deliciously fresh food. The road condition was surprisingly excellent throughout , with frequent warnings to drive slowly, the most memorable of which declared:
This is Highway, not Die Way
We made a few pit stops along the way – to catch a better view of a pretty cottage nestled in the hills, to hear the music of the birds and to watch the sequinned sunlight dance across a lake as we sat drinking tea with a couple of hens for company. It was dusk when we reached Chiplun, our resting place for the night. (Chiplun is 200 km from Panvel, but budget for about 5 hours due to the Ghat sections).
Located on the banks of River Vashishti, Chiplun is renowned for its waterfalls, the 800 year Parshuram Temple (the city is named after Lord Parshurama), kokam and mangoes. It is also home to the popular Riverview Resort, perched atop a hillock with striking views of the Ghats. Unfortunately, neither our Map My India GPS nor Google Maps could lead us to the property, and the directions obtained from locals sent us round in circles. We gave up after a 30 minute search and decided to park our tired bodies at Hotel Oasis on NH8, a competent, if not luxurious hotel.
The highlight of our stay in Chiplun was a delicious Malvani meal at Hotel Abhishek - sol kadi, king fish fry and big puffy Kombdi Vade with mutton curry (our Punjabi puri pales in comparison), topped off with the local ice cream. One of the most memorable meals of our trip. (Tip: The restaurant has a new branch on the highway, but locals insist that the food is better at the original).
We started Day 4 with a hearty breakfast of poha & milky coffee , and then continued along NH17 till Hathkhamba, where we took a detour towards Ratangiri. Located on the coast of the Arabian Sea, the city is most renowned for its Alphonso mangoes, but that is not its sole claim to fame. It is the birth town of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, houses the Thibaw Palace where the king & queen of Burma stayed when exiled by the British from their homeland, and is also home to the horse shoe shaped Ratnadurg Fort that is surrounded by the Arabian Sea on three sides.
We threaded our way through the main street crammed with shops of all hues and onwards towards Ratna Durg Fort, gazing longingly at the mango trees along the way. The uphill drive to the fort winds through dense foliage and a couple of ancient temples. The primary attraction of the fort is the fantastic vistas of the Arabian Sea and the town at its foothills. We polished off our walk through the fort ramparts with some chuski and crisps at the tiny shop in its vicinity, with plans for a proper lunch at Devgad, 100 km away.
Devgad & Kunkeshwar
The drive to Devgad along SH4 was one of the best of our roadtrip – an endless expanse of golden fields with an occasional burst of green, sudden glimpses of the sea, myriad rivers and bridges, roads that dipped and turned and rose again – it was like driving through a massive yellow ocean with thick specks of blue and green. We would continue along the pretty 2 laned SH4 all the way south to Vengurla, where we would rejoin NH17 to head towards Anjuna.
Our dreams of another delicious Malvani meal at Devgad misfired – it was 3 pm by the time we reached the town, and all the restaurants were closed for lunch (we knocked at virtually every door on the main street, begging for food and a clean loo). Bellies churning with hunger, we made our way to the pretty temple town of Kunkeshwar, where the restaurants were just opening for evening tea. The restaurants here are renowned for authentic Konkani Brahmini cuisine, and we had the best Misal Pav of our lives at Abhiruchi Restaurant, opposite the temple – it was so delicious that we wolfed down two plates each in quick succession! Well fed and rested, we made our way to the beach just in time to catch the myriad colors of a sunset.
After bidding goodbye to the sun and a bunch of boys playing cricket in the parking lot, we made our way to Malvan. Driving through the dark and deserted winding roads was a dreamlike experience – no inkling of the road ahead and conversations conducted in whispers to preserve the tranquil stillness of the night.
At Malvan, we stayed at the sea facing Hotel Sagar Kinara. We had a mini adventure here – advised to dine at Hotel Dariya Sarang for the best local delicacies, we decided to make the journey by auto. We assumed it would be a 5 minute drive, but were alarmed as the rickshaw made its way through seemingly uninhabited lanes that twisted and turned aimlessly – we had conveniently forgotten our ammunition (GPS, pepper spray, Swiss army knife and the works) in our hotel room. Luckily, we were safely deposited at the hotel after 20 minutes, and after repeated reassurances from the manager that he would arrange for a safe drop back, we settled down to an excellent meal of pomfret fry to the accompaniment of the thumping sea waves.
We spent the next morning (Day 5) walking along the beach, which affords excellent views of the Sindhudurg Fort. Built by Shivaji over 350 years ago at a time when travelling by sea was banned by Hindu scriptures, the fort is located on an islet just off the Arabian Sea and is renowned for its concealed entrance and its sweet water wells. The Chivala beach at Malvan is popular for scuba diving and snorkelling (neighbouring Tarkali & Devbaug also provide these activities).
Onwards to Goa
After a short stroll through the town, we made our way to the beaches of Anjuna, with a restful stop at the stunningly located MTDC Resort in Tarkali along the way. As we entered the broad expanse of NH17 that runs through Goa, we let out another celebratory howl, but this one was tinged with nostalgia for the beautiful sights, sounds, smells, flavors, places and people that we had left behind.
We drove nearly 800 km over 3 days, with all but the first 200 km through the picturesque ghat and coastal roads. We recommend that you budget at least 3 -5 days for this journey, in order to fully enjoy the wonders along the way.
Daman – Panvel (190 km) – Chiplun (200 km) – Hathkhamba (75km) – Ratnagiri (15km) – Devgad (97km) – Kunkeshwar (17km) – Malvan (40km) – Tarkali (5km) – Vengurla (50km) – Anjuna (50km).
In Part 3, we conclude the road trip with the 500 km drive from Goa to Pune.
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