It’s soon on its way to being a forgotten enclave. Karwar is a sleepy seaside town, with tiny fishing boats moored on the shore that hugs the highway; the bridge on the NH17 that runs above the confluence of the Kali River flowing into the Arabian Sea; the tiny tree-fringed islands strewn across the ocean as the beach lies huddled by the Western Ghats.
The Navy will soon change its inviting charm, making it off the bounds to the curious traveller. Being a prominent coast guard navy base, a considerable stretch of Karwar’s beaches falls in the navy’s restricted area and is hence inaccessible to public. The recent induction of the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya into the fleet has called for another expansion for which about 25 km of the coastline has been acquired by the Navy. The expansion, called Project Seabird, will also include the tiny beach called Lady Beach.
I arrive in Karwar on a cold morning when the catch of the day is being sold to fish sellers over much haggling. Avinash, whom I meet and befriend at the Riveredge resort I stayed in, agrees to take me around. The thing though is that he rattles off the names of just too many things to wrap my head around: Sadashivgad Fort, Warship Museum, Devbagh beach, Tilamati beach, Majali beach, Kurumgad Island. We finally agree on the specifics and set out on his bike.
A resort now stands in place of the Sadashivgad Fort that, according to the inscriptions, was built in 1715 by the Raja of Basavalinga of Sonda who named it after his father Raja Sadashiva. The Durgamma temple, restored and rebuilt in 1928, is still functional. The fort changed hands from the Sonda dynasty to the Portuguese and then to the British. The approach road to the fort’s strategic view points, however, is non-existent. We ride precariously on an uphill road, over loose gravel interspersed with gaping potholes. It is a wonder that even a miniscule of tourist population negotiates these boulders to reach the resort.
The viewpoint amidst rusting cannons and boulders offer sweeping views of the estuary of Kali River. Thickly wooded rockfaces emerge out of the ocean, as if strewn across hastily by some mighty force. Kurumgad, Devbagh, Lighthouse the names of each island trip off Avinash’s tongue as he points them out. We tackle bushes and carved tree trunks to reach the other side of the resort for a different view – the NH17 running through the river connecting Karwar to Goa in the north and the rest of Karnataka down south.
Serpent eagles soar overhead, scanning the landscape for possible prey. I can see the road hugging the coast. I am lured by the possibilities of boat rides around the islands. A boat can be hired, I was told earlier. However the best kept secrets are the beaches. We take a ride along the coast. At Majali beach, crows and kites hover dangerously close to my head while picking off surplus shrimps shored up on the beach.
“I am taking you to places where tourists don’t bother to reach,” Avinash tells me. He points to a lone, humungous rock just a few meters from the sea. The locals call it the bucket island. “Because it is shaped like a bucket,” he says. “An upturned one for sure,” I think. Along the ridge of Majali, just on the other side of the mountain is the Tilamati beach of black sand.
Legend has it that Rabindranath Tagore wrote his play Prakritir Pratishodh at Karwar beach. It is named in his honour. I walk across the highway towards the benches on beach at the vantage point and the deck for viewing the sunset. A tattooed, dreadlocked biker couple lounge on a concrete bench gazing at the sunset and chatting. They are possibly on their way to Karnataka’s hippie haven, the lesser Goa—Gokarna. A bunch of snack vendors position their push carts for the evening’s business of heaped golden yellow bhel and tiny, crusty gol gappas. They are early as the sun has just decided to descend down the misty sky. They set up their business and wait for truckers passing along the highway and the locals who are out for an evening walk.
There is a lingering indolence to everything in this somnolent coastal town. The confluence of the river and ocean seems to snuff out the tide’s vigour turning the beach into a laidback strip of silver. Owing to the geographical location, the town straddles the thickets of the forests of Western Ghats on the one side and the sea on the other. In Karwar, time seems to slow down. And the locals are oblivious to these endowments. Avinash seems to agree.