The rain is crashing down outside the window of my room in Sawantwadi, the perfect weather for endless cups of adrak chai. It was bright and sunny just 15 minutes ago, and surely enough, in a matter of a few minutes, the downpour stops as if someone has turned off a shower knob. The rain plays peek-a-boo the entire morning, soothing us with its gentle whispers at times and catching us by surprise by its vehemence at others. Only the fragrance of wet earth is constant, competing with the aromas of lunch wafting from the kitchen.
Sindhudurg, where Sawantwadi is located, is the last district in southern Maharashtra before the Goa border. It gets its name from the 17th century Sindhudurg fort, Chhatrapati Shivaji’s citadel in the sea. The fort has three fresh water wells in the middle of its sprawling ramparts, called Doodhbaun (water), Shakkarbaun (sugar) and Dahibaun (curd). Through most of the year and especially during and after the rains, Sindhudurg comes alive, embraced by a lush green carpet. Tall coconut trees, alluring backwaters, colourful local temples, swaying paddy fields; it is very easy to imagine this as the land of milk and honey.
From the shore at Malvan town, the Sindhudurg fort looks like a large ship slowly drifting close to the mainland. The tide is rising and tourist boats are not allowed to take the short trip to the fort in the monsoon season. The fort is closed to visitors now and some families stay inside for over three months, braving the elements, just as the fort has done for over three-and-a-half centuries.
However, this fort is not really the reason I am in Sindhudurg during the monsoon. The idea is to relax and unwind completely, leaving behind the cares of urban life. All I want to do is drink tea and watch the rain. Not so the next morning, when the wake up call comes at an ungodly hour for the trip to Mitbhav beach.
The beach is quiet and empty; the tourist hordes have not discovered it yet. Local fishermen stay away, knowing how treacherous the seas are during this season, despite the deceptive calm. The sky turns from a dull grey to a soft blue, smudged with the yellows and oranges of early morning.
Later in the day, we take the winding roads up towards Nivati beach, hiking the last stretch through a rough stone path towards Nivati fort. There is nothing left of the fort now except a few crumbling walls, but the view from the top is spectacular; miles of blue sea lashing against the fine sands, the entire scene framed by the green arches of coconut trees. Before the day is over, there are more beaches to be explored, including Bhogwe and Tarkarli and it is difficult to choose one of them as the most scenic of all.
The next morning is spent at Sawantwadi town, which boasts of an elegant beautiful palace set right along Moti Talao (pearl lake). The palace looks too simple from outside, especially since the expectation is for an opulent structure on the likes of palaces I have seen in Rajasthan. The façade is cheerful, the red laterite stone (locally called chire) standing out even on this dull rainy day.
Sawantwadi was the kingdom of the Bhonsle dynasty and queen Satvashila Devi still lives in a part of the palace that is shut off to visitors. Apart from her efforts to restore and sustain the palace, she is involved in reviving the traditional arts and craft of the region, including lacquer-ware and Ganjifa, the 300-year-old art of painting the Dashavatar on a set of 120 round playing cards.
Heading back to my homestay later on, I send up a silent thanks to Sindhudurg for this weekend that let me recharge my personal batteries in peace and quiet.