Some 150 km from the cacophony of Goa, lies Sindhudurg in Maharashtra. The serene coastal district is not only home to the 17th-century sea fort built by Chhatrapati Shivaji, but also lush green forest, tranquil beaches, hiking trails, backwaters, quaint villages and temples. The place is alive with the sounds of birds and insects, and is vibrant with colourful trees, flowers and fruits that grow in abundance.
A walk through the thick foliage often leads to a sprawling beach, without any of the typical vibe of shacks or loud music. It’s therapeutic to listen to the seagulls, follow the tottering crabs, play with gentle waves, make sand castles or collect sea shells from several empty stretches. Even the sun here is at its majestic best as it unleashes all its gorgeous shades of yellow, orange, red and golden. Then there are the strong waves in the deeper end of the sea, crashing and leaving behind a curtain of milky white water bubbles.
On one side of the beach are small villages lined with red stone houses with tiny mud-thatched verandahs in the front. A short distance away, a loud bell rings and groups of excited kids carrying bags on their shoulders run towards the village school. The day has officially begun. It’s time for a well-deserved, authentic Maharashtrian breakfast of missal-pav (a spicy curry made of pulses, accompanied by bread), kande pohe (flattened rice cooked with onions and groundnuts) and masala chai. The local chef at Coco Shambhala, the only luxury villa property in the region, garnishes the dishes with a generous sprinkling of fresh, shredded coconut, abundantly found in the area.
The four, two-bedroom, beach-facing villas of Coco Shambhala come with an infinity pool that overlooks the Arabian Sea. The property is built within what looks like a mini forest, with a variety of plants and trees. It’s here, under a cashew nut tree, that 65-year-old Baban Kumbhar teaches guests the art of terracotta pottery. “I come to the property to demonstrate my craft and teach the guests,” says Kumbhar.
Another unforgettable experience here is to watch the 400-year-old wooden puppetry show called Kalsutri of the Thakar tribe, which once served as Shivaji’s spies. They make wooden puppets, each 1.5-ft high, for the show. “Our ancestors would travel from village to village to perform shows and also collect information,” says puppeteer Chetan Gangavane. As stories of Ramayana and Mahabharata unfold, the artistes on tabla and harmonium provide an upbeat music score for the one-and-a-half-hour-long show, featuring eight to ten wooden puppets. Quite often, the narrators also include social messages in the performance to educate the audience.
One of the best things to do in Sindhudurg is to go fort-hopping—the Nivati fort, also built by Shivaji, is hardly 10 km from the sea-fort. It is perched on a cliff near lush paddy fields and mango orchards, which yield the best Alphonso mangoes grown in the country. Experts believe that the black basalt stone found in the region is an essential element for growing the delicious pulpy fruit. Also, make sure to reserve a day to explore the backwaters of the Nivje river, lined with rows of coconut trees, during sunset in a traditional wooden boat. There is a surprise awaiting guests as they row across the river—a resident hornbill couple, otherwise not found in this area, has made it their home.Sindhudurg is full of such magical moments, waiting to be experienced.