Monday, November 7, 2011

Sindhudurg, Belgaum, Goa - an office tour in September 2008

September 2008. I was working in IPMSL’s Research and Advisory unit at Kolkata. We had a client based at Sawantwadi, a town in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg District. The gentleman wanted us to do a best-use study for a property at Amboli Ghat, a hill station in the Western Ghats, an hour by road from Sawantwadi. And so, I was sent to Sawantwadi. I flew down to Goa by Kingfisher. It was a hopping flight via Mumbai. The departure time from Kolkata was perfect – nine in the morning. The girl at the check-in counter was all smiles as she wished me a happy journey to Goa. It was a weekday and holiday season was nowhere near the corner. It was probably unusual to be flying to Goa direct from Kolkata under such circumstances. In fact, not too many people were booked through to Goa – almost all would get off at Mumbai.
It was a very pleasant flight, my best till date in fact. While flying over the Western Ghats, we came down low at one point and kept circling for a long time – the rugged forested terrain was spectacular to watch. After a half-an-hour stopover at Mumbai, we were on our way again. We had a fresh crew and new passengers from Mumbai and were flying at a relatively low altitude over the Arabian Sea shoreline. Goa is just half-an-hour’s flying time from Mumbai. From my right hand side window, I could see long stretches of beach shining below. From above, the waves of the Arabian Sea looked like thin white lines moving lazily towards the shore. As we crossed Sawantwadi, the weather changed. A sea of clouds obstructed the ground view as we approached Dabolim, where Goa’s airport is located.
Dabolim International Airport is a civilian enclave in defence territory – the Indian Navy runs the base. There was a long queue of flights on the ground and it took us quite a while to taxi to the terminal after we had landed. I came across an interesting account on Dabolim Airport once on the net. Apparently, it was the Portuguese, the then rulers of Goa, who had set up an airfield at Dabolim in the fifties. Goa was serviced by Portugal’s TAIP airline. The first flight to land at Dabolim was flown by Major Solano De Almeida, who was instrumental in developing Dabolim and TAIP. In the December of 1961, the Indian army advanced into Goa. Dabolim was bombed and the runway, destroyed. The account says that in the middle of the military action, Major Solano de Almeida piloted what was probably the last flight out of Goa, flying the families of some of Portugal’s officers. He took off bravely from the damaged runway and flew low to avoid confrontation with the IAF. With some fictional inputs added, it would probably make a good period movie.
From Dabolim I took a cab to Sawantwadi. The drive, on the Goa – Mumbai National Highway, was around two hours. Sawantwadi, as I said earlier, is in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district, which lies just across the border of Goa. A beautiful lake called Moti Talao lies at the entry to the town, just off the NH. It was a joy to walk around it – the precincts were maintained beautifully and for a while, it didn’t seem like India to me! Yatin, my colleague from Mumbai, had been assigned for this mission as well and had arrived at the hotel before I did. He had gone out on a recce and we met in the evening.
We had planned to visit Amboli the next day and Yatin had already booked a Sumo. We started early. Driving eastwards from Sawantwadi, we climbed gradually up the winding Sawantwadi – Amboli – Belgaum State Highway. The valleys below were and green and fresh from the monsoon rain. The hilltops were hidden in clouds. The wayside was dotted with small cascades. It was chilly and misty in Amboli, a sleepy little place with a few hotels that somehow did not look very welcoming. But there was a certain charm about the place and the weather was magnifying the effect.
From Sindhudurg, Belgaum, Goa - September 2008
We were back to Sawantwadi before noon. I said that we should use of the rest of the day to look around the district. So we drove up north on the Goa – Mumbai NH. We crossed the industrial estate at Kudal and turned left from the NH to reach Oros, the district headquarters. The place had apparently been renamed as Sindhudurg Nagari. Sindhudurg is a newly created district and the district administration was housed in a new building. We went to the Town Planner’s office for some data. From Oros, we continued our journey northward, reaching the town of Kankavli, where we took a left on to the Kankavli – Achara Road. Achara is a small port on the Konkan coast. Just before entering Achara, a left turn took us on the road which is shown on Google Maps as MSH-4. This is supposed to be a coastal highway parallel to the Mumbai – Goa NH.
Heading south on MSH-4, we were going to the town of Malvan now. Sindhudurg Fort, after which the district is named, is situated on an islet on the Arabian Sea just off the coast of Malvan. It is one of the many forts Shivaji had built during his reign. We came to the small harbour at Malvan. The sun was low over the Arabian Sea. I don’t remember why we didn’t visit the Fort which rose out of the sea just across the harbour. Probably someone had said that it was closed at this time of the year. Anyway, we were on our way soon and the next stop on our southward journey on the coastal highway was at the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation Ltd.’s resort on the Tarkarli beach. The cottages had interesting ethnic designs. The sun had set and, saying goodbye to Tarkarli in the last light of the evening, we started on our journey back to Sawantwadi. Driving down the MSH-4 till Vengurla, we could see occasional glimpses of the Arabian Sea till the time it grew completely dark. It was a long day and we were completely tired. I regret that we didn't get the opportunity to visit the other sea-forts in the district - Vijaydurg and Devgad, which were not very far from Malvan.

The next day we were headed for Belgaum city in Karntaka. But before leaving Sindhudurg district, we did a quick tour of Aronda, the river ferry crossing point on the Trekhol river on the Maharashtra – Goa border. From Aronda we travelled to the beach at Shiroda. The drive was through mining country. Iron ore laden trucks were making their way slowly on the winding slopes. The sparkling blue waters of the Arabian Sea were a treat to watch at Shiroda. Our journey to Belgaum from Shiroda took us through Amboli again. We reached late in the evening.
Belgaum is a major city in Karnataka state. Interestingly, in Karnataka, it seemed to be referred to as Belagavi while, just across the border, it was Belgaon. There is a mix of Maharashtra and Karnataka here and there is a running issue over ownership of the city between the states. Yatin and I wanted to speak to some of the members who could give us an insight into the real-estate scenario in the city from the point of view of High Networth Individuals or HNIs. So we walked into the Belgaum Club with Yatin the next evening without any references whatsoever. It was an interesting little adventure, but our job was done.
The next day we had a meeting in the morning with a gentleman who had been kind enough to entertain our queries at the Belgaum Club the earlier evening. Meeting over, we were finally head for Goa, the last market we needed to study for the assignment. But we wouldn’t be taking the NH to Goa. Instead we took the State Highway to Chorla. The reason was that we wanted to visit the Wilderness Resort near Chorla Ghat. The road was bad to the point of being almost un-negotiable in parts. We were passing through stretches of forests and our Sumo was making heavy weather of it. Few vehicles seemed to ply this route. Help would be very difficult to find if we broke down in the middle of the road. It was an adventure alright. I was amazed to see a Kadamba (Goa State Transport) bus emerging out of nowhere all of a sudden, swaying dangerously from side to side as it went in and out of the potholes. I felt pity for the passengers.
We stopped at a resort which I think is called Wanderlust. It was closed for the time being. But we took a look around. Soon afterwards, the road improved. We had crossed into Goa and the drive had become pleasurably smooth. Close by, Chorla awaited us. We were crossing the Western Ghats – the Sahyadris – into the beach country of Goa. But Goa is not all about beaches. It is also about Chorla I would say. A green valley stretched out below us. A line of hills rose in the distance. We stopped to take it all in, soaking in the silence, and the soft sound of the breeze. It was worth the arduous drive.

A few kilomters down the road lay what we had come to see – the Wildernest Resort. We went and requested a tour, which the resort administration was kind enough to grant. It was a sprawling property laid out on the Ghat slopes. A short jeep drive on an earthen road brought us to where the cottages were located. Entry to the cottages was through narrow pathways almost hidden in dense foliage. The sun was setting when we arrived at what is definitely one of the most beautiful design creations I have ever seen – a vanishing pool overlooking the Sahyadris, reflecting the orange glow of the sunset. It was a sight that made us forget the strain, the targets, the deadlines…everything! As we reluctantly made our way out of Wildernest, Yatin and I both wished we could come and stay here for a whole week sometime. It was time to hit the road again and we drove downhill in the gathering gloom. To our right we could see lights twinkling at the edge of what looked like a huge reservoir. We reached the plains at last and driving past the industrial estate at Bicholim, arrived at Panjim.

It was a Saturday but we limited ourselves to Panjim only, not venturing out to Baga or Calangute for the evening. The next day, Yatin had an allergy – swellings near his elbows which he said were due to the seafood. We went down to Calangute in the morning. Sipping King’s, the delightful local beer, I sat reflecting on the tour. All those places we had visited – hill station, beaches…What an interesting collage they would make! That evening we went to Baga. A long and demanding tour had made us best buddies. It was the last evening of the tour. I would be going back from Dabolim the next day by the afternoon flight to Kolkata, taking with me vivid memories of the green Ghats, the beautiful Konkan coast, the Malvani cuisine, the seafood…memories which I revisited today as I wrote out his post at one go…
Tour Map

View Sindhudurg, Belgaum, Goa Tour in a larger map

Tour Itinerary

Sept 22 - Kolkata - Goa by flight by Mumbai; Goa - Sawantwadi by cab; Night stay at Swantwadi
Sept 23 - Sawantwadi - Amboli - Swantwadi - Kudal - Oros - Kankavli - Malvan - Tarkarli - Vengurla - Sawantwadi; Night stay at Sawantwadi
Sept 24 - Sawantwadi - Aronda - Shiroda - Sawantwadi - Amboli - Belgaum; Night stay at Belgaum
Sept 25 - In and around Belgaum city; Night stay at Belgaum
Sept 26 - In and around Belgaum city; Night stay at Belgaum
Sept 27 - Belgaum - Chorla - Bicholim - Panjim; Night stay at Panjim
Sept 28 - Day spent at Calangute and Baga; Night stay at Panjim
Sept 29 - Flight back to Kolkata via Mumbai
Tour Album
Sindhudurg, Belgaum, Goa - September 2008

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