Malvan: Sun, Sand & Seafood
I had been pestering hubby to take me to Maldives for quite some time and every time, his well-rehearsed refrain would be, “I won’t get a long leave this time around. We can go to Malvan instead”. Maldives v/s Malvan! Needless to say, I was livid but then, any vacation is a good vacation. For the lack of better options and lest my constant bickering changed his mind, I packed my bags and hopped into the car.
Throughout the 12 hour drive from Mumbai to Malvan, I struggled to brace myself for a ho-hum weekend getaway, with hubby trying hard to convince me that it wouldn’t at all be disappointing. After breakfast at McDonalds’ on the Pune Expressway (it was World Breakfast day, so free muffins. Yay!) and a spicy lunch at Kolhapur, we reached Malvan by 6 pm and landed straight at Chivla Beach , just in time to catch the sunset and meet the fishermen hitting shore after a day at the sea. They proudly showed us their day’s bounty and gifted us a giant crab to be had for dinner later. That very instant, I knew that I was going to love it here.
Vishal, our homestay host, met us at the beach and escorted us to the bungalow that we had booked for the weekend. ‘Exotic Home Stay’ is a two-minute walk from the beach but that is not the best part about this place – this Portuguese style bungalow is located bang in the middle of a fishing village so you get an authentic feel of rustic Konkan lifestyle, complete with fishing boats and nets, chattering fisherwomen and the enticing aroma of fresh spices wafting out of modest little kitchens. Just as we were busy admiring the bucolic surroundings, Vishal emerged with a piping hot plate of Surmai Tikla, Crab Sukka and steamed rice along with some papads and sol kadi. He was considerate enough to pan fry a couple of pieces for our 15-month old daughter who relished her Konkani dinner as much as we did, Sol Kadi and all.
There are foodies and there are sea-foodies. Hubby was itching to hit the local fish market and shop for lunch, and as much as I wanted to accompany him, I couldn’t because toddlers seldom wake up at the crack of dawn. An hour later, hubby returned with a giant fish that I had never seen, eaten or even heard of before – the locals called it “Charcha”.
After a sumptuous breakfast of ghevan (rice flour pancakes) and a delicious coconut-garlic-coriander chutney prepared by Vishal’s aayi (mother), we hit the beach for a swim. The sand was soft and clean, and the water, comfortably warm. A couple of hours later, Vishal turned up with a scuba-diving instructor (also his cousin) and we were whisked off to a coral site right next to the Sindhudurg Fort. Scuba diving has been on my bucket list for donkey’s years but I never thought I’ll get to fulfill my dream here in this sleepy coastal hamlet. The experience of touching corals with bare hands, the heavy silence underwater where you can hear nothing but your own breath as schools of colorful fish zip past you in abandon was life-changing to say the least.
The sweltering tropical heat coupled with sticky salty sea breeze is a lethal combination – so after a hearty lunch, we crashed and drifted into a very deep, satisfying sleep. Evening saw us taking a leisurely walk around the beautiful Rock Garden after which we just lazed around on the benches, chatting, taking pictures of the sunset and enjoying the cool caress of the breeze. That is the best part about Malvan – there is so little to see and do that you have no option but to relax, introspect and soak in the beauty of nature (a few priceless joys that regular “touristy” places do not allow for). There is no pressure of sightseeing, no malls or markets to splurge on and no nightlife. In fact, you’ll be lucky if you catch a decent mobile signal.
Dinner was a seafood extravaganza and one that I will not forget for a long time to come. Aayi served up some really mean prawns and the “Charcha”, which she had cooked into three entirely different curries (chilli-based, coriander-based and garlic-based) – a gourmand’s delight indeed!
I wished I could make this beach bungalow my permanent abode but sadly, it was time to leave. However, before our elaborate and emotional goodbyes, I convinced Vishal’s aayi into letting me raid her kitchen. She gladly obliged and I (quite shamelessly) came out with a bagful of homemade spices, pickles and sundried kokum – heaven knows when and how I’ll use them. It doesn’t take much to floor a foodie like me but I must say that I was quite taken by the way these coastal folks create such flavorful dishes with such simple and minimalistic ingredients – coconut being the most important of them.
Like they say, the most special thing about travelling is the unplanned and impromptu bits. Almost on an impulse we took a quick detour and found our way to the MTDC Resort. Clearly, we weren’t done with Malvan.
Although the homestay had its own rustic charm, MTDC is as “resortish” as it can get. Located on the prettiest stretch of Tarkarli Beach , it is just the place to laze around in a hammock with a good book. And that’s precisely what we did all day long, except for a couple of hours spent at a traditional Ayurvedic massage shack just outside the MTDC resort, which of course, was pure bliss.
We got up freakishly early in the morning for the “dolphin safari”, which took us through the serene backwaters of the Karli river. MTDC also has a couple of houseboats on the backwaters, which gives the place a very Kerala-like feel. I am usually not an early morning person, more so on a vacation, but all of it proved well worth the while as a school of dolphins surrounded our boat and playfully rode the waves. “Seeing dolphins in the wild” – that was another thing checked off my bucket list. Two of them on a single vacation? This was getting better and better everyday!
An hour later, we landed at the Tsunami Island, which, much to my delight, was buzzing with water sports of every kind. We indulged in jet-skiing kayaking, a bumpy banana boat ride and water scooters (more things crossed off my bucket list). After roughing it out in the water, we were treated to another hearty ghevan breakfast, which I had grown to love by now.
After lazing around for most part of the day, we took a ferry ride down to the Sindhudurg Fort in the evening. The Fort was built in1664 by Shivaji, the great Maratha king and is truly a historical marvel. Even if you are not much into history and architecture, the Fort does offer some magnificent and breathtaking views of the Arabian Sea and the dock area. Tarkarli also has a quaint little cashewnut factory where you can find cashews, kokum, pickles and alphonso products at unbelievable prices (at least they seemed unbelievable to us Mumbaites). I also picked up a cast iron “gheven” pan from the local market – yes, ghevan is going to be a regular on our breakfast menu.
If it hadn’t been for a persistent hubby, I could never have imagined that an unassuming place like Malvan had so much to offer. Being close to the ocean makes me happy and food makes me happier. Add to that some peace and quiet, and you have the perfect weekend getaway. I know I am going back to Malvan soon. Very soon.