Around 360km south of the hustle and bustle of Mumbai city lies the calm and quaint little town of Ganpatipule. Despite being a popular tourist destination, it is home to one of the few beaches in the country that remain clean, serene and unpolluted. The winding coastal roads of Ganpatipule are an experience in themselves. Further inland, there are tapered mud-roads lined with coconut trees, the earth is red and the brick-roofed houses add an antiquated touch to the picturesque panorama.
Getting to Ganpatipule involves using the fantastic NH-17 (now NH-66) for the most part. This road is famed for its scenic beauty. It winds through mountains and forests, and hugs the Arabian Sea at Maravanthe in Karnataka, offering a wide gamut of driving conditions – motoring enthusiasts swear by it. Although the road makes for a memorable driving experience, most of it is a dual carriageway with a number of blind spots. Accidents happen frequently and sightings of roadkill are a constant reminder of this. Fuel pumps and restaurants are easy to come by but most do not accept credit cards or plastic currency of any kind. Account for this when you visit.
You can stop by the town of Sangameshwar on your way to Ganpatipule. Sangameshwar (sangama means confluence) is situated at the confluence of the rivers Sonavi and Shastri. This is a historical place where Sambhajiraje, son of Chhtrapati Shivaji, was captured by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. There is a small memorial located here. The road leading into the village is quite narrow and it’s best to take a walk. This would give you a better opportunity to photograph the array of brightly coloured quaint houses that line the road on either side.
The winding road after Sangameshwar is truly striking. It is compressed between hills and a river and the views are as pretty as a postcard. After 16.5km, take a right on Ukshi Road on State Highway 106. This will take you across a narrow bridge and finally result in a ‘T’ junction. Here, the road to the left is a 5km longer stretch to Ganpatipule, but since it’s in better shape, we recommend you take it. There’s a 1.5km section of steep climbs here, as well as numerous blind spots coupled with patches of rough roads, so stay alert. Follow the road and you will reach a major intersection. Take a right here and you are on the home stretch to Ganpatipule – a long, twisting road through open spaces and mild forests. The entire drive from Mumbai should take around eight and a half hours, including a lunch stop.
Ganpatipule greets you with a dramatically sudden view of pristine blue waters dotted with small colourful boats and white sands laden with coconut trees – the quintessential beach picture. The MTDC resort in Ganpatipule is just a few metres away from the town’s main temple. It offers a good blend of value and comfort. The rooms are large and, importantly, very clean. The option of air-conditioning is also available. Each room has its own balcony with an unrestricted view of the ocean. Apart from accommodation, MTDC offers thrilling watersports-based activities too. The campus houses a restaurant that serves delicious fresh local seafood which is a must-try for seafood aficionados. A great staying experience coupled with good value for money makes the resort very popular, so book ahead through the MTDC website.
One of the biggest attractions of Ganpatipule is the Ganpati temple that gives this place its name. This 400-year-old temple is right on the beach and looks majestic with the mountains in the backdrop. There is the standard fare of small shops selling flowers and items related to worship outside the temple perimeter. Getting into the temple is a fairly quick process. If you visit during sunrise or sunset, you can see a magnificent obelisk of light that illuminates the idol. The beach here has clean white sands that are a pleasure to walk on bare-foot. The waters are good for a swim and tourists can also enjoy a range of watersports activities here.
If you would like a more secluded place, Bhandarpule beach lies just a couple of kilometres away and is probably one of the best beaches on the Konkan coastline. This is a relatively unknown beach, and the sands and waters are in pristine condition. The lack of vacationers here adds a touch of serenity to the already picturesque panorama around you. This is a great beach to have a quick swim at but beware as the waters are known to be rough.
Apart from the beaches and temple, Ganpatipule also offers visitors a glimpse into the past through an open-air museum located hardly a couple of kilometres from the town centre. The concept-based museum gives you a comprehensive glimpse of the life and culture of Konkani people from a bygone era. The exhibits include wooden sculptures of people from various classes and professions from the yesteryears of Konkani society. The layout is well thought of – it helps the tour guides weave a story as you walk by. Apart from this, the three-acre campus also houses aboriginal species of medicinal flora that are spread throughout. The museum is home to many exotic birds that can be easily spotted – a treat for bird watchers. There is also a section that displays beautiful shells and conches found in abundance in the region. After completing your tour, in case you are interested in taking home some memorabilia, there is a handicrafts gift shop that sells wooden curios.
Just a kilometre and a half from Ganpatipule lies the small village of Malgund. This is the birthplace of Kavi Keshavsut, considered one of the pioneers of modern Marathi poetry. The patio of the complex that houses his birthplace is made of compacted cowdung, a common practice in the region. Once you get used to the peculiar smell, you are suddenly overcome with the charm and serenity of the place. The silence is broken only by the occasional chirping of birds. The complex also houses a beautifully maintained back garden that is surrounded by granite slabs inscribed with Kavi Keshavsut’s Marathi poems. The house itself is a typical Konkani structure. Behind the house lies a small library with sketches of other Marathi poets along with some of their works. Overall, this site makes for a thoroughly enjoyable visit, especially if you are a fan of Marathi literature.
There is also a small private aquarium called ‘Fish World’ just a few hundred metres away from here. It’s a neat little set-up that has around 65 species of indigenous as well as imported fish on display. Each exhibit is accompanied by a detailed description of the fish.
One of the must-see sites on your trip here is the Jaigad Fort, around 35km from Ganpatipule. On the way to the fort is a narrow bridge which offers a pleasant view of the local settlements along the backwaters. The 17th-century fort overlooks the meeting point of the Shastri river with the Arabian Sea. The fort itself is mostly in ruins, and the ubiquitous graffiti professing undying love doesn’t help. However, the fact that it nestles itself on a cliff makes for some spectacular views of a jetty port that stands on the shores of the bluish-green sea and the surrounding mountains.
Close by, there is a lighthouse that can be visited from 4:30 to 6:30 in the evening. Adjacent to the fort is a gargantuan power generation plant. It stands in stark contrast to this historical structure.
If you live in or close to Mumbai and haven’t been to Ganpatipule yet, this destination should top your list of driving holidays. The fantastic drive coupled with a rewarding destination makes for an idyllic extended weekend holiday for the entire family.