This is the season to visit Goa, when travellers from India and across the world converge on this former Portuguese colony to frolic in the sun and sea. Goa is connected to Mumbai by air, trains, buses and of course, some excellent roads. And if you decide to drive yourself, you could choose between the scenic NH17, or take the quicker NH4 and turn off at Nipani and drive through the Amboli ghats. But there is another route, one practically nobody uses. It is longer, about a 100km more. The roads in many places are broken and rutted. In other places, it’s so narrow that no two vehicles can pass each other without clinking OVRMs. And it takes two to three days to reach Goa via this road, as against the less than 12 hour drive on NH4.
For want of a better name, we call it the Coastal Road to Goa. It follows the coast of Maharashtra right down to Goa. And it involves four ferry crossings on the way. It is a drive that will open your eyes to some of the most spectacular parts of Maharashtra. So, while the destination is Goa, this drive is more about discovering the hidden charms of Maharashtra. The adage ‘the journey is the destination’ is what holds true of this drive. In fact, if you enjoy driving, add this to your list of memorable drives.
So, let’s get some basics straight. You should ideally reserve three days for the drive, if not more. The road conditions may vary from horrible to sublime. While an SUV, like the CR-V we were driving, certainly made it easier to tackle the bad roads, it’s possible to negotiate these stretches even in a small hatchback like the Brio. Although you may have to slow down and proceed very cautiously at some sections. You will find food, accommodation and pumps along the way but it makes sense to stock up whenever you can. And yes, you will get lost and take a few wrong turns, even if you are carrying our driving directions. A map or GPS is not as effective as asking the locals for directions. But getting lost on this route is part of the experience. Who knows, you may discover a new road that you could then share with us. By the way, it helps to understand Marathi when asking for directions. Here’s the most important tip of all, don’t drive after sunset. Not because it’s dangerous, but because you will miss the fantastic scenery you will be driving across.
Your first destination is Murud. Most Mumbaikars would be familiar with this road. From Mumbai, you head towards NH17 to Goa. At Panvel, stop off at Dutta Snacks for their famous vada-pavs and a cup of tea. Past this, the road opens up till you get to Vadkhal Naka where you will encounter a fair bit of traffic. At Vadhkal Naka, continue straight on towards Alibaug. Alibaug is the headquarters of Raigarh district, which is located in the Konkan belt of Maharshtra. The road is narrow and a bit rutted. You have to take a left for Murud about 12km down this road, so keep an eye out for a couple of petrol pumps on your right. The road in front of the pump is where you have to turn. The road to Murud will take you through some small villages with narrow roads but you will be rewarded with your first sight of the sea at Kashid about 30km down from Alibaug. You can stop here for a snack or some tea sold at the shacks on the beach. Murud town is around 12km down this road. It’s from Murud that the drive takes on a new dimension as Mumbai now seems a million miles away.
While here, take time out to visit the island fortress of Murud Janjira. This Siddi fort is considered to be one of the strongest marine forts in India and is famous for being the only fort along India’s western coast that remained undefeated despite Dutch, Maratha and English East India Company attacks. Even the Maratha warrior Shivaji could not wrest this fort from the Siddi kings.
Your next destination is the Bagamandala jetty for a ferry across to Bankot. The road will take you through Mhasla, Srivardhan and Harihareshwar. You have to peel off the road if you want to visit the beaches of Srivardhan and Harihareshwar. From Murud, it’s about 83km to the jetty, but the going will be slow. You could consider it a blessing in disguise as the coast of Maharashtra starts unveiling its spectacular vistas at every turn. The road constantly changes elevation, reminding you that you are in the Western Ghats. This is about the time you will start appreciating what’s so special about this road. But the best is yet to come.
At Bagamandala, you will be charged Rs 120 for a hatch and ten rupees more if it’s a saloon or an SUV. This charge includes the driver’s fare. Every additional passenger has to pay Rs 10. The ride across takes just 10 minutes, but you might have to wait for up to 30 minutes for the ferry. After you get off at Bankot jetty, you will have to negotiate about a kilometre of a dirt track before you hit tarmac again. About 40km down the road is one of the most spectacular drives in India. You may want to film this one for posterity.
Your next destination is the Dabhol-Dhopave ferry. Your waypoints are the beaches at Kelshi, Anjarle and Harnai. All these beaches are off the beaten track, so are less crowded. And there are a number of resorts and hotels to stay at. And if you do decide to drop anchor here, you must try out the fresh catch of the day. You are now in the Ratnagiri district, and if you are travelling during mango season, it’s Alphonso time! The road continues to Dapoli and then from there, take the SH4 to Dabhol where you will board your second ferry of the trip to Dhopave on the other side. In fact, a major portion of this route follows the SH4. Dapoli is known as ‘Mini Mahabaleshwar’ due to its cool climate throughout the year and is the birthplace of Lokmanya Tilak.
After the ferry, continue down the SH4. You will pass the huge power station of Enron fame, now known as the Ratnagiri Gas & Power Pvt Ltd. The road continues to Guhagar, which again, has an excellent beach. Drive past Velneshwar and Hedvi and head for Tavasal jetty from where you have to take the ferry to Jaigarh. This is a longer ferry ride, about 15 minutes from coast to coast. 20km down the road is Ganpatipule with its spectacular beaches and the famous Ganesh temple. This is also an excellent place to drop anchor with many hotels including the excellent MTDC resort.
The road from Ganpatipule to Ratnagiri is spectacular and one of my favourite stretches of roads in India. It is smooth, wide and very picturesque as the road plays hide and seek with the Arabian Sea. It’s a constant tug of war between flooring the accelerator and enjoying the wide swathe of smooth asphalt or coast along slowly, enjoying the scenery.
Ratnagari, home of Hapus mangoes, is another good place to stop and spend a day. Apart from savouring the beaches and delectable Konkani food, there is an interesting piece of history nestled here. As you may know, the last Mughal emperor of India was exiled in Burma by the British. What is less known is that the last king of Burma was exiled by the British, in India. And he spent his last years in Ratnagiri. Thibaw Palace, home of the king, is today a museum you can visit to walk down the corridors of history. You might want to read Amitava Ghosh’s novel ‘The Glass Palace’ that takes you through King Thibaw’s story of lost glory and exile.
Past Ratnagiri, stick to SH4. The road slices through the land and invites you to open up the throttle with its excellent surface and fantastic visibility that allows you to see any obstructions much before they can become a problem. You are now headed for Malvan in the Sindhudurg district. You will be passing the town of Pawas on the way. Malvan has many attractions for the visitor. The Sindhudurg fort, that gives the district its name, is worth visiting. The clear waters here mean you can go snorkelling. Tarkarli beach, where MTDC has a resort, is another prime attraction. And don’t miss the coconut-based Malvani cuisine.
From Malvan, your next destination is Vengurla. Here again, the roads can be very confusing. Remember, you have to stick to SH4. You could also take the Kudal-Vengurla road like we did, which is the more common road, but that doesn’t hug the coast like SH4. Vengurla is amongst the last beaches of Maharashtra before you enter Goa at Tiracol which is where you catch your last ferry of this journey. Once you reach Tiracol, there are two ferries to Goa. You want to take the ferry from Tiracol village to Querim. There is another ferry from Aronda to Palyem, so the locals might direct you towards that. Make sure to ask for the ferry to Querim.
Unlike the Rs 120 or Rs 130 you were paying for the ferry crossings in Maharashtra, this five-minute ferry ride will only cost you Rs 10! And petrol is Rs 60 in Goa compared to Rs 80 in Maharashtra. Once across, you are in mainland Goa. Now steer your way to your favourite Goa beach.
Here’s another way to do this route. This way, you will cut out most of the bad sections and be able to do the journey in two days. Take the NH17 to Ganpatipule and then take the coastal road to Goa.