Ratnagiri, in the Konkan coast of Maharashtra is flanked by the sea on one side and the Sahayadri on the other. The land carved out by the mountain and the sea offers some spectacular landscapes.
Perhaps the only reason most people know about Ratnagiri is for its delicious haapus mangoes. Unless it’s mango season, most people driving on NH17 between Mumbai and Goa will give the board pointing to Ratnagiri no more than a glance. Is it worth the diversion?
Imagine the city of Mumbai two-hundred years ago. Gently rolling hills, waves crashing on to deserted beaches and coconut trees growing everywhere. This is what Mumbai might have looked like till the powers realized the importance of its strategic location.
There are few tourist amenities to be found here. On the plus side, it is relatively unexplored and free of tourist traps. So the best way to enjoy the charms of Ratnagiri is to ditch all guides and just follow any road that takes your fancy and you might just end up in some spectacular place. In fact, this is one reason that makes Ratnagiri just a good driving holiday. But before you head out, here are some tips to make your drive more enjoyable.
Leave early in the morning. Five is good, six is okay, seven is traffic building up and eight is too late. Leave early and you will save yourself at least an hour of driving. Dutta’s vada-pavs at Panvel is a good place to grab some typical Maharashtrian fast food and tea. Or you could stop at the Kamat’s at Mahad where there are clean loos for the ladies. You can expect a jam at Vadkhal Naka, and quite a bit of traffic till Chiplun. The drive is enjoyable once you pass Chiplun.
You will not be spoiled for choice of places to stay in Ratnagiri. I could find only two that I would recommend. The de facto choice is the sprawling Kohinoor Sagar, where we stayed. The rooms are spacious and clean (though I found a huge cockroach in the bathroom) but could do with a little more spit and polish. The food is just about okay. But what makes up is the location of the hotel. It’s on top of a hill that overlooks the Bhatye beach, and you have a spectacular view of the sea from the rooms. Stay here, if only for the best view in Ratnagiri.
The other option is the newer Ratnasagar Beach Resort, located right on Bhatye beach. Here you can enjoy the sea right at your doorstep. The rooms look spick and span. So take your pick.
Ratnagiri holds a fascinating piece of history. We all know that the last Mughal emperor of India, Bahadur Shah Zafar was deported to Burma in 1858. But did you know, that tthe last emperor of Burma was 28 years later, in 1886, deported by the British to India! King Thibaw of Burma was first sent to Madras, and then to Ratnagiri.
In 1910 King Thibaw was allowed to build his own home in Ratnagiri. This two-storied, red stone palace with teak detailing and Italian, colored glass windows, was built on twenty three acres of land overlooking the Arabian Sea. The palace itself is a unique example of ‘Pagoda’ style of architecture and took two years to complete. Yes, you can still see Thibaw Palace, the final resting place of the last Burmese king. If you have read Amitav Ghosh’s ‘The Glass Palace’, this place will come alive for you.
Unfortunately, the once magnificent palace is now a crumbling and decrepit structure, portions of which may collapse at any time. Four rooms in the back have been half-heartedly converted into a museum that nobody seems to care about. Here is a rich piece of our history rotting away.
Better preserved is the house where Lokmanya Keshav Bal Gangadhar Nestled in a busy part of the town, the house is a nice example of native Konkani architecture. It has now been converted into a museum with lots of photographs and posters tracing the life of Tilak, but they are all in Marathi.
Or you could join the locals in their evening outing to the grandiosely named “The Gateway of Ratnagiri’ at the black-sand Mandavi beach. The jetty here serves as the promenade for people out for some sea breeze, chaat and cold drinks.
There are two other ‘tourist points’ in Ratnagiri. One is the Ratnadurg fort. There’s not much left of the fort except the boundary walls, but it is worth visiting just for the awesome view of the Ratnagiri coastline from here. It’s not a big fort, and it should not take you more than half an hour to leisurely walk the perimeter of its wall. Put it on the must-do list in Ratnagiri.
On the hill opposite the fort is a lighthouse. You can park your car down and trek up. There’s a different road if you don’t want to walk. If you are not a nervous driver, you can drive up the steep, narrow road with some sharp turns. Just pray there is no vehicle coming down the other side. We were told by a surly guard that the lighthouse is open only between four and five in the evening, though there are no visitor’s timings listed anywhere, just the rates of entrance tickets.
On the way from from Ratnagiri, I remembered hearing about a shortcut between Ratnagiri and Ganpatiphule. It was a road called Arrey Warrey. After many stops asking for directions, we finally reached MSH4. The only time I have driven on the Pacific Coast Highway has been on computer racing games. And suddenly I found myself, on the Pacific Coast Road, in the backroads of Maharashtra. Take away the road signs, and you would believe you are there. It’s a short stretch, but once you drive it, it’ll be etched in your memory forever.
Check out the next long weekend in your calendar. Get the car serviced. Pack in the shorts and the camera. And get lost in Ratnagir.