In Ratnagiri Greenery and Beaches Dance in Harmony
Nestled between the magnificent Sahyadri ranges and the sun-kissed beaches of the Arabian Sea, Ratnagiri is the perfect getaway to go to, off the beaten track.
Ratnagiri means ‘the mountain of jewels’ in Marathi and it lives up to that description with its rich greenery, coconut and cashew trees, mangroves, temples, museums, and seaside forts, anchored to the west by the majestic waters of the Arabian Sea.
This relatively unexplored port city on the Konkan coast in Maharashtra is the ancestral home of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Ratnagari hoards many secrets. It also once was a fort of Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, while a reference in the Mahabharata claims that the Pandavas stopped here for a while during their thirteenth year of exile.
Ratnagiri’s glorious history and monuments, pollution-free air, access to a wide variety of medicinal plants, and famous, tasty Alphonso mangoes, make it just the place to relax and unwind.
By road, Pune to Ratnagiri takes 6 hours – a 720-kilometre-journey along the Maharashtra coastline. But the torpor of a long drive is alleviated by the kind of scenic beauty that swallows your senses. In addition to the view, even off-season, the mouth-watering aroma of mangoes blows in from the orchards in tantalizing waves.
On a recent trip, the locals persuaded me to begin my visit to the Ganpatipule Temple before exploring other attractions. They were right. The road to the temple is spellbinding. It slithers down hills and winds along the Aarey-Ware beach till it reaches the temple that sits on the Arabian Sea shore.
In Marathi ‘Aarey’ means ‘welcome’ and Ware means that ‘we are obliged that you have come here.’ The temple, situated in a small, serene village, surrounded by the glittering white sandy Ganpatipule beach is enchanting.
It’s a Swayambhu Ganesh temple. The name Ganpatipule in Marathi means ‘sand blessed by Ganpati.’ Devotees consider the rocky face of the hill covered with vermillion sindoor to be Lord Ganesh. The 400-year-old edifice was built by Bhalbhatji Bhide, who found the idol while digging in the sand. The idol also is called the Asta Dwar Devata and is one of eight deities of the West. It is known also as the ‘Paschim-Dwar Devata’ (Western Sentinel God).
The temple is popular and crowded even in the early morning, with people strolling on the white sands or taking camel rides and boat rides. And yet, the beach does not feel commercial; in fact, it’s a great place for nature lovers to visit.
A few minutes away is Prachin Konkan, an open-air museum that depicts the socio-economic Konkan culture and lifestyle from 500 years ago, as well as sculptures about incidents from Shivaji Maharaj’s life. There are nearly 150 trees spread over 3 acres, that people worship to benefit from their perceived medicinal effects.
Just a few kilometers away is Ratnadurg Fort. Facing the sea and standing tall over the hills, the fort was built during the times of the Bahmani Empire. The three-level fort connects to via a tunnel to Parkot, the largest section where the Ratnadurg lighthouse is situated. In later years, Ratnadurg was captured by Adil Shah, Chhatrapati Shivaji, Maratha Admiral Kanhoji Angre, and the Peshwas, before the East India Company took over in 1818. Today, only remnants of the outer walls hold a mirror to the past. A Bhagwati temple in the fort stands testament to Shivaji’s ardent devotion to Durga and a boat ride offers beautiful views of the life of fisherfolk who work on its sandy, black and white beaches.
From Ratnadurg, a 15-minute drive takes you to Thibaw Palace. Along the way is Kavi Keshavsut Smarak, built as a tribute to the poet by the Kokan Marathi Sahitya Parishad. Teacher and poet Keshavsut, who wrote more than 100 poems, is the pioneer of Marathi poetry.
Thibaw Palace, now a museum, is a reminder of Ratnagiri’s Burmese connection Ratnagiri. Thibaw, spread across 27 acres in three stories, features Burmese and Colonial architecture styles with Italian glass ornamental windows, wooden roofs, and marble dancing floors of marble.
In the early 20th century, the dethroned Burmese king was held here as a prisoner. The galleries at Thibaw display sculptures and artefacts from his time as well as a sculpture of Buddha brought to Ratnagiri with the King.