Day 2: Kihim to Murud (3-1-12) 66km
Kihim is considered the northern most point of the Konkan Coast which stretches all the way down to Vengurla in the south, or more or less the whole coastline of Maharashtra state south of Mumbai, about 700km. It is famed for its ruggedness with many headlands and red coloured cliffs and its strings of deserted, pristine beaches. Throw in the many picturesque fishing hamlets, daunting forts and a delectable cuisine and it is surprising that the Konkan Coast is not firmly on the tourist trail instead being bypassed by most as they head straight down to Goa on the main highway as quickly as possible.
I certainly couldn’t be accused of moving as quickly as possible as I left Kihim into a hazy and misty dawn and bumped my way south to Alibag following shady, narrow, winding lanes to the beach. It is said that many Bollywood stars such as Shah Rukh Khan and wealthy businessmen such as Vijay Mallaya have brought weekend homes here to escape the claustrophobia of Mumbai, but I certainly didn’t see anything that came anywhere close to looking like a luxury hide-a-way – they must be well hidden! After taking in the views of Kulaba Fort, a few hundred meters off Alibag beach, which was jointly attacked by the English and Portuguese in 1722 I pootled my way through the interesting, twisting and narrow lanes of Alibag village, a mixture of old wooden homes with once ornate balconies and the more ‘modern’ small concrete shop-houses. I leave via the smoking and stinking village dump – not the best parting shot!
The lanes down to Revdanda continue to be shady and pleasant with the morning’s rays of sunlight streaming through the tall palm trees. I pass under an old stone archway which signifies the entrance to the village as much of it is built within the confines of an ancient Portuguese fort. As I cycle through the picturesque village I am greeted with, “Good Morning”, “How are you?”, and even a “Welcome to India!” – how all very civilised! Just after leaving the village and having just passed the large stone block remains of a Jesuit Monastery I take a right turn along a small dirt track which leads to the beach and the western remains of Revdanda Fort. This is such a peaceful spot, wandering around the palm tree shaded remains with the crashing of waves in the background I have the place all to myself. Well, that is apart from the dishevelled looking security guard who loiters close by and is constantly spitting! Such a pleasant spot… I could chill here all day, but with only 32km on the clock I must push on.
The next stretch was delightful with clear blue skies and blue sea a constant companion, interspersed with crescent shaped sandy bays and colourful villages. Less pleasant however were the string of steady climbs as I crossed over the many headlands, and why is it that the downhills never seem to have any correlation with the uphills These climbs are the first that Dhanya and I have done fully loaded and I soon realise how much they slow down our progress…
Just before dropping down into Murud I come across the very majestic, but tired looking Ahmedganj Palace with its mixture of Mughal and gothic style architecture. Murud was the last outpost of the Siddis of Janjira, fierce warriors who hailed from Abyssinia in far-away Africa, and the Palace was built by their descendants, the Siddi Nawab of Murud, in 1885. A Nawab was traditionally an honorific title given to Muslim rulers of princely states in South Asia, however nowadays it is also awarded as a personal distinction – similar to an English Lordship. The vast 45 acre Palace grounds amongst other things house a marvellous mosque and the tombs of previous rulers, which according to local legend are filled with treasures of untold wealth, but as yet no one has had the cajones to open them up. I was not going to have the opportunity either as the Palace and its grounds are not open to the general riff-raff.
On arrival in Murud I roll along the shoreline road which is lined with restaurants and guesthouses and choose one that catches my eye, namely all the ‘chalets’ are on ground level which means no dragging Dhanya and all my luggage up flights of stairs! After checking-in to the Anand Vatika I cross the road and take a saunter along the beach which is wide and firm, perfect for a cricket pitch, and yes in the late afternoon sun there are numerous make-shift games being played. Most of my fellow preamblers are in Muslim attire, relatives of those mighty African warriors I wonder… I take a seat and watch the changing colours of the setting sun as it falls into the sea next to Janjira Fort built off-shore on an island – or so I thought… Aazim joins me and explains that the fort we are looking at in the final orange glow of daylight is actually Kasa Fort, formerly known as Padmadurg Fort, “Janjira Fort is a bit further south, you cannot see it from here. This fort” he goes on to explain whilst pointing out to sea, “cannot be visited by people as sea too bad, need special permission”. “But I thought Janjira Fort was also in the sea” I question, “Ah yes, but very close and more sheltered”. After some more idle chit-chat we part company and I drift back to the Anand Vatika and call it a night…