The Velas Turtle Festival is one of India’s premier destinations (apart from Orissa) for viewing the Olive ridley turtles hatch and head to the sea. The conducive environment created on the beach, helps female turtles trust and leave its eggs on this beach for it to hatch. The turtle conservation program also helps in everyone in this area being aligned to preserving and conserving turtles. It’s also India’s first formal program to stay in villages with the locals and then watch the turtles head out into the sea from the observatory.
It was early February in 2018, when I heard about the Velas Turtle Festival. When I put the place ‘Velas’ on Google Maps, I realised that this was a place that was closer to Bombay or Pune, and was not a place to easily get to if you were from the Southern Part of India, unless you boarded a west coast super fast express that would stop in Ratnagiri.
I wanted to take Nandu there, and see for himself, in an organised program of how turtle conservation happens, and as has been the theme since last year, I have preferred to take him to places without Television, mobile networks and air conditioning to primarily connect with people and nature. As much as it is a lesson for him, I too need the detox of staying away from digital screens through the day.
What did I expect?
I had seen some blogs and videos written about the place. The rural setting interested me, but since this trip was to be made in my son’s summer holidays, I was slightly worried if staying in a village would be a problem. I knew that there were turtle hatchery sightings twice a day and a few sights nearby if one wanted to drive around during the day.
What was my itinerary?
Day One– I planned to fly into Pune on a Friday morning, and take a Zoomcar from Pune to drive my way to Velas through a state highway route and settle into the homestay on Friday evening. If possible, I wanted to make it in time for the evening sighting.
Day Two– I planned to see both the sightings and if possible make time to visit Anjarle Beach/Harihareshwar Beach/Bankot Fort nearby(Fun-Fact, I did not do any of these)
Day Three– I wanted to have my breakfast and then pack off on a slow drive to Pune to meet a friend of mine by evening , so as to catch my late night flight back home. (Fun-Fact, I started only at 3 pm and reached Pune at 9 pm)
The details of what I did is coming up as separate posts. But before that here’s a quick photo and write up on what to expect
Things to Know, that I wish I had planned earlier
Right Route– The drive from Pune to Velas, was through the Tamhini Ghat road is on a State Highway that snakes its way through hills. It also has a few kilometres of pot holed roads, which means you drive at 20-30 km/hr on those stretches. The drive though is 180 kilometres, takes around 6 to 6.5 hours. The better route from Pune is to drive through Lonavala. More distance and lesser times, since there are better roads to drive. The state transport buses keep coming at you on these roads, and you need to know, who’s the king of the jungle in these parts!
Scenic– I had to make quite a few stops, while driving around the serenely beautiful Mulshi Lake. In the monsoons this place is even more magical.
Slow Down– If you want to slow down and enjoy village life, you really should not try to pack in other attractions in a 3 day trip. I just found living in the homestay, visiting the turtle beach and playing in the sea, more than a handful. I did not make any other trips in this 3 day period at all. I ended up meeting a few people in the village to know more about their turtle conservation efforts.
Parking– The road to many of these homestay is a narrow one, and you need to park your car in a way that other vehicles, namely state transport buses can pass through. Its advisable to come early before the crowds and find your spot which is walkable from the homestay
Food– I stayed at Milind’s homestay and the food and hospitality was so good, that eating food and talking with strangers and sleeping at night on the mud floor (with a bedding layer) were things that I really enjoyed. I did not really feel like leaving the place.
Sleep– Lying down with strangers and a view of the stars has to rank as a great experience. In a village most people are in sync with nature and sleep by about 10 pm. You need to pack your Odomos and sleep in a full pant. Men sleep outside while women and children sleep inside (Mosquitoes can visit quite a few times)
Given these turtles are the star attraction and the possibility of seeing them is dependent on how many decide to come out of the eggs, it could be 0 turtles or a few that day. Always keep a couple of sessions more than required just in case.
There will be a steady crowd at these places especially on weekends, so you will have to find your quiet corner to watch the turtles. Make friends with the local administration people to get closer to the turtle within the admissible limits.
I will leave you with a few montages of what to expect on my trip. There’s a detailed 3 part video and series coming up.
If you want to know the preparation I did to come to the Turtle Festival, please check my podcast below with Shama Parveen on her blog