Beautiful View of the Konkan Coast-Harihareshwar

The Ultimate Guide To the Velas Turtle Festival-Part 1

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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.

Day-1

Here’s an option- if you are feeling lazy to thumb through the post in images, here’s a link to the Vlog.

  • The post and the video will have different content though the end story is the same.
  • The post talks about my experience and thoughts, while the video has the most important elements captured on camera from various angles
  • Only the video has elements on the history of the Velas Turtle Festival in an interview with Milind Nijsure ( who runs the homestay)
  • If I were you, I would watch the video and read further to let the mind check if what you imagined is the same as what I have written about to get a complete picture of what to expect if you are planning a trip to Velas.
Zoom Car Economics

I booked a Zoomcar from Pune to get things started, after flying in earlier in the morning. Zoomcar has a pretty good procedure for renting its cars right from the Pune Airport(Extra 180 Rs as opposed to picking up the car from their Viman Nagar workshop). I remember taking a slow video of the car just to have an idea of dents (if any). I got an old Maruti Swift, as part of their compact car stable. Pune to Velas was about 190 kilometres. I did some calculation that I veer off a bit on day 2, and about 100 extra kilometres, I would roughly drive for about 500 kilometres. As a result I chose their base plan (8800 INR for 310 kms and INR 12 for every extra kilometre) as opposed to their other plan of INR 12400 for 620 kilomtres. I ended up doing 410 kilometres on the 3 day round trip, amounting to an extra 100 km(1200 INR) at the time of returning the vehicle. This included the cost of fuel (Diesel) which I never had to fill. I was told by Zoomcar staff, that their weekend prices are higher. If I had done this trip on a weekday, it would have cost me half. Point noted.  Additionally Zoomcar had a fine of 2500 everytime, you crossed 120 kmph. I thought it was a good scheme to make people drive their cars safer.

Feedback for Zoomcar– I ended up getting an old, and slightly dirty car. The air in the tyres looked suspect, as there was one part of the front tire that looked like a lump. A car mechanic, on the highway asked me to go slow, since that lump was suspect. The last thing I want is worry on a 3 day trip with flights out of Pune. Otherwise, the car was in good working condition.

The Drive

Once I reached Wakad, I had two options. I could either drive halfway to Mumbai and take a U Turn on a highway near Imagica Water Park, or I could take a left from Wakad (Outer Pune) on the state highway through the Tamhini Ghats. I chose the latter owing to a single road going almost all of the way till a village 30 km before Velas. I drove at about 30-70 kmph speed, owing to the fact that either the roads were small-potholed or these were curvy ascending paths into the hills.

The Mulshi Lake near Tamhini Ghat-Maharashtra
The Mulshi Lake near Tamhini Ghat-Maharashtra

The drive through Tamhini Ghats is beautiful, and I am told that in the monsoons, its even more beautiful. The Mulshi lake is one big lake, that takes a while to traverse, and there were signs advising people not to step into the marshy exteriors of the lake owing to snakes/crocodiles in the vicinity.  I stopped a few times, as I felt sleepy on the highway and for once, I stopped owing to the beautiful view of the sun’s rays on the Arabian sea. This was near Harihareshwar, viewed from a hill drive!

Beautiful View of the Konkan Coast-Harihareshwar
Beautiful View of the Konkan Coast-Harihareshwar

 

So after  about 4 ‘Chai’ breaks, I called Milind Nijsure (The Homestay owner at Velas), to ask about the route. Thank god, I did. I figured out that there is another Velas beach called Velas Agar which was the wrong place that I was heading towards. He asked me to find my way to Bagmandala- a ferry port

On my way to Bagmandala, I discovered that for large parts of these coastal tracts there were muslim settlements. I found that strange, since I thought coastal places, back in the days were invaded by westerners, and as a result Christianity on the coast got introduced in India. I don’t quite know, how so many people from a Muslim background came here. It would be interesting to know how they peregrinated here. In case you know, please do leave a comment!

Bagmandala Ferry Run
View of the Bagmandala ferry through my car
View of the Bagmandala ferry through my car

We had to slowly meander our way through a potholed road to arrive at the Bagmandala ferry. I went and purchased tickets. Rs 150 for loading the car into the ferry, and Rs 6 for each person. The view was beautiful but the impending action was scary. I had to do a reverse, and get down the slope to get into the ferry, and I had developed a neck strain from sleeping in a bad position on the morning flight, so I asked the ferry guy, if I could not do the reverse and drive into the ferry. He smiled and said, then I would have to do a reverse up the slope at the Velas/Bankot side of the ferry. I agreed, trying to postpone the inevitable. I thought, let me enjoy the ferry ride atleast. My friends Mehul and Ashfaq from Mumbai had recommended the ferry. As soon as I had parked the car inside the ferry, I was asked to come and sandwich the car between 2 heavy vehicles. Behind me was another heavy vehcile.  Checkmate! Stuck in the car for the rest of the ferry journey with no view, except that off the 3 heavy vehicles around me.

Jammed on all sides in the Bagmandala Ferry
Jammed on all sides in the Bagmandala Ferry
Vehicles behind me and front of me in the Bagmandala Ferry
Vehicles behind me and front of me in the Bagmandala Ferry

On the return journey, after a 10 minute ferry ride, I had my toughest test. Reversing the car on an incline upwards. Murphy’s law  will make sure that there will be one irritant person on a bike who does not move an inch, despite the honking. Those few moments tested my patience as a driver.

On the Road to Velas

The road post that is a small road, with inclines into a small town at Bankot, and from there on a mud road on the lower part of the cliff, overlooking the Arabian Sea. I got a lorry coming in the opposite direction, and I again had to go reverse down an incline and turn left, so as to allow the lorry to pass by. The local heavy vehicle drivers, don’t like giving way to other tourist cars. Maybe its a racial thing, with the bigger the size of your vehicle, the bigger is your ego while on the road. I struggled to get up on the road again, despite going on first gear, as the vehicle did not get enough momentum to go up and it went going down. I asked for help, and a couple of locals, helped put a stone behind my back tyre, so that helped me go up. Thank god for small mercies!

We then passed the sea, and it was beautiful driving past the sea on one side, as we slowly rode on whatever was left on the path.

View of the route by the sea to Velas Village (from the car)
View of the route by the sea to Velas Village (from the car)
Aerial View of the route by the sea to Velas Village
Aerial View of the route by the sea to Velas Village

We reached Milind’s house in a short while, but we did stop a few times. The GPS went kaput after a while, due to a lag, and I was not exactly sure of Milind’s house, since once you enter the village, the road is small, and you have no room for a U turn, unless you go some distance, and there are vehicles constantly on the move, so it could mean developing some patience.

Home! Home! Home!
Reaching Milind's House-Velas Village
Reaching Milind’s House-Velas Village

I felt a chest thumping ‘Yabba Dabba Do’, as soon as Milind confirmed his house. I had to park it temporarily at an angle in front of Milind’s car, until a state transport bus came by and thundered for it to be removed. The best parking spots were behind and they were all taken. I had an instant connection with Milind’s house, owing to the mud flooring, and a portico. I went there and marked a portion of the portico, near the hay area to keep my slippers and luggage.

Milind's House Portico. My Luggage is right beside the hay
Milind’s House Portico. My Luggage is right beside the hay

Nandu found a few kids, and started to run around the house through all its rooms creating noise all around the house. This is exactly the kind of vacation I wanted. It was unravelling layer by layer and I was happy with what I saw. No AC, No room television (Milind has a TV with a Tata sky connection, but that’s more so to show documentary of the turtle conservation to people in the evening), No mobile signals. It was probably my 5th trip in less than 18 months with these parameters. (The previous ones being Flying Elephants in Andamans, Jagale Homestay in Coorg, Manveer’s Kitchen in Agonda(Goa), Sandeep’s homestay in Kerim-Terekhol(Goa) and now at Velas

Documentary Screening at Milind’s Home

Every evening when guests are there, Milind switches on his TV and plays a documentary on the Velas Turtle Conservation. It helps build context with the tourists that the focus of their trip is eco tourism and not enjoyment tourism. Out of the videos screened, i found parts of it on Youtube done by Shivani Mulekar and Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra

Documentary Screening at Milind Nijsure's house
Documentary Screening at Milind Nijsure’s house

I happened to meet a biker couple (Apoorv and Jennifer) and was speaking with them about the festival. Apoorv had already been in the evening to the beach, and was showing me some fabulous clicks of crabs on his SLR. I had reached Velas and missed the evening turtle hatchery session.

Life was beautiful and content! Dinner was starting to be served!

Dinner being served at Velas (Maharashtra-India)
Dinner being served at Velas (Maharashtra-India)

To read Part-2 head here

Picking your homestay
  1. I stayed at Milind Nijsure’s homestay, and it cost me around 3300 for 2 adults and a child- including stay and food (2 dinner, 2 Breakfast, 2 Lunches) from a Friday evening to Sunday Afternoon (3 pm).

You could call Milind at +91-8149753863 to plan your stay. He has dormitory rooms or separate rooms.

2.  I had visited the homes of Hemant and Sawant. You could book their homestay by calling the following numbers

Hemant/Priyanka Bhole- +91-9763795605

Sawant- (Number to be added)

Landline numbers of other homestay owners

Name Contact No. (Velas STD Code: 02350)
Mrs. Kavita Bagkar 220682
Ms. Priyanka Bhole 220689
Mr. Swapnil Dhareepkar 220562
Mr. Prakash Joshi 220570
Mr. Santosh Joshi 220511
Mr. Abhijit Kulabkar 220694
(M) 8975939484
Mr. Sham Kulabkar 220594
Mr. Siddhesh Kulabkar 220695/8446848540
Mr. Omkar Nijasure 220329 / 28 / 25

83083 60387

Mr. Milind Nijsure 220629/9421188487
Mr. Sameer Padlekar 220693/8652541817
Mr. Mandar Palshetkar 220674
Ms. Namrata Palshetkar 220674/9702400085/

8655891918

Mr. Nandkishor Patil 220561
Mr. Surendra Patil 220351/9225144816/

8805483264

Mr. Subodh Saldurkar 8975633185/7743830532
Mr. Amol soman 220279/9403574183
Mr. Ameya Srivardhankar 220543/673468839/9922534184/7350414759
Mr. Mohan Upadhye 220304/8975622778/

8983767388

Mr. Avinash Yadav 220545
 These members serve pure vegetarian food
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