A small village in the southernmost part of Maharashtra, Aronda is part of the Sindhudurg district. The closest station, Sawantwadi is almost 10 hours ride from Bombay.
So what’s in Aronda?
So why did we go there?
Because a weird Mallu girl I randomly met in Kashmir with whom I ended up planning a one month long trip along the western ghats insisted that she as a plan.
On our beautiful, rainy and coastal Konkan rail route, we encountered a very interesting story that stirred are hearts. We shared our cabin with a Canadian woman – Victoria and her son Shaya. Victoria was traveling to India after 25 years. It was in the 80’s that she was in Goa and she met a man, They fell in love and she went back to Canada later to find out that she is pregnant with his child. She tried to come back to be with him but the authorities and the society did let them be together. Alone, she went back and raised the child herself. 25 years passed and Victoria never got married to anyone else.
A strong, independent single mother. All this while we were looking at this handsome man sitting in front of us and wondering how his skin tone and dark hair are so different from her mother and then Victoria showed us the picture of his father which explained everything.. They were going to India to meet the father. Shaya was going to meet his father for the first time. There was a slight hint of nervousness in her, off-course there will be. “One thing that is common between father and son is that they both love to cook,” Victoria said. Meeting her was such an intense experience.
We were invited to Aronda from one of the members of an organic farm set in the outskirts of Aronda. Hmmm… not enough to convince me.
The up side was, this town is just 7 km from Goa border. So worse comes to worst, I’ll leave the weirdo in the farm and run to Goa. Sounded like quite a satisfactory escape plan.
Monsoons don’t make traveling easy especially when you’re in the south-west part of India. Staying home isn’t an option either, especially when you’re living in someone’s house as a guest in a Maharashtrian village. For a couple of days, we walked around the village and enjoyed some great food & views. Looking like a bunch of runaways from the city, walking in bathroom slippers and drenched clothes, we made quite an impression and were already the talk of the town. Our hosts would always receive our news before us.
Our host’s parents were visiting from a small Tamil village and we all know how all Indian mothers are, they would never let us leave the home without a having a full scrumptious meal.
The local thali, Kokum curry, rice, and fish is a delicacy… It would end up being our second lunch or a prequel to dinner.
After a couple of days of walking in the rain, we rented a scooter. But the weather got worse. It would rain profusely, it would rain in the morning, evening, night. Sometimes it rains heavily, sometimes it just rains. By that time I got settled by the idea of Aronda and we mutually decided to explore more. Direction north means venturing into the beaches of south Maharashtra. We followed the traditional approach of following the road signs the government has put.
Directions to all the beaches were clearly stated. The closest one is a couple of kilometers away and the farthest one almost 40km, which we realised much later. These boards seemed like there are beaches lined up one after another but that’s not the case.
Mochemad, the farthest and the remotest of all is a nesting site for Olive Ridley turtles. Reaching there was an adventure. It almost felt like as if you are making your way through a complex maze of small hits and houses except it’s not just houses here but chickens, cows, goats, parrots, kids, narrow paths – no roads, full of slush and mud. It that looked like we were going through backyards of the houses or even from between them riding in chaos, riding in circles, with short coconut trees on both sides slapping hard on the face and I remember riding with closed eyes for the most of the journey and the weirdo behind me couldn’t stop screaming, waking up the entire village on a quiet rainy afternoon. Anyway. The chaos came to an end when we reached to a small bridge on top of a marsh beyond which vehicles cant go. It’s the precious hatching site. The hatching season is in October. All we could see were skeletons on the beach. Hatched shells, few skeletal turtle shells and lots of plastic washed up the beach. August is an offseason so there is absolutely no cleaning up. It was shocking. How can a beach so remotely located is full of plastic. Plastic sheets, polythene bags, bottles it was painful to watch a white sand beach covered with plastic like seaweed. As much as I wanted to run a small clean up regime here as well, I was exhausted and my body bruised by riding and getting thrashed by thorny shrubs. What a day it was.
The rest of the beaches, Aravali, Redi and a few in between were all nice and pristine except for Shiroda which was straight out a magic land, like the garden of Alice, it’s a wonderland. The lines between dream and reality blurs here. As you enter, you are suddenly surrounded by pine trees, pine f***ing trees, on a vast meadow; yes “a meadow”, acres, and acres of green lush green meadow, right after the pine forest, is a fierce ocean crashing on the beach awaiting some acknowledgment and a few fishermen with their giant sized boats trying to make their way into the reluctant sea. It started to pour making the sea even more rogue, the fishermen gave up for the day. It poured non-stop and we needed shelter. We spotted a tiny hut/shack on the meadow and ran towards it to get some shelter and ended up spending the entire day there. Where we were, it was beautiful and surreal and almost as if we are wide awake in our dreams.
Coming back after a day of adventure to a wholesome meal is the best feeling in the world. Drenched and cold from the rain, A full meal and a hot cup of tea would just put us to sleep. Sleeping in for a couple of days more was not a problem. We had made this house, our home.
Lazying in the courtyard with the home cat, listening to Jack Jonson, eating fish thalis and watching the rain pour in this magnificent lush green premise of the house, was therapeutic. Waking up early, living slowly and taking it easy is the secret to a fulfilled life. I realize that now.
Our host manages an organic farm-stay called Gaia Farms on the outskirts of the village. Although the farm is closed in monsoons and totally unkept but we wanted to see what it’s like. Once we reached there, we realized instantly that this ain’t the best time yea as all the teepees (conical, circular tents used by indigenous communities in historic times, popular among today’s spiritual communities) were dismantled, temporary settings removed, garden left to grow wildly since it’s monsoons. But we could surely imagine how beautiful it must be in the season.
A huge traditional open kitchen awaited us with a nice local meal prepared using the vegetables grown in the farm plucked in front of us. Farm-to-Table in the true sense. We met Mr. Rajesh, the founder of the farm. Rajesh is such an interesting person, our interaction started on a very formal note but soon he got curious about how we landed there which was quite a story itself. As time passed, we got to know more about Rajesh and his venturesome history with his wife. how they belonged to very different communities, how they eloped and got married in the Himalayas. Spent months living here in just a tent in a cave further from triund in a time when there was no tourism and survived on milk powder, Maggie, and some dal chawal. His wife being the only daughter of a very powerful politician, there were always police behind them and they were constantly on the move, living and hiding in fear. They started baking their own bread in Daramsala, lived there for a few years before coming back to Goa and secretly hiding in one of the huts in a hillock. Until one day the police found them and beat Rajesh up and took his wife away. Few months passed, and the big bad politician eventually gave in and they finally got married publically in Mandrem. They have two kids now and they all live in Goa. This is just one of his adventure stories. The farm is his baby and he spends maximum of is time here. He has a private room for himself that’s out of bounds of travelers. It was so refreshing meeting him. His energy breathed life in us.
Back to sleeping under the blanket beating the monsoon chill with warm blankets and herbal tea. Back to hibernation, back to slow life.
Few kilometers away lies the heritage Tiracol fort in Tiracol village. To get there you have to go to the nearby ferry point and take a ferry to the other side were the fort lies overlooking Keri beach.
The fort is a heritage property set in a really interesting neighbourhood especially if you’re there in monsoons. Beautiful walks next to a fishing village, with century-old houses, set right next to the rocky backwaters, a beautiful tiny chapel and a cemetery. The property had a nice Portuguese restaurant with some good coffee. We spent time there overlooking the pristine hues of monsoons.
The northernmost beach of Goa or the first beach – Querim (Keri) is home to beautiful waves and Casuarina pines. It’s not a touristy beach and there are no shacks, unlike the rest, so it’s better to carry your own beds, sides, food, and drinks. There’s a temple at the entrance win is quite nice. The beach is mostly empty. One end of the beach leads to the ferry point to Tiracol while the other end lands you in Arambol. It’s a long rocky walk that goes through some secret caves that are only accessible during low tides (not advisable), and during high tides, it just vanishes completely. You need to have the knowledge of the tide if you plan a to-fro trip to Arambol trough these rocks. Ask the locals, don’t be an explorer here. If you get stuck in these caves, you are dead.
Somewhere in the middle, we stumbled upon a forest. Not sure how to navigate there since we couldn’t find our way back there. One mystical white dog, that followed us all day led us there. The forest was dark even on a bright sunny day. There was a thick canopy of hundred-year-old creepers that hindered sunlight to penetrate. Very vocal, high on energy kind of forest. We could listen to the forest, loud and clear. There were pools and streams flowing from god knows were. It seemed like a small hillock but how can it have an endless supply of freshwater. It was a strange and magical land. This mysterious place was unfolding more chapters of theirs as we continued going deeper into it and our spirit guide, the mystic white dog took the lead. Very often his eyes would be locked for straight 10 mins to something blank, something void and it was intriguing to watch him like that. It almost seemed like he was decoding some sort of message from the forest which would then set his course. It was a magical place. We covered ourselves with some white mud extracted from a giant rock which one of the locals helped to find. Each strand of my hair carefully covered and our bodies covered from ear to toe. We were as good as statues and perfectly fit in the jungle. The water in the pools was chilly because of the rain but it was worth the chill.
We dipped into the pools which were unbelievably blue in colour. It started to rain inside the dense magic-land in a very strange manner since the raindrops can’t enter directly because of the thick canopy above. Words can’t describe the experience. Pictures can’t interpret the truth. It was truly a magic-forest, a wonderland and I was the Alice of my wonderland. It was more like the forest finding us rater than us finding the forest. I mean we just decided to follow the dog and the dog led us there.
Arambol always has a special place in my heart for more than one reasons. First and foremost, the beach is so wide and long. The weird rocks on the beach are like art installations, and offcourse the music. The close proximity to the fresh water lake. The routine of saltwater to freshwater always ends up with me passing out on the sand. This is the beach were I can easily spend my entire days and night without a complaint. I’ve got nothing to say about Arambol, just that if you do visit there, don’t litter or create any sort of mess or use plastic or scream etc. that disrupts the sanctity and serenity of this small chunk of paradise. Vibe with it. Get tuned to it. Don’t disrupt it.
To get to Arambol from Aronda, one has to cross the Keri-Pani bridge, the only bridge/road that connects Maharashtra to Goa and it took 4 years to build. The more interesting part is that the construction of the bridge didn’t take long but it’s completion did. Because of several disputes and disagreements between the authorities themselves, they deliberately left 3 feet of bridge unconnected making it completely unusable until recently. It’s a beauty, this bridge. Spend some time there early in the morning to see a variety of tropical migratory birds that come here every year to breed. There are mangroves visible from te bridge and can be reached through the village if you want to have a close encounter with the migratory guests.
From here on, our time in Aronda came to an end (for now) and Sumi decided to visit every single beach of North before I tricked her into taking a bus to Karnataka. Until then, we cruised to man rough, grey, muddy and fierce beaches of north Goa where the shacks were closed and the beaches were underwater.
POA: spend the night in Goa and keep moving south.