A curated trip across the Konkan coast of Maharashtra stirs up nostalgia for a childhood filled with food and love for Travel + Leisure India & South Asia’s contributor.
As our vehicle came to a halt, I noticed an ancient Hindu temple under a huge banyan tree canopy. The air felt warm, yet pleasing as sun rays scantily pierced through the trees. I was in Konkan, the coastal plains of Maharashtra, lying between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats. The region is famous for its Alphonso mangoes, beaches, and history. Despite all the attractive characteristics of the region, the simple setting of a temple under a huge tree instantly transported me to my grandmother’s quaint, ancestral home with similar features. I spent most of my childhood summer holidays in the very backdrop.
A snug, two-storeyed bungalow covered by thick foliage and a small marble Datta Mandir (a temple of Lord Datta) overlooking the home was a sight to behold. Mornings were spent foraging greens from the backyard garden, while afternoon lunches saw us devouring delicious regional meals made by my aaji (grandmother). I eagerly looked forward to the evenings as my cousins and I would spend the time outdoors, mostly around the temple, playing and chit chatting before the calmness of the night fell upon us.
Many years later, after a bout of physical, emotional and mental upheaval brought about by the pandemic and other personal setbacks, I decided to start travelling again. But this time I focussed on the beauty of the backyard as opposed to trudging a faraway land. When I started zeroing down on the places to visit, I stumbled upon a trip to Konkan with a small group of travellers curated by The Western Routes –a boutique experiential travel company, which curates experiences deep rooted in one’s culture.
And just like that, I returned to Konkan because I was hungry. I was hungry to meet the people I had met growing up who would lead the simplest of lives but always had a heart filled with joy and face shining with a smile; I was hungry to savour the dishes that my aaji made with a lot of love but somehow got lost through the years.
On a balmy afternoon, the landscape merged into a blanket of tall, green coconut, cashew, jackfruit, and mango trees. The scent of Konkan wafted through the air. Visibly, the winding roads became narrower but picturesque, dotted on both sides with tiny villages and lines of trees. Some nooks gave us glimpses of the mighty Arabian sea.
The first stop was Ganeshgule. Just 25 kilometres from Ratnagiri, Ganeshgule is known for its secluded beach and a beautiful temple of Lord Ganesha. The ocean was as vibrant as ever; the soft sand under my feet was cool. Though there was a calmness around me, I was hungry, and this time for some real food. And in no time, we were served hot vaalachi usal (butter beans curry) with poli (Indian unleavened flatbread) and freshly fried crunchy papads and koshimbir (Maharashtrian salad typically seasoned with crushed peanuts).
How I missed the vaal in the coconut, tamarind gravy! The simple nosh was just what my aaji used to serve. Could I ask for anything more to reenergise my soul that was exhausted from over six hours of travelling from Pune? The rest of the day until midnight was spent getting drenched in the ocean and gazing at the starry moonlit sky right on the beach.
The next day, after sipping freshly extracted madi (palm wine), we headed to Devghar village in Sangameshwar tehsil of Ratnagiri district, just 50 kilometres from Ratnagiri. One has to trek down to reach the Bondre family home. It is a 100-yearold ancestral home of the family that still lives in it. We were welcomed to the beats of dhol and our warm host performed traditional aarti at the door.
A stroll around the traditional Konkani home with hip roof and cow dung plastering reminded me of a bygone era. A pitched roof with large verandah is the most striking part of homes like these; it is where the family shares bitter sweet bits of life and enjoys a cup of chaha (typically milky, sugary tea) with their neighbours in the late afternoons. I also noticed some wooden framed windows overlooking the vast expanse of the farm and vegetation surrounding the home. I was tempted to curl up by the window with a book for hours, just what I did as a child. Exposed shelves, steel plates, bowls, and tambya bhanda (water pots) etched with names arranged aesthetically, and traditional chul (mud stove) were certainly the highlights of the old-style kitchen. “Only the water from matka (earthen pot) can keep you cool in this scorching heat”, said Bondre as she hurriedly filled a tambya with water from the matka and handed over a bhanda to drink from it. By the time we finished the tour of the home and its surroundings filled with trees ranging from pepper, coffee, and a variety of bananas, it was ime for the next meal. I sat on the floor, legs folded, even before the food was served on my plate.
Afternoon sun was overhead; the coolness inside the home seemed like a blessing. Bondre and a couple of ladies began arranging banana leaves, steel bowls, and tambya bhanda on the floor for each of us. The house was filled with a scent of fresh, homemade chulivarcha pithla and bhakri (gram flour and millet flatbread made on a mud stove). The most exquisite traditional vegetarian meal on the banana leaf couldn’t begin without the melodious echo of the verse vadani kawal gheta, which is typically recited before any meal. By now, I knew this two-day voyage was going to transform my soul.
On the last day, on our way back, we made a pitstop at Patwardhan Mango Farm in Devrukh. It is a sleepy hamlet situated 21 kilometres from Sangameshwar and 56 kilometres from Ratnagiri. As suggested in history, Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Sambhaji Maharaj visited Devrukh frequently.
The Patwardhans have been occupying the most ancient wada (the traditional residence in Maharashtra) here for more than 40 generations. The skylit courtyard formed the nucleus of this house. It overlooked the landscaped exterior filled with massive mango trees, a well with a pulley to draw water, and perennial blooms. The house undoubtedly boasted all the things old-fashioned including a bamboo soop (rice cleaner) to clean grains and traditional iron villi (vegetable cutter) which is found in every Maharashtrian home. In fact, it was a villi that inspired me to learn cooking; I began with cutting vegetables to help my aaji in creating her extraordinary meals.
The Patwardhan family makes a myriad of preservative-free products thanks to the huge aamrai (mango orchard) that they own, and supplies to the big food brands. The family invited us to see their abode and even offered mango mawa (a mango flavoured sweet made of dried evaporated milk solids) and delicious mango poli (dried mango flatbread) to taste. While Konkan is all things virtuous, it made me think—why did I take a twoday holiday away from my then threeyear-old daughter to come to this hidden wonder of Maharashtra? Was it for food? Was it to meet new people? Was it for the beaches or for the temples? Or was it for Instagrammable sunsets and sunrises at the secluded beaches in Konkan? The answer itself was as complex as these questions.
Now, whenever I think of Konkan, I think of my childhood visits to my grandmother’s home but also of the distint scent of old homes, fresh tropical trees, tiny villages, meals served on banana leaves, ancient temples, and great historic anecdotes.
Travelling to the Konkan Coast
The Ratnagiri Airport is connected to Mumbai, Pune, and many other cities via regular flights.
Kohinoor Samudra Beach Resort, Ratnagiri offers exective and luxury rooms facing the sea. Doubles from INR 4,125.
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