Sun, Sea and Sand… Ganapatipule

Every year we come up with interesting ideas for Avva’s birthday gift – a couple of years ago, all of us grandkids had collaborated and made a video, which was played during the birthday celebrations. This year we took it a step further and organized a get-together at Ganapatipule, a small beach-town in coastal Maharashtra. Considering that almost all my uncles and aunts would be there, we had booked seven rooms (almost two complete villas) for the weekend at Abhishek Beach Resort and Spa.

The pristine beach and the sparkling clean blue water is the icing of the cake that makes Ganapatipule special. The place is the home to a 4000-year old swayambhu Ganapati temple and is thronged by thousands of devotees every year.

Day 1: 3rd February 2017

Dad and I began our journey from home at approximately 6.20am – our train Mandovi Express was scheduled to depart from Dadar Station at 7.25am. After having a plate of poha at the nearby Shree Krishna restaurant, we reached the platform at about 7am, only to find that the train was running approximately half an hour late. When the train finally arrived we boarded our coach and settled down in our seats.

I have always enjoyed daytime train rides. Half the fun lies in savouring the tasty food while enjoying the beautiful journey outside – be it the food that mom packs from home or that from the pantry car. Speaking of food, I learnt a pretty valuable tip from my train journey – having one’s coach near the pantry car is one of the biggest boons. The food served is always hot and tasty. The pantry car offered a varied breakfast and lunch menu. We spent most of our time eating – the scalding hot tomato soup with breadsticks has been the trademark of every train journey ever! The vegetable cutlets with bread and butter were pretty much filling. The gulab-jamun seller tried his level best to improve his sales – he even began with offers such as buy-four-get-one-free. The part I enjoyed the most about the journey was relishing the watermelon (which I mistook for papaya owing to its orange hue) with my dad. Our coach had a couple of kids – one of whom was on the berth right next to ours. Although a wee bit naughty, the young boy was playful and fun to be around. We disembarked at Ratnagiri and proceeded to find a mode of transport to Ganapatipule, and finally settled on an auto-rickshaw. We picked up a couple kilos of Totapuri mangoes on the way to the resort.

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The Scenery en route

The journey by rickshaw took us about 45 minutes, and we were treated to the scenic beauty of the beach. The last time I had visited the region was over ten years ago and thus couldn’t recollect much about it.

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This time though, I was bowled away by the shining golden sand and the deep blue sea that merged with the sky in the distance. It was very difficult to point where one ended and the other began – it was as unreal as any image in the game Bejeweled 3. The hills and the greenery only added to the natural charm of the place.

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Our Villa at the resort

We reached the resort and were given the keys to one of the villas (the reservation for the other one was done in my uncle’s name and they were yet to arrive). The villas were fairly decent – each of them had 4 rooms (two of which were on the ground floor) and a kitchenette. Almost all the rooms had a balcony with ample space to enjoy the mornings and evenings. There also was an access to the beach, although from the main road which was a short distance away. All in all, this place was pretty good choice. Once settled in one of the rooms, we had a quick lunch. Soon after, we left to explore the place a bit.

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A couple of hours later, I was ecstatic to see everyone as the cars pulled into the resort, and was the most thrilled to meet Avva. After completing the check-in formalities, we moved to the rooms and freshened up before proceeding to the Ganapatipule Temple.

We saw the MTDC Resort as we reached the temple. The resort has the best location possible – its entrance faces the main gate of the temple. We found the temple to be almost empty, save us and a couple of other families. This was completely uncharacteristic, as the temple was almost always bustling with devotees. I guess it was owing to the fact that it was a Friday evening. After registering for the Sankalpa Pooja for the following morning, we sat down for a little while in the seating area for the devotees. My mom and aunts joined me in singing a couple of songs – singing in the temple was an amazing experience. The icing of the cake was that Avva sang the song “Shree Gananatha” with us. As we walked towards the exit, the pundits at the temple told us that the song was beautiful and that they enjoyed it J We sat outside the temple, before our cars arrived, enjoying the beauty of the decorative lights – they beautified the temple so much in the evenings.

We proceeded to have dinner after we reached the resort. The dinner was a pretty eventful one – as we were twelve of us, we were seated in groups of six at neighbouring tables. After eating roti-subzi, we ordered for a dish of curd-rice at both the tables. Interestingly both the plates were poles apart in appearance and taste. While the one on my table had curd rice with bit of yellow tadka, the curd rice on the other table looked a lot more visually appealing as it had a LOT of red tadka. Intrigued, we tasted a bit of both the dishes, and the red tadka dish was pretty sweet. We called the person who had been waiting on us, and he too seemed baffled at first. He asked one question – “Kaunsa wala aapko pasand aaya?” which translates to “which one did you all like?” Although he offered to bring another plate that was prepared properly, we declined as we were too full. He assured us that he would personally supervise the preparation of curd rice for the remainder of our stay.

Day 2: 4th February 2017

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The main entrance of the Temple

The day began with us getting ready in a hurry and rushing to the temple. By 7.30am we all were at the temple and waiting for the Pooja. The Sankalpa Pooja for us was scheduled at 8am, and the breakfast buffet at the hotel closed at 10. We worried if we would be able to make it in time for breakfast. My cousin Nandan and his wife Sayali were supposed to join us for the Pooja. However, as their bus to Ganapatipule got delayed and we were unable to contact them, we requested the priest to postpone their Pooja to the next day.

After the Pooja we went for the pradakshina (circumambulation) of the hill at the base of which the temple is located. The 1km walk took us a little more time than usual, as we stopped to have coffee. Finally, once all of us had completed the pradakshina, we went back to the resort for breakfast, where Nandan and Sayali met us.

The breakfast was pretty good – in addition to the South-Indian breakfast spread, they stocked upma and poha, in addition to the fruits, egg preparations, cornflakes, tea and coffee. Sayali and I chatted at the deck overlooking the sea. I spent the next hour trying to check the status of our tickets for the return journey in Mandovi Express. As the waitlist status didn’t improve, we booked a set of Rajdhani tickets under Tatkal quota and cancelled the old ones. While most of us went to the spa after that, Nandan, Sayali and I went to the game room and spent a considerable amount of time playing Table Tennis. Even though Sayali and I teamed up Nandan defeated us pretty easily about four times, after which we moved on to play Carrom. By then our uncles and aunts joined us at the game room and challenged each other to chess. By the end of the next couple of hours all of us enjoyed a game of pool as well (although we weren’t exactly playing by the rules 😛 ). We finally went to have lunch at the restaurant, at the end of which we ordered curd-rice again (Yup…that’s what South Indians do). Fortunately it was perfect this time.

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The evening was the most remarkable one – we spent most of it at the beach. Ganapatipule has the most perfect beach ever – the perfect golden sand that shimmers a bit, and water so pellucid that one can see their feet clearly even in the ever-so-slightly warm knee-deep water. Basically for beach-lovers, it’s the place to go. Although I had no intention of getting my capris wet (and tried keeping them dry for as long as I could), the sea had other plans. With a couple of huge waves I ended up getting my capris completely drenched and concluded that resisting the sea was futile. In the next two hours we did a lot of fun stuff – we all held hands while standing in thigh-deep water facing the beach, so that the waves hitting us take us by surprise. By now, we all were drenched from head to toe. Nandan, Sayali and I ventured into waist deep water and enjoyed the waves for a while, splashing water at each other like a bunch of 12-year-olds. For a very brief while, I felt like I was transported back to one of my favourite childhood memories.

After getting back to the hotel and having a nice refreshing shower, we all went back to Saroja Auntie’s room for evening snacks – basically a potluck, as everyone had prepared and brought something sweet or savoury. The Totapuri mangoes added a different zing altogether to the menu. After we were done with snacks, Sayali and Nandan taught my aunts and me a new card game called “Big Fool” which we played until dinner time. I guess this is the only game that I know where eight people can comfortably play with a single deck of cards and still have a LOT of fun. After a simple dinner, we went back to our rooms. Nandan, Sayali and I played a few more rounds of Big Fool before retiring for the night. I don’t know if its technique or luck – Nandan defeated me and Sayali every single time without much of an effort!

Day 3: 5th February 2017

Our morning began by rushing to the temple. Nandan and Sayali were already there, waiting for their turn for Sankalpa Pooja. Like the day before, we went for a pradakshina of the hill, followed by the breakfast at the resort.

while leaving

While my grandma, uncles and aunts left soon after for my hometown, Nandan and Sayali had their bus scheduled for the evening. My parents and I had our Rajdhani Express scheduled to depart from Ratnagiri at 1.25pm. Having approximately an hour to spare before leaving for Ratnagiri, Nandan, Sayali and the three of us went to the beach from the access near the resort.

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Although the steps to the beach were carved on the rocks, a bit of work was yet to be done. The trees lined the stairs on either side. The beach looked as inviting as it did the day before – the bright blue coloured sea and the clean shimmering golden sand. Although really tempted, we didn’t go in the waters as we were running out of time.

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We could see the Ganapatipule temple a little far away. We decided to take a small walk before going back to the hotel to collect our luggage. The shore was full of tiny crabs not more than an inch in length which darted with such a speed that they appeared to hover across the sands. It was rather intriguing to see them suddenly disappear into the minute sand-caves. We retraced our steps to the resort and relished on a tender coconut as collected our luggage. We boarded our rickshaw to the Ratnagiri railway station after bidding adieu to Nandan and Sayali.

Here are a few tips and tricks that may help people planning a trip to Ganapatipule in the near future –

  • Ganapatipule is connected to other major towns and cities by road and rail. The road journey is considerably slow owing to the mountainous region – the 375km long journey from Mumbai takes approximately 9 hours. I find the 7-8 hour train journey relatively more comfortable – operated by Konkan Railways, the train route is very scenic, and showcases the beauty of the Konkan region. Ratnagiri is the closest station, and is connected to Mumbai by a number of trains. Here is the website of the town – http://www.ganapatipule.in
  • If you plan to take the train to Ratnagiri and then the rickshaw to Ganapatipule, negotiate for the fare in the beginning itself. The distance is approximately 30km usually the fare comes out to be approximately Rs.400-500.
  • The route to Ganapatipule from Ratnagiri goes almost parallel to the coastline, so the view outside is ensured to be a treat. Look out for raw totapuri mangoes en route.
  • If you are looking for a place closest to the beach and the temple, MTDC Resort is your best bet. However, the resort is almost always booked throughout the year. If you wish to stay at the resort it’s best to make reservations at least six months in advance
  • Speaking by personal experience, Abhishek Resort was a pretty pleasant experience as well. The place has a game room, and an entrance to the beach as well (although one needs to walk a bit to get there)
  • The timings of the temple are 5am to 9pm. If you are planning to go for a trip to Ganapatipule, it’s advisable to visit the temple on a weekday as it is less crowded.
  • The dress code for special Poojas at the temple is saree for the ladies and dhoti-shalya for the gentlemen. Men can change in the rooms near the temple. The pradakshina around the hill is about 1km long, and ends at the rear-entrance
  • Don’t forget to carry extra clothes for the beach – my suggestion would be to spend an entire evening there, as the beach is something that everyone will enjoy.
  • I would suggest against looking forward to buying alphonso mangoes during the mango season at Ratnagiri. Almost all the farmers enter into contracts with traders a long before the season begins. One can easily get MUCH better mangoes in Mumbai itself.