On the beautiful Konkan coast, we find dolphins, turtles and much more

Dolphins are an elusive species. I had spent many years in pursuit across five continents for a glimpse of the bottle nose but to no avail.

Then last week the tide turned. A trip to Dapoli, along the Konkan coast, 200 km from Pune found me scanning the deep blue once again at Murud beach. About 15 minutes into the ride, our motor whined shut. We sat quietly, our expectant breath misting the morning air, the waves lapping the sides of our boat. And then the sea rippled, and three beautiful grey shapes circled us and emerged from the sea. What followed was a ten minute cosmic dance in front of my mesmerised eyes; and I swear one bottle nose actually grinned at me. As we returned to shore, I sat dazed, oblivious to the happy chatter around me. My search had finally ended.

Just when I thought my trip’s purpose had been achieved, the helpful receptionist at Fern Valley Samali Resort bore good news. Velas, the ‘turtle village’, was just 40 km away. We set off again, this time in search of turtles. Velas is a little jewel on the beautiful Konkan coast. As we approached the village, breakers lined the narrow cobbled road and the sea welcomed us with a roar. Waves splashed the windows of our vehicle and we were spellbound. Thankfully, my daughter managed to rouse us from our collective reverie and the clicks followed.

About 20 houses lined the dusty village path on each side. Old-fashioned, high-ceilinged brick houses were fenced in by cow-sheds at the back where buffaloes and cows jostled for space with chickens and an annoyed rooster. A high, rocky embankment kept the sea at bay.

We entered one such house, a home-stay run by Sunil, where a dung-smeared courtyard kept out flies and the rooms inside were spotlessly clean. Sunil’s wife rustled up lunch with a panache that would put a three-star restaurant to shame. Everything was home-grown and tasty. Replete, we learnt that the mantra at Velas, be it turtles or tourists, is ‘live and let live’. Our host led us to his neighbour who grows mangoes and jackfruits, where we bought succulent Alphonsos.

We headed off to turtle beach, where corporate giant TCS is helping the conservation efforts initiated by a septuagenarian ‘kaka’ who heads Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra. Kaka still does a daily double patrol to save the eggs laid in the sand pits along the shoreline. Female turtles travel nearly 3,000 km annually to their favoured nesting spot. An adult female Olive Ridley lays about 130 eggs in one clutch and then retreats to the sea. Unfortunately, despite the sheer numbers, the turtles still cannot beat the odds without conservators like Kaka. When he arrived at 6 pm, there was palpable excitement in the air. Four babies were ready for the swim of their life.

As we watched, a rectangle was drawn on the wet sand and the four hatchlings placed inside, facing the sea. We watched them get their bearings and propel themselves, their inbuilt radar unerringly guiding them towards the sea. The one I had christened Usain Bolt naturally reached the sea first and went stock-still for a split second when the first wave hit him. Then off he went, paddling furiously, our cheers egging him further away. Two others followed their sibling. All eyes were now on the smallest one, as he struggled against the waves. Kaka gently scooped him up and placed him in a sheltered part of the beach where the sea was balm to his battered back. We came away hoping he would finally swim away triumphant.

As we headed back, the sun dipped on the horizon. A lone motorboat cut a swathe through the water and the evening lights came on in the village we had left behind.

TIP

At Dapoli, stay at The Fern Samali Resort for dolphin-watching and beach rides. Check it out at www.fernsamaliresort.com

At Velas, stay with Sunil Darge (02350-220693) or Sameer Padlekar (02350-220693) who run home-stays