To a geologist, a beach is a narrow and sloping strip of land along the edge of sea covered with sand, pebbles and remains of sea shells. To a traveller, the meaning of beach is something more simple and esoteric at the same time. You can take your pick of beaches from beyond the white marshes of Kutch to the verdant beaches of Konkan; from the ‘discover a new beach every day’ in northern Kerala to chasing red crabs on the beaches of Andhra Pradesh.
Beach is a creation by God to offer a slice of nirvana to lesser mortals like us who, caught up in their daily grind of life, have no chance of ever attaining the elusive moksha. Just the thought of a secluded beach, with swaying palm and suru trees, the unending rhythmic dance of waves playfully teasing the silken sands, even as the sun and clouds create magical light shows in the skies, is enough to transport you to this transcendent state where there is only bliss and ecstasy. So while God has done his part in creating these pieces of paradise right here on land, it is now up to us to go and seek them. And no, finding these pieces of ephemeral beatitude does not involve penance or meditation over long periods of time. All you need to do is to pack your backpack and follow the simple directions given. India’s glorious coastline offers plenty of these sandy jewels guaranteed to deliver you to the blissful state. Let’s go and find our own slice of paradise…
Heart of Spice Route in Kerala
Chinese fishing nets line up on either side of Kerala’s longest river Periyar, as it tiptoes softly into the Arabian Sea. You are in the ancient lost seaport city of Muziris or the modern day Kodangallur, an hour north of Kochi, that was the heart of Spice Route about 3000 years ago. Walking along the river, you hop aboard the Chinese fishing net and try your hands pulling the ropes to haul up some fresh catch. Just beyond, angry sea waves crash against the tetrapods where anglers brave the drenching, towering waves trying to reel in fish.
On the right, a long stretch of sparkling sand beckons. The lap of waves, the rustle of breeze through the suru trees and the pink sphere of sun dropping over the sea, all come together to offer an unexpected piece of heaven. When serendipity comes calling, drop anchor. You can feel calmness washing over your entire being. The knots inside seem to dissolve, the edges smoothen and the brows relax. The last rays of sun makes your face glow. The mind has inexplicably come to rest and feels joyous. You can actually sense your being and listen to the breath. This is salvation. This is Nirvana in God’s Own Country.
Beyond the Soaring Cliffs of Konkan
The road going north from Ratnagiri in Maharashtra cuts through the hills and soars over cliffs. This stretch of road provides the most exhilarating coastal drive in the country. As the car negotiates another hair pin bend, it seems you are suspended in the air for a moment. The road has disappeared on the left. It seems you have risen high against the sky even as the furious waves lash against the vertical cliff working up a fine mist that carries across the road. India surprises us every day – one could have never imagined a road snaking high over the cliffs as waves roar below. Getting off the car, you are provided with dramatic views below all round. The sea seems to have layers of rich grey silk with beautiful white delicate lace sewn lightly on it. This is ecstasy. Few kilometres ahead, driving through the famous Ratnagiri orchards of Alphonso (hapus) mangoes, you arrive in the temple village of Ganpatipule. The village is famous for its Swayambhu or self-originated Ganesh temple. Legend has it that Ganesh, angry by the remark made by a local woman, moved to Pule (a sand dune) from his original abode of Gule, few kms away. After paying obeisance in the temple, when you emerge out of the temple, you find yourself right on the beach.
Ganpatipule beach is famous for its stunning light show in the sky witnessed by only few lucky beings. Walking among the few devotees enjoying the waves, you take a seat on the red sand. The overcast sky has started to open up. Sun peeps through the openings creating dancing spotlights on the waves. The clouds, the streaming lights and the rippling waves create dazzling views. You feel as if you are in heaven and God had orchestrated this celestial spectacle just for you. You offer a silent prayer.
Gokarna’s Antidote to Goa
If you are tired of the party scene and the boisterous beaches of Goa, then head south to Gokarna in Karnataka for some solace and intimacy. Ringed by hills, Gokarna offers a bouquet of beaches, each more secluded as if offering their membership to select few lucky souls.
Om Beach looks like the auspicious symbol ‘Om’. As you descend from the hill to the sands, there is an unmistakable gentle and calm vibe all around. It is as if the nature is whispering to you. Rocky outcrops, some red streaked and some mossy green, provide seats to lie back onto and let the mind go silent. Further down, few foreigners are playing a game of frisbee on the spongy sand. If you are lucky you can even see a melange of hippies and sadhus in various yoga poses – everyone in their common pursuit of Moksha.
The gently sloping sands on the two crescent-shaped beaches, and hence the name, traipse into the rolling waves. You lie down on the cool sand, soaking in the interplay of the waves and the sand. Like lovers having a tiff and then making up, they turn alternately furious and passionate intertwining and dissolving into each other. The rhythmic dance of sea and sand builds into a crescendo only to convulse into a climax. You become inextricably connected with nature, as if we are one. This is Moksha!
Going Dutch in Machilipatnam
The Coromandel Coast in Andhra Pradesh has seen glorious days as a governorate of Dutch East India Company. Today you have hard time locating the Dutch Fort in Machilipatnam. History has a way of getting lost in the sands of time. The forlorn looking structure is seeing some much needed conservation work. This port town has seen trading with the Romans in 3rd century BC to the more recent Portuguese, Dutch and the British. We are making our way north to Manginipudi Beach. Two huge cut-outs of fishes welcome the visitors.
Walking barefoot on the black sand, you are fascinated by the fleeting patterns of ridged sand formed by the receding waters. Families are enjoying the warm evening splashing in the water and keeping the ice cream vendors busy. You have this stretch of tranquil sand and water to yourself. Well maybe not – these seemingly red flowers on the beach are scampering around as they see you approach. They are the fast moving little red crabs disappearing into their holes. Giggling like a kid you chase after them. You feel like a child again and those carefree happy days are back for a few moments. This is not the life you know. This is actually heaven.
Written by: Nirdesh Singh