A tailor made weekend getaway for the people of Mumbai and Pune. This is the Velas turtle festival. A treat for wildlife photographers and eco conservation enthusiasts, Velas not only offers you the opportunity of being part of a conservation project but treats you to some amazing sites nearby as well.
Velas is a small village in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. Also the birthplace of Nana
Phadnis, a secretary of the Peshwai in Pune, this village gives you a classic rustic
Maharashtrian feel. A 220km drive from Mumbai, it is located nearby to Dapoli. Some fantastic beaches, tasty Maharashtrian food and the opportunity to save a turtle await you.
What is the Velas Turtle Festival ?
The Velas Turtle Festival is an opportunity for the people to be a part of a conservation project of the Olive Ridley Turltes.It is an endangered species of Marine turtles.It is undertaken by the Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra Mandal. Every December-January, these turtles come to the beaches to lay their eggs which are then taken by the volunteers and put in a cage for protection from other animals and humans, who are known to eat the eggs as a delicacy.
Each turtle can lay upto 3 nests of 100-150 eggs each. These are safeguarded till the incubation period of 45-55 days is over and the hatchlings are released into the sea. The March-April period is when the hatchlings are released into the sea. Everyday at 7am and 7pm, the baskets are opened to see if there are any hatchlings and if any, they are given a grand farewell by the visitors and the volunteers !!!
The festival usually takes place from mid March to mid April as this is a peak time for the hatchlings to come out of the egg. But its not always that you can see the turtles hatched. Its a natural progression so there can be times when you can see no hatchlings in a particular session.
We were fortunate enough to see 13 on a Saturday morning .A time when there are generally less number of people. Weekdays have even lesser people. That evening saw a lot more people but no turtles. Perhaps they were shy. The next morning,Sunday, saw a huge crowd on the beach .
Everybody was standing with bated breath to see if we there any turtles to be released this morning as they could not witness it yesterday. After 3 empty baskets, there was a tiny offspring waiting to go out and live its life.Only one turtle!!!. On its journey to the sea, it would surely have felt special as there was a posse of photographers in every yoga pose conceivable trying to get the perfect picture. A celebrity surrounded by papparazzi. This lone soldier lapped up all the attention and was swept away with the waves embarking on a dangerous but amazing journey. Its said that they come back to the same beach to lay their eggs. Hopefully, this turtle makes its way back for procreation.
The surreal experience of seeing the tiny turtles making their way into the wide open sea is a sight to behold. There were many with me who were disspointed with the experince because it didn’t seem natural but that was the whole point. A natural setup could not protect them from extinction.Just a few hours into this world, and these tiny tots are embarking on a gallant journey of their life. Gallant, because only 1 out of 1000 live upto adulthood and that are pretty scary odds if you are a turtle. The value of a life cannot be measured by the odds it is given but the journey it goes through, however short it might be. If you really get into a contemplative mood looking at the turltes, you can relate to it better. All this effort to save a turtle, just to send them to a certain death ? That is what its all about.Just like a life given by our parents filled with love and affection before they go out there in the deep sea which will be a hell lot like a the world we are in.
There aren’t any hotels in Velas. Just some homestays. Kind people throwing their doors open to strangers and showering them with great hospitality. We stayed at the house of Mr. Prakash Joshi. a kind hearted soul gracious enough to accomodate 30 people looking for an adventure. A nice and comfortable stay ,somewhat like a dormitory accompanied by some lip smacking Maharashtrian food is all you need to complete this getaway. My favourite was the Koshambir. a pickle like accompaniment which blended beautifully with the rice and dal.
A list of all homestays that are available in Velas can be found here.
A small fort used as a toll collection booth for trade across the Saraswati River, this fort gives some amazing views of the beaches. Its unlike the other forts you have seen which are huge and sometimes monumental.We received a nice lesson in history by our organiser Sameer Patel. You could sit atop the fort and just gaze endlessly at the beaches and the sea upto the horizon.
A fitting end to an already great experience was the Harihareshwar Temple. Not so much for the temple, but for me it was the beach that took my breath away.
Harihareshwar is a short drive and a river crossing from Velas. After about 20-30 minutes of a bus ride, we hopped onto a ferry, along with the bus !!!, and crossed the river. Another 15 minutes later, we reached our destinantion.I entered a temple and offered my prayers and came out quickly. Having seen many temples which have mini temples inside them,I could not forsee that the temple I just came out of was the one we were visiting. We the headed onto the beach and lo and behold – a sight so mesmerizing, it actually felt like one of those fantastic beaches straight out of Survivor. If not for the group, I would surely had looked for the hidden immunity idol. 😛 With such a nice setup, it was no wonder that we had photos getting clicked at every second.
An Ideal Itinerary
Leave Mumbai at 2200-2230 hrs.
Reach Velas at 0530-0600 hrs.
Have breakfast and head for the festival which starts at 0700hrs.
Laze away for the rest of the morning and wait for a delicious lunch.
Head to Bankot Fort at 1500 hrs and enjoy some quiet time over there.
Reach the beach for an evening session with the newly hatched turtles from the past 12 hours.
Sleep for the night.
A third wonderful outing to the beach for more turtles !!
After breakfast leave for Harihareshwar Temple.
Lunch at the temple. (A heaven for fish lovers)
Leave for Mumbai and reach by 2200hrs.
We went with Nisarg Brahman (http://www.nisargabhraman.org/). An amazing experience with the organisers taking care of every small detail. Kudos to Sameer Patel and Parag Vartak. The efficiency of the management was worth applauding. Sameer is a bird photography enthusiast who could be seen trying to get the perfect shot of a bird if he spotted one by running around till it was mission accomplished.
A great experience with an awesome group. Meeting new people and sharing the fun brings in twice as much joy as it would have been otherwise. A trip is never complete with a dose of Antakshari, Dumb charades and Mafia and the Viacom 18 group certainly helped us in achieving this goal. !!!
Till next time. travel safe 😀