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Monday 14 October 2013

Pippa Davies in Ratnagiri India

We arrive on a night bus from Pune in the early hours of the morning to be welcomed by a cool sea breeze and stretches of golden sands. Ratnagiri is a relatively unknown area on the west coast of India but is slowly becoming recognised for its relaxing atmosphere and untouched forests and beaches.
Atithi Parinay is an eco-friendly home stay in Ratnagiri which prides itself on offering a unique tourism experience. Set within deep forestry and accessed by scenic winding roads, the place is a true example of responsible tourism today; the food is grown and supplied from local businesses and all cooked on site. All the building materials are locally sourced, from the tree house to the luxury tents and huts, the cow dung floors and clay roof tiles. These last two are used in effect to keep the rooms cool when hot and warm when cold.
The exquisite scenery and peaceful ambience is a complete blessing; in the morning haze you are encouraged to dip your feet into the stream nearby where you can be treated with a natural fish pedicure. You are completely immersed in the natural surroundings and humbled whilst being joined by a bull on the opposite side of the stream, quenching its thirst under the rising sun. Woven hammocks are dotted around the area in between the tall tree trunks, perfect for dozing in the afternoon sun through the canopy of leaves above. A distinct highlight of the stay is the exceptional service offered by the owner Medha and her family.  In the evenings, Medha introduces delicious traditional Marathi style food and teaches how to eat it. Each portion of the meal should be presented on a banana leaf in precise areas depending on what piece of food it is and should be eaten with bare hands. Afterwards, it is custom to give the banana leaf to the cows as the aromas of the food are absorbed during the meal, making the leaves tastier.

A newly established tour company The Western Routes offers tours around Ratnagiri working closely with the home-stay, the owner of the tour company, Jayesh Paranjape also considers the sustainability of his tours by incorporating local businesses into the itinerary. A distinctive experience of Ratnagiri is visiting Bondre’s Organic farm at Devghar village. As part of the visit you are able to explore the vast farmland and forestry, with a chance to venture down cascading waterfalls immersed within the trees and swim in the lagoons. A typical Marathi lunch is offered to guests with generous servings and  is exceptionally tasty. There is time to relax with a cup of chai among the trees on an extremely comfortable Machaan built with wood and hay before being treated to a local Konkan performance with Jaakdi dancers.

The secluded beaches of Ratnagiri, so empty and vast, are the jewel in the crown of this charming place. Apart from the plodding of a couple horned cows, owner in tow, and the slight prancing of curious deer, you are completely in solitude. In order to reach Aare Waare beach a precarious climb over rocks is in order but it is worth it for the sought after seclusion which is so rare on picturesque beaches like this at peak season. The Ganesh Gule beach is also an extraordinary sight, empty stretches of golden sand and clear blue sea, lined by towering green coconut trees.  A refreshing drink of fresh coconut milk from the forests fringing the beach rounds the day off nicely. A local man meticulously carves the fruit with a machete-like knife to make a hole in the top from which to drink and then carves it in half and scrapes out the coconut flesh to eat.
Great forts and religious monuments are dotted around the area, such as the awe-inspiring Purnagad Fort and temple which looks out to the ocean for miles. Ratnagiri has become popular for a place to stay for people visiting Ganpatipule, where thousands of tourists go to see the Hindu temple of Swayambhu. A special touch about this place is that you are encouraged to tell a wish to the rat deity at the entrance of the temple, it is said if you do not divulge this secret with anyone, it will come true. Another interesting place to visit is Prachin Konkan, a quirky life-size museum depicting life and stories of the past in Konkan. There is a handicraft shop where visitors can purchase souvenirs to remember this intriguing attraction, not that you would need one! 

To sum up, Ratnagiri is an ideal place to visit if you are seeking a true off the beaten track experience in India. Especially for those who enjoy the outdoors with the comforts of luxury accommodation, with exciting and novel experiences.

Pippa Davies

Travel Consultant at Kanoo Travel Haymarket, London

for more information about India, and unique travel experiences please visit www.kanootravel.co.uk, or call us on 0800 458 3412, or email webbookings@kanootravel.co.uk

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