I still remember that night clear as day when I visited my freshly-out-of-engineering-college best friend for one last time before he boarded his flight to his new city of residence where he would now be working 5 days a week in a million dollar IT firm, sitting in a cubicle, making big bucks and living the life everyone dreams of- as a financially independent adult making his own life decisions, and living his life at his own terms (apart from the corporate slavery bit, of course!) As we sat on the terrace of his high-rise apartment building in the middle of a January night, listening to Pink Floyd, it all came back to me. The 4 years of the unbreakable bond that we had shared, the transition from school to college that we had survived, and the innumerable long nights we had spent together sitting on the same terrace, listening to the same music. But now it was time for him to go to a new city, make new memories with new friends and perhaps broaden his music taste too. Our goodbye, of course, wouldn’t happen without us promising to keep coming back to see each other as often as we could and so I jumped at the first chance I got at booking a train ticket to Pune to go see my big buddy living his big boy life.
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What started off as a small plan to visit my best friend in Pune, and take a road trip to go see the Olive Ridley Turtle hatchlings at the west coast at a small village in Maharashtra turned into a 18 days long journey covering three states including Karnataka, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh. Travelled 26 hours in a train, in a local bus, in a hired car, on a bike, and a flight. Ate local home cooked cuisines, spent hours in cafes, stuffed my face with idlis by the roadside, survived on kokam sharbat and tried coconut ice cream for the first time (and loved it!) . Met people. Met people from all over the country, all over the world, from all walks of life. Met college students, met lawyer turned yoga teacher, met sportsperson turned sports events curator, met college dropout turned property manager, met NRI turned homestay owner. Met people from Bangalore, West Bengal, Israel, Greece, UK, France, Canada, Germany, Shillong, Sirsi. Met people and exchanged opinions, had meaningful discussions spanning over night and formed and changed perceptions. Met people and learnt new things. This is what I want my life to be. A constant change, an ever learning experience, full of people from here there and everywhere. In one month, I will hopefully begin making my life into what I want it to be. But for the next one month, 📚 . See ya later 👀
As I boarded my 26-hour long train with a crying infant in the berth next to mine, I started scouring for different experiences I could try in and around Pune and that’s when Google Uncle came to my rescue. I chanced upon the Turtle Festival in Velas, a small coastal village in Maharashtra, just about 200 kilometres from Pune and decided that’s where I want to go. In a matter of a few minutes, a plan was solidified, a car was rented, another friend I met on the road while in Spiti Valley was invited, and in 26 hours I found myself jumping from a railway station into a car, traversing through the winding roads of the Sahayadris, and off to see this little village celebrating this little festival that none of us had any idea about.
what is the velas turtle festival about?
The Turtle Festival is an annual festival celebrated across the coasts of India, that aims at the conversation of the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles. These turtles are the second smallest sea turtles in the world and are found in the warm tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The females lay their eggs in large nestings on the beach called arribada only to return to sea and never come back for their young ones again! These eggs hatch in due time and the baby turtles make way to the sea all by themselves, to possibly never see their parents and learn to survive all by themselves.
First sight of Olive Ridley sea turtle hatchlings
The Olive Ridley sea turtles were recently classified as under threat of extinction due to the overhunting of their eggs by predatory birds and animals, and due to the consumption of these eggs. Adult turtles also face threat from consumption of plastic floating in the oceans, getting entangled in fishing nets, oil spills in the ocean and being killed by boat propellers. The Turtle Festival in India, celebrated in various coastal parts including Goa, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Orissa, aims at bringing back their numbers through the help of NGOs and the governments. The nestlings are carefully protected by covering them with straw baskets and every morning and evening the conservationists check up on these baskets for possible hatchlings and gently release them into the sea. Velas Turtle Festival has been an annual event since 2006, organized 2006 by the NGO Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra.
when does the velas turtle festival take place?
The hatching season for these turtles is between the months of Febraury and April every year and this season is celebrated as the Turtle Festival across the states wherein tourists can come and see the conservation process and watch the little newborns find their way to the sea. The baby turtles are released back to the sea twice each day during sunrise and sunset.
See ya later, dudes!
Pro tip: The Velas Turtle Festival has now become highly commercialized since tour operators have started rolling out weekend packages for the event. To skip the maddening crowd, make a short trip during the weekdays- even if it means taking a day off or two from your office- to make your trip worth it.
how to reach velas?
Velas is located in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, some 195 kilometres from Pune and about 225 kilometres from Mumbai. There are state-run and private buses plying from both these cities to Dapoli (53 kilometres from Velas) and Mandangad (36 kilometres from Velas), from where local transport can be further used to reach Velas.
The nearest railway station to Velas is at Chiplun, located some 108 kilometres away. Local transport from Chiplun to Velas is unreliable and it is better to hire private vehicles.
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Only when I travelled from the Western Ghats to the West Coast to the Himalayas in a single breath did I realise how beautiful the world I live in is. The narrow winding roads of the Western Ghats flanked with canopies, and the deserted Sahyadris keeping me company, reminded me that there is as much joy in the journey, as the destination. The vast open shores of the Arabian Sea welcomed me with open arms but constantly threw me out too. It reminded me how powerful Mother Nature is, and to never take her for granted. The snow laden peaks of the Himalayas, even in the spring of April, reminded me of my insignificance in this Universe. It constantly punctured my ego and reminded me to never let myself get bigger than I am. Only when I travelled from here to there in a single breath did I remember to love the cold and the heat equally, for without either we wouldn't exist today.
where to stay in velas?
Breakfast with a view?
Almost all houses in the village convert into homestays during the Velas Turtle Festival and offer rooms ranging from 400 to 800 INR per person per night. There are no cafes or restaurants in the village, but each homestay offers separate meal packages.
Pro tip: Contact Mr. Milind Patil on (+91) 9325874437 to book your stay. His property overlooks a beautiful orchard of coconut palms and the food he prepares is to die for! From delicious poha for breakfast to the authentic Marathi cashew and wai curry, we devoured every bit of it!
things to do in velas
Apart from enjoying the Velas Turtle Festival, one can also visit the Bankot Fort, Harihareshwar Beach and the natural springs and caves in Dapoli. These are places that were recommended to me by the locals there. However, I did not step out of Velas during my two-day visit. Do let me know in the comments if you have ever visited or end up visiting any of these places in the future!
things to remember
- Swimming is not allowed at the Velas Beach since it is considered to be one of the most dangerous beaches of India, and could also be possibly hazardous to the baby sea turtles that were just released into the sea.
- Do not purchase single-use plastic bottles or chips and biscuits that come in plastic wrappers as all this plastic will ultimately end up in the sea, defeating the entire point of this festival.
- Do not expect luxury resorts or restaurants in Velas. The locals rent out their modest rooms with delicious home cooked food to the tourists. Please remember to respect their space.
- There is no ATM in the village. Be sure to carry enough cash.
- Respect the conservationist practices at the festival and adhere to the guidelines laid out by the NGO workers. Do not enter the area where the baby turtles are. One wrong step and you might just be the reason for the death of a poor, unsuspecting baby sea turtle.
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