Mumbaikars swear by Alibaug for quick weekend breaks by the seashore. Though Goa remains a favourite, Alibaug being just 110 kms (68 miles) is a more practical choice if one is short on time.
The sleepy coastal town in the Konkan region is known for its half a dozen beaches and a historical concoction of various cultures like Portuguese, Marathi, Israeli and British.
With a few cousins paying me a visit in Mumbai, I too decided to explore Alibaug’s rustic charm with them over the weekend.
A little about Alibaug
Developed by the Maratha kingdom in the 17th century, Alibaug had its share of invasion attempts by Portuguese and British. Kulaba fort and Korlai Creole Portuguese are impregnated with tales of those times. Besides its seven popular beaches, the coastal town is also known for its beautiful Shiva temples, lighthouses, Portuguese ruins, Buddhist Caves and cathedrals. And as the story goes, Alibaug draws its name after an Israelite businessman ‘Ali’.
The wealthy Jew lived here in the 17th century and had numerous gardens and farms. In the local language, the place was called as ‘Alichi bagh’ or Ali’s gardens. Eventually the name boiled down to ‘Alibaug’. How fascinating!
The most popular and easy mode of transportation among visitors is a ferry or private boat. By shelling out barely Rs 100 ($ 2) Alibaug could be reached in 45-55 minutes through several AC/ non-Ac ferry services plying between Gateway of India, in Colaba area of South Mumbai, to Mandwa jetty. The fare includes bus ride from Mandwa quay, where boats alight, to Alibaug.
The services operate all day long from 6am to 6pm on frequent intervals. The ferries discontinue serving during monsoons i.e between June to September. Alibaug could also be reached by road, which takes 3-4 hours.
We were excited about boarding a ferry from Gateway of India as the view of Mumbai skyline from the ocean is impressive. A minor grip, however, are long queues to buy tickets at the Gateway that crawl at snail’s pace.
However, once on the ferry deck, the cool sea breeze makes up for all the wait.
Alibaug offers a pleasant stay
I figured out that choosing among its seven main beaches, scattered over in a stretch of 50 kilometers, is crucial when planning the getaway.
This would determine your place of stay and itinerary within Alibaug. All the seven beaches have a uniqueness of their own. While Kashid is popular for its pristine white sand and movie shoots, Nagaon hosts water sports and other adventure activities. Akshi beach, on the other hand, is a bird-watchers’ paradise and has dense greenery due to abundant Suru trees. For history diggers, there are forts, cathedrals and temples bearing marks of the era gone-by.
We zeroed on Kihim and Nagaon beaches to stay a day each. Alighting ferries at Mandwa jetty, the operator provided a bus to reach Alibaug Bus Station, the main commercial point of the city. The visitors, once at the station, may decide which beach to head to and where to stay by auto-rickshaws and other private vehicles.
The Alibaug beach is very close to the bus station and is the most crowded. It, however, is the most commercially developed too with numerous accommodation options.
Though, Alibaug has no dearth of luxurious spa resorts and hotels, I would rather recommend trying simpler beach cottages and outhouses rented out by the locals.
Besides being very economical they allow you to stay close to nature and hear the rhythm of waves while you lie down. We had booked one such ‘beach shack like cottage’ that actually was someone’s home at Kihim. The prettiest part of the place was that the doors opened right on the sparkling beach sands.
It was the time to dump the luggage and hit the shores. Kihim is quiet and allows one to unwind. With thick growth of coconut trees across the coast, it is a lot greener and peaceful. The beach is scantly lined with shacks offering accommodation and local delicacies.
We jumped into the water to wash off all the post travel weariness. After hours of playing in the waves, we devoured on delicious local snacks and refreshments being sold at the shacks. It is important to mention that Kihim isn’t too ideal for swimming as the beach is gravel. There are a few spots on the entire stretch that are free of underwater rocks and pebbles and are suitable for water activities.
I, nonetheless, found the place more appropriate to relax and spend some ‘me time’. Given to its calm surroundings and seclusion, many film stars and celebrities have brought beach holiday homes and villas at Kihim.
We left for Nagaon early next morning after a wonderful day. Taxi takes almost 45 minutes as the distance is 20 odd kilometers between the two places.
A guest house, very metres away from the beach, was booked for us.
I found Nagaon swarming with enthusiastic tourists trying water activities as jet-skiing, parasailing, Banana rides etc.
It was an encouraging sight, as I had intentionally opted for Nagaon given to its thriving water sports scene. The sand here is deep grey and the shores apt for swimming. The beach, unlike Kihim, is far from being quiet especially around weekends.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the rates offered by local operators for water sports. Parasailing, jet skiing and even a romantic ‘tonga’ ride across the beach is quite affordable with prices negotiable for a larger group of participants.
My maiden parasailing experience over the ocean was super thrilling. The tides were high and the ocean deep down appeared scary, yet, the jockey handled it very efficiently and I enjoyed every moment of it.
Jet-skiing too is fun here and should be definitely given a try.
A word of caution: Alibaug gets dangerous in monsoons as the waters are very high and the ocean rough. Water adventures, swimming and sports shall be avoided at all cost around this time. There have been a few incidents where youths decided to take the plunge in monsoons avoiding all warning and lost their lives.
Nagaon too has a thick cover of Suru trees that adds a dash of green on this bustling beach. Being commercial, Nagaon is outlined by numerous restaurants, eateries, hotels and resorts. Weekends are usually crowded with visitors from neighbouring Mumbai and Pune pouring in. Night life is not much to talk about as Aligaug is more of a relaxed destination. However, the music and food at various open air restaurants at night is appreciable. Sea-food and various Konkan curries should not be missed at eateries.
After spending two fun-filled days at Alibaug, we boarded a ferry again from Mandwa jetty for Mumbai.
Alibaug has a lot to offer and we had too little time to grab it all. Yearning for more, we waved the place a loving good-bye and promised ourselves to visit the coastal town very soon.