The Konkan Coast Travel
The Konkan Coast is a rugged section of the mid-western coast of India, which starts in the state of Maharashtra and goes all the way to Karnataka. The terrain has numerous climbs of the Western Ghats, river valleys, river islands and tablelands of the Deccan region. Add to this almost zero traffic and you have a fantastic cycling route, which is why it is so popular.
Most people cycle from Mumbai to Goa along the coast, party in Goa and then catch a flight home. I was fortunate to do it the other way around. Starting in Goa and riding to Mumbai, with multiple ferry crossings thrown in for good measure.
For a cyclist, the singularly most interesting aspect of this route is the terrain. From the moment you start the ride in Goa, till you end in Mumbai, you are following a pattern. You hit a short steep climb, then a flat tabletop, drop down a short steep descent, ride a flat valley and then hit the next short steep climb. This goes on repeat mode. It can get quite frustrating if you focus too much on the riding aspect, but there is a lot more to dwell on.
Roads on this route are by and large decent. Too narrow and curvy for automobiles to go fast, which increases the safety quotient for cyclists. The only time you get a difficult riding patch is when you get off the road and ride on the beach!
The landscapes are incredible. From sunsets into the Arabian Sea to the sun rising over the Western Ghats. Idyllic fishing villages, with their docked fishing boats and early morning seafaring routines. The pristine beaches and coconut mangroves along the coast.
If you visit after the monsoons, then the place is a lush verdant green. The land was alive with the smell of rain mingling with the scent of saltwater from the sea. At other times of the year, you will see the green becomes gold. Some of the tabletops are golden grass for massive distances. And if you are lucky to be around at sunset, then you enjoy the golden hour out here.
Proximity to the ghats also means an abundance of wild animals, including leopards. Yet, that is not reason enough to deter you from enjoying a ride in the inky black darkness. The sound of silence and the moonless night envelope you and make you forget everything else that exists in the world. Just the tiny beam of your bicycle headlight flashes the road ahead. The stars twinkling in the sky and being reflected in the many ponds, streams and rivers you ride past. Night riding is filled with mystique, with always the adventure of being watched by some wild animal in the vicinity.
If you go there during March-April, you get to ride through the Mango Orchards in full bloom. The trees are laden with Alphonso mangoes and the scent of it wafts along with the breeze. You smell the mangoes long before you see them. Kind orchard owners will also offer a hungry cyclist a mango or two as a traveller’s gift.
This brings us to the next most important thing for a cyclist. As the old saying goes, ‘An army marches on its stomach’, a cyclist pedals in like manner.
Food in the Konkan region has a typical taste. Breakfast is light with vada pav, missal pav or poha. For most cyclists that would require a double breakfast to keep hunger at bay. The real magic happens over lunch and dinner. Where seafood makes an appearance. Fish thalis are ubiquitous, yet you cannot tire of them. The fish is fresh and since it is the primary food of the place, every eatery knows how to cook it well.
Closer to Alibag and you get delicious biryani as well. And with a dish like biryani, every corner of the country has a different type of biryani and everybody will promise you that their biryani is best!
A unique element on this route is the ferries that you need to take. Several small rivers are opening out into the sea and many of these rivers now have a modern bridge. But there are still 5 spots where no bridge exists and you need to hop onto a ferry to cross the river. At times you might miss the ferry, then you have to catch small boats. These boats sway a lot and you need to grab your bicycle properly to ensure it doesn’t fall and you don’t get seasick!
It is therefore prudent to have the timetable of these ferries so that you can reach these piers on time. Which you would want to download and save on your phone in advance. Because phone connectivity is a major hassle. You are quite happy in the back of beyond.
The icing on the cake of cycling from Goa to Mumbai is that you end your ride on a ferry in a rather iconic place. Pick up your bike, walk up the slippery sea-washed steps at the pier and lo and behold, you are standing in awe of the majestic Gateway of India.
A royal welcome after an exhausting and exhilarating ride