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Beachbumming in Deobag

Every year the Indian Konkan Coast swells with tourists and travellers looking for fun in the sun and sand. In laidback Tarkarli and Deobag, however, it’s as much about what to do as it’s about who’s next door. Chances are that you’ll be by yourself, despite the peak seasons (fingers crossed).
Tarkarli wasn’t exactly our first option. In fact we had only distantly heard about its pristine beaches from friends of friends. When our plans for a road-trip to Gokarna fell flat at the last minute, we (my boyfriend and I) picked the first destination that had a train seat available on Tatkal. And so Tarkarli it was.

On an uneventful night in the middle of the week, we took the Konkan Kanya Express from Mumbai to Sawantwadi, about 38 odd kilometres from Tarkali. Despite buses which ply every half an hour we hitched an auto-rickshaw, so that we could check out multiple homestays without hauling our backpacks under the steaming afternoon sun.

Tarkarli is a sort of a drive-by town along the Konkan Coast. Wedged between the backwaters and the Arabian Sea, it is just a sliver of houses running along the white beach. The winding road shaded by indigenous coconut trees and shrubs, will take you all along the village till you reach Deobag, that is the delta.

To an unseasoned tourist, everything about Tarkarli is likely to seem unremarkable. The houses are a random selection of bland face-brick structures, strewn between overgrown hedges. The rundown eateries have a few tables with old plastic chairs thrown around it. A handful of local shops dot the arterial road, with shiny plastic packets of fryums and greasy glass jars of sweetmeats along the dirty countertops. There’s likely to be nothing distinctive about the village; that is until you step onto the beach. And suddenly, it all fits.

The making of the beach bums

The dictionary says it’s a slang for someone who spends inordinately long hours having fun on the beach. While we are not your most experienced beach bummers, we did spend an unreasonable amount of time warming our asses on the sand; swimming, reading, drinking, playing poker and squinting at dinghies in the horizon. And just to put things in perspective here’s a small what-to-do-next guide for potential beach bummers in Deobag.

1. Far from the crowd, closer to the sea!

Stretching our legs and lazing by the foaming sea

While Tarkarli still has a relative number of families visiting during the long weekends, its postcard cousin - Deobag is the perfect getaway to perch yourself up and completely distance yourself from the holidaymakers’ humdrums. The pristine white beach, lined with heaving palms and coconut trees run in a narrow stretch for miles. On an ordinary sunny day, the sea is calm and just perfect to dive in and cool off.

2. The picture on the wall 

The view from our room

Imagine waking up to Neil Young crooning Pocahontas at the backdrop of waves crashing in extended whooshes. The sun is yet to fire the sky and the beach is bathed in a sombre greyish blue. As I stared at this incredible living picture on the wall, I was filled with an inexplicable hope of the brand new day ahead of me.

3. The rustic life by the sea
Morning chores of sea-side dwellers

Mornings are busy for people making a living off the sea. You’ll find small clusters of rowboats and dinghies as the fishermen unload their day’s catch. Don’t be shocked to find a handful of them taking a dump at the edge of the water. Hygiene be dammed; go natural I guess! Ambling along with water lapping at your feet over the soft squishy sand, you can spot women rubbing spices on fresh fish over interwoven mats of dried coconut leaves. Till your tummy starts complaining for breakfast, put on some JJ Cale on your playlist and watch the rustic village scene unfold along these Arabian shorelines.

4. Breakfast by the bay
A simple breakfast chai-biskut

If you follow the arterial road right to the end, you’ll walk straight into the delta with a long wooden jetty on the riverside, right opposite the local cafe. Unlike most of Tarkarli and Deobag, here the beach opens up into a huge v-shaped sand field, wedged between the river and the sea. Order a plate of idli sambar, vada, dosa or poha with hot milky tea and watch the sea currents gnawing into the calm backwaters. If you fancy snorkelling or paragliding, head over to the cafe owner and book a speed boat with a guide.

Instead we spent a few hours lying in hammocks, reading and drinking lots of tea under the shade. 

5. A headrush of gin and juice

When in doubt, carry a bottle of gin! Unless you’re in a commercial beach in Goa or Gokarna, it is unlikely you’ll find beer at your beck and call. Instead buy yourself some coconuts and douse it Lime Duet (Blue Riband) to make yourself a refreshing afternoon cocktail on the sand.

6. Time wasted is time well spent

Beach paraphernelia 

The bible says “man was created in the image of God”. Well, we don’t exactly see God running to catch the 8:15 local, do we? Or charging down the corridors of heaven, to sign the Great Big Muster in the sky, before he’s marked absent for half the cosmic calendar? Instead I imagine after the seventh day, he would have stretched out on a beach working out the mating rituals of bumblebees.
Rediscover the virtues of idleness as you stretch out and enjoy the unadultered pleasures of pondering over the bigger questions of life between lazy swims and gin laced coconut water.

Beach paraphernalia for some serious vellapanti

  • Swimsuit 
  • Sunscreen 
  • Beach towel and/or sarong 
  • Pair of mini speakers or earplugs (depending on your preference 
  • Shades 
  • A bedsheet 
  • Playing cards 
  • Coconut & gin 
  • And some Dire Strait

7. Magic in monochromes

On our second day, the showers came in tumultuous torrents. October is hardly the time for monsoon, but that didn’t stop the grey cumulonimbus clouds to blanket the setting sun. Casting a veil of darkness over the agitated water.

8. You had me at Rawas Tawa fry

Malvani thaali of surmai fry, Malvani kombdi, kombdi vade, paneer masala and sol kadi 
Nothing beats the spice tinged aroma of fried fish wafting through the no-frills homestyled restaurants of Deobag. You would be hard-pressed to find vegetarian fares along the Konkan coasts where seafood is the predominant protein. But don’t hold me to my word! I couldn’t be bothered with veg specialties unless I accidentally come across it as part of the usual thali.

To put it mildly Malvani recipes use coconuts in one form or the other; fresh, dried, crumbed. It differs from home to home (which is the same as restaurant to restaurant in Tarkarli) like most other cuisines. But what remains common is the use of Bedgi chillies (which lends a spicy tang and a bright red hue) in most fish curries. The most common thalis comprise of fried Surmai (king mackerel or seer) or Rawas or pomfret. Considering this is all home-cooked, asking for boneless preparations might draw the angst of the chef (usually the wifey of the sole waiter/owner). Instead go for the spicy Malvani Kombdi (chicken curry) along with aamboli (Maharashtrian dosa) or kombdi vade (fried bread). Wash down the spices with a tumbler of sol kadi (spiced kokam digestive beverage) and you’re good for the next seven hours (depending on your metabolism).

Crab masala

But to put it in our newfound ‘beachbumming style’, here’s a step-by-step guide for the uninitiated.

  • Do a recce of the restaurants – Talk to the owners, find out whether they take pre-orders and of course the prices (chances are they’re all equally inexpensive, but beware of the duper anyways) 
  • Make a note of a handful that you like the most. Pick one for lunch and another for dinner 
  • Pre-order your lunch the day before. Why? Most of these restaurants don’t stock up on seafood. Usually it is the waiter cum owner who goes fishing himself in the wee hours of dawn. And if you want to give the succulent tiger prawns or some crabs a go, inform him a day earlier. So that your lunch is both scrumptious and hassle-free. And while you’re at it, pre-order some beers as well. 
  • Wrap up some fried crab in a foil to enjoy on the beach for laters 
A quick wrap-up on highlights we missed
  • A trip to the famous Sindhudurg fort (the untimely rain wiped out our plans) 
  • Snorkelling and scuba diving (I’m saving that up for the Andamans) 
  • Paragliding (overdone and overrated) 

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