It is a small coastal town, dwarfed by its neighbor – the concrete jungle of Mumbai. Yet, Alibag manages to hold its own, with beaches, forts and temples, a wealth of history within a small area. Alibag has, for long, been the favorite destination for Mumbai-ites looking for a short break from their hectic lifestyles. It is, after all, easily accessible from the city – it is barely 30 Km by the sea, and plenty of ferries are available from the Gateway of India. It’s not too far by road either, for the 100 Km journey takes barely 2 hours to cover. I have always preferred the sea route however, enjoying the feel of the sea breeze in my hair, watching the view of the Mumbai skyline fading away, seeing ships from all over the world at the Mumbai harbor, and of course, the chance of spotting sea gulls or even dolphins!
Alibag is famed for its beaches… and there are many! The Kihim beach is among the most popular ones, the sand seemingly stretching forever, and is packed during the tourist season.
Akshi and Nagaon are known for the trees, which form a natural boundary for the beach.
Thal is a fishing village, best for observing the fishermen returning home with the catch of the day, and of course, if you like fresh fish, getting the best possible deal for your lunch! Apart from these are the various other beaches which are less known than these famous ones, and therefore less crowded!
I love being at the beach early in the morning, watching the sunrise, and enjoying the relative privacy before the throng of tourists arrive. This being the western coast of India, we do not have the pleasure of watching the sun rise over the sea, but watching the red orb rise behind the trees is a wonderful experience too! Or of course, you can stay and watch the sun set instead, with a thousand other tourists for company!
High tide is of course, the best time to enjoy water sports, and these days, there are many available. However, low tide is a wonderful time to explore and enjoy the sight of the sand rippling with life underneath! We have seen numerous starfish and hermit crabs here, and have collected shells and conches to last us a lifetime!
The forts are what connect Alibag to history. This was once a Portuguese stronghold. Later the Marathas established their presence here, and the coastline is dotted with forts!
The Khanderi and Undheri forts are only accessible by boat, and the only way to get there is to persuade one of the fishermen at Thal to take you there! (After getting permission from the fort authority on the beach, of course!)
The fort at Revdanda is in ruins, but the Kulaba fort at Alibag is visited by one and all. This fort, built by the Maratha ruler, Shivaji, is located just off the main beach at Alibag, and when the tide is low, you can simply walk across to the fort! Earlier, the fort used to be off limits at high tide, but these days, boats are available, and you can get a taste of adventure as the boat rides the waves too! Not much remains of Kulaba fort today, except a couple of temples inside and a few cannons left behind. It is still however, an interesting place to visit, if for nothing else than the sight which greets us right at the top – of the Arabian Sea stretching in all directions!
The Korlai fort is another interesting one – built by the Portuguese. Its name is in itself interesting. The world Korlai either comes from the word ‘curlew’, the birds which migrate here in winter, or from ‘creole’, for this is a village with Indo-Portuguese ancestors, who speak a unique dialect of Portuguese mixed with Marathi! The fort is in ruins, but you can still see remnants of the rain water harvesting system used by them more than 600 years back! Today, Korlai fort is known for its lighthouse, which was built post Independence. Visitors are allowed to go up the lighthouse for a fee, and the view from up there is simply too stunning for words! I barely heard what the attendant was saying about the working of the lighthouse! I was so busy clicking pictures!
Alibag has changed hands many times – from the Portuguese to the Marathas, back into the hands of the Portuguese – till the British took over. But even before all this happened, Israelis had arrived at Alibag. In fact, the name Alibag, is believed to mean – the gardens of Ali – after a rich Bene Israelite who owned vast plantations here. The small town thus has its fair share of Churches, temples, mosques, and even a synagogue. I have yet to visit the churches or the synagogue, but the temples here are peaceful and calm, unlike temples usually are. Moreover, the temples here are located atop hillocks and thus isolated from the hustle and bustle of the town.
Alibag is the perfect place to head out for a holiday! It is a great place to relax and unwind, and also to discover and explore interesting places. No wonder once people visit Alibag, they seem to return there… again… and again…………….and again!
The best way to reach Alibag is to take a Catamaran from the Gateway of India in Mumbai. There are 3 catamaran operators – Ajanta (budget), Maldar, and PNP. The last 2 offer AC cabins for those who wish to travel comfortably, but traveling on the open upper deck is a much better experience! These catamarans are available every half an hour, both ways. However, it is advisable to make bookings at least a day in advance especially during weekends or holidays.
The boat ride takes about 45 minutes, and we are dropped at Mandwa, from where a free bus takes us into Alibag. There are also plenty of autos as well as share-autos available for hire.
Alibag has few luxury resorts. However, there are plenty of home stays. A simple Google search throws up thousands of results and all you have to do is call and confirm. Most are reasonably priced, and usually include food, either veg or non-veg. Make sure you do try out the home cooked food! That is what makes a trip to Alibag memorable!