Despite the recent appearance of a string of upscale resorts pitched at wealthy urbanites, the coast stretching south from Mumbai, known as the Konkan, remains relatively unspoilt. Empty beaches, backed by casuarina and areca trees and coconut plantations, regularly slip in and out of view, framed by the distant Ghats, while little fortified towns preserve a distinct coastal culture, with its own dialect of Marathi and fiery cuisine. The number of rivers and estuaries slicing the coast meant that for years this little-explored area was difficult to navigate, but the Konkan railway, which winds inland between Mumbai and Kerala via Goa, now renders it more easily accessible; proposals for a seaplane service from Mumbai were also in discussion at the time of writing.
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The first interesting place to break the journey south is the small port of MURUD-JANJIRA, 165km south of Mumbai. A traditional trade centre that once belonged to a dynasty of former Abyssinian slaves known as the Siddis, it still features plenty of attractive wooden houses, some brightly painted and fronted by pillared verandas. The gently shelving beach is wide and safe for swimming, though you’ll find the sea more inviting if you head further south or north.
In Murud, the 1661 Kasa Fort sits in the open sea 2km off the beach but cannot be visited, nor can the impressive nineteenth-century palace of the last nawab, which dominates the northern end of the bay. Fine views of the coast and surrounding countryside can be had, however, from the hilltop Dattatreya Temple, sporting an Islamic-style tower but dedicated to the triple-headed deity comprising Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Just offshore some 5km south of Murud-Janjira stands the imposing sixteenth-century Janjira Fort, one of the few the Marathas failed to penetrate, and now a picture of majestic dereliction. The boat trip to the fort is a serene trip, and once there you’re given an hour so to explore the formidable battlements, though the interior lies mostly in ruins.
Some 215km south of Murud-Janjira lies GANPATIPULE, a tiny village centred on a modern Ganapati temple. Approached via a long covered walkway, the temple is built around a Ganapati omnar, a naturally formed – though hardly accurate – image of the elephant god, which attracts thousands of Indian pilgrims each year. Much more impressive is Ganpatipule’s spectacular white-sand beach, which extends for several kilometres either side of the village. The sea is generally safe for swimming, though you should exercise caution between June and October.