Karwar has all the makings of a sleepy seaside town – tiny fishing boats moored on the shore that hugs the highway, the bridge on the NH17 that runs through the confluence of Kali River flowing into the Arabian Sea, the tiny tree-fringed islands strewn across the ocean and the beach huddled by the Western Ghats.
Being a prominent coast guard navy base, a considerable stretch of Karwar’s beaches falls in the navy’s restricted area and is hence inaccessible to public. The recent integration of INS Vikramaditya into the naval fleet has called for another expansion for which about 25 km of the coastline has been acquired by the Indian Navy. The expansion, called Project Seabird, will also include the tiny beach called Lady Beach which will be soon unavailable for public access.
I arrive in Karwar on a cold morning when the catch of the day is being sold to fish sellers over much haggling. Avinash, whom I meet and befriend at the Riveredge resort I stayed in, agrees to take me around. The thing though is that he rattles off just way too many things to wrap my head around – Sadashivgad Fort, Warship Museum, Devbagh beach, Tilamati beach, Majali beach, Kurumgad Island. We finally agree on the specifics and set out in his bike.
A resort stands in place of the Sadashivgad Fort that, according to the inscriptions, was built in 1715 by the Raja of Basavalinga of Sonda who named it after his father Raja Sadashiva but the Durgamma temple, restored and rebuilt in 1928, is still functional. The fort changed hands from Sonda dynasty to Portuguese to British. The approach road to the fort’s strategic view points, however, is non-existent. We ride an uphill road, precariously over loose gravel interspersed with huge gaping potholes. It is a wonder that even a miniscule of tourist population negotiates these tiny boulders to reach the resort.
The viewpoint amidst rusting cannons and boulders offer sweeping views of the estuary of Kali River. Thickly wooded rock faces emerge out of the ocean, as if strewn across hastily by some mighty force – Kurumgad, Devbagh, Lighthouse – Avinash cites the names of each island, pointing them to me. We tackle bushes and carved tree trunks to reach the other side of the resort for a different view – here, the NH17 runs through the river connecting Karwar to Goa in the north and the rest of Karnataka down south.
Serpent eagle’s soar overhead, scanning the landscape for possible prey. I can see the road hugging the coast. I am lured by the possibilities of boat rides to all these islands. A boat can be hired, I was told earlier. But there are also the best kept secrets – the beaches, visible from where I stand. We take a ride along the coast. At the Majali beach, crows and kites hover dangerously close to my head while picking the surplus shrimps shored up on the beach.
“I am taking you to places where tourists don’t bother to reach,” Avinash tells me. “You sure are,” I reply. He points to a lone, humungous rock just a few meters from the sea and tells me that the locals call it the bucket island. “Because it is shaped like a bucket,” he says. “An upturned one for sure,” I think. Along the ridge of Majali, just on the other side of the mountain is the Tilamati beach, the black sand beach.
Legend has it that Rabindranath Tagore wrote his play Prakritir Pratishodh in the Karwar beach. Honoring his love for the beach, the beautiful beach is named after him. I walk across the highway towards the beach benches and the vantage point and the deck for viewing sunset. A tattooed, dreadlocked biker couple lounge on a concrete bench gazing at the sunset over conversation – possibly on their way to the Karnataka’s hippie haven, lesser Goa, Gokarna. A bunch of snack vendors position their push cart for the evening’s business of heaped golden yellow bhel and tiny, crusty gol gappas. They are early as the sun is only now preparing to descend down the misty sky. They set their business up and lay in wait for truckers passing by and the locals who are out for an evening walk.
There is a lingering indolence to everything in this listless coastal town. The confluence of the river and sea seems to snuff out the tide’s vigor so the beach is laidback. Owing to the geographical location, the town straddles between the thickets of the forests of Western Ghats on the one side and the sea on the other. In Karwar, time seems to slow down. And the locals are oblivious to these endowments. Avinash only seems to agree.