Unspoilt Tarkarli beach is best known for its water sports, scuba diving and snorkeling, and dolphin spotting. The beach is long and pristine, and the area is reminiscent of Goa decades ago before development set in. Its narrow, palm-fringed roads are lined with village homes, and locals can often be seen unhurriedly riding bicycles or walking to get around.
At the confluence of the Karli River and Arabian Sea, in the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra, around 500 kilometers south of Mumbai and not far north of the Goa border.
How to Get There
Unfortunately, reaching Tarkarli is time consuming. Currently, there's no airport in the area, although one is under construction. The nearest airport is 100 kilometers away in Goa.
The nearest railway station is at Kudal, around 35 kilometers away on the Konkan Railway. You'll need to book well in advance, as trains fill up fast on this route. Expect to pay around 500 rupees for an auto rickshaw from Kudal to Tarkarli. Autos are readily available at the railway station, and local buses also run from Kudal to Tarkarli.
Alternatively, it's possible to take a bus from Mumbai.
If you're driving from Mumbai, the quickest route is National Highway 4 via Pune. Travel time is approximately eight to nine hours. National Highway 66 (also known as NH17) is another popular, albeit slightly slower, route. Travel time from Mumbai is around 10 to 11 hours. More scenic but much longer is State Highway 4 (the coastal route) from Mumbai.
This route is best suited to motorcycles. It involves a number of ferries and the roads are in poor condition in parts. The views are stunning though!
When to Go
The weather is warm throughout the year, although winter nights can be a bit chilly from December to February. The summer months, during April and May, are hot and humid.
Tarkarli receives rain from the southwest monsoon from June to September.
Most of the people who visit Tarkarli are Indian tourists from Mumbai and Pune. Hence, the busiest times are during Indian festival season (particularly Diwali), Christmas and the New Year, long weekends, and school summer holidays.
A popular Ram Navami festival takes place at Mahapurush Temple every year. Ganesh Chaturthi is also widely and enthusiastically celebrated.
If you want to enjoy pleasant weather and empty beaches, January and February are the perfect months to visit Tarkarli. Off-season discounts are offered, and accommodations receive very few guests during the week.
The Beaches: Tarkarli, Malvan and Devbag
Tarkarli is the region's most well known beach. It's bordered by two tranquil, lesser-frequented beaches -- Devbag to the south and Malvan to the north, both home to fishing communities. Devbag is situated on a long, thin stretch of land with the Karli River backwaters on one side and Arabian Sea on the other.
What to Do
Water sports are carried out on nearby Tsunami Island, a sandbar at the mouth of the Karli River estuary near Devbag beach. (There's some debate over whether or not it was in fact formed by tsunami waves after the earthquake in 2004).
Local boat operators will take you there for a fee, and various water sport packages are offered. Expect to pay 300 rupees for a jet ski ride, 150 rupees for a banana boat ride, and 150 rupees for a speed boat ride. A full package costs 800 rupees. Dolphin spotting trips are another popular activity.
Malvan has one of the best coral reefs in India, and scuba diving (from 1,500 rupees) and snorkeling (from 500 rupees) are possible near Sindhudurg Fort. Marine Dive is a reputable company, based in Malvan, that offers trips. The best months for snorkeling and diving are November to February, when the water is clearest.
If you're interested in undertaking scuba diving training, the Indian Institute of Scuba Diving and Aquatic Sports runs certified training courses near the Maharashtra Tourism resort on Tarkarli beach.
The courses are certified by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors in Australia. Day courses cost 2,000 rupees, while those that go on for a month cost 35,000 rupees.
Sindhudurg Fort, located in the sea just off Malvan beach, is one of the area's top attractions. The fort was constructed by great Maharashtrian warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji in the 17th century. It's a substantially sized one -- its wall stretches for three kilometers and has 42 bastions. The whole area of the fort is approximately 48 acres. The fort can be reached in around 15 minutes by boat from Malvan pier, and boat operators will allow you approximately an hour to explore the fort. What's interesting is that a handful of families, who are descendents of staff appointed by Shivaji, still reside within it. Unfortunately, maintenance and preservation of the fort is lacking, and there is a disappointing amount of trash there. (Read reviews here).
Traditional rapan net fishing is undertaken on the beaches and is fascinating to watch. On Sunday mornings at Malvan beach, the whole village participates. The huge netting, which is placed in a "U" shape in the ocean, is hauled in by fishermen when the fish are spotted, thus trapping them. It's a long, labor-intensive and lively process, as the netting is extremely heavy. Most of the fish caught are mackerel and sardines, and there's a buzz amongst the fishermen to see how successful they've been. See my photos of rapan fishing on Facebook.
Where to Stay
Maharashtra Tourism has a resort with dorms, eight bamboo houses, and 20 Konkani cottages nestled under the pine trees on Tarkarli beach. It has a prime location and is the only place right on the beach, making it extremely popular with visitors. Reservations need to be made months in advance during busy times (book online here), when it's packed to capacity with Indian guests. As it's a government-run property, service is lacking though. Expect to pay around 5,000 rupees for a bamboo house and 3,000 rupees for a Konkani cottage, per night, for a couple including breakfast. This is on the pricier side, considering that facilities and rooms are basic.
If you'd prefer to stay somewhere less costly but in the same area, Visava is a recommended. Otherwise, neighboring Devbag and Malvan beaches have some appealing options.
Enterprising locals have constructed homestays amidst the coconut groves on their beachfront properties at Malvan beach. These homestays are typically comfortable but basic cottages with just a few rooms, only steps from the sea. Two of the best ones, which are located next two each other, are Sagar Sparsh and Morning Star. Expect to pay around 1,500 rupees per night, for a couple. The cottage at Sagar Sparsh is super close to the sea but Morning Star is a bigger property, with chairs, tables, and hammocks interspersed underneath the coconut palms. This ensures that all guests have plenty of personal space to chill out.
Devbag has a few upmarket hotels, as well as many inviting guesthouses and homestays, all lining the ocean. Try Avisa Nila Beach Resort for a touch of luxury. Rates start from 5,000 rupees per night, plus tax.
What to Note
The area is geared more towards Indian tourists, rather than foreigners who seldom visit it. Many of the signs are in the local language, particularly in Malvan where there are homestays. Foreign women should dress modestly (skirts below the knees and no revealing tops) in order to avoid attracting negative attention. Foreign women may feel uncomfortable sun baking and swimming on Tarkarli beach, particularly if there are groups of Indian guys around (which is likely, due to the proximity of the Maharashtra Tourism resort). Quieter Malvan beach offers much more privacy.
Local Malvani cuisine, featuring coconut, red chilli and kokum, predominates. Seafood is a specialty as fishing is one of the villagers' main sources of income. Delicious surmai fish thalis are priced around 300 rupees. Bangra (mackerel) is prevalent and cheaper. Choices for vegetarians are limited.
Unlike many other beaches in India, you won't find any shacks or snack stands lining the shore.