Velas, a remote village along the Konkan coast, was destined for obscurity, had it not been for the Olive Ridley turtles that hatch their eggs here. These turtles have put Velas on the international tourist map. Every year from February to March baby hatchlings emerge from the golden-black sand and start their journey towards the Arabian Sea. It is difficult to not fall in love with this secluded beach tucked away in a quiet corner of Konkan, even without the turtles.
The village holds significance in Maratha History as it is the birthplace and hometown of Nana Phadnavis – an influential minister and statesman during the Peshwa administration in Pune.
Marine Turtle Conservation Efforts:
For years the turtle eggs were being stolen and eaten by local villagers. Rampant degradation of the natural environment due to pollution and excessive hunting/fishing drove the Olive Ridleys to the brink of extinction. In February 2001, Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (SNM) found evidence of a large number – 35 turtle nests at Velas. Unfortunately, all the hatchlings were predated by Jackals. On talking with villagers they found that locals were prevented from going to the beach because of smuggling activity. As a result, the eggs fell prey to the jackals instead of being poached.
,In 2002, SNM along with the help of the villagers started the conservation project for saving the turtles at Velas. Slowly they spread the conservation efforts all along the Konkan Coast. Their efforts paid rich dividends and today they have spread the conservation effort to over 40 villages and released more than 30000 hatchlings back into the sea.
The Female turtles visit the beach in late-November to lay eggs. They dig pits about two feet deep to lay eggs, then cover it with sand and return back to the sea. At a time a single female lays approximately 100 eggs. The volunteers from NGO then dig the sand and transfer the eggs into man-made pits called hatcheries. After the incubation period of 50-55 days, the hatchlings emerge and create small depressions in the sand. The volunteers uncover the basket, check if turtles have hatched, and transfer all the hatchlings carefully in another basket and take it closer to the sea. Every day at 7am and 4:30-5pm the hatchlings are released into the sea by the volunteers as the sand temperature is highly conducive for the hatchlings to make the slow dash towards the Arabian sea. Females record her site of birth in her memory so that she could return here 10-15 years later to lay eggs.
Velas Turtle Festival
The Turtle festival is hosted by SNM every year from February to March each year. Participants stay at local homestays arranged by the members of Kasav Mitra Mandal ( KMM ). Here they can experience the best of Konkan hospitality. Moreover, the participants get a peek at the baby turtles as they take their first steps towards the Arabian sea every day at sunrise and sunset. The turtle sights though not guaranteed are indeed the most exhilarating part of the festival.
Things to do around Velas:
- Drive up to the Bankot fort to enjoy excellent views of Harihareshwar beach.
- Cross the mighty Savitri river by local ferry that carries the car at Vesavi port. The local ferry transports you directly to Bagmandala from where one can visit Harihareshwar, Shrivardhan and Diveagar, the beach towns in the Raigad district famed for its pretty beaches and beautiful temples.
- Drive along the coastal road from Harihareshwar to Diveagar. Along the way, one passes through vast stretches of Arabian sea peppered with fishing trawlers, colorful fishing villages like Bhadrakhol, secluded beaches and in some places an intricate web of mangroves.
- Visit Devkhol for its ancient temple with beautiful carvings of Gods and Goddesses. The surroundings are a Bird-watcher’s paradise as one can spot a variety of local migratory birds.
- Visit the sea fort of Janjira and Padmadurga near Murud via Dighi.
- Trek upto the hidden fort of Madangad to enjoy excellent views of Murud creek in the North and Bankot creek in the South. The trails upto the fort pass through a thick forest that is home to wild boars and panthers, and it is best to hire a local guide before venturing into the forest.
- Visit natural underground springs – “Gangasthan” off the road to Borlipanchatan, that emerge from five cisterns at specific intervals. Water springs forth intermittently due to an underground siphon system.
Getting There and Around:
The best way to explore and get around Velas is with your personal vehicle.
From Pune, one can reach:
Via Tamhini Ghat:
From Pune, reach Chandani Chauk and travel towards Paud along the Pirangut Road. At Paud take the road to Mulshi Dam to reach Tamhini Ghat. Once you cross Tamhini Ghat, turn left at Vile to reach Nizampura. Here continue travelling towards Mahad until you reach Mangaon. Turn right 500 mts. after Mangaon ST Stand on SH 97 towards Mhasala. Continue straight from Mhasala and you will see the boards directing to Shrivardhan and Harihareshwar. Continue straight from Harihareshwar towards Bagmandala Jungle Jetty, and transfer by ferry to Vesavi. A short drive along the coast for 7 Kms takes one directly to Velas.
Via Bhor Ghat:
From Pune, take the Pune — Bangalore Highway NH4, all the way until Khed Shivapur. This is a 4 lane highway and the road conditions are excellent. Turn right just ahead of Khed Shivapur at Bhor Phata to proceed towards Varandha Ghat. From here reach NH – 17 at “Hotel Sagar” just outside Mahad, and then turn right towards Mangaon. Get off the highway at Lonere Phata to Goregaon, and the drive to Mhasala. Continue straight from Mhasala and you will see the boards directing to Shrivardhan and Harihareshwar. The Varandha ghat road is not smooth, so beware of the bad roads if you opt for this route. Continue straight from Harihareshwar towards Bagmandala Jungle Jetty, and transfer by ferry to Vesavi. A short drive along the coast for 7 Kms takes one directly to Velas.
From Mumbai, take the Mumbai – Goa Highway.
Drive from Panvel until Mangaon on NH66 – Mumbai Goa Highway. Turn right 500 metres. after Mangaon ST Stand on SH 97 towards Mhasala. Continue straight from Mhasala and you will see the boards directing to Shrivardhan and Harihareshwar. Continue straight from Harihareshwar towards Bagmandala Jungle Jetty, and transfer by ferry to Vesavi. A short drive along the coast for 7 Kms takes one directly to Velas.
If one is traveling by Public transport, then ST buses run from Chinchwad & Swargate in Pune and Thane & Mumbai Central in Mumbai. There are bus services that run to Shrivardhan, Diveagar, Harihareshwar, Borli and Dighi. One can take the ST Buses for any of these destinations and then travel to Velas in an auto-rickshaw.
The best way to get around Velas is on foot. However, one can easily find an auto-rickshaw to travel around if visiting distant places.
Best time to Visit
Turtle Festival is usually hosted in February – March every year. This is the best time to visit Velas. However, one can visit the beach any time of the year to soak in the peace and tranquility.
Where to stay
Village homestays are the only option available for stay at Velas. Alternatively, one can stay at Harihareshwar and visit Bankot fort and Velas beach on a day trip.
Where to eat
There are no restaurants in Velas. However, locals would be more than happy to share their food at a minimal cost. Just knock on their doors and ask.