“The mother turtle never meets her babies, and so she takes the utmost care to protect the eggs as she leaves them in mother nature’s lap”, Mohan – my host spoke, as we sipped on the ginger tea. Since my arrival the previous evening, he had shared many interesting facts about the sea turtles. The dawn was breaking, but it would still be some time before the first ray of sun entered this densely covered, remote village; tucked away amidst the Sahyadri mountain range in coastal Maharashtra.
After a long wait & planning, finally I was at Velas – the turtle town of coastal Maharashtra, to attend the turtle festival. The trip to Velas also served my purpose of going off the radar for sometime. No place is really remote if your cell phone has signals, and so I was happy when I lost the network the minute I entered the village; and my phone didn’t ring until I left the place. The two days were blissfully spent relaxing, contemplating, meeting new people, learning new things & exploring the place without any digital distraction.
I hopped on the pillion seat of Mohan’s bike as we headed for the beach. It was a cool morning and the nonchalant village was slowly waking up from a sweet slumber. The narrow streets were lined with rustic houses and numerous trees. The bike was wobbly on the unpaved and bumpy dirt roads; I tightened my grip on the grab bar.
India is a global nesting hotspot for Olive Ridley sea turtles and Velas accounts for 40% of Sea Turtle nests along the coast of Maharashtra. The volunteers check the turtle nests for hatchlings twice every day: 7am & 6pm. During the nesting season, which is between November-January, the volunteers at Velas keep a close check (night patrolling as well) on the shores & track the turtle trails for nests.
Goes without saying, these are sand nests, cleverly dug in the safest places on the shore. Once the nest is spotted, the eggs are then carefully transferred to a fenced nesting facility on the beach. This safeguards the eggs from any possible threats. Replica of the original nest is made by taking the accurate width & depth of it. After about 45-50 days the hatchlings slowly start making their way out of the sand nests. They must be released into the waters as soon as they out.
Only the volunteers are involved up to this point and the event of letting the hatchlings into the waters is open for everyone – that’s what the famous Velas Turtle Festival is all about. March-April are the months when the nests open. It is said that the sea turtles have strong memories associated with their birthplace and hence will swim over 3000 miles, returning to their natal beach to lay eggs.
It had rained untimely a day before and this sudden change in weather had affected the temperature of the nests. I was disappointed as I had no luck spotting any baby turtles. To cheer me up, Mohan offered to show me the vulture nesting site in a nearby town called Harihareshwar – another beach town. I learned more interesting things there.
As we know these scavenger birds feed on the dead/rotten meat; for which they’ve got extremely corrosive stomach acids. Now, they make nests on tall trees like the coconut, but their droppings destroy the trees and vegetation around it. For this reason people do not allow the vultures on their lands/farms.
The forest department along with other nature conservationists here, decided to provide a certain amount as compensation to the farmers who owned those trees where the vulture made its nests. Happy and encouraged with the scheme, the people gladly host the vultures now & the environmentalists have succeeded in saving one more species from getting extinct.
In the evening, we went to the beach again with no luck still. I strode away to explore the beach and a nearby hillock. The sun was about to leave the sky. Feeling the wind in my hair, I sat watching the performance of the birds returning home, waves lapping on the shore, and the changing colors of the sky. The feeling of doing nothing and sitting on a hillock in this remote village was kind of peaceful and empowering.
I headed back towards the village road when the sun traveled to another side of the globe. It was dark soon & we could hear muffled sounds of many insects. Suddenly I saw a firefly, and another and another and another. Soon I was in the middle of at least a hundred fireflies. It was a breathtaking sight! I’d never seen anything so beautiful.
I tried capturing it in my camera, but couldn’t, the camera did no justice to what I witnessed. Soon I gave up and decided to enjoy the moment instead. I stood watching them breath lovely fluorescent lights in the ink black landscape, in some kind of beautiful rhythm that could only be felt.
Velas is a tiny village in Coastal Maharashtra, with minimal connectivity. Best routes are Mumbai-Velas or Pune-Velas, I had taken Pune-Velas route.
Distance from Mumbai: 225 KM (approx.)
Distance from Pune: 199 KM (approx.)
If you wish to take the state transport bus, try to book it in advance as there’s only 1 direct bus from each place per day, for Velas.
Where to stay
There’re plenty of homestays in Velas. Call on the numbers given on the website & book it in advance. During the turtle festival (again, refer the website for dates), there’s a huge surge of tourists.