Alibag: not Goa, but close (to Mumbai)

For a city, where getting around is always a concern due to sparse public transport and constant congestion on the roads, it is surprisingly easy to escape the metropolis. Simply decide on a whim to leave on a late Saturday morning, take the local fast train down to the Churchgate station, walk past the atmospheric cricket grounds of Oval Maidan and book ferry tickets for Alibag at the Gateway of India. The ferries are uncharacteristically organized and punctual, passengers board in lines without ruckus, the boats are equipped with comfortable seats available in the AC room. An hour on the ferry followed by a 45-minute bus ride delivers you to the Alibag town. Now to be honest, this dusty, rusty town should not be your actual final destination, as it is still quite far away from the beaches and is not much of a sight in itself.

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A refreshingly easy and charming ride on the Alibag ferry

Following our arrival in Alibag, we rented a scooter, which turned out to be twice as expensive and twice as unreliable as the ones you can rent in Goa. We rattled our way down the pothole-filled highway to the southern beaches. This was the first time that we got a full taste of the sneaky Indian speed bumps. Perfectly camouflaged on the road, without any paint or warning signs, these little buggers would appear at intersections and rail crossings, but also completely intermittently and unpredictably. The fact that the speed bumps were often hidden in the shade of a roadside tree further convoluted our attempts at their discovery. Emma and I had the pleasure of flying over several of them at full speed, and considering the decrepit state of our bike, it was always more nerve-wrecking than exhilarating, more Mr. Bean than Dukes of Hazzard.

We did eventually reach Revdanda beach. A friend of ours had previously camped out there, and recommended setting up next to the ruins of the old Portuguese fort. We had arrived just after sunset, so the beach was filled with the usual revellers: large picnicking families, clusters of loitering local young men, and a variety of horse and camel handlers. Waiting for the beach to clear a bit, we indulged in some lukewarm Indian white wine. As it leaned more towards the grape juice variety than the vinegar flavour, we found it quite palatable and proceeded finishing the bottle. As the night properly set in, equipped with headlamps and the light from the nearly full moon, we set up our tent and collected firewood for a small fire. Dozing and comfortable by the fire, the night could’ve been complete with a dip in the sea, if only the water was of less questionable colour.

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The wonderfully peaceful view of the old fort from our tent.
The morning greeted  us with a man climbing up the fort walls to get a coconut for breakfast. Not having brought machetes on the trip with us, we unfortunately couldn’t partake in a similar meal, so we explored the fort instead. Aside from the crumbling walls and remains of indistinguishable buildings, the fort was largely dominated by palm trees. As in so many other ways, it was just a bit less impressive than its Goan counterparts. The scooters were less reliable, the roads were more bumpy, the sand was darker, the water was more souppy, the forts were more dilapidated. Still, it provided the sometimes much-needed peaceful respite from Mumbai, and that is certainly worth a lot.

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A picturesque breach in fort walls.
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