November 01, 2004

Beaches of Suburbia

Bom Bahia, “good bay,” Portuguese colonisers named it, before packaging it with the princess Catherine De Braganza when she was married off to Charles II of Britain.
The Brits, congenitally incapable of pronouncing names that originate West of Dover, called it Bombay, and proceeded to fill in the gaps between the islands.

Bombay, Bambai, Mumbai, call it what you will, still has oodles of coastline. The Arabian Sea to the West; and the Thane Creek separating it from the mainland on the East. Add the indentations of several creeks. And if, like most of us, you also include mainland municipalities and their littoral stretches in your concept of this megapolis, there should be an embarrassment of beaches to stroll around, paddle in and picnic at.

That, unfortunately, isn’t the case.

The bits of the West that aren’t concrete up to the waterline are more Bhelpuri vending zones than beaches. Or, in villages within the city, they host the the fishing communities that were the area’s original inhabitants, and the shore is lined with drying bombil and shrimp. Or they’re separated from the sea by mangrove swamps. Besides, the city’s effluents don’t make any of these the ideal place to waggle a contemplative toe in the water. The East is either navy or port land, or salt pans or mangrove. On the mainland, mangrove again, rocky shores, or water that’s so polluted it’s lightly diluted sewage.

So where does the city go for its sun, sand ’n’ sea getaways?

There are some pleasant alternatives for the shorter weekend getaways. And we visited them for you. Yes, tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.

We started just out of city limits, near the Vasai creek, into which the Ulhas river empties itself.


The Uttan-Gorai-Manori stretch.

Uttan isn’t much of a beach. Gorai was once lovely, now packed with all manner of riffraff on the weekends - avoidable. Manori is quieter, cleaner, but more expensive.

Getting there: Drive in via Bhayandar, or park at Marve (many of the family properties there offer Pay&Park facilities). Or a train to Malad, then bus or rickshaw to Marve, BEST ferry across the creek, autorickshaw or tonga to your resort.

U-tan Sea Resort

Nestled on the crest of a hill just out of Uttan village, the resort gives you a breathtaking view of the sea: it seems to stretch much, much further, wider and deeper than a view from lower down would have you believe.

The architecture is an acquired taste, but I found it growing on me over the night we spent there. Dr Gopal, who developed the resort on ancestral land, is a bit of an architecture buff, and has given his fancy free rein here. The “cottages” are two-storied cubes, all straight lines, sharp angles, white paint, black metal and glass, softened by the trees they nestle amongst, set in a staggered line, so that each room has its own share of the breeze and sea view through the trees, with a bit of the next cottage’s porch thrown in as well. Aside from the cottages, there are two suites, plus four service apartments. The restaurant’s glass walls and the poolside give you a truly panoramic view. The beach, a longish walk downhill is rocky, and lined with drying fish, and the water rather filthy from the creek and river’s effluents. Avoid. The resort has a pool, and a wooded stretch above the main buildings where you could stroll, or sit under a tree with a book while the brats play Veerapan-Police. You could also wander down to the “tableland” that overlooks the junction of creek and sea; take a boat ride across the creek to see the Bassein fort; visit the lighthouse or the old churches in Uttan. Esselword and Waterworld, if you absolutely insist, are also nearby.

Accommodation: 5 Classic rooms, 5 standard rooms, 2 suites, 4 apartments. All ACed, 2-bed, attached bath.
Best rooms: Sunset suite or top floor apartments, for the view.
Food: Limited menu, but good. No bar.
Service: Warm, friendly.
Tariffs: Rs 1500 for standard rooms to Rs 3000 for suites and apartments. Taxes extra. Discounts on weekdays. Packages available.
Contact: Phone: (022) 28451151, 28452345 (resort); 26206063, 26282653 (city booking). Email: utan@rediffmail.com. Web: www.u-tan.com

Domonica’s Beach Resort and Domonica Hotel

Once a single entity, these two resorts are owned by brothers who once helped their parents manage the undivided place. They share a common entrance gate, access to the beach, and ambience, and are only separated by a knee-high wall and different staff members, so to avoid repetition, we’ll cover them together.

They offer unpretentious accommodation at decent prices. The cottages are strewn in friendly disorder around the tree-lined property. Most have a small balcony or porch, hammocks abound, plus a play area for the kids, games and indoor sports, and organised activity on weekends. The main drawback is lack of a sea view, with even the breeze filtered by the thicket of trees in the land between resort and sea shore. But it’s just a minute’s walk down to the beach.

On weekends, don’t expect silence and solitude. There’s a fair mix of people, with a slight bias towards the city’s Christian population. It’s light and cheery, lots of families and groups of friends, full iceboxes, music from either guitars and singers or boom boxes fills the air.

Domonica’s Beach Resort
Accommodation: 8 AC 2-bed rooms, 6 non-AC doubles, 5 4-bed rooms, 5 Dormitory rooms. All with attached bathroom.
Best rooms: N.A.
Food: Satisfactory. The standard Indian-Chinese-Mughlai mix, with a few Goan and East Indian dishes thrown in. No alcohol.
Service: Friendly.
Tariffs: From Rs 150 per head per day in the dorms, to Rs 1000 for an AC 2-bed. Packages available. Lower rates on week days.
Contact: Phone: (022) 28452163, 28452178 (resort); 24462161, 24469735 (city booking).
Domonica Hotel
Accommodation: Double rooms, 1 AC, 4 non-AC. 4-bed rooms. 1 AC 2 non-AC. 1 Dormitory room. All with attached bathroom.
Best rooms: N.A.
Food: Satisfactory. As above. No alcohol.
Service: Not tested.
Tariffs: From Rs 150 per head per day in the dorms, to Rs 700 for an AC 2-bed. Packages available. Lower rates on week days.
Contact: Phone: (022) 28452643, 28452280.

Manoribel

Across the wall from the conjoined Domonicas, the ambience here is more yuppie, upmarket. It’s quieter, with a lot more open space, and it’s more expensive.
Stone arches predominates, and no groves or other properties block view or breeze. Large, airy rooms, with the best ones facing the sea. There’s a machchan to watch the sunset from, and the beach just over the low wall. The restaurant roof is supported by stone pillars, but no walls, so you eat serenaded by wave sounds and the sea breeze flirting with the coconut palms. The restaurant serves set lunches and dinners at a reasonable Rs 200, one of which, supplemented with an extra item from the à la carte menu, is enough to feed two moderate appetites.

Accommodation: 8 semi-detached 2-bed AC sea-facing cottages (1 and 1A can be joined to become a 4-bed suite), 2 non-AC sea-facing cabins, 1 non-AC 3-bed apartment, 1 AC 4-bed apartment, 3 standard 2-bed AC rooms, 5 standard non-AC rooms.
Best rooms: Cottage 6 or 7.
Food: Good. No alcohol.
Service: Not really tested, but seems professional and warm.
Tariffs: From Rs 901 for a 2-bed non-AC to Rs 2120 for cottages 6 or 7. Price inclusive of taxes. (The refreshing feature in their price list is they clearly state room rates, exact taxes and totals.) Lower weekday rates. Extra bed at Rs 100. If friends visit you during the day, you pay Rs 100 per person per day.
Contact: Phone: (022) 28452806/7/8/9 (resort); 22691301, 22692108 (city booking). Email: manoribel@vsnl.net. Web: www.manoribel.com

Aksa

Do not, repeat, do not swim here. Treacherous shifting sands claim lives every year. Nice to stroll on, but stay near the vegetation line. If you wander closer to the water, you might find yourself stranded on a sandbar as the tide changes.

Getting there: Tell the driver to turn left at Malad, darling.

The Resort

We’re going high end now. This is 5 star holidaying, and if you’re here, it really doesn’t matter how inhospitable the beach is, there’s enough to keep you occupied. And of course you’re paying for the luxury, so you might as well enjoy it.
There’s all that you’d expect - large pool with great view, gym, sports facilities, kiddie room, massages, steams, business centre, you name it. Sea-facing rooms have their own private balconies. Suites are larger, with a sitting area and a bigger balcony. Overall, nothing to really blow you away. The villas - actually they’re semi-detached apartments - are more luxurious. two bedrooms, private lawn, plus your own steam, sauna and jacuzzi. Both Abhijit and I though the decor, was a little, um, loud.

Accommodation: 36 double occupancy rooms, facing groves of coconut palms, 54 sea-facing double occupancy rooms with private balcony, 2 suites, 2 semi-detached 2-storied villas.
Best rooms: The villas, natch. That’s if you’re ready to pay the price. Otherwise any sea-facing room.
Food: 2 restaurants (one multi-cuisine, with a leaning towards Indian food, the other a standard issue coffee shop). Good food.
Service: Professional.
Tariffs: From Rs 3600 for a standard room to Rs 14990 for a villa. Taxes extra. Includes breakfast. Packages available.
Contact: Phone: 022 28808888, 26443333. Fax: 28818641. Email: rahres@vsnl.com, resv@theresortmumbai.com. Web: www.theresortmumbai.com

Erangal

Not much of a beach for the holiday-maker. The available sandy space is covered with drying fish, and the smell overpowers the sea air.

Getting there: As above, honey. Except keep going after you pass The Resort.

The Retreat

We’re still in Luxury Land. And this was pretty much the place where we pampered ourselves the most. There’s an overall feel of airiness and space here that won us over. The curved lines of the the pool, with its little island and waterfall, blending into a covered area with a sunken bar where you can swim right up to your drink and sip it sitting on a submerged barstool or clamber out for a snack, all make for a charming and attractive centre-piece. The hotel building curves around one side of the pool, lawns separate it from the sea on the other. There’s all the standard 5-Star amenities, of course, gym, health club, sports, lounges, including a dance floor with wooden flooring (unsprung, though). The suites are impressive, and huge. And they share a private lounge area on their floor. The pool facing rooms go for a slightly higher rate than the ones that look onto the land side.

Accommodation: 77 pool-facing rooms, 66 other rooms, 7 suites of varying degrees of magnificence.
Best rooms: The Presidential suite.
Food: Three restaurants - Chinese, a coffee shop and a poolside snackbar. Excellent food.
Service: Professional and warm.
Tariffs: From Rs 3000 for a standard room to Rs 12000 for the Presidential suite.
Contact: Phone: (022) 28816383, 28825335. Fax: 28825171. Email: retreat@krahejahospitality.com Web: www.krahejahospitality.com


The Mainland

A short ferry ride from Ferry Wharf or Gateway of India, across the creek, another wonderful set of beaches beckon, most of them still unspoiled by the city’s marauding hordes, enough of them to do a whole article about, but for now, here’s a very small sampling.

Uran

As the crow flies (and ferries sail), Uran is level with South Mumbai.By road, it’s an hour’s drive past the Mankhurd check naka, down the Sion Panvel Road, and then turn off via either via Palm Beach Road, or at Uran Phata near Belapur, and then further south over the Panvel Creek to Uran.

Hotel Uran Plaza

Run by a retired Admiral, this resort has relied almost purely on word of mouth publicity from satisfied customers. Right on the beach, it inlcudes six acres of cocunut plantation behind it, and has played host to visitors from around the world, many of them from the oil rigs, the nearby JNPT port or other industrial projects further down the coast. Admiral Pereira speaks proudly of his cusine, which is truly international. Anything from Lobster Thermidore to daal chaval. His 6 ACed rooms go for Rs 1100 (+4% tax) and the 2 non-AC rooms for Rs 550 (+4% tax). Phone: (022) 7222318 (resort), 28510731 (city).

The Mandwa-Kihim-Alibag stretch.

Mandwa has no rentable accommodation - most of it is owned by Mumbai’s richest, the ones who sail across to their weekend bungalows in their own yachts or zoom over by chopper. If you move in those circles, you won’t be reading this article.

But if you cross over by the more plebeian ferries (an hour’s ride at most) there’s much to enjoy.

Alibag. Fehgeddaboudit.

The central part of Kihim, thanks to MTDC’s Tent Resort (http://www.maharashtratourism.gov.in/mtdc/Beaches.aspx?strpage=beaches-mandwa-kihim.html, phone: (022) 22026713 / 7762 / 7784) can get moderately crowded, though not as bad as the Mumbai beaches. The rest of Kihim is mile upon mile of deserted, clean beach, rocky in places, but mainly safe. They’re deserted because most of the stretch is privately owned. I know this because I go there frequently - i have friends there. And no, i won’t give you their numbers. What i will - reluctantly - give you is Danny Denson’s number. He liaises with various private property owners, who let out their properties occasionally. He can get you a house for anything from Rs 1000 to Rs 40,000 a day, not just in Kihim, but in places as far south as Murud and Kashid. He can be reached at (02141) 232427 or (0) 9850239157.

There are also a bunch of smaller places - a few rooms, each, with meals as part of the deal. One example: Sanidhya, with three double rooms at Rs 700 per day, including all meals. Near the beach. Phone (02141) 232202, 232077 or (0)9822999085. Email: sanidhya_24@yahoo.co.in.
If you prefer a resort and the attached luxuries, a little away from Kihim, but easily accessible, is the lovely Windmill Resort. 16 Deluxe rooms at Rs 3000, plus taxes, and 6 Super-Deluxe at Rs 3500. The rates include bed tea and breakfast. The resort is wonderfully green, has a pool and a few sports facilities, a good restaurant, and warm, friendly service. Phone: (02141) 232630. 232627. Fax 232629. Email info@windmillresort.com. Web: www.windmillresort.com.

For a completely different experience, contact Dilip Mhatre at (02141) 237307. He runs a small outfit near Mhatre Phata (just ask for him by name), a short drive from Mandwa. A few huts artfully finished with mud walls and thatched roofs, around a courtyard of packed mud, the shade of banian trees to sit under, a large covered area for group activities and a short drive away from the beach. Rates: Rs 400 per person, per 24 hours including all meals. Phone: (02141) 237307, (022) 23610011. Mhatre also has relatives and friends who are opening small, very basic resorts at nearby Sasone beach and other places, and he will happily introduce you to them.

Published in Outlook Traveller's November 2004 issue. The official online version is here.



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