Black sands and naughty turtle babies – Velas, India

Two telephones hung next to each other on the wall,  its paint peeling off like a snake shedding its skin in the wake of winter.

With barely any mobile connection, ATMs within the next 30-40 kms, 4G or Fintech, landlines are still treasured in this part of India.Lying lazy by the Arabian sea, Velas is a remote village in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district, about 200kms from Navi Mumbai.

It is a strange village. Unlike gated communities that cities epitomise today, the doors in this village remain open all day, evening and night. dsc_0182

The villagers offer urbane visitors shared rooms,  in their modest but clean houses. With no fancy locker room or even beds under hard, country-made mattresses, each community sleeping room resembles an Indian train coach. It has two doors, one opening to the outside courtyard and the other to the internal quarter, where a Western-style toilet with bare minimum facilities might be found, if you are lucky.

The villagers served simple home-cooked meals with a touch of Konkani and Malwani cuisine – loads of grated coconuts. In the afternoon, there wasn’t much to do,  but laze in the hammocks or mats.

Power cuts occurred. It was very warm, almost 35 degrees, on this February day.

At  night, the temperature plummeted. We turned off the fans and wrapped ourselves in the inexpensive and flimsy blankets,  included in the cost. With no internet or much privacy, everyone gathered on the rock-lined path outside the house, next to the thin canal that borders a small stretch of pine forest opening right into the sea.

The stars shone bright lining the extraordinarily clear sky. A careless breeze kept nudging my sand-filled hair.

The two little children of the house slept on the floor in the room next to ours. They slept hugging each other, covered with an old razai. The boy had a small pillow under his head. The girl had none.

Within half a mile of this village, the olive ridley turtle sanctuary on a black sand beach now attracts as many as half a hundred tourists each day – conservationists, wildlife photographers and just urban people who needed a good weekend.

With no hotels around, the villagers had opened corners of their houses to visitors as a means of livelihood. Mothers nurtured babies and served guests at the same time, while father-in-laws chipped in with supply chain and PR. 

Groups of tourists lived in one house at the same time with the residents. For some reason, they cautiously avoided interacting with the other groups. 

The first moments of a turtle junior breaking open its white tennis ball-shaped home and advancing to the sea in baby steps, must be a marvellous scene to treasure. But not for people like me with a permanently damaged luck. I mean, I have visited museums to find them closed, I have been to Europe in January to find no snow; I have been to tiger sanctuaries to spot no tiger.

The turtles have been naughty too.

Until evening and the next morning, no turtle mother, egg or cub could be seen. Disappointed, men with tripods and tele-lenses gave into the ‘DP’ demands of their wives and girlfriends. Some took photos of the waves, the coconut trees and some,  of the tiny prints that little spider-like crabs made on the sand with their agile sticky feet.

I dabbed my own feet into the wet black sand. They had that cow dung look. But there was no stink. It was pretty.dsc_0095

The unique and clean beach, thanks to environmental awareness campaigns by was a wonderful consolation.

In the evening, a group of hijab clad teenagers appeared on the narrow path the leads to the sea.  One of them spoke to me in clear English,  “one photo please?”

I immediately obliged only to realise they wanted to have a selfie with this awkward tourist.dsc_0063

I took this opportunity to get a piece of their giggling selves in my lens. But when they asked my name I gave up.  It’s always a pain if you’ve a difficult name from the old mythological texts.  People wonder if you’re  from the Mars.

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