In the misty early morning light, surf curled on the white swathe of Bhogave beach. Hermit crabs scurried away at our approach and fishing boats bobbed on the sapphire-blue sea, like a ghostly armada sailing to the edge of the world. Occasionally, a paraglider floated past in blue skies while an avian orchestra struck up a symphony. From the ringside seats in our villa, we felt like we were watching a colour-saturated, big-budget film.
A sandy cove in the coastal district of Sindhudurg in south Maharashtra, Bhogave is India’s first Blue Flag beach, an international certification that validates it as clean and in compliance with the stringent requirements of sustainable tourism. Coco Shambhala, a luxury boutique property, sculpted into the slope of a hill, lies just 200 metres away from Bhogave beach. A cluster of four two-bedroom villas on stilts, Coco Shambhala is ideal to perfect the art of escaping from the real world. Buried amidst a tangle of tropical vegetation, the Mangalore-tiled, pitched-roof villas have been built in keeping with local vernacular. Of all the lovely nooks though, our favourite place to linger during the three-day stay was the pavilion-like living area, affording unhindered views of the sea.
Inside, the understated decor exudes an aura of rustic chic, and is studded with handcrafted coconut wood furniture. As for the driftwood sculptures in abstract shapes, they do hijack the imagination… Could those be gnarled old fingers pointing to a sky? The discreet scattering of vintage artefacts, like an old stove, copper glasses, recycled lamps, and jugs and crockery, lend the interiors a classy touch.
All the villas in this idyllic resort, poetically named Arka, Amaresha, Inaya and Varenya, embody the 21st century concept of luxe—an expansive sense of space embellished with stunning views. Seated on a lounger on the edge of
our private infinity pool, or on the tiny sit-outs of our sea-facing bedrooms, we would often birdwatch for hours. Our feathered friends rarely disappointed: red-vented bulbuls and barbets gracefully alighted on the lush foliage that sloped down to the beach.
Coco Shambhala is as much about respecting the land and its people as about living the good life. And the location of this low-impact getaway in Sindhudurg, a 128-kilometre-long sliver of land between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea to the north of Goa, is perfect. Indeed, the region lured Giles Knapton, the 42-year-old owner, who scouted for land for five years to build his boutique property. He employed local labour and materials, and the villas came to be a reality after 18 months. What’s best? The construction crew was co-opted to work in housekeeping, as gardeners and wait staff.
Go local is the mantra at this beach retreat, and the sea-view spa even offers a therapy with cashews that grow in abundance in the region. We channelled the flavours of this unique enclave of sun, sea and sky via our taste buds. International fare apart, the kitchen served up flavours of local Malvani cuisine—spicy and tangy rava-fried prawns;
a lip-smacking pomfret curry, bhakri and much else, washed down with a purple-pink sol kadhi (coconut milk spiced with kokum). Curated by the director of cuisine, chef Shagun Mehra, each meal was a gastronomic odyssey that unfolded in the privacy of our villa; in fact, the absence of a restaurant on the premises imparted a romantic touch to our lunches and dinners.
For guests who want to take a break from self-indulgence and introspection, Coco Shambhala can also arrange excursions to forgotten villages, temples and the mighty Sindhudurg Fort. We swung by the Shri Dev Vetoba Mandir in Parule village, four kilometres from the hotel, whose presiding deity is believed to patrol the settlement at night, protecting residents from evil forces. To help him in this task, a pair of brand-new, oversized sandals is offered each evening. Legend has it that next morning the sandals are scuffed and dusty! However, it was in the pillared halls of the 14th-century Laxmi Narayan Temple in Walawal village, 12 kilometres from the property, where we plugged into healing vibes.
One evening, we took a boat ride to neighbouring Nivati Beach, past rocks that reared like beached whales on a craggy coastline. The boat dropped us off on an arc of white sand where we relinquished ourselves to languor and watched ospreys and white-bellied sea eagles riding the thermals. Later, we clambered up to the ruins of the centuries-old Nivati fort, constructed by Shivaji Maharaj. From its broken ramparts we gazed down at the sun-dappled cove of Nivati to our left and the ocean pounding a cluster of red cliffs to our right. As the sun slid off the sky, a spectacular sunset worked its spell on our imagination: was that the chilly breath of a wraith that we had felt in the gathering dusk?
On our last day, we perfected the zen of doing nothing. Dusk threw up more vacation postcard scenes. Thousands of seagulls swooped and circled in fiery post-sunset skies and then roosted for the night in the palm trees fringing the beach. Bhogave, an unblemished part of the Konkan coast, had definitely been generous in sharing its secrets with us, turning our vacation into an escapist’s idyll.
To reach Bhogave, Goa is the closest airport and Kudal, on the Konkan Railway is the closest railhead. Well connected by road, Sindhudurg has many homestays and modest hotels. But Coco Shambhala (www.cocoshambhala.com) is its only luxe retreat. Rates are season-determined. From May to September, standard package (including airport transfer and breakfast) is priced at Rs42,000 per day, while the premium package (including all meals and a spa treatment) is pegged at Rs55,000 per day. Besides the complimentary village and beach walks, the resort also offers a plethora of paid excursions. There is a jungle and waterfall trek (Rs1,000 per person), dolphin-watching (Rs3,500 per boat, up to 8 people), a day trip (5 pax) to the neighbouring Sindhudurg Fort and the fishing village of Malvan (Rs4,000) and a lot more.
Gustasp and Jeroo Irani have seen it all after 30 years on the road—from banging away their stories on typewriters to blogging (albeit erratically) about their experiences. Life has been a joy ride but they can never have enough of it. World, we aren’t done with you yet!