Velas Turtle Festival Blog by Renuka Nair

Yellow Bus to Velas

Midnight, traffic jams notwithstanding, we exited Mumbai, the yellow bus takingus relentlessly toward our destination on the beach at Velas.  The small village was already bustling with activity as the clans assembled to celebrate their annual festival.  The lot of us proceeded on foot to the beach, where the activity was already in process, 20 young turtles had found their way out of their secluded nests buried in the cordoned off by the Friends of the Turtles.

The access to the beach is beautiful, with two concrete cattle gates, obviously used the gates, choosing instead to bypass them, followed by a quaint wooden log platform bridging the backwater creek, the narrow path surrounded by things of beauty, trees, water rippling quietly by fish and other water beings, the green paddy fields glistening in the early sun and the hills tapering down to the beach.

On the Beach, the Turtles.

The beach is on open cove with spits of sand interspersed with spits of sand, the farthest of which we hurried to as the young turtles were to be released to their new life from there.

And so the basket was opened …. the hatchling… 3-inch diameter beings released on the beach carefully by the handler.  It is amazing how them lure of the sea has survived through the centuries as the tiny turtles scuttled unerringly in the direction of the sea, some of them turning around, as if imprinting these sands in their memory before waddling to the surf and disappearing into the wash.

We stood around for more than an hour, introductions were made all around and we were briefed about the life cycle of the Olive riddley turtles and the amazing sight we had just witnessed.

On to Velas, walking through the village, to a quick breakfast and rest before moving off Bankot fort.

Break at Bankot Fort.

If the turtles of Velas point out the wonder of nature, then the vantage point of the Bankot fort points to the perseverance of man, his view of the sea as a heaven , guarding from safety.

Commanding views of the Arabian sea, the small fort, 52nd on Shivaji Maharajs’ conquests, is not large, easily accessible the ruins proved, for us a perfect place to browse around, doing nothing but taking in the beauty of the view sloping down to the bay and the ancient fort. Across the bay, the hills beyond which we must travel the next morning to Hari Hareshwar beckoned.

Turtle Mania continues with Synchro jumping, handstands and Friends of the Turtles after Sunset.

And so we returned to a leisurely lunch and more relaxation before running back to the beach to see some more tiny hatchlings make their new life.  This time we were right on time to see the turtles push their way through to the sand from their nests, helped again into baskets for their final journey to the edge of the beach.

The sun set was cheerful, the count of 26 hatchlings a constant refrain on our lips as we lazed on the sunset Velas beach.

The group assembled again after dark in the village to view the documentary on the work of rescuing the turtle hatchlings undertaken by the villagers here, the project designed to include the entire village community into the conservation effort.

Morning trip to Hari Hareshwar

The trip to Harihareshwar was anticlimactic after one more visit to see the young turtles (7 this time), and we were sad to leave.  Only the ferry rides across to Hari Hareshwar cheered us up and the group walked into the temple premises and walked around the rocks on the edge of the bay.  It was low tide but the waves still thundered and lashed the outcrop of land, the erosion through the centuries evident on the rocky faces.

Lunch again and a drive back to Mumbai, punctuated by Antakshari and coffee break….at the end of it all…. the sight of the turtles waddling off to sea, such a rare sight, occurring in so few places across the globe, truly were privileged.

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