Ratnagiri – the name always reminds me of the Alfonso mangoes or Hapus Aam as locals call it. A variety of Mango that I have always associated with their high prices and their demand outside India. All the while we were in the town and around, at the end of July, we kept looking for mango orchards. We saw a lot of them, but with no mangos to lust on. Somewhere we made a mental note to come back during the next mango season. However, this meant that we could focus on the other gems of the place.
Places to visit in Ratnagiri
Let me take you on a ride around places to visit in the town and around.
Ratnadurg Fort or Bhagawati Fort
A fort from the time of Bahmani rulers, this fort like most other on Konkan coast is known more for belonging to Shivaji Maharaj. Before Shivaji took over this fort in 1670, it was with Adil Shah. After Shivaji, it exchanged a few hands before falling to British in early 19th CE.
We reached the high gate of Ratnadurg Fort after a flight of stairs. It is a typical fort gate with space on both sides for guardrooms. As soon as we passed through the gate, all we could see was a small temple in the middle of open ground. Dedicated to Devi Bhagwati, this is the only built structure in the complex. The temple building looks rather new. It is surrounded by the fort wall – on which you can walk.
Walk on Fort Walls
Walk on the Fort wall is all you can do at Ratnadurg Fort, and so we did. At regular intervals, we see bastions which have been given interesting names like Ganesh, Markya, Baskya, Vetal, Khamkya Rede, Vagha. Across the fort wall, we could see the Arabian Sea. We went anti-clockwise and first saw the town and the jetty below. As we moved we could see the vast sea. Towards the end, we saw the huge cliff like formation against which the sea waves were hitting violently or passionately as you want to read it. Through the window of one of the bastions, we could see the other side of the fort that you have to hike if you want to be there. The other side of the fort, cliff, sea, waves and the drama of waves against the fort walls create a lovely scene to watch.
After coming back to the road, we stood between the two parts of the fort and we discovered this cave-like formation that the bottom of the fort. I assume this has been created by water’s constant hitting on the stone. Not sure how it impacts the fort, but it looks beautiful – a mysterious cave that makes you think – could there be something inside.
Thibaw Palace, Ratnagiri
Thibaw was the king of Burma. In 1886, the British took over his Kingdom and deported him to India. Not sure how and why, but the king landed up in Chennai first and finally in Ratnagiri. Here, he was allowed to build his own house and the palace he built came to be known as Thibaw Palace. The cost of building this palace 100 years back was Rs 1,25,000/- It is probably the only known imprint of Burma in India or at least the western coast of India.
The Palace is in shambles even when it doubles up as Government museum. Standing in the middle of sprawling lawns, built with absolute symmetry as the guiding principle, pagoda style slanting roofs that have a hint of eastern aesthetics – it is a beautiful building in red. We took a walk inside and saw the most beautiful wooden staircases. What is interesting is the way two sets of staircases merge as one on the upper-story. The teak wood I assume is from Burma. The back portion was for the King and his family’s personal use. The front portion of Thibaw palace was for public use, where the king met his guests and visitors.
Apparently, the Thibaw family lead a rather boring life on a small pension by the British Government, hoping for their return to Burma some day. Looking at the palace, it does not seem they had a bad life, but then we live as much in our mental frame as in the physical ones. King Thibaw died here in 1916 and is buried in Ratnagiri. Not much is known about his descendants.
A case of strange irony – the last emperor of India Bahadur Shah Zafar is buried in Rangoon in Burma, and their last king lies here in Ratnagiri.
Thibaw Palace needs a lot more maintenance. When we visited, the whole of the ground floor was under maintenance. A few rooms were open as museums – they primarily had stone sculptures excavated from in and around the place. None of them in very good condition. There are some old photographs of the place and some old copper vessels in another. How I wish ASI did some work to present our heritage better.
Some of the trees here seem to be at least as old as the Thibaw Palace that celebrated its centenary in 2010.
Aare-Ware – Twin beaches of Ratnagiri
It has the unique distinction of having twin beaches – beaches that can be seen from a height. As you travel from the town to Ganpatipule, you would see the road going up with the lovely view of the curved beaches. I always enjoy watching the beaches from the top – they look so different as if waves are making a constant effort to make the sea and earth meet. Sometimes I feel waves are like messengers carrying the messages between the sea and the earth, or is it the sweet kiss between the two.
At places, the shore has a very rocky edge – the play of waves on these rough random rocks is like watching a symphony with a chaotic rhythm.
There are small tea stalls and coconut shops. If you are visiting the place, it is one of the best spots to enjoy local drinks like Kokum Sherbet while admiring nature from a vantage point.
Bal Gangadhar Tilak Museum
Did you know that Bal Gangadhar Tilak was born in Ratnagiri? His house is now a museum dedicated to his life and works. A mid-sized house now has a life-sized statue of Tilak in its garden.
Inside the house, you can see the room he was born in. You can go through his family chart, his birth chart and see some of his photographs. There are press clippings talking about Tilak. The house was empty except some senior citizens in the front room who come here and read newspapers. No photography is allowed inside the house.
It is a small house that you can see in 15-20 minutes or so. It is a bit overwhelming to stand in the place where a great man like Tilak grew up.
A visit to the town is not complete without the local thali. You get rice flour Rotis and you have a choice of Modak or Aam ras.
Modak is something I recommend as a gift to carry back from there.
I had no idea the place has so much to offer beyond its famous Hapus Mangoes.
Recommend you read following travel blog on tourist attractions of Konkan Coast, Maharashtra.