18 March, 2019
Ask anyone about festivals of March, and pat comes to the reply – Holi. Of course, Holi happens to be that one festival, which the young and old wait for alike. While earlier, it was only the Northern India that mostly celebrated Holi, it is now also celebrated with equal enthusiasm in many parts if South as well. However, many Indians are unaware that other than religious festivals, many festivals happen in our country.
For example, we also used to have an Elephant festival in Jaipur, Rajasthan around the time of Holi, which now stands canceled due to animal rights issues. But then, you can take heart, for we also have some Eco festivals like the Velas Turtle festival, held at the Velas beach, Ratnagiri in Maharashtra, during this time as well. So, for a change, you can step out of the living room from the TV screens of the Animal Planet, or the National Geographic and watch live some honest Eco protection happening, right here in India.
What is Velas Turtle festival?
Velas used to be a somewhat remote, unknown, nondescript village in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra. However, since 2001, this village has slowly become known across for the world for Ecotourism. The credit for this goes to an NGO called the Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (SNM), and a local body called the Kasav Mitra Mandal (KMM). It was observed that the endangered species, the Olive Ridley turtles, come ashore in thousands, around this time to lay eggs on the beaches here.
The beautiful setting of the Velas village, surrounded by mountains, and the waters of the Arabian Sea, are perhaps an attraction for the turtles as well. Also, the efforts of these bodies have ensured that they can nest and lay eggs in peace without any human intervention. The festival begins when the eggs start hatching, and the baby turtles come out and start their walk to the Arabian Sea, to pick up on their life. This is where the volunteers of the bodies, who have named themselves friends of the turtle, are making a difference to ensure that they reach the waters safely and live on.
What exactly happens?
Once the mother turtles come and dig nests in the sand and lay the eggs, the volunteers, transfer these eggs safely to another place. This is because the mother turtles return to the sea, and the eggs are in danger of being destroyed in many ways. After the incubation period of about 45 to 55 days or so, the eggs start hatching. However, to ensure that the hatchlings reach the water safely in a conducive atmosphere, they are released in specific periods in batches, so they can slowly make their way comfortably.
The sight of thousands of little turtles painfully making their way across the beach and joining the waters of the Arabian Sea, to perhaps, come back another day and lay their eggs, is a sight unparalleled. The joy of seeing so many endangered animals, walking across to their safe haven of the sea, is truly magical.
Apart from the MTDC (Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation), which also promotes this festival as part of their Ecotourism, there are many private tour operators even through whom you can book packages for this event. If you plan to go by air, the nearest airports are Pune and Mumbai. There are many MTDC approved guesthouses and homestays available, where you can book your accommodation on your own as well. From Mumbai and Pune, the drive takes you about 5 and a half hours. The closest Railway Station to Velas happens to be the Chiplun Railway Station, from where the drive would take about three hours. There are private vehicles that ply the route, that is easily hired.
Other places to see around
Apart from the Olive Ridley turtle sightings, other places around this coastal village can be explored. The Harihareshwar beach, the Bankot Fort, and the Harihareshwar temple are also worth a visit. You can also plan to visit the nearby Dapoli, which has forts, caves, hot water springs, etc. The natural scenic beauty of the Konkan coast and the heavenly Konkani cuisine is another big pull for the people visiting this place for the Turtle festival.
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