Maharashtra rolls out houseboat holidays and more

By Quaid Najmi, IANS

Mumbai : Deluxe houseboats, snorkelling, scuba-diving and viewing dolphins frolic in the clear blue waters of the Arabian Sea – these are some of the new activities to woo tourists to guess where? Maharashtra!

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The Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) introduced these activities last week.

MTDC managing director Bhushan Gagrani said the houseboat project is the first of its kind in India outside Kashmir and Kerala and has already become popular with tourists in just a week since launch.

“For the main tourism season of November-December, we are almost completely booked,” Gagrani told IANS.

Two houseboats have been specially constructed by a Kerala shipbuilder and were commissioned at Tarkarli, around 520 km south of Mumbai, on the picturesque Konkan coast. The nearest railhead on Konkan Railway is Kudal, around 30 km from Tarkarli.

“They are made of the locally-procured Anjali wood which is considered ideal for houseboats. The project has been implemented at a cost of Rs.11 million,” according to Gagrani. By October 2008, another five houseboats will join the MTDC fleet here, he added.

MTDC adventure sports officer Subodh Kinalekar explained that tourists could board the houseboat at Tarkarli. A luxury houseboat, named Hirynakeshi, and the standard houseboat, Karli, are fully air-conditioned with two bedrooms each and all meals on board. The all-inclusive package per night for hiring one bedroom is Rs.6,500 and Rs.5,500 (standard) and online bookings are available.

From Tarkarli, the houseboats start moving at a leisurely pace towards the Nerurpar creek and then to Deobagh village, covering 25 km in around 10 hrs. After a night halt with sumptuous meals on board, the next morning it moves towards Karli River.

All through the sail, tourists can savour the breathtaking beauty of the Konkan coast, the lofty Western Ghat mountains disappearing into the clouds and the clear, blue seawaters.

“That is the spot where dolphins, in pairs or shoals, are usually sighted, frolicking in the clear sea waters, especially in the cool morning and evening hours,” Kinalekar said.

India’s first ever full-fledged snorkelling and scuba-diving facilities outside the Andaman and Nicobar Isles are now ready at Tarkarli Beach at a total cost of almost Rs.50 million.

Equipment is provided for snorkelling, done in shallow waters, at a depth of 3-5 metres to view the magnificent underwater life of exotic fish, corals et al. Full-fledged deepwater scuba-diving will commence from December and will be available round the year depending on the weather conditions, according to Kinalekar.

A team of 25 local villagers has been given international level training to assist tourists in these activities, according to Gagrani.

The added attraction around Tarkarli are the historic religious site of Ganapatipule, 150 km from there, which is a day’s return trip, the Sindhudurg Fort, one of the bastions in sea-guarding the erstwhile Maratha empire of Chhatrapati Sivaji, and the Amboli hill station in the cool clime of the Western Ghats, a two-hour drive.