A rather disappointing family trip to Goa in October 2017 had put us off beach holidays for a while, when serendipity played its hand and we found ourselves on the long-winding drive to Devbagh, off the Karwar coast. We were going back to the island resort exactly 15 years after our first visit as newly-weds, this time with our two boys in tow. Packing our gear and the bleary-eyed boys into our car early one morning, we drove westwards with the rising sun behind us. The landscape morphed from hot, arid plains to a lush green as we drove down the road meandering through the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats, and finally reached the pleasantly warm coast.
At Karwar, a little boat from Jungle Lodges and Resorts bounced us along merrily from the mainland, across the Kali River-Arabian Sea confluence, towards the Devbagh estuary, a 90-acre peninsula with a little fishing village from which the Devbagh Beach Resort derives its name. The swaying casuarina trees seemed to hold out the promise of a lazy and languorous couple of days in their midst, if only until after lunch that day. High above the casuarinas, a nesting White-Bellied Sea Eagle couple honked-out an exuberant welcome just as we climbed out of the boat onto the pier.
The cool sea breeze eased our travel weariness and it dawned on us that our memories from 15 years ago had faded, and the little we remembered from that visit had changed. The log huts had now made way for comfortable and sturdy cottages tastefully outfitted with creature comforts. The resort had acquired character, and the erstwhile ‘Log Hut 6’ was nowhere in sight; we were instead ushered into the cosy and spacious confines of the ‘Black-capped Kingfisher’. Just as we were finishing the delectable lunch in anticipation of a relaxed afternoon, the ever-helpful staff suggested we try out some aero-sporting activities as the wind conditions seemed ideal that time of the day.
The progeny jumped at the idea and we soon found ourselves on Tagore Beach on the mainland, shaking hands with Dr. Vidhyadhar Vaidya, or ‘Doc’ as he is commonly known in the area. Under the aegis of Jungle Lodges, Doc uses his two ‘tricycles’ (trikes) – one for older flyers and the other, a lighter version for young children – to help savour the thrill of flying. Each two-seater trike comes fitted with an ultralight two-stroke aircraft engine, a propeller, and a paraglider wing.
Acrophobia kept the husband and me from jumping onto the paramotor at first sight. Our daredevil boys couldn’t be restrained though; they needed no goading. In a jiffy, the older one was strapped into the front seat of the nifty trike, with Doc piloting it from the rear seat. The little one had to wait until later to fly on the lightweight trike.
Despite my trepidations, my spirits buoyed at the thought of flying amongst birds at 1000 feet, and I soon found myself strapping-up for an aerial view of the region. As we sped and the trike lifted-off the ground, a feeling of peace and tranquillity engulfed my senses. We soared higher and higher, and while I waited for panic to take over, my acrophobia seemed to have vanished into thin air!
The waters of the majestic Arabian Sea glistened golden in the early evening sun, and the undulating Sahyadri mountain range stretched out in the east. The pristine blue expanse of the Kali River backwaters lay north, beyond the Kali River bridge fringed by lush green mangroves. Coconut palms cast an emerald blanket over the charming town of Karwar. Far below, the magnificent INS Chapal Warship (also a museum), resembled a miniature model ship. Somewhere high up over the sea of liquid gold, I experienced a trance-like moment frozen in time: a moment where I was conscious of neither mind or body, nor a single thought, permanent or transient. Is this how nirvana feels? I’ll probably settle for this until the time I discover any other form of it!
I came out of my reverie when I realised that Doc was guiding the trike downwards along the beach. Flying just a few feet above the beach, a panic-stricken puppy scampered ahead of us as the trike soared again for a few more sorties before finally touching down. Having conquered paramotoring, the boys took to parasailing on the beach with an ocean dip to boot!
Late in the evening, back at the resort, we sat on the beach around a bonfire, under a velvety, star-studded sky. A steady supply of delicious fare from the live barbeque whetted our appetite for dinner, also served on the beach. The city lights twinkled from across the estuary, and light flashed from the Oyster Rock Lighthouse in the distance, as waves lapped the shore incessantly. A resident Ghost Crab* joined us around the bonfire and found itself the unwitting centre of attention!
Bright and early the next morning, together with my constant birding and travel companion, a pair of Bushnell binoculars, I trekked around the island with the resident naturalist while the family decided to sleep-in. Sandpipers and sand plovers foraged on the shore. The Kali River, named so for the black stone river-bed that makes the water appear dark, flowed into the Arabian Sea at low tide, revealing a strip of sandbar. A few red-brown crabs frolicked on barnacle-bedecked rocks. As we walked along the narrow path between the casuarina grove and the mangrove forest, we spotted several bird species such as the Crow Pheasant, a beautiful Asian Paradise Flycatcher, a solitary drongo, a pair of Jungle Mynas, a Golden Oriole, Black-Headed Bulbuls, warblers, and peafowl that relish the fruits of the casuarina trees. I had my ‘lifer’ spotting a Stork-billed Kingfisher, a larger specimen of the species.
The rest of the day spelt sun and surf, and after a hearty breakfast, we hopped onto a boat to Oyster Rock Island, where more adventure awaited us with snorkelling and scuba diving. The children took turns snorkelling in the shallow waters. Gleaming, rainbow-coloured fish and seaweed abounded just beneath the surface. Snorkelling done, some ocean swimming was in order, and the boys circled the boat like two little sharks. Sea-sick from the choppy boat ride, we kept our scuba diving plans in abeyance. We were hoping to spot dolphins on the boat ride between the two islands, but they seemed to have taken the day off!
As evening fell on Devbagh island, we finally had our chance to explore the beach. Sand pellets formed by feeding Soldier Crabs* made patterns on the beach. The sun descended in an orange ball at the horizon, and the swaying casuarinas appeared to paint the sky in hues of orange and blue. A colony of sea gulls roosting on a sandbar in the distance took to the skies. Darkness fell, the fairy lights came on, and it was ‘happy hours’ again around the bonfire.
The next morning, the family zipped around the estuary on a jet ski. As we bade goodbye, the boys extracted a promise that we’d return soon. Devbagh will always remain etched in our minds for giving us a surfeit of heady experiences and memories to cherish for life.
*Reference: ‘Coastal Crabs from Devbagh, Karwar’, by Karthikeyan S.