Velas - Life in a village
Have you ever visited the place where you were born? Imagine revisiting the place you were born after 10-15 years and unable to recognize it. Normal human practices in the name of development through infrastructure, artificial lighting or noise often leads to climate changes; subtle and radical; and can completely change the state of any place. This is what the Olive Ridley sea turtles would face as adult females comes on land and lays its eggs at the exact same beach where she was born years ago. Thanks to one of its kind community driven eco-conservation efforts by residents of Velas village in India, the natural state of these beaches is preserved ensuring the olive ridley sea turtles are able to find their birthplace and are comfortable coming on land.
Velas is a tiny village in remotest area of Konkan coastline in Maharashtra, India. It is one of the major nesting site for the Olive Ridley sea turtles. Located in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra, Velas is at a distance of 175 kilometres from Pune and 205 kilometres from Mumbai. The residents of this village have been working hard along with a NGO - Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (SNM) and Forest department of India to save birthplaces of the Olive Ridley sea turtles over past decade. They also celebrate a Turtle Festival annually in Feb/Mar when there are higher chances of the egg hatchings. Velas Turtle Festival was recently celebrated from Feb 24 to Feb 26, 2017. Our love for animals and desire to catch a glimpse of cute little baby turtles took us on an arduous journey of 20 hours – an overnight (10-11 hours) bus journey from Hyderabad to Pune, and then a 9 hour road trip on a rented bike from Pune to Velas.
You can also read about places to visit around Velas here.
If you are interested in village life in general, you can see the cleanest village of Asia - Mawlynnong here.
The egg of an Olive Ridley sea turtle was once a food supplement for people of Velas. These eggs were taken away from their nests to make omelets or sold in market. Years ago, a young confident man started the journey of educating people that turtles, being a threatened species need to be protected. He ventured on a journey of creating awareness around how man's selfish tendencies was against the course of nature. The villagers joined hands and formed a committee together with SNM. With support from Forest department, they were able to create a small conservatory where the eggs of turtles were shifted for better protection and higher success rate of hatching. Continuous patrolling of beaches ensured poaching or stealing the eggs was slowly over. As these efforts became successful and better awareness was created, tourists started flocking the beach to see the turtles. The committee then took two vows - To never allow building a hotel in the village and to always prioritize Turtle's needs over tourists wants.
Years later the number of tourists visiting Velas has gradually increased but there is no commercialization of village. Velas observes outpouring of a lot of tourists during the turtle festival. To accommodate travellers, number of homes in village signed up to act as homestays. As homestays they get an opportunity to earn a few extra bucks while travellers get a place to stay and homely food to eat. Mr. Mohan Upadhyay, currently working for forest department has been dedicatedly working since the past 14 years to save Olive Ridley turtles. We called him up to book a room in one of the village homes, which he did pleasantly. You can call him at 02350-220304/ 8983767388/ 8975622778 between 8:30-9:30 AM and 7:30-9:30 PM. Note the numbers are difficult to connect.
On reaching Velas, we were greeted by Ms. Manali Patil and family who were our hosts for the two days we were to spend there. As no mobile networks support in the remote village, we had called them from the last town we drove through to inform that we will be reaching in a while. Ms. Manali stood on the road for a few minutes to make sure that we don’t lose our way. All the tiredness of the journey just whooshed away sipping the hot tea she offered us as we reached her home. Their house was small but hearts big to accommodate us. She then escorted us to our room which was at one of the farthest end of the village. Our room was in a house that was basic with mattresses laid on the floor, a small table, tubelight and fan. The house had a swing in the drawing room and a big verandah with cats and dogs and their babies all playing together. The floor was made of cow dung which is considered to have many benefits and used throughout in rural areas; something we knew was done in Indian villages but never saw up-close. The bathrooms were common and were to be shared with the other people who were to stay in other rooms. No TV, no AC, no geyser, no luxury, and no lavishness. We had never ever stayed in a house so basic nor had we slept on mattresses on floor made of cow dung. The verandah had many varieties of trees and saplings grown - coconut, cashew, green chilli, banana, papaya, mango to name a few. It was surprising to compare the size of bathrooms and verandah in rural and urban areas. The bathroom was big enough for only one person to be in it at a time but the verandah was big enough to throw a party to 50 people. In cities even the rich do not manage to have a verandah this big.
We quickly freshened up and went to the beach for the evening session of hatchlings sighting. After an hour of the session, we visited Mr. Mohan’s house (he stays in the village with a group of volunteers) to watch a documentary on the work of SNM. The documentary was projected in a small TV in the verandah of his house. We seated ourselves on the carpet laid out in the veranda to watch the 30 minutes informative video. The volunteers also welcomed our questions very patiently. They also sell turtle festival merchandise in the name of "OneForBlue". Right from coffee mugs, key chains, badges to t-shirts they had a lovely collection. Mr. Mohan's house is lovely with a huge seating space for documentary and the house is painted with turtles by one of his friends.
That night we were served delicious homemade food by our host family. We ate like Kings! After the dinner, we sat for quite a while with the family understanding their lives. The villagers mostly depend on farming and to some extent fishing, for their daily wages. Most of the youngsters migrate to nearby towns to work. Each year, during Feb-Mar the village lights up like Diwali as turtle festival nears. 10% of the rent we pay to the family for our stay goes to the welfare and development of SNM. They also give a lot of importance to education. Ms. Manali Patil, our lady host, was pursuing M.A through correspondence and worked in a government office in the nearby town. Her brother was pursuing M.Com and used to drive a tempo owned by the family to the nearby towns as a passenger vehicle and returned with goods and petrol to sell in a small shop owned by his father. The mother was a housewife and a tailor, preparing tiffins for the visiting guests in the travel season. Their house was equivalent to our drawing room. Yet this looked like such a happy family. We talked about villagers’ life, how and when they joined SNM, how they feel when so many people bang into their peaceful village every year at this time. The village has no mobile network, no ATM, no bank, no restaurant; the vegetable vendor comes once a week to sell vegetables in a tempo. A small school provides education till class 10 beyond which students have to go to other towns. We realized how hard they worked and how tough their lives were. After a great session of chat, we retired to our rooms. The silence of the night with just a few chirping crickets made us fall asleep quickly.
Next day after the morning session where we saw 12 turtles entering the ocean, we wandered to nearby places. Post lunch we moved around in the village and enjoyed clicking photos and talking to villagers. They still draw water from the wells, use hand pumps, sow their farms manually, milk the cows and use cow dung and mud to sweep and mop the floor of their houses. The lazy afternoon in this quiet village felt like traveling back in time. The wooden pillars of age old houses, roofs lined with red clay, kids playing around as cows chew grass sitting lethargically, dogs sleeping in shade; it seemed we were witnessing a bygone era. Yet we could see parked Renaults and Toyotas of tourists from Mumbai or Pune. This could as well be a set of Bollywood movie based on a 1950s story. Dish antennas were the only sign of any technological advancement we saw in the village. It felt good to not have network coverage in our cell phones. People tend to talk more with each other when phones don't work. Away from the city pollution, noise and traffic we had the time of our life. The peace and tranquility of the village took us to a different world - a world we would love to stay forever.
We left Velas the next day post morning session which saw us run out of luck as none of the baby turtles had hatched. Leaving Velas we felt strangely attached to the place. We had spent just 2 nights there and that too not in a very comfortable way, yet we had an exceptional time living as a villager for a weekend. The lack of number of basic modern necessities suddenly felt an unnecessary luxury. Living without mobiles, proper beds, AC, dining tables, laptops etc. was possible and we felt the urge to cling little longer to this lifestyle. Probably the love and genuine goodness we experienced for couple of days can fill the void left by lack of modern amenities. We left hoping to experience this more in the future.
You can also read about the actual turtle festival and places to see on the way and around Velas. Let us know how you found our blog in comment section below. Feel free to share it on social media or pin it.
PS: We are grateful to Ms. Manali and family to gift us fresh cashews while returning. We cooked spinach peas with cashew gravy from it and we gorged on it like crazy. You can directly contact her for accommodations and best home food at +91 2350-220548/ +91 8308513561.