I strongly believe that humans have still a lot to learn from animals. While we might have evolved in speech, thoughts, and actions, those elements that connect us to nature have gotten subsumed within the more “civilized” instincts. And that is where animals score one up on us humans. Watching these beings in their natural habitat makes me realize how detached we are from the very nature to which we owe our existence.
Sometime in February, a few years ago, the company I then worked for was organizing a camping trip in Mandangarh, a village in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. Being one of the organizers, I had all the liberty to suggest activities that we could do on that trip. Ergo, I suggested that we attend the Turtle Festival in Velas, a small village near our campground. My suggestion was immediately accepted and I found out there were more nature lovers like me. Before we went, I ran everyone through a quick background on what the festival was, based on whatever I had read and heard.
The Turtle Fest
It has been more than a decade since the Velas village started celebrating the migration of these unique creatures. It is said that somewhere between 2000 and 2001, villagers noticed a certain type of turtle thronging the beaches of Ratnagiri, especially around Velas. While no one knew how they came, the news did attract a lot of researchers and naturalists who declared that these were a rare species, known as Olive Ridley turtles. Since then, every year at the onset of winter these magnificent creatures return to nest and breed on the shores of Velas and stay there till the winter is over. Over the years other species of turtles like the Leatherback, Hawksbill, and Green Turtles also joined the force. We booked a trusted cab from Mumbai to Ratnagiri and headed out.
It is about 220 Km from Mumbai to Mandangarh camping grounds and took us about five to six hours to reach. After a night of camping and bonfire in the cold February night, we headed to Velas the next morning.
It was an hour’s drive to this obscure little fishing village, tucked between the Sahyadri Mountains on the east and the Konkan Coast on the west. The locals had told us that the best time to witness these marine creatures in action was early morning and we managed to reach before the crack of dawn. We split into groups and began to explore the beach.
The sand was covered with turtle eggs and we had to tip-toe around them. A huge turtle was perched on one marshy corner, probably laying a batch of 100-200 eggs. I noticed some rapid movements on the sand, as the waves splashed on it. A few eggs were beginning to crack and a tiny grey would head poked out. Each baby turtle struggled out of its shells completely blind and totally defenceless. Then slowly, at turtle speed, one by one they headed towards the sea, under the eyes of their mother. It seemed like a little army on a mission. I stood in awe, admiring this miracle of nature as my gaze followed these tiny grey beings taking their very first step on earth.
I had expected the beach to be less crowded, if not empty. But surprisingly, it was thronging with travellers, marine life enthusiasts, and conservationists. There was even a crew from a travel channel, trying to capture the amazing phenomenon. Despite all the cries and shouts of joy and excitement, the majestic little turtles remained focused on their task, oblivious to the world around them. As the day broke, we saw more adult turtles basking on the sunny beach. Few of my colleagues tried picking up the babies on their palm but they slipped away. I chose to let the hatchlings be, in their own world, in the comfort of nature.
Velas Turtle Festival 2020
This year, Velas Turtle Festival 2020 will start from February 28 and end on March 1. However, I must say that witnessing turtle hatching is a matter of chance. A natural process, like any birth, this phenomenon is an outcome of months of gestation, preparation and the concatenation of multiple variables and factors. There is no guarantee that every visitor will get to witness the hatching of the turtles. But I think the very possibility of one bearing witness to something like this is sufficient impetus to pack your bags and go.
Ratnagiri is about 330 km from Mumbai and can be covered in 8 hours. You can rent a car in Mumbai and head out for an overnight journey. Alternately, you can also take a 50-minute flight from Mumbai to Ratnagiri. Airport taxis in Mumbai as well as Ratnagiri are readily available.