Being just 120 kilometres south of Mumbai and around 140 kilometres from Pune, makes Alibaug a favourite weekend getaway for city dwellers from both. The scenic beaches and idyllic life make Alibaug a go to place for many Mumbaikars and Puneites.
Many drive down to Alibaug, while some from Mumbai prefer to take the ferry service to Mandwa or Revas from Gateway of India or Ferry Wharf and then the bus to the city. Via road Alibaug can be accessed from Pen which is on the Mumbai– Goa road. From Mumbai, one can reach Alibag by travelling on the Mumbai-Goa highway (NH-17) till Wadkhal (or Vadkhal) and taking the right fork from Wadkhal – the left fork being the road to Goa.
There are speedboats also from Gateway which is the fastest way to reach Alibaug. The place gets its name from a Bene Israelite named Ali used to live there at that time. He was rich and owned many mango and coconut plantations in his gardens. This lead to the locals calling the place ‘Alichi Bagh’ which is Gardens of Ali in Marathi or simply Alibaug, and the name stuck.
Alibaug houses a magnetic observatory that was set up in 1904 and what serves as one of the significant observatories. It forms part of a global network now run by the Indian Institute of Geomagnetism. The observatory has two buildings; the first building has magnetometers that record changes occurring in the geomagnetic fields. The second building consists of precision recording instruments, which give data about geomagnetic storms caused by solar storms which is shared with other countries.
Prior permission is needed to visit this observatory after 26/11, the security has been tightened and access to the Observatory has been restricted. A written permission from the Panvel office of Indian Institute of Geomagnetism needs to be presented when entering the premises of the Observatory in Alibaug.
The Alibag main beach is a flat stretch that makes for a long walk. It is reasonably clean and has thin crowds during the week. The sand has a hard texture and is a shade of black. It is not easy to create sand castles. The tide rolls in from all sides: You may have to wade through water on the way back. On weekends, it is very crowded and has a number of adventure activities on as well.
From the beach one can either walk, when the tide is low to Alibaug fort or take a boat to the fort when the tide is high. Kolaba Fort as it is known as is a sea fort built by Shivaji in 1680 to fight the mighty naval prowess of the Siddis of Janjira and the British of Mumbai. Kolaba fort is famous for many battles, between Siddis and Kanhoji Angre, the British and the Portuguese. It is also famous for its Ganesh temple and dargah.
The walk is through waist deep water at the highest point and the boat ride cost includes both ways. The fort is assumed to be the last one that he built before his death. The fort used to have a sweet water well. The fort also has temples dedicated to Mahishasura and Goddess Padmavati. There are carvings of animals and birds present on the fort walls. In the fort, there are houses of several people who stay there and take care of the fort. Near the northern wall of the fort lie, two English Cannons mounted on wheels. The inscription on the cannon is ‘Dowson Hardy Field, Low Moor Ironworks, Yorkshire, England’.
The fort is open from sunrise to sunset and is taken care of by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). There is a minimum entrance fee charged to enter the fort and vegetables are sold at the entrance as are shells. There are also a few shops selling cold drinks and snacks inside the fort complex.
The best time to visit Alibaug is from November to July with home stays, lodges and small hotels all offering accommodation as per one’s budget. The ST bus stop is located centrally in the city and those on a budget can use the local buses to get from place to place. The tum-tums are also economical to travel by.
Sea food is in abundance and the authentic Marathi recipe food abound in both the hotels as well as the home cooked meals. The Alibaug market is a must visit as there are nice accessories, Kolhapuri chappals, antiques, junk jewellery, etc. One must bargain to get a good deal though.
If in Mumbai or Pune and thinking of a weekend place to visit, Alibaug is the place to pack one’s bag and head out to. It fits the budget perfectly and also is a great slowdown and relax place.