A long weekend trip is always my best therapy to get away from the monotonous daily routine. So this time it was a good relaxing trip to an offbeat destination known as ‘Velas’, a small beautiful village in Ratnagiri, approx 220 km away from Mumbai. Velas is a coastal town that is famous for its beaches, the Harihareshwar temple and the Bankot fort and is home to one of the most endangered species on earth. Just like many travelers, we were here to witness the beautiful ‘Olive Ridley Baby Turtles’.
After an overnight journey, we finally reached Velas at around 5 am. We had our accommodation in a homestay that can accommodate 50 people in a porch. While the breakfast was being served we freshened up and had a quick introduction session. Refreshing Lemongrass Tea with hot poha was served on a traditional plate that is a banana leaf. After filling our tummy we were all set to go to the beach to witness the baby turtles. The beach was just a walking distance of around 20mins.
The NGO named ‘Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra’ had joined hands with Marine Conversation Society in 1992 and dedicated themselves towards conservations and protection of the Olive Ridley Turtles. Many of these turtles lay their eggs on the western coasts of Maharashtra and around 30%- 40% of these babies proceed to the beaches. These eggs are guarded by the group of volunteers against predators and poachers. Previously these eggs were either sold in markets or were destroyed by predators. But now these conservation efforts have helped the rise of the Ridley Family and in this regards the Turtle Festival is announced every year.
Every year in February these turtles lay eggs. Usually, turtle lay eggs at night while the beach has no human activity around. The mother turtle digs the sand 2 ft depth and can lay around 80-120 eggs at once. She then covers the eggs with sand and goes back to the sea never returning to see her eggs again. After a few days, the eggs hatch and baby hatchings struggle to come up digging the sand and immediately walk towards the sea. The sound of waves helps them understand the direction and that’s when their journey of life begins. Volunteers search for the nest and collect these eggs to bring them to a safe place. They dig a similar nest and keep all the eggs and cover it with sand. Above the nest, they keep the basket upside down so that if the baby turtle comes out it’s not attacked by the birds. Around 10-20 nest are dug within the strong fencing that keeps the animal predator away.
Volunteers check these nests every day. If they find any babies, they release those into the sea. To witness the little one walking towards the sea is the real joy. The baby turtles are set free to walk a few meters away from the sea so that they will remember the place where they were born. An interesting fact here is that these babies might never know who their parents are but no matter how many miles they are away from this beach, the female turtle will always come back to lay her eggs on this beach where she was born. Witnessing this baby turtle is known as ‘Turtle Festival’.
On reaching the beach, we were waiting for the volunteers to come. We were introduced to Mohan Upadhye, a conservationist who is into this for 14 years. He gave a short introduction to his work and team. The excitement of watching those turtles was at the peak. Though hatching is a natural process and no one can’t predict when we could expect a baby, we all just hoped we get to see atleast one. Mohan sir went near the first basket and opened it, but to our disappointment, there wasn’t any baby there. He tried the second one, but again no luck there as well. Even the third one was the same but he explained that the sand was little dug from inside, so there is a baby struggling to come up and may be out by the evening. We walked towards the last basket, but with no luck until now, our hopes were low. But still, with some bit of excitement and hope, we cheered as the last basket was lifted. YES, Lucky to see you. There was a baby turtle waiting to go home. At that moment, I saw around, everyone was congratulating each other as if it was like our own family member has been blessed with a newborn. Mohan sir carried the baby in the basket and walked towards the sea. We were asked to line up just like the audiences besides the ramp.
Photographers and all the mobile cameras were ready to shoot the show stopper. The waves of the sea were few meters away when Mohan sir released the baby. The baby could feel the wet sand touching its feet, but for the initial few seconds it just didn’t move. It was just smelling and feeling the breeze and moving his head. Slowly and steadily it took the first step and all of us clapped and cheered as we witnessed its each move. The cameras were continuously capturing its every move, but The little one kept walking towards the sound of the waves. What really astonished me was, after walking just few meters distance and spending absolutely no time on this beach after it’s birth, the baby will remember this very place for its lifetime. What an amazing thing it is. Leaving its tiny footprints behind he was crawling towards the starts his journey. The struggle of survival starts the moment, they start swimming. There were around 538 people to witness this that day, but this tiny creature stood out to be an absolute star. This one little turtle was the only celebrity that day.
The most amazing moment I saw was the time when the waves splashed and touched the baby turtle. I could actually feel the happiness, the baby turtle felt. The moment the water touched he started walking faster and was eager to free and swim as if it felt his mumma’s touch. Then another wave splashed the shore and carried him away. He disappeared in no time. It was quite an emotional moment for most of us as all we could see now were the footprints it left behind.
This little baby turtle made me understand the best lesson of life, “Sometimes you have to struggle to dig yourself out of the hole as no one else is going to do it for you, It doesn’t matter how slow you go as long as you don’t stop”. Keep the Faith, you will make it. You too, can experience this amazing phenomenon. The turtle festival for 2022 has begun. The dates are 05 to 06 March l 12 to 13 March l 19 to 20 March l 26 to 27 March. Gear up and get ready to have an experience of a lifetime.
Guys, it’s Lit, quite literally, isn’t it? So this was Vishu Shah, sharing her travel diary with us today. We are pretty sure, the next time you think of planning a Maharashtra trip package for yourself and your family and friends, catching the Turtle festival is definitely going to be on your mind. Until then, Celebrate the Magic of Nature! Celebrate Life!
Blog by – Vishu Shah