Velas is a quaint little village on the northern most tip of Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. Over the past few years, it has become popular for the annual Velas Turtle Festival. The Olive Ridley is an endangered species of marine turtles worldwide. The Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (SNM), an NGO along with local villagers and the Dept. of Forests begun turtle conservation in the year 2002 by harvesting turtle eggs and preventing their accidental mortality. This year the NGO has handed over the Turtle Festival to the villagers of Velas.
The natural habitat of Olive Ridley Marine Turtles is the tropical coastline across the world. Velas is one such coastline where the adult female turtles dig nests and lay eggs every year in the months of November – March. Typically it takes about 55 days for the eggs to hatch. The turtle festival is held in the month of March – April during the peak hatching season. Once the eggs are hatched, the hatchlings start crawling towards the sea on their own, a moment truly amazing. While the hatchlings are on their way to the sea, they are at risk due to predators like vultures and falcons waiting for a feast . The conservationists ensure that the predators are kept away and maximum hatchlings make their way to the sea. The female hatchlings would return to Velas beach on reaching adulthood for laying eggs, a phenomenon yet unexplained by science.
This year, the Turtle Festival originally set to begin on 15th March 2014 has been rescheduled by SNM to begin on 20th March 2014. From this day till late April, the turtle hatchlings will be released from their nests. Typically the hatchlings are released at dawn around 06:45 AM and in the evening at around 06:00 PM. Velas is about 220 Kms from Mumbai and it takes around 6 – 7 hrs. to reach by road. There are direct State Transport buses from Mumbai to reach Velas. If travelling by your own vehicle from Mumbai, take the Chembur, Vashi, Panvel route. On reaching Palaspe junction after Panvel, take the NH-17 (Panvel – Kochi highway a.k.a. Goa road) route to Pen, Vadkhal naka, Kolad, Mangaon, Lonere, Goregaon, Mandangad for reaching Velas. There are no hotels in Velas. The local villagers make food and homestay arrangements at a nominal cost. Their contact details are available on the website of Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra. There are many travel and adventure groups in Mumbai who arrange a weekend tour to Velas during March and April which are quite economical and exciting.
So take out some time from your busy schedules to witness an unforgettable moment while the Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings make their way to the sea. The scenic Velas beach, Bankot Fort and the Harihareshwar Temple and Beach are few other attractions. Down south, the coastal villages of Kelshi, Ade, Anjarle and Harnai are fast gaining popularity due to their unspoilt beaches, also worth a visit.
To know more about the Velas Turtle Festival and Olive Ridley Turtles, visit the blog page ‘Velas’