Velas-The village for turtles
When I think of Velas-The village of turtles , the vision conjured up is of ‘a home away from home.’
Velas is a small coastal hamlet in Maharastra on the shores of the Arabian Sea. Dirt roads lead you to the handful modest but well-kept houses, made of clay roof tiles, spacious porticoes and backyards filled with coconut, areca nut and jackfruit trees. All of this gives the village a special charm and character.
The only means of accommodation in the village is homestays. We reached our host Sunil’s place after a grueling road journey. We immediately realised that it was well worth all the pain in the back. Sunil and his wife, Sunita, were always smiling and spreading happiness. We soon realised that almost everyone in the village is busy doing just that. We went from tired and achy to relaxed and content state in a matter of a few minutes!
Devouring delectable Konkan cuisine, such as pooran-polis – sweet, flat bread made with wheat, horse gram and jaggery – with coconut milk, vegetable preparations made from absolutely fresh produce, cashewnut curry with bhakris – bread made from rice flour – poha (flattened rice), kokum juice and fresh and healthy neera (palm nectar); resting on the porch and enjoying the warm, salty breeze, while watching the cattle go about their business and listening to the music of the waves at a distance were my two favourite activities here.
Also read about another village called Kuvesh-A small village that stirred my soul in a big way.
Sundried Kokum fruit
BABY STEPS OF THE BABY TURTLES
Various human activities threaten sea turtles all around the world.
The village residents have taken it upon themselves to protect the nesting sea turtles through tourism and awareness.
Owing to the Velas turtle festival during the turtle nesting and hatching season, there are more tourists in the village than residents!
Turtles have been around for almost 110 million years; they have seen dinosaurs live and perish.
What fascinates me the most about sea turtles, besides their long run on our planet, is that they faithfully return to their birth site to nest.
How they manage to navigate long distances and return to the same beach is still a mystery to science. The Earth’s magnetic field might be assisting them, according to some scientists.
Having said that, it is interesting to know that only females return to their birth sites, as only females need to lay eggs. Males, after having left their nest once, almost never return to land. Nesting mostly happens at night during the winter months. Most females nest twice during the nesting season, but some may even nest up to 10 times in one season. Each clutch can have between 80 and 120 eggs. An interesting fact I learned during my trip to Velas was that contrary to popular belief, sea turtles do not go into a state of trance while laying eggs. They are known to quit the process of nesting midway if harassed or if they feel threatened.
Olive ridley sea turtles
The species of sea turtle that visits the coast of Velas (and almost all suitable beaches on India’s coastline) is commonly called Olive ridley sea turtle (and scientifically Lepidochelys olivacea).
The hatching usually begins 80-90 days after the trutles lay the eggs. The residents of the village took up the duty of ensuring the safety of the nests and protecting the hatchlings till they enter the sea. Like all other sea turtle species, the Olive ridley also faces a lot of threats: unintentional killings by fishermen’s nets and boats, as well as poaching of both adults and eggs and destruction of nesting sites due to anthropogenic activities. The turtle is, thus, listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List.
Even during their short journey from the nest to the ocean, the young turtles face many challenges. For instance dehydration, predators and losing their way and eventually dying of starvation. The ocean throws up even bigger threats in the form of many predators and garbage, which these turtles swallow and die. But the sea turtles do a lot of good for the beaches they nest on. While coming out to nest, the sea turtles bring in a lot of nutrients far away from the high-tide mark, thus allowing several animals and plants to use them up. Several animals also feed on the eggs and hatchlings of the sea turtle.
Life on the shore
After noticing the dwindling numbers of the sea turtles returning to the shore every year, Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra (an NGO), with the help of locals and the forest department, took it upon themselves to protect these turtle nests and spread awareness about the species.
Watching the adorable bale of young Olive ridley sea turtles painstakingly dig themselves out of the nest and shakily crawl towards the ocean, some even in the wrong direction, made me wonder if they would even make it on their own in the oceanic world.
The whole experience made me realise how lucky we humans were to constantly have a helping hand in our lives. As for Velas, I would definitely be back to visit the inspiring place again.
Traveling tips to Velas
One can drive to Velas from both Pune and Mumbai; both these cities are well-connected to most major cities in the country.
Travelling in your own car would be extremely beneficial as the buses are not very frequent. Alternatively, you can take a state transport bus from Pune. The ticket would range between rs 250 and 400.
There are no hotels in Velas. The only staying options are homestays. Sahyadri Nirarg Mitra (the NGO) can help you in organising your stays.
Food available in the village will be Konkani-style vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.
Daily at 6:00 am and 6:00 pm, the Olive ridley sea turtle hatchery is open to visitors. Volunteers at the hatchery give you information on the turtles. If you are lucky you can see the release of the turtles into the sea, provided there are some eggs hatching when you visit the hatchery.