When it comes to beach holidays, one beach can start to look like any other: palm-lined white sand, stretching as far as the eye can see. But we’ve found a country that has not only a wide range of beaches, but some very unique – if not frankly weird – ones. Let’s head to the coastline of India to explore.
The Vanishing Beach
Chandipur (or Chandipur-on-sea) is a small resort in Baleswar District, Odisha, on the Bay of Bengal, easily reached via Baleswar Railway Station just ten miles away. Besides being a beautiful slice of seaside real estate, what sets this beach apart from the pack is that during the ebb tide the sea retreats up to three-and-a-half-miles away from land, creating a shoreline that stretches all the way to the horizon twice a day! Because of the idiosyncratic ins and outs of the tides, the beach has also evolved a unique habitat supporting rare species of starfish and shellfish, as well as the horseshoe, red, and sand bubbler crabs – you might even catch sight of the odd sea anemone too. The endless beach, populated by strange and interesting creatures, has become a popular and dramatic picnic spot for both travelers and locals alike, and as the sea at Chandipur has no undercurrent to speak of you, can frolic amongst the waves, when you finally reach them, to your heart’s content.
Located on the shores of the Arabian Sea, Juhu Beach has a striking four-mile-long shoreline which has long been a popular location for Indian movies and TV shows, and a favorite holiday retreat for the actors who star in them; indeed, it is quite common to find famous celebrities working up a sweat jogging on the golden sands. But, even more than the chance to catch a celebrity huffing and puffing their way through a workout, tourists visit this beach primarily because of its peaceful atmosphere and the incredible beauty of the nighttime light show put on by the bioluminescent phytoplankton; once the sun has set, they dwell on the surface, causing the waves to glow a startling neon blue. With its glamorous residents and built-in special effects, it’s no wonder Juhu Beach is often called The Beverly Hills of Bollywood!
Muzhappilangad Beach in Kerala, South West India – appropriately parallel to the National Highway 66, between Thalassery and Kannur – may be the state’s only drive-in beach, but the three miles of packed sand creates a firm, smooth surface ideal for a simple scenic drive or, for the fast and the furious, a stage to practice and show off advanced driving skills such as drifting, donuts and even wheelies. It has been declared to be among the six top driving beaches in the world by the BBC; a reputation set to improve after the recent upscale of the site, which has seen additional resorts, roads and safety features added to the already well-serviced beach. In addition to motorsports, visitors can also try their hand at paragliding, parasailing and an afternoon’s bird-watching, ending the day dining on blue mussels – a local delicacy found in pools amongst the black rocks that line the beach.
Arambol is a traditional fishing village, located one-hour’s drive from Dabolim Airport within Pernem in North Goa and is home to a stunning beach which attracts people from all over the world. But it is another local beauty spot which gives Arambol its own USP; just a short walk north from the main beach is a smaller playa where visitors will find a fresh-water lake, officially named Vagkolam, but commonly known as Sweet Water Lake. The water may be fresh, but it’s no dipping pool in which to cool down, quite the opposite in fact, as the lake is warmed gently by heat from the nearby hot springs – which even raise the temperature of the sands of the surrounding area – making a beach jacuzzi!
On the surface Dumas Beach, 13 miles southwest of Surat City in the Indian state of Gujarat, is a regular, though very popular, beach with a vibrant promenade supporting street food stalls, with the Indian and Chinese restaurants keeping the holiday makers refreshed from a day under the sun. But, this beach has a secret: it is also one of the most haunted places in India! The hot bed of rumor and gossip, the internet, is full of spectral sighting and apparitions, with some stories even attributing missing people to the ghastly ghosts of Dumas Beach – which may, or may not be, a site of a hidden Hindu burial ground, filling the beach with lost souls, who can be heard whispering to the living as they pass by.
As one of Karnataka’s best beaches – full of intriguing coves, dotted with sandy beaches ideal for sun worshippers, and where the sea remains calm throughout the holiday season providing great conditions for swimmers and snorkelers for most of the year – Om Beach would be an acceptable entrant on any list of picturesque beaches. However, it is the twisting, turning nature of its geography which makes it remarkable for other reasons: viewed from above, the outline of Gokarna’s most beloved shore is transmuted into two semi-crescents which join together to form the famous mantra beloved of Hindus and meditation practitioners all over the world – Om. Something to consider if you’re trying to get away from the bright lights of city life and rediscover some inner tranquility.
Located 23 miles to the south of the Andaman Islands, Neil Island is tiny but beautiful. Crammed with unexplored coral reefs, exceptional bio-diversity, white-sand beaches and lush tropical forests, the locals affectionately nickname it the “vegetable bowl” of the Andaman’s, in reference to its fecund soil which enables the island to grow particularly large and juicy produce which supplies all the surrounding area with plentiful fruit and veg. The island, with its chilled vibes and deserted beaches has become well known as the place to decompress after the hustle and bustle of busy Havelock, but it is most famous for an unusual landmark, where two living, natural corals which have grown up to meet in the middle creating an arc, dubbed the Howrah Bridge.
Neelankarai (a combination of neelam and karai meaning “blue shore”), in the Bay of Bengal, is deemed a census town, which means that although it is not recognized as an official town, it is large enough to be considered an urban center. As such, Neelankarai has become well known for its diverse economy, pioneering attitude towards education (with a literacy rate of 70% it exceeds the national average by more than 10 percent) and conservation programs – most notably the turtle walks. On these rambles during nesting season (January to March), volunteers donate their time to look for and collect Olive Ridley turtle eggs to protect them from threats, human and non-human, and relocate them to safer places. It’s a fascinating way to discover this forward-looking coastal town, and learn more about these turtles, which can be found throughout the Indian Ocean, as well as help clean up and restore a beach which was once flourished with Olive Ridleys and their young.
Eschewing the world-renowned nightlife which Goa has become famous for, Agonda Beach in Canacona, South Goa – already well-known for its four resplendent beaches and as a spiritual hub, home to countless yogis and their students – has recently garnered a rather eccentric reputation as the number one destination hot spot for bovine sun-worshippers. Yes, you read that correctly – sunbathing cows. Cows who it seems just can’t get enough of the tropical sun, and in the afternoon they revel, just like we all long to do, on the empty sandy beaches to soak up some of that precious vitamin D. As the day progresses and the beach grows thick with people, the cows become the target of amused bystanders and incessant requests for selfies, which they accept with the good grace and easy charm only achieved by veteran Hollywood stars, retired ambassadors and louche cows.
If cows are not enough for you, then maybe a trip to an elephant island might be in order, half an hour by boat from Havelock Island, where on the sparkling white sands of Radhanagar Beach – selected by Time magazine as the seventh best beach in the world and known for its stunning beautiful corals and exotic marine life – you will find a beach ideal for all types of aqua fun. Not least snorkeling, and not your average run-of-the-mill expedition – here you can enter the depths with friendly pachyderms who will show you around the underwater paradise. This isn’t just a whimsical novelty either, these gentle behemoths grew up on the beach and have years of experience exploring the corals, and are able to act as knowledgeable and seasoned guides to the area, quite capable of showing you the very best beauty spots and points of interest. Unbelievable, but true!
So while you may think a beach holiday is little more than lying around working on your tan, broken up with some boozy cocktails and seafood suppers, by broadening your horizons and visiting a beach “out of the norm” you will always be the center of attention! Especially when you describe your time swimming with elephants…