Leave the tourist crowds behind and lose yourself in these tantalisingly unexplored beaches.
Say the word ‘beach’ and it’s hard not to think of its Indian synonyms – Goa and Kerala. But the country’s 7500-km coastline has a wealth of unsung, secret beaches – pristine, unexplored and untouched by the chaos of tourism. From blissfully uncrowded to virtually deserted, allow us to introduce you to India’s lesser-known (and vastly underrated) beaches.
Chandipur on Sea
Listed as one of the world’s most unusual beaches, it’s a wonder there’s isn’t a bigger hullaballoo about this secluded beach! Hidden away in Odisha’s Balasore, the sea here performs an impressive trick– it disappears and reappears twice a day, earning it the moniker ‘Hide & Seek Beach’. At low tide, the sea retreats by about five kilometres from the shoreline, leaving the sea bed bare, before the gentle waters surge back at high tide. Walk on the exposed sea bed and observe the marine life up-close, including scuttling red crabs and starfish. Chandipur’s beach is as pretty as it is mysterious, rimmed by swaying casuarina trees and sand dunes.
Recommended: Sunsets and the delicious seafood served in local restaurants.
Gopalpur on Sea
Sequestered on Odisha’s southern coast, this beach is a true gem. Once a thriving port, Gopalpur at Sea now wears an air of desolate beauty. Formerly called Palaora during the reign of the Kalingas, the ancient port traded in silks and pearls with Java and Sumatra. The British also used it as a maritime hub, lining its shores with warehouses. Today, Gopalpur is a far cry from its previous incarnations: quiet, languid and largely undisturbed by the din of tourism and commerce. The lyrical landscape has all the ingredients for lazy beach idyll: clean, blue waters, golden sand and a compelling sea breeze. There is a quaint lighthouse on the beach from where you can gaze out at the Bay of Bengal. If you do decide to swim, beware of strong undercurrents.
This atmospheric beach in Kerala is flanked by the imposing 17th century Bekal Fort. The fort-beach combination creates a gorgeous and moody ambience worthy of an art film (and Mani Ratnam has in fact shot here). Despite the occasional movie appearance, Bekal has stayed out of the mainstream spotlight. The ramparts of the fort offer a dramatic vantage point to watch the Arabian Sea stretch out into infinity. The unspoilt beach is a haven for seekers of solitude.
Recommended: Watch the sun sink into the sea from the Bekal Fort.
Devbagh on Maharashtra’s picturesque Malvan coast, makes for an offbeat beach escape. The fishing hamlet is more low-key than its popular neighbour, Tarkali, but is equally enchanting and less touristy. Wedged between Karli River and the Arabian Sea, the narrow beach is like a long, sandy runway. A boat trip down its waters, reveals a dramatic confluence where the greenish river merges with the blue ocean. Seagulls circle over the ‘sangam’ and dolphins can be spotted here.
This is the perfect do-nothing beach, well-suited for sea-gazing and lolling in the sand, in company or in solitude. At sunrise, the water changes colours and at nightfall, a canopy of bright stars hangs above the beach. The adventurous can indulge in water sports like jet skiing and parasailing and ride out on a fisherman’s boat to watch them at work.
Recommended: Don’t miss the Malvan seafood thali served in local restaurants.
If you’ve had your fill of north Goa’s frenetic beaches, it’s time to head to this little-known beach in in South Goa. Clean, empty and hawker-free, serene Varca lets you slip into the Goan state of ‘sussegad’ as it was originally intended: not a state of conviviality, but a state of quiet contentment.
With translucent, shallow waters to play in and endless acres of white sand framed by coconut palms, the beach exudes a palpable sense of calm. It’s the kind of seashore where you plonk down in the sand with paint and brush or a book, play football or fall asleep to the sound of the waves, unobserved, without a soul to disturb you. Treat yourself to chilled beer and hearty seafood at one of the unassuming shacks.
Insider Tip: Stay at Caravela Beach Resort or any of luxury resorts that dot Varca.
Pirotan Island & Narara Reef
The Marine National Park in Gujarat’s Gulf of Kutch is a watery paradise of breathtaking biodiversity. Of the forty islands that make up the park, visitors are only allowed into two of them – Narara and Pirotan. The waters in these remote and otherworldly islands in the Arabian Sea retreat by a few kilometres at low tide, revealing rare glimpses of the wondrous sea creatures that live beneath. Wear sensible shoes and take a walk along the sea bed with a guide to spot corals, sponges, anemones, sea cucumbers, puffer fish, starfish, crabs, stingray and octopus. Untouched by civilisation, Pirotan Island can be reached by boat from Jamnagar. En route you can spot dolphins, sea turtles and migratory birds on the mangrove trees. Narara Reef can be reached by road from Jamnagar (55km). Take your own water and snacks, there’s none available here.
Insider Tip: Confirm the day’s low tide timings before you set out. Both Narara and Pirotan require permits issued by the Forest Dept.
Murdeshwar Beach & Jali Beach
While tourists throng Gokarna and Mangalore, few have heard of Murudeshwar, a beachside temple town in Karnataka’s lush Uttara Kannada coast. The USP of Murudeshwar Beach is its dramatic shoreline dominated by a massive, 123-foot statue of Shiva towering on a hillock over the waters. The dizzyingly tall Murudeshwar Temple with an eighteen-storey gopuram stands next to it. Take a lift to the top floor for extraordinary views of the Arabian Sea engulfing the temple on three sides.
Close to Murudeshwar is the little-heard of Jali Beach in Bhatkal, a small port town in Karnataka, where the Western Ghats meet the Arabian Sea. Spend the day idling at this charming beach, with pale blue waters and cheerful palm trees. With few visitors in sight, enjoy the sleepy, peaceful vibe and Bhatkal’s cosy, small-town charm.
Recommended: Sample the legendary Bhatkal biryani made by the Navayath community who live here.
This unusual beach hideout in Kerala brings together two unlikely elements – the endless blue sea and placid, emerald backwaters – in one spectacular canvas. The narrow strip of sand literally separates the two water bodies, straddling the Arabian Sea on one side and the freshwaters of the Neyyar River on the other. A boat ride through the backwaters, snaking through dense greenery and bird-filled mangrove swamps will get you to Poovar Island with its aptly named ‘Golden Sand Beach’. Awash in blues and greens, the setting is quintessential Kerala, with an abundance of water, coconut palm trees and soft sands to sink your feet into. Crowd-free and tranquil, the silence is only punctuated by the rhythms of the gently lapping backwaters and the crashing sea waves.
Recommended: Besides beach-lounging, go on a backwater cruise and eat at a floating restaurant.
An overlooked, pristine slice of blue, this is a hidden gem on the Malabar Coast. Mahe is one of the four districts that make up the Union Territory of Puducherry and is a mere 30 km-drive from Kannur on Kerala’s coast. With most travellers heading to Pondicherry, tiny Mahe is rarely visited and largely forgotten. But visitors to this former French colony will be rewarded by the Eden-like beauty of its palm-fringed beach with limpid blue waters. Soak up the sea and sunshine, comb the shores for seashells and chat up the fishermen, without the mandatory tourist bustle. Its high waves attract surfers and its sunsets draw photography buffs. Remember to pack your own water and food as there aren’t any shacks on the beach.
Recommended: The Mahe Riverside Walkway and the Tagore Park located at the estuary of the Mayyazhi River and the Arabian Sea are other noteworthy tourist spots.
Beautiful and awe-inspiring, this isn’t your average seaside getaway. Situated close to Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, Dhanushkodi Beach marks the confluence of the blue, turgid waters of the Arabian Sea with the calm waters of the Bay of Bengal. Once a busy fishing village, Dhanushkodi today is deserted. A cyclone swept through it in 1964, destroying everything in its wake.
The beach exudes this marooned vibe. The ghostly ruins of the former town – like the walls of a church and the old railway station – are still visible on the way to the beach. Dhanushkodi is also a place of religious significance. A hop, skip and jump away from Sri Lanka, it is believed to be the place where Rama built a bridge to Lanka to rescue Sita from Ravana’s clutches – called the ‘Ram Setu’. A trip to this beach on the southern edge of India will remind you of the immensity of the sea, and make you feel at one with its vast, meditative stillness.
Insider Tip: There is no accommodation available at Dhanushkodi, so leave for Rameswaram before sundown.