I stand on the pier, watching smooth swirls of water from the Kali River melting into strong waves of the Arabian Sea. The waves mellow down and collect the swirls gently, like old friends reuniting. I look up and see a bridge over the river, binding the land. At the horizon beyond the bridge, lush green hills of the Western Ghats, reaching their fag end on the coast, stand still. The pier I am standing on is the entry point to Devbagh Island, and its location is only one of the many things that make the island so exquisite.
The view from the pier is something I never tire of. In the distance, to my right, is the crescent shaped Tagore Beach. Its neighbour is a natural harbour; fishing boats, big and small, trudge their way into the channel, braving choppy waves. Next to the harbour is the secluded ‘Ladies Beach', where British women went swimming and sunning eons ago. On my left is a stream that winds its way into a mangrove forest. Towering over me are lofty casuarinas; their height makes me wonder if they sprung from the ground below or the sky above.
A boat ride from the Kodibagh jetty takes you to the island. A short walk along the sandy path leads you to the first few cottages of the JLR property that spreads out over a kilometre ahead. All cottages overlook a private stretch of the Devbagh beach, an exclusive space for the guests of the property. Days here are warm, windy and slow, just the way a day on the beach should be.
You can start the day here with a nature walk, and there is much to see and hear. Needle-like leaves of the casuarinas move daintily and the wind spins hypnotic tunes to match the sways of their slender branches. The rhythm of the waves is interspersed with noisy and melodious antics of birds. Groups of Lesser Golden-backed Woodpeckers busily peck on the rough barks of casuarinas, calling out loud everytime they are on the wing. The distinctive calls of Rufous Treepies and Greater Coucals echo through the canopy. Jungle Babblers create a ruckus, and Asian Paradise Flycatchers and Black Drongos fly back and forth between trees. By the water, you will be able to spot at least five types of kingfishers, including the relatively rare Black-capped Kingfisher. Plovers, curlews, sandpipers and other waders feeding around shallow waters are a common sight.
The island also has a resident Spotted Owlet family; the naturalist here can introduce you to them. The tunes of peafowl and orioles fill the air; Brahminy Kites and Black Kites dot the skyline. But, it is the White-bellied Sea Eagle that rules the sky here. The flight of this beautiful bird with its jaw-dropping-large wingspan is a treat to the eye. Witness a hunt, when it glides at the surface of the water and picks up prey with its strong talons - its grace will leave you mesmerised.
A scrumptious breakfast later, take a boat ride into the sea, and indulge in some delightful dolphin-spotting. While you are not likely to see them jumping out of the sea, you will see their dorsal fins make an appearance over water, and if you are lucky, a tail or two. What makes spotting dolphins exciting is that they are completely unpredictable in their movement. I was lucky to spot a couple of dolphins from the pier and then from the beach too! You may also get to see shoals of sardines or mullet fish leaping over water, their silver scales glinting in the sun.
Devbagh is an estuary; the island owes its form of existence to the Kali River and the Arabian Sea. As a transition zone between riverine and marine environments, it is subjected to tides, waves and many inlet streams. The inflow of sea water and fresh water makes the surrounding area a very productive and high-nutrient natural habitat. The mangrove forest all along the island and the river bed plays host to innumerable species of flora and fauna.
A special mention goes to the more vibrant and somewhat gregarious species that surface at times– crabs. Walk up to the pier at low tide and watch Soldier Crabs, Fiddler Crabs and Sand Bubbler Crabs in action. Maintain a safe distance from them, and they will let you observe them as they go about feeding, fighting, hiding, chasing and much more. Their mannerisms are so adorable, you'll find yourself drawn back to watch them again. When you lie down on the soft white sand on the beach, you will see many pairs of eyes watching you warily, from little burrows in the sand. Meet the Ghost Crabs. If you are motionless, and if they don't see you as a threat, you get a peek into their life outside the burrow.
The beach overlooks the West, and one can see spectacular sunsets over the sea. It is my favourite time of the day at Devbagh, when the sun drenches everything in golden light. A light whizzes past me - the source is a lighthouse nestled on the little Oyster Rock Island, and a kilometre away is the Kurumgad Island. Settle down by the beach around a campfire at dusk, or take a long walk down the beach, both perfect ways to end the day. The starlit night sky then takes over, demanding your attention.
Over a century ago, a 22 year old man was spellbound by the natural beauty of Karwar. A boat ride on the moonlit Kali River inspired him, and he wrote a dramatic poem, Prakritir Pratishodha - Nature's Revenge, which went on to become his first play. The Tagore beach is named so in his honour, for the young man was none other than Rabindranath Tagore. This is what Devbagh does to you, it envelopes you in its serenity and makes you fall in love with the wind and the sea. I now have a little island in my head, and it resembles Devbagh. I retreat into it often - like a crab in its burrow - wind in my hair and sand in my toes.