Not many people alighting from catamarans at Mandwa jetty walk up to rickshaw drivers to ask if they would go to Thal. But for the few who do head to this somewhat unusual destination, from which Alibaug and Kihim beaches are just a few kilometres away, they get the standard response: “Shah Rukh Khan bungalow?”
So it emerges that a quaint fishing village of at least 1,500 homes, 18 km away from Mandwa jetty, is the address of King Khan’s weekend getaway. The auto-drivers are happy to point it out to tourists, but the closest they usually get to finding a slice of Bollywood in sleepy Thal is a string of tales about King Khan’s arrivals by yacht, birthday celebrations and the cloistered home.
For the few who arrive in Thal, that’s no cause for disappointment — the village is a treasure trove of dried fish of every variety at unbeatable prices. There are also cashew and betelnut groves, farm-fresh vegetables, all barely an hour’s boat-ride from Mumbai, followed by a quick spin in an auto-rickshaw from Mandwa jetty.
Of the 40 fishery centres among the 160-odd fishing villages in Raigad district, the twin villages of Thal and Navagaon have two. The two centres account for nearly half of the 10,000 tonnes of fish that the Alibaug fishing zone notches up annually. Villagers say Thal and Navagaon are home to over 270 fishing boats, including 250 mechanised ones. “If you’re eating sardines or prawns, chances are they are from here,” says a fisherman at the local fisherfolk cooperative.
Umesh Jadhav, an autorickshaw driver, lives just outside Thal. “Nowadays, we get more people wanting to see unusual villages off Mandwa jetty. Thal is a nice, quiet option, a genuine fishing village to show visitors and there is a the fort on the island just across Thal jetty,” he says. But despite the large quantity of fish from these two villages, Thal neither has an auction or market centre nor any storage facilities. However, there’s a busy air around the Thal jetty these days, though the fish trade is not to be credited for that. With the Mumbai Port Trust constructing a new jetty at Kanhoji Angre island, a five-km boatride from Thal, the small fishing boat operators in the village have found themsleves diversifying fast into offering a range of allied services from transportation of aggregate and other construction material to supplying food and hospitality for the contractor’s labourers.
“We do several trips a day now,” says Ashwin Bundake, a fishermen operating services between Thal and Kanhoji Angre . “We also offer tourist trips on my larger boat, but that one’s under repair now. We expect business will keep getting better now.” A new jetty will mean more curious visitors, more business, more buyers for traditional coastal cuisine and dried fish.