Changing the face of the waterfront in Mandwa

Located across the Mumbai harbor rich with pristine beaches and vibrant malvani culture, Mandwa has been transformed into a vibrant tourist destination over the last few years. And this metamorphosis from a sleepy hamlet into what is now known as the Hamptons of Mumbai was by no accident. Along with my business partner Aashim Mongia, we took on the task of turning around the Mandwa port in 2014 which serves as the primary waterway access point for ferries and speed boats operating from Gateway of India.

In a jetty where there weren’t even restrooms or any public conveniences, a small hub of shops and activities slowly began to grow as these basic amenities started to take form. Today, that small hub at Mandwa Port is now host to the ‘Sunnyside Market’ – one of India’s first sustainable outdoor shopping markets using old repurposed shipping containers that houses a number of shops such as Parx, VIP, and eateries like Goila Butter Chicken, Belgian Waffles, etc that cater to 20,000 – 30,000 tourists every day who pass through the area on their way to explore the Mandwa/Alibaug region. And with an open-air amphitheater on-site, The Sunnyside Market regularly hosts live musical performances, theatrical plays, flea markets, dancing and fitness workshops, etc.

Looking at the waterfronts that have been developed across the globe, no waterfront is ever complete without there being a sea-facing restaurant offering gorgeous views of the sea serving as a backdrop as you step out with your family and friends for a delicious meal. That’s when Aashim Mongia and I along with Amrish Arora (Flamboyante, Cuffe Parade) introduced ‘Boardwalk by Flamboyante – a one-of-a-kind beachfront restaurant that offers the much sought-after sea views that even rival the sea views of Santorini (Greece).

As the tourism footfalls grew, we realized that there was so much more potential for the development of this undiscovered waterfront to global standards and spearheaded the launch of the M2M Ferries Ropax ferry service in 2020. Operating from a purpose-built infrastructure such as a dedicated terminal area and floating pontoon courtesy of the Maharashtra Maritime Board and Mumbai Port Authority at both Mumbai (Ferry Wharf) and Mandwa as part of the Sagarmala Initiative that aims to improve the waterway connectivity of India, M2M Ferries operates all year round on a daily basis even during the monsoon season when all other ferry services are shut, thus making Mandwa accessible all throughout the year.

The state-of-the-art vessel built in 2019, the M2M-1 or the Red Lady of the Mumbai harbor as is more affectionately known, has a capacity of 500 passengers and up to 120 vehicles (cars, bikes, bicycles, and buses) with a travel time of 1 hour that has 3 different seating categories – The Skoda Kushaq Zone that has both outdoor and indoor AC open plan seating, the Skoda Octavia Deck that offers unrestricted views of the sea along a dedicated Starboard bar offering a variety of specially curated cocktails to choose from and the exclusive Skoda Superb Lounge that offers an elevated sailing experience. And unlike other ferry options available, M2M Ferries also allows pets onboard.

Running an almost daily service, we’ve been able to maintain an impeccable safety and punctuality record since its tumultuous launch during the pandemic in 2020 and have not skipped a beat. We’ve been operating non-stop with approximately 21 trips a week and have now successfully provided all-year-round waterway connectivity for 2 years running. Just recently in July 2022, we crossed a major milestone of ferrying 1 million passengers! We look forward to providing this service and making it better every day by working on reducing carbon emissions and boosting economic development through rural/urban connectivity.

Our collective vision of transforming Mandwa Port into a tourist destination in itself over the last 8 years has been a game-changer for tourism in Mandwa and Alibaug. Steady year-on-year growth in footfalls along with M2M Ferries further adding to the large influx of tourism footfalls all year round, resorts, restaurants, and hotels in the region which earlier relied on seasonal business have now been able to establish themselves as a year-round destination.

This increase in footfalls also resulted in the number of tourism-related businesses such as hotels, resorts, restaurants, and villa rentals increasing threefold to compensate for the growing demand. Even during the pandemic, a large number of people chose to move to Mandwa to take advantage of the remoteness of the area and work remotely where they would travel to Mumbai when needed using M2M Ferries as their preferred mode of travel because of the stringent safety precautions that were put in place onboard the Ropax ferry to ensure passenger safety.

Besides the impact of growth in tourism, the development of the Mandwa Waterfront has also had a direct impact on the overall economic growth in the region. The increase in shops and eateries at Mandwa Port and a Ropax ferry service like M2M Ferries has facilitated many employment opportunities in the region and its year-round connectivity has also unlocked a wide range of opportunities for the people living in Raigad making it easier to commute to Mumbai for business, employment, medical and education.

And this transformation of the Mandwa waterfront is far from complete. For  Aashim Mongia and myself, this is just the beginning. We want to introduce various activities making Mandwa a destination for all age groups and a must-do on every traveler’s list. We’re planning on making Mandwa port more interactive through play areas for kids, selfie points,  art installations, etc. Whether it caters to day trips or weekend goers, we want a reason for everyone to experience the joy of Mumbai’s high seas and the waterfront at Mandwa Port.

by Devika Saigal

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