Sea Forts Expedition
South Konkan - Alibaug Region
Region : Alibaug
Height : Nil
ThisR&D Expedition was born at 10:30pm on 20th Mar, 2004. Sound weird!
Well, after the Tung trek, I had decided not to go for any treks as the temperatures were rising and the sweltering heat was pulling us down. Water also was becoming increasingly scarce in most of the fort regions. Ruzbeh called me up at around 10:30pm on 20th Mar and asked me if we could go for a Sea-Fort expedition in the Alibaug region instead of climbing uphill. I said fine! And so here is an account of our interesting and hectic first ever Sea Forts Expedition.
Chaul Fort (Revdanda)
Formely known as Chaul Fort, it is now popularly called as Revdandakot because the Revdanda village lies within the fort walls. There are many names to this fort. Some say it falls in'Revdanda-Agarkot-Chaul' Complex. However, Chaul town is now situated 4km away from Revdanda and villages in this proximity all share a common bazaar at Chaul.
Formely a Portuguese town, Chaul is situated about 350km north of Goa and 60km south of Mumbai, at the mouth of the Kundalika river. Chaul was located on the low Northern bank, opposed to a promontory (cape/peninsula) on the South bank, which was called "Morro de Chaul" (Mount of Chaul) or Korlai. In 1521 Chaul was brought under the Portuguese control, and in the same year, the first fort was built. In October 1531, they erected a massive, square stone fortress at Chaul, which also contained a church and dwelling-houses for 120 men and this fortress was named "Santa Maria do Castello" (Saint Maria of Castello). The Portuguese town developed around this castle. However, 1558, a treaty was enforced prohibiting the expansion of the town's fortification. In Nov 1570, Chaul was attacked by Nizam Shah. He laid siege for months and the town was reduced to shambles. However, in July 1571, the siege was raised and a treaty was signed. After the siege, the town was rebuilt, and the town walls with several bastions was built around it. In April 1592, the Moors from Africa, began a new siege of Chaul, but after an hard battle, the Portuguese succeeded to supress the attack. In 1594, the Portuguese, conquered the adjoining fortress of the "Morro de Chaul" - Korlai. Owing to the repeated attacks by the Moors against Chaul, in 1613, new defence works were carried out.
The Portuguese power declined and Chaul, slowly, lost his importance. In March 1739, Chaul and the fortress of "Morro de Chaul" (Korlai Fort) were besieged by the Maratha Navy commandeered by Kanhoji Angre. On 18 September 1740, a treaty was signed and Chaul was handed over to the Marathas.
Still one can see the following ruins in Chaul :
The ruins of the town-walls with his powerful ramparts, the ruins of the church "Matriz", the church and the convent of the Augustinian, the Franciscans church's, the "Misericordia", & the "Porta do Mar". The adjoining fortress of the "Morro of Chaul" show, still today, the remains of his walls.
We packed our bags and hurried to reach the Bombay Central S.T. depot to catch the 1am Murud bus. Prior reservations are a must for this bus, however upon enquiry we found out that some seats were still vacant. We reached Bombay Central and found that there was a long queue of people for this bus, so our chance to sit and travel looked bleak. Much to our surprise & to meet the rush of people traveling on the eve of Gudipadwa, the S.T. depot pressed in one Asiad bus at the same time. We therefore got a chance to sit, sleep and travel. Having departed Bombay Central around 12:45am and we reached Revdanda bus stand around 3:30pm. The bus stand was deserted, so we decided to sleep at the stand itself. The weather was cool and after sometime it became quite cold. This was due to the strong wind blowing from the Kundalika river which is right behind the bus stand. We woke up around 6:30am and upon enquiry we decided to begin our trek with Revdanda Fort. Erstwhile known as "Chaul Fort".
The locals informed us that the periphery of this fort is about 3-4 kms around the Revdanda village and the village exists inside the fort area. So we started our trek from the beach. From the S.T. Depot we walked upto the bridge connecting Revdanda with Korlai. Just before the bridge we turned right onto the beach. We traversed the beach and reached the fort walls. The fort walls are still in somewhat okay condition but they have been decaying due to the sea erosion. After surveying the fort walls, we enter the fort thru one of the breaches. Now, most of the area inside the fort have taken over by the villagers and have built their houses around and not much is being done to protect these heritage sites.This building is also called as "Satkani Bhurj", stands at a height of 29.26mts and has now been encroached by wild cactus plants & creepers and is severely damaged. Here we find a few cannons scattered around. We then pass thru various broken walls and reach the main road. At this point the wall is breached to build a road. There are two such breaches. On the south side to connect Revdanda with Alibaug & and the north side to connect Revdanda with Korlai, Nangaon & Murud. We walk pass the road towards the S.T.Depot. Most of the villagers are busy celebrating Gudi Padwa. Soon we spot an ancient wall with a closed gate on the left side of the road. This is called as "Chaukani Bhurj".
We then proceed to another entrance, which is the entrance to the fort from opposite. The S.T.stand & police station. One can climb this gate from the right side and reach the top where we spotted 2 more cannons. Almost all the entrances have Portuguese inscriptions on them, and some are with cross signs. We spot only 5 cannons as compared to 12 mentioned in the books.
Its 8am and we walk to the S.T. stand to take a bus to Borli Village enroute to Korlai. The bus was at 8:45am, so we decided to have some breakfast. Soon we boarded the bus and we cross the Kundalika river and reach Borli village Junction in 20mins. We alight there enter the Borli village.
Korlai Fort (Fortaleza do Morro de Chaul) History
In 1521, Diego Lopez De Sicair. a Portuguese governor, constructed a strong wharf here and mounted a holy cross.The fort was built by Burhan Nizamshah II. Fattehkhan was the first keeper of this fort. The fort soon after, was taken over by the Portuguese army, and they demolished everything on the top fort. Historians have recorded that in 1602, the Portuguese had a military comprising 70 cannons and a standing army of over 8000 posted for the defence of the fort. Sambhaji Maharaj, son of the legendary Chhatrapati Shivaji tried, in 1683, to capture the fort, but it was a fruitless assault. In a battle that raged for twelve months, the year 1739 saw the fort change hands. Subhanji Mankar, under the able command of Chimaji Appa, took charge of Korlai in a remarkable campaign that took toll of hundreds of lives.The Maratha army even established an armament factory in this fort. The tomb of Babaswami is located at the foothills of the fort.The fort is surrounded on three sides by the Arabian sea and is 1000 mtr. in length and 30 mtr. Across. The main entrance faces east as does the cross on the quay. The western side has an ordinance depot. The images of a lion and an eagle are inscribed boldly on the stone wall at the entrance gate. Such a representation was common, depicting the dual might of that particular kingdom on land and sea.The construction methods show definite Portuguese influence.The fort's towers are massively built. Many of them are named after hindu deities - the Pusti (San Diego - Portuguese), Ganesh (San Francisco - in Portuguese), Pashchim, Devi, Chauburji, Ram, and Panburuj are some of them.
In Korlai, there is a community of people that, still today, speak a Creole form of Portuguese.
From Borli village we walked for about ½ hour to reach the base of Korlai hill. This hill is surrounded by water on three sides and is connected to the mainland by just a narrow strip. Korlai sea fort is situated atop a hill at a mere height of 270ft. There are two entrances to the fort ie. on the eastern & western sides. As we pass the village we notice that all the fishing is done in the creek around the Kundalika river. We cross the village and head straight to the beach. Just before entering the beach we take a right towards the hill and reach a road (not tarred). This road traverses to the Korlai lighthouse. We are let inside after paying Rs. 5 admission fee. The Lighthouse officer was extremely helpful and he enlightened us will all the info on the lighthouse and its navigation systems. After spending ½ hr at the lighthouse. We climbed onto the Korlai fort thru the steps which begins right from behind the lighthouse. A brief climb of about 5mins leads us to the small entrance inside the fort. This is the western entrance of the fort. The eastern darwaja is the main entrance to the fort. At this point we take a left, pass thru one door (entrance) and move towards a Machi called the "Crusachi Bateri"as named by the Marathas. It was earlier called as "Santacruz" by the Portuguese.This machi is built on a height of 10ft from the sea level. We descend down further to the north side from where we can view the ramparts with ammunition godowns, several cannons positioned are various points facing the sea. On the right we see a small open entrance which leads to the pier used by people to access the fort from the sea. We turn back move towards the balekilla in the south. We pass the 'Margiri Bastion' and several entrances and finally reach the balekilla. There is a small tank and ruins of a Portuguese church. Much before the balekilla towards the right, one can spot a small small temple dedicated to lord Shiva. The balekilla entrance has a Portuguese inscription. We move further on and reach the south end of the fort. On the eastern periphery we can spot some cannons. The view from here is extremely beautiful. We can see the narrow strip of land connecting Korlai to Borli Village, Kundalika Creek and the Korlai port with its fishing boats on the leftside and the vast Arabian Sea on your right. We return back and reach the eastern entrance of the fort. Just at the steps lies one big slab of stone with Portuguese inscriptions. This stone has fallen of from its original place and is in bad shape. What a shame to see such heritage structures lying in such decaying condition. It takes us about 1.5 hrs to see the entire fort.
We exit from the east entrance which also has some inscriptions in Portuguese. We descend into the woods carefully as we have been notified that they are infested with deadly poisonous snakes. However, we are lucky and cross the woods in about 15min and reach the samadhi of Babaswami. After refreshing ourselves at Borli village, we take a rickshaw and return to Revdanda S.T. depot from where we take a bus to Alibaug. We reach alibaug around 1145am and after having a quick lunch we proceed to Alibaug beach to visit the Kulaba Fort. In vain, we soon found out that due to high tide it is not possible to visit the fort until 4.30pm when the low tide starts.
Korlai Lighthouse The Korlai Lighthouse is a small lighthouse which is under the purview of the Govt. of India unlike the other lighthouses in and around Mumbai which are under Mumbai Port Trust. It is built at a height of about 150ft from the sea level and is located on the western base of the Korlai hill.
The RCC work of the lighthouse was completed in 1955 and in 1956 the actual lighthouse with all its navigational equipment was built & installed by Barbier, Benard & Turenne (BBT)/France. It was a battery operated lighthouse until 2003, the Govt upgraded it to run on electricity. The current electrical equipment is installed by Navisaids, Delhi.
The lighthouse is painted in a peculiar form. The lighthouse tower is 'White' & the actual top is in 'Orange'. This lighthouse can be noticed only from the west, north & south sides as the east view is blocked by the Korlai hill. These colours are considered as 'Day Signals'(white & red). However the top is painted 'orange' as from far off it looks like 'red'. These Day Signals are extremely important for ships to identify the presence of a lighthouse nearby when the lights are off during daytime. By 6.30pm the lights are switched on.
The bulbs installed at the lighthouse are of Belgian make, 150watts & run on 240volts DC supply. There are 4 bulbs fitted in on a circular stand and when on, the light travels in a circular pattern. It takes about 24 secs to complete one circle and the projection of light in a particular direction remains for atleast 3 secs for ships to register the presence of the lighthouse nearby. During nightime the lights of this lighthouse can reach a maximum distance of 40km into the sea. It is currently manned by 3 personnel who are accomadated at the lighthouse quarters itself.
The view of the Arabian sea and the Korlai beach stretching far upto Borli creek is at its best from the top of the lighthouse. Chaul's Dolphin Signal point can also be seen.There are three small cannons, painted and placed on both the sides of the lighthouse tower to give the surroundings a better look.
A mere payment of Rs.5/- is charged to visit this beautiful lighthouse and a visit is must for the knowledge one gains.
Hirakot Fort History
The year was 1740. Thorlya Bajirao was busy concentrating on expanding his territory towards northern India . Seeing this, Sambhaji Angre of Swarnadurg with the help of Tulaji Angre attacked Kulaba Fort which was under Manaji Angre, Chief commander of the Marathas.
Manaji sought the help of Shahu Chatrapati of Satara. Shahu instructed Balaji Bhajirao (Nanasaheb) son of the Peshwa to help Manaji Angre. Bhajirao took along Chimaji Appa to him Alibaug. The British also decided to provide naval assistance to Manaji.
In the battle that followed, the British defeated Sambhaji Angre on the sea front, whilst Balaji Bhajirao defeated Sambhaji's army in a stiff battle at Hirakot. Through the entire war, Manaji Angre was at Kulaba fort. With the defeat of Sambhaji Angre and a strong army under his arms, Chimaji Appa and Balaji Bhajirao now decided to attack the Portuguese, who have been camping in Revdanda for quite sometime and drive them away. All this was being decided inside Hirakot's strong bastions. At that very moment, they received the bad news of the demise of Anjinkya Bhajirao at Ravarkhedi on the banks of Narmada . Balaji Bhajirao was then pronounced as the new Peshwa.
Hirakot fort has thus stood witness to all these historical events.
A statue of Kalambika Devi, the ancestral deity of the Angres was installed inside Hirakot in 1770. When the Angres gave away their throne on 30 th Dec, 1843 , the deity's statue was moved out of the fort and re-installed in the village adjacent to the fort. After this Hirakot fort became a prison .
MiStory We go thru our maps and try to find out the way to reach our next location - Hirakot fort. Upon asking several people and walking for about 1 hr we reach the Hirakot fort. This fort is situated exactly opposite a lovely garden with a small pond and is near the Thasildhar office. We check the high fort walls, which have been repaired and are in good shape. Much to our dismay, we are informed that this fort is converted to a prison and there islot of police permissions required to visit this jail. We try but in vain! Much to our dismay, we return back to Alibaug town in rickshaw.
Its around 2pm and we have to wait until 4.30pm in Alibaug to visit the Kulaba Fort. Again we go thru our maps and soon find out there is a lone bastion at Thal village.
We book a rickshaw from Alibaug and reach Thal village in ½ hrs time. Enroute we pass the RCF plant at Thal. The Village is pre-dominantly is fishing village. Upon enquiry we are led by one of the fisherman to the beach where we can see a small broken bastion at a mere height of about 4-5 ft. This surely must have been a big bastion but due to some war and/or sea erosion etc it is now totally diminished. The local fishermen dry their fish on the bastion grounds. Towards the west one can clearly view the sea-forts of Khanderi & Oonderi and towards the east one can see the RCF plant and the Kankeshwar Hill, far in the background.
There is no mention of this bastion anywhere, neither in the books nor on the internet. After spending about 15min there, we return back to where our rickshaw is and return back to Alibaug by around 3:15pm.
Before the Marathas built a fort where the Kulaba stands today, there was an army checkpost in the sea of Mauje Navghar. The checkpost, specially managed to keep an eye on the important Alibag coast, wascommanded by Bhivji Gujar. In the period around 1680-1681, with Shivaji Maharaj's vision, a fort was built on this rocky outpost. In 1698, the legendary naval commander Kanhoji Angre was incharge of the fort.The fort also was the place where this maritime hero breathed his last on 4th July 1729.
The fort has walls made of stone blocks placed on each other, standing purely on the force of gravity and without any binding material. The fort has 17 towers.The main entrance doorway is located on the eastern side, facing northeast. In keeping with the empire's tradition of depicting their military might, the stone walls have carvings of peacocks, elephants, tiger, deer and the crocodile.There are temples of the 'Gaddevta', with an idol of Mahishasura.The well next to these temples has steps leading to the bottom. A tank, that still contains plenty of water, measuring 35m. x 35m.There is a temple of Siddhivinayak,or Lord Ganapati.There are also remains of a ' wada ' which was once home of Kanhoji Angre's family. His memorial - a dome shaped structure is also close by towards the fort's western side, there was a firing range.The North west tower still has two cannons with their manufacturer's markings still visible.
Imp Note :
There are no boats or ferry service to visit Kulaba Fort. The only mode of transport is either by horse carriage or walk the entire way. One must always keep a watch on the tides. During high tide the entire area between Alibaug beach and Kulaba fort is covered by water. Only when the low tide starts, the water clears and one can see the white sand connecting the forts with the mainland. Change in tides occur every 6 hrs.
From Alibaug town we walk towards the beach (about 15min). We have already passed this route once in the afternoon, but this time we noticed a beautiful old Balaji temple which is on the way to the beach. After taking a few pictures of the temple exteriors, we reach the Samadhi of Kanhoji Angre. Restoration work is on to preserve this monument. After spending about 10mins at the the samadhi we reach Alibaug beach and found that the water had already receded and we could walk across to the Kulaba Fort.
However, due to time constraints we hired a horse carriage (Rs.30 per person for a 2-way ride) that took us across to the fort in 10min. We reached the fort at 4pm. We entered thru the main door, which is at the northeastern part of the fort. After paying an entry fee of Rs.5, we take a left and move towards the south. On the left is a 'Mata Bhavani Mandir' and exactly opposite to the right are two more Devi Temples. The smaller temple is dedicated to 'Goddess Padmavati' and the bigger temple to 'Goddess Goolavati' as mentioned by the locals. We move further thru a small alley.On the left side there are a few houses belonging to the inhabitants of the fort and a small provision-cum-tea shop. As we move further on, we can see a path going to the left, which leads to a Dargah called as "Hajrat Haji Kamal Udinshah Darbar". We decide to go there on our way back. As we move on, on the left, we see the ruins of a 'wada' called 'Angrewada'. This was probably the house where Kanhoji Angre and his descendents lived while they were in the fort.
Moving further on, we reach a huge watertank with a small entrance. Once inside, we can see steps on all four sides leading to the bottom. The water here is potable. We return back to the small path and now enter the big Siddhivinayak temple. The temple complex also houses a Hanuman temple and a memorial to a baba who use to live there during the Marathas reign. His 'Padukas' are kept there for darshan. We come out of the temple and move further towards the south. We now reach the southern most entrance of the fort that exits into the sea. After the exit, there is a small piece of land which houses a Maruti Temple. This place was used for firing practice by the British.
The southernmost entrance looks very beautiful. Just next to the entrance is a small unit fixed on a pole on a high concrete block. This unit runs on gas and is used to guide ships near the fort area and avoid any accidents near the forts coast.
We now climb the ramparts of the fort which are quite intact and traverse from south to the eastern side of the fort. On theway we visit the Dargah. After alighting the steps next to the Dargah we move across to thewestern wall and climb it. After checking the several bastions on the western wall we reach the northern part of the fort where one can see 2 cannons placed on wheels. They are in good condition. Manufacturer's markings and specifications are clearly visible as read as follows : manufactured in '1849" by "Dawson Hardy Field, Dow Moot Iron Works, Yorkshire, England".Specifications are marked near the wheels. We then descend thru the rocks and move towards Sarjekot Fort.
After threading thru the wet rocks we reach Sarjekot fort in about 15min. This fort a square stone structure is built on the same rock as that of Kulaba Fort. During high tide, both these forts are isolated from each other. In the earlier days, a stone road at a height of about 5-6ft was built to connect both the forts during high tide.
The fort entrance is in the north-west side and is diagonally facing the Kulaba fort. We enter the fort thru the gate and cansee the entire circular fortifications. We climb the steps and circumnavigate the forts walls. We find 5 bastions on top. We then climb down the steps where we find a small well, now empty and completely covered with shrubs & bushes. There use to be a vetal temple here and now no signof it. After spending about 10min we return back to Kulaba fort, where our horse carriage waiting for us.
We retun to Alibaug beach and eventually reach the PNP Marine office by 5:45pm. The bus takes us to Mandwa port from where we take a boatride across to Gateway of India and finally reach home around 9:30pm.
This brings to the end of a massive one day expedition comprising of 5 forts and 1 bastion spanning 6 different locations. Thanks to Ruzbeh's good planning we could complete the trek within the stipulated schedule and return home victorious.