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Sea Forts Expedition
North Konkan - Palghar Region

Region : Palghar
Height : Nil

To commerate the 1st anniversary of R&D trek on 30/3/04 (Ram Navami holiday), we planned our next expedition-cum-trek to some of the sea forts in Palghar Taluka of the North Konkan Region.

Ruzbeh and I, we took the 5:10am Virar local from Malad and reached Virar at 6am . We then took the 6:25am Virar-Dahanu Shuttle and reached Palghar by 6:45am. We then took a bus to Satpati which would drop us off at Shirgaon village. Shirgaon fort is our first destination.


1). Shirgaon Fort (Sirgao / Seridao) : Shirgaon

2). Mahim Fort (Kari De Mahim) : Kelve-Mahim

3). Kelve Fort / Madla Bhurj : Kelve Beach


4). Paankot / Alibaug Fort : Kelve Beach


5). Danda Bhurj : Danda

6). Bhongad / Bhavangad Fort : Madhukar Nagar


7). Arnala Fort (IIha Das Vaccas) : Arnala

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Shirgaon Fort (Sirgao / Seridao)
Northeastern BastionShirgaon fort is situated in the Shirgaon village (6kms west of Palghar town). Pre-dominantly a Muslim area, the fort is about 5mins walk away from the village. We enter thru the main darwaja at the north-eastern part of the fort. This fort resembles Muslim architecture with its dome shaped bastions. Just at the entrance on the right-side are inscriptions dating the origin of this fort to 1714 A.D. As we enter the fort, we find that most of the area is now in ruins. There are 5 bastions on the fort. We take thedome shaped bation

staircase (on the left side of the entrance) and climb up to the ramparts of the fort. We then climb the dome-shaped, north-eastern bastion which is in good condition and overlooks the road. Walking on the ramparts we head to the bigger bastion which is on the north side. This bastion is also dome-shaped with 5 pillars and is in excellent condition. Both these bastions have small doors to enter and have about 5 pillars running in a semi-circular pattern. The bastion at the north-western end is broken. However, we find a lone cannon lying in the bastion. We come down the steps from this side and head in the opposite direction (south). Again we climb the staircase and check out the south eastern bastion. This bastion is open and does not have a dome. We then move towards the south-western bastion which is also in a broken condition. The area inside the fort between the north-west and south-west bastions houses 5 rooms which are open and in complete ruins.

fort interior viewThere are plenty of cells and tunnels inside the fort and most of them are secret ones and yet to be found. Some of the cells/rooms were used as godowns. We decided to explore one such hidden cell in the south-eastern part of the fort. Just near the staircase we enter a small room in the fortification where we find a staircase leading to an open door in the upper wall of the room. After passing thru the door, we again climb a small spiral stairway, we reach a dark square hole/passage in the wall. This section will be about 2ft/2ft in size and one has to squeeze thru to pass by. After careful scrutiny of this passage, we climb up and reach the end of the passage which is wide at the end. There is an empty room at this place. On the right, there is a staircase, which takes us up to the south-eastern bastion. A good exploration-cum-adventure.

Another important thing that we noticed was that there were no water tanks or wells in the fort. Quite strange! The sea water touches the fort on the western side while the rest of the three sides are surrounded by human settlements. We finish our tour in 45mins and reach Shirgaon bus stop.

Our next destination is Mahim fort in Mahim-Kelve village. We are told that buses are more frequent on the Palghar-Kelve route than the Shirgaon-Kelve route.We return back to Palghar town bus station, and after a quick breakfast we board the Kelve bus and alight at Mahim-Kelve for Mahim fort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Mahim Fort (Kari de Mahim)
The "Bowl of the Taluka" as it is often referred to. Mahim takes its name after the Mahikavati temple which is the village main place of worship. A quite seaside town, it is known for the number of bananas like Rajeli, Tenbeli, Mutheli and Velchi varieties. Fruits and coconuts are abundantly grown, with the betel-leaves orchards outnumbering all. These leaves are regularly exported to Middle-East and Far-East countries, besides being in great demand from the Mumbai market.

History

Long before the advent of the Muslims, the area between Mahim-Kelve and Mumbai was under the command of Sardar Bhimrao who had acquired this region from the Naiks. In 1350, this area came under Mughal control for a short period. In 1400, the territory fell under the Sultan of Gujarat's control. In 1532, the Portuguese started dictating their rights and expanding their territory including Mahim fort. In 1692, the Mughals again tried gaining control of the area, but in vain.

In 1634, this fort was occupied by 1 Portuguese general, 10 Portuguese soilders, 1 Police inspector, 4 Policemen & 10 Black soilders (probably Moors). While the Mahim village was occupied by 50 Portuguese families, 150 converted Christians and around 200 armed slaves.

In 1739, Chimaji Appa started his occupation on the fort and the area around. At that time there were just 60 soilders and 15 cannons on the fort.While on Medekot (small fortification/bastion made of wood), next to the fort, there was a Portuguese captian and 30 soilders. The Mahim fort entrance was supported by 2 pentagonal shaped bastions and the cannons were well placed on these bastions. These bastions are now completely broken and in ruins. Inspite of all this, the fort fell in the hands of the Marathas.

In 1818, the British won this fort, and they have described this fort with 10mtrs high fortwalls and an approx area of 75 sq.mtrs. Till 1862, this fort was kept in extremely good condition. Even the collector of Thane district used to live in the fort premises. The Mahim fort used to be of strategic importance & in the olden days this fort used to be a major hub for all land and sea trade happening between Vasai & Mumbai.

MiStory
From the bus stand/market, we take a right and pass the post office. A walk for about 15min takes us to the Zilla Parishad dispensary. Just before the dispensary, a left turn takes us to a Kali temple. The Mahim fort is right next to the temple. We enter thru the eastern entrance of the fort. There used to be about 4 doors in the fort, however they are now completely blocked and covered with rubble and thick bushes. Exactly opposite the entrance is the balekilla and is flanked by 2 bastions (left and right) which are multi-storeyed and can be reached by 2 staircases (like the ones we can see in palaces), one leading to the top of the left bastion and the other leading to the right one.

fort interior viewThe ramparts connect both these bastions to the rest of the fort walls. These bastions are completely broken and one can view the ground floor of the same. This area faces the sea which is about ½ km away. In the olden days the sea water used to reach right upto the fort walls and incase of bad weather, boats heading towards the north used to anchor on the trees which are on the western side of the fort walls. However now, the water has receded far away making the area marshy. Behind the fort one can see a small bund which brings in the sea water to irrigate the village fields. There is a small well inside the fort, which is now covered with creepers and bushes.

After checking the exterior walls of the fort, we return back to Mahim market from where we board a Vikram (10-seater rickshaw) and proceed to Sitladevi temple at Kelve Beach . The Kelve fort is our next destination.


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Kelve Fort / Madla Bhurj
'Quelme' as the Portuguese used to call it when the ruled this region, Kelve offers the visitor a wide expanse of the Arabian Sea and boasts of having one of the most beautiful & clean beaches in the region. Large groves of cypress (sur) trees adorn the beach precincts and the beach is popular amongst people who come from as far as Mumbai especially on weekends and holidays. Located only 8 kms from Palghar, the beach has the largest stretch (around 7 kms) of coastline. For the religious minded, the Sitladevi Temple is located near the beach. An annual fair here is the other feature. For budget-visitors, there are a number of private lodges and houses, who extend their hospitality to the visitors.

MiStory
W
e have been referring to a lot of books and maps about fortifications in the Kelve-Alibaug-Danda area and found that many of the fortifications / bastions etc are reffered with different names and some of them are not listed at all. In our earnest approach to find out more details we decided to make our own notes.

We reach Sitladevi Temple in about 20mins. This temple is huge and houses may deities, while the presiding deity is goddess Sitladevi. The temple is renovated and is in excellent condition. The temple pond which faces the temple is also huge and with clean water. Steps lead to this pond. The temple is thronged by huge no of devotees from in and around Palghar. After taking darshan we proceed to Kelve beach which is right behind the temple.

Upon making enquiries at a local shop we are told that there is a small fortification in themadla bhurj woods towards the north side of the beach. We refer to P.K.Ghanekar's book and find a note on ‘Madla Bhruj'. We walk for about 15min thru the woods and reach this fortification. The only entrance to this fortification is thru the eastern side which is somewhat buried in the sand. On has to end and get inside. The second entrance is also in the same state after which we reach a balekilla kind of structure facing the sea shore on the west. The height of the fortification on this side is about 15-20ft (this would be the actual height of the bhurj). This small fort has 4 bastions.

Many call this fort as Kelve fort as this is on Kelve beach, and some researchers call it as a part of the Kelve fort, probably a bhurj/bastion/watchtower to keep guard on the sea front. A strict warning is written on the fort walls about the dangers of venturing out towards the north side of the fort area as there are many areas around the shoreline with ‘Sinking sand'. We are quite lucky as we venture into this dangerous route and get to read this message only on our return.

Again referring back to the book, we proceed to find the ‘Futka Bhurj'. After walking further on from Madla Bhruj thru the woods and then onto wet slippery sand we reach a small boat landing point where the sea water makes it way thru an extremely small channel/creek. We ask the villagers about ‘Futka Bhurj' and come to know that there existed some fortifications which are now completely buried in the sand. We return back in vain and head straight to Alibaug Fort which is at the southern end of Kelve beach and can be visited only during low tide. We walk for about 3.5kms (the entire beach from north to south).


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Alibaug Fort / Paankot
We reach Alibaug fort by around 10:30am. This is fort is called Alibaug for unknown reasons (Alibaug town is several 100kms away from Kelve). This fort is also referred to as Paankot (sea fort). After making a note on the tide timings, we reached the eastern walls of the fort which faces the Kelve village. This fort is rectangular in shape (75ft long and 40ft in breadth) & from a distance the fort looks like a ship. The actual way to enter the fort is thru the south side which is now blocked.

Paankot-Alibaug FortThe only way to enter is to climb up the fort walls about 20ft long. We do so by making use of the niches in the wall, and enter the small square openings in the bastion walls. There are 8 such small openings/entrances which can be used to access the fort during both high & low tides. At the western end of the of the fort we see a wall that separates a small part of the fort. The door used to exist but now in place one finds only a broken arch. On the left we can find a fresh water tank. The broken arch leads us into the balekilla which is like a huge watch tower 2 storeyed, but completely open and ruined. The walls on the left and right run narrow from east to west. They have huge windows on both the levels. Ruzbeh tries his stunt and climbs onto one of the upper windows. After taking a few photos, we descend back the fort walls and then reach Kelve village which is about 10min walk away from the fort.

As we pass by the village on the newly constructed road which runs parallel to the creek, we find some fortification ruins towards the left that are within the village boundaries. Here we findStatue of Mother Mary & Jesus 2 bastions. The one on the left is small and the western walls falls into somebody's private property. The bastion on the right is a huge one with 2 entrances. Both the entrances have wooden frames. There is a small church installed into the wall near the doors with the statues of Mother Mary clad in a sari holding baby Jesus. This church has been constructed in year 2002. We could not enter the fort cause of wild undergrowth inside. We return back to the road and move on keeping the bastion wall on the left. We reach an intersection, were the road to the left leads into Arnala village, on the right the road goes across the newly constructed bridge to Danda village. We move towards the left following the bastion wall which at the intersection falls into the customs office compound. The wall breaks of here. This area has been encroached by the village folk.


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Danda Bhurj (Bastion)
It's about 11:45am. We hire a rickshaw to Danda Bhruj which is actually walking distance (20min). However, due to the intense heat, we hire a rickshaw. We reach the fort and keep the rickshaw waiting whilst I get down and take a few snaps around the bastion.

danda fort ruins

The Danda Bhurj is situated on the roadside opp the village and is in complete ruins. Huge trees and wild undergrowth prevents one from entering the fort. Behind the fort, are recently constructed toilets used by the village folk. The area around smells shit.



After spending about 10min, we continue our rickshaw journey and reach the base of Bhongad/Bhavangad fort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Bhongad / Bhavangad Fort
History
The Bhawangad fort is located in Palghar taluka in Thane district. It is blessed by a unique combination of history, geography and nature. It was built by Chimaji Appa, the great Maratha warrior in the 4th decade of the 18 th century. The local people call this fort as BHONGAD.

‘Bhawan' in Sanskrit means a 'house'. It also means ‘Anthill'. It is a holy place and home of lord Shiva and theb dwell in this place. It is located on a hill which is approx 200-250 ft in height. The construction of the fort started in July 1737, under special circumstances. This fort acted as a controller of the actions of the foreigners.

From 1737 to 1739, for a period of 2.5 years, the Maratha soldiers under the guidance of Chimaji Appa were fighting the Portuguese in Thane-Vasai-Kelva-Mahim-Tarapur-Nargol region. The moment Chimaji Appa came to North Konkan he conquered the Thane fort. He settled there and started planning future wars to defeat foreigners. Around this time under the leadership of Gangaji Naik Angurkar, many brave soldiers crossed the Gokhivere creek and built a replica of the Vasai fort with the logs of the palm trees. They settled in this fort and undertook the construction work of the Arnala fort. Meanwhile the Marathas conquered some of the forts situated in the hilly areas namely Tandulwadi, Asheri, Shirgaon, Kalmegh, etc. The Marathas flopped all the plans of the Portuguese. Using Guerilla tactics the Maratha's had planned to destroy the Mahim fort, which was the Portuguese ammunition storehouse. The Portuguese got to know of the Maratha plans and with no other option left they decided to surrender. Just as things were going the Maratha way, Pedro D'mello, a brave Portuguese warrior came from Goa to rescue the Portuguese.

He halted at the Mahim fort with extra arms and ammunition and attacked the Marathas and killed at least 500 of them. After this success he went on to conquer all the forts which were currently under Maratha control. Crossing the Vasai creek, he reached Thane. Pedro's bad luck however started here. The Maratha's attacked him and Pedro lost the battle.

Looking at all this, the Maratha commander of Tarapur fort was very upset due to so much of human loss in the several battles that took place in the region. To fight against the foreigners there was a need for a safe place and here Bhavangad was born. Chimaji Appa granted permission and soon work for building the fort started in 1737.

Today the fort is in a very bad state. After 1818, nobody took care of the fort. During the British regime, inspite of taking care, they ransacked and destroyed the entire fort.

The fort is surrounded by thick vegetation consisting of Mango, Jackfruit, Cashew nut trees. Other than these there are some native trees and herbs of medicinal value found on the fort. Birds of rare species like Bharatdwaj is seen here. Various species of poisonous snakes also dwell in this region.

MiStory
We reach the fort base by around 12:30pm . The broken fort walls can be seen from the road which is covered amidst thick vegetation. After a 10min climb we reach the outer wall of the fort, which faces the eastern side.

We enter the wall and reach a small but beautiful temple dedicated to “Shri Bhavani Temple atop fortGadeshwar Prasanna”. However, we can find many other deities also inside such as Saibaba, Ganesh, Ekavira Devi, a small temple next to it dedicated to Lord Kartikeya (brother of lord Ganpati) and a yagna kund. This was quite unusual as one does not find as many temples of lord Kartikeya in Maharashtra as he is popular in the south. By the time we reached the temple there was not a soul there other than us. The atmosphere around is eternal bliss and we enjoyed spending some time there. We then moved on and reached the eastern main entrance with two huge bastions. The entrance is broken without any doors. We go inside towards the right and then turn left, climb up thru the bushes, pass between two broken fortifications of the balekilla and reach the inner area of the balekilla. Here we find a water tank well maintained and the water is potable. We now traverse the entire balekilla with extreme care as such areas are usually the home to several reptiles mainly snakes. This fort is also covered by a lot of cashew nut trees, though lesser than the earlier days when this region use to produce a lot of cashew nuts.

We spend about ½ hr at the fort and descend down towards Madhukarnagar pada. This tiny hamlet is about 10-15min away from the main Madhukarnagar village. We land up in Dwarkanath Purav's a local's house to have some water. We ask him about the history of this fort and he tells us that we should meet Dr. Netaji Yashwant Patil, Ph.D & an authority on Bhavangad. He stays at Agarwadi about 5km away from Madhukarnagar. We walk the whole way much to the astonishment of the villagers and passersby gaping at us probably thinking of whom these 2 guys are….Hope they were not thinking badly about us.

We reach Agarwadi after about an hour and 15min of walking and finally reach Dr. Netaji's house. We are welcomed by his wife and after informing our purpose of visit we are treated with a quickly prepared sumptuous lunch of bakris, vegetable, chatni & buttermilk. Extremely hospitable, Dr. Netaji provides us with all the necessary information on Bhavangad and other forts. After spending about 1 hr at his house we depart for Dativare creek.

Dativare Bunder
We reach Dativare bunder at around 3:45pm and take the 4pm boat to Arnala. At the port, we walk thru slush quite slippery and then wade in thru knee deep water and finally reach the boat. The name of our boat is ‘Kirtimala'. The charges are Rs. 10/- per person and the entire journey across the sea to Arnala is extremely beautiful. We reach Arnala by around 5:15pm . Click here for Dativare-Arnala-Dativare boat timings.

 


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Arnala Fort ( Ilha das Vaccas )
History
Originally, the Arnala fort was built by the Sultan of Gujarat in the year 1516. When the Portuguese got a stronghold on the north Konkan region, they won it over from the Sultan in1534 and reconstructed it and called it 'Ilha das Vaccas'. The Marathas conquered it in 1737. Later on the Peshwas, notably Peshwa Bajirao 1, renovated it after which it fell into the hands of the British in 1817.

MiStory
F
rom Arnala mainland we take the local ferry shuttle across to Arnala island which houses the Arnala fort. Besides the fort the island is inhabited by around 3,000 people. The villagers on the island live without basic amenities such as basic sanitation and electricity. Until recently, the government has been able to provide them with electricity.

Northern EntranceWe take the 5:30pm ferry across the creek and decide to make a quick tour of the fort to reach back in time for the last boat departing from the island at 7pm . The boat journey lasts for about 10min. We speedily walk towards the village and then reach the northern gate of the fort which is the main entrance. There are some inscriptions written here on the arch indicating that the fort was renovated by the Peshwa Bajirao 1. We move inside the entrance and check out the maha darwaja with huge dome and high circular ceilings. We turn left and enter the fort.

The fort is oval shaped with 9 bastions all around the fort. The fort walls are at a height of about 30ft. There are three entrances – north, west and south. There are three huge staircases inside the fort which lead to from the base to the top of the ramparts. These staircases are on the north, west & southern walls of the fort. Almost all the bastions areBastion Views huge and one can find staircases leading to hidden cellars in all the bastions. The middle bastion on the western wall is the biggest and has a hidden route from the top of the bastion to the western doorway. There is a Trimbakeshwar, a Bhavani Mata Temple and a Masjid inside the fort. Opposite the Trimbakeshwar temple is an octagonal shaped stepped well called as ‘Pushkarni'. At the eastern end of the fort we find a small temple like structure which houses the ‘padukas' of Swami Nityananda. There are two fresh water wells inside the fort, which provide Lone Bastiondrinking water to the villagers. From the southeastern bastion, we can spot a lone bastion at the south end of the island. This bastion is called as ‘Tehelni bastion' We traverse the entire fort by walking on the fort ramparts, descend from the northern side and walk across to the southern exit from where we reach the lone bastion at the southern end of the island. This bastion entrance is now buried in sand therefore one has to take hold of the strong roots of the trees which are growing inside the bastion (on the eastern side) and climb up the wall and enter thru the bastion windows. There is nothing inside except for a lot of sand and rubble. Ruzbeh again does a stunt and climbs up the bastion. Thanks to his height he is able to do so. I do not attempt purely due to time factor as we are already getting late. Ruzbeh descends quickly and we sprint our way back to the boat point from where we take the 6:30pm ferry and reach Arnala. Walking thru the village we reach the town bus stand from where we take a bus to Virar. We take the 8pm train and reach home by 9:30pm , thus bringing to an end another major expedition.

I think that this expedition might still not be complete and we might have missed out some minute/intricate details which will always make us return for another visit to these beautiful forts.


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