Scenic Sea Sentinels

09:36 am | Wednesday, 22 July 2015

We live in a unique country - a land that has no parallel in terms of its ancient culture, a civilisation that embraced people from different races,faiths, societies, and nationalities and a heritage that deserves to be protected, preserved and above all, celebrated. While foreigners display a curious fascination with our country, we ourselves, tend to take our treasures for granted. We aspire to holiday abroad, while many of us have yet to discover the experiences that India has to offer. Take your kids to Disneyland by all means but make sure they know what attractions beckon at home. We owe them the opportunity to connect with their roots to help them know who they really are.

I still remember a long weekend in Murud-Janjira, close to Mumbai. Our son, then in grade 5 was amazed at the grandeur of the Janjira Fort. Its intimidating, round bastions rising majestically from the sea with their blackened turrets punctuated by age-old canons, are seared in my memory and tales from its history as the only undefeated sea fort in India fascinated me as much as they made his eyes widen in wonder. One of my favourite memories is of us approaching the dramatic main entrance on a small ferry. Our boat bobbing on the waves as we gazed up at the imposing carved opulence of the structure in front of us; realising that we stood at the very spot where the Marathas, the Dutch and the British had once gathered, in different attempts to breach its defence, gave me goosebumps and transported me back in time. Such experiences are internal yet so intense. Only a place that has witnessed so much history retains such a unique atmosphere and aura. You have to be there to feel it.

Speaking of forts, Maharashtra has a rich sprinkling of bastions at sea that I think are worth exploring with your kids over a weekend or perhaps at a rate of one per month. Sailing there with your children will be an adventure that you will remember for years.  And your children will be enriched in more ways than you can count. 

Janjira Fort
Off the town of Murud in Raigad, Maharashtra, this fort built by the Abyssinian Siddis migrating from Africa, remained undefeated till the very end. It can be visited via ferry from Murud and was occupied by people till the early 1970s. A secret tunnel is said to connect the fort to the mainland.

Spread over 48 acres, Sindhudurg fort stands on a rocky island 1km from Malavan in Maharashtra. Built in 1664 by Shivaji to ward off Siddis and other foreign invaders, the fort has three fresh water reservoirs which helped its inhabitants sustain inside its 30ft-high walls for long periods.

Constructed by Raja Bhoja of the Shilahar dynasty, it fell to Adil Shah of Bijapur, who gave it the name Vijaydurg. It was a proud testament of Maratha pride and boasts a triple lining of huge walls, numerous towers and spacious interior buildings. Situated near the Vaghotan river, this fort has an amazing undersea wall at the depth of 8-10m under the sea, which helped sink many an enemy ship that crashed against it.

Kolaba Fort
Located close to Alibaug, the Kolaba fort was built by Shivaji in 1652. It can be visited on foot during low tide and by ferry at high tide and during the monsoons when water floods the surrounding lowlands. It has water reservoirs, beautiful carvings and shrines of Ganesha and many other deities.

Underi Fort
Jaidurg is the other name of this beautiful fort, which has a sister fort - Khanderi also located nearby at the entrance of the Mumbai harbour. You can hire a boat to visit this fort, which was built by the Siddis to challenge the Marathas.It has a lighthouse which the British constructed and religious shrines revered even today by the local fishermen.

You might consider a trip to these forts during the monsoons when they take on an emerald coat of vegetation that makes their setting even more dramatic and photogenic.