Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Malvan Notes - 3 - Sindhudurg Fort

   This post is in continuation of a four part series Malvan Notes. To get a comprehensive feel of the place, please do read the first and the second account.


             The sea is wrathful and turbulent. Like some great beast working up a rage. The sky pulls up a gray bulbous sheet threatening to shed volumes of  rain at the slightest pretext. This, on the days when it is not sending down rods of rain piercing the restless waters or beating down on the ramparts. The waves crash  relentlessly against the fortified walls, as it has for centuries, roaring and thundering in unison with those dark menacing clouds weighing down from above.  It had been weeks now since the last boat had left across the choppy waters. And it would be months before they saw the next one make it's way around the treacherous rocks that jutted out and lurked deceivingly under water. At least not till the sea calmed. Or the Monsoon wind receded.  This is how it has been f since  father's days...grandfather's...great grandfather's ....

        Do these ruminations float across the inhabitant's mind?  What is it like to be marooned for three whole months inside a fort whose impressive walls hold sad remnants of a glorious past?  How does it feel to see just a handful of faces day in and day out? In these times that we live in where the slightest disruption in the internet connectivity sends us into a tizzy, fifteen odd families residing within carry the weight of a legacy that has them  holed up in the Sindhudurg Fort for the monsoon season. Without electricity. Without fresh supply of food. And all this, while the Arabian Sea froths, foams and lashes all around the Kurute island  that keeps the Sindhudurg Fort afloat. Ostensibly to honour a legacy from  the  days of  Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the great Maratha King of the seventeenth century, the handful of  Hindu and Muslim families to whom the responsibility was entrusted, continue the tradition to this day. Move over Big Boss. You are not even anywhere close to it.


A Bastion Of Sindhudurg

   Built in 1664, to be the  headquarters of the Maratha naval power, Sindhudurg is a short boat ride into the sea from the Malvan jetty at fifty rupees per head. The time in hand to walk around the island fort is till the boat marked for you returns with another load of tourists after having waited for it's turn in the long queue of other boats at Malvan. This translates into roughly about an hour. We quickly walked up the last few steps from the jetty after extracting a promise from the boatman that he couldn't possibly  leave without the nine of us!  So there we stood at the impressive gate of the fort  trying to decide whether we should let someone take us around. A guide looked at us  surreptitiously wondering whether we were worth a wait or should he accost other tourists. The moment we gave a nod to his fee he  rushed through  the explanation in a bid to make up for the lost time. My concern was if we would be back in time to take the boat.

 "If you can keep up with me, you will have some time to spare too" he replied addressing my doubts. That was a tall claim considering we were travelling with young children.
We began the tour with the gate. And with  a flourish he began "Do you see that  gate? Did you see anything different about the gate?..."
It had been  a short walk  from the jetty, admiring the sunning grey herons on the surrounding dark porous  little islets  or watching the crabs crawl out  on one side of the path, we had made our way towards the fort. A formidable wall scalloping the periphery of the island rose from the water  darkened by it's shadow. The stream of tourists  indicated  the  entrance, a slight gap between two bastions, that curved to the right revealing a narrow path  which  twisted once more  before passing through the fort's gate. In all my travels, the intriguing defense mechanisms of forts have always held a fascination. The enemy attacking Sindhudurg would first have to foray into the waters without detection. That seemed tough considering there were close to fifty bastions in the three kilometers perimeter of the fort. Once on the island, the attackers would be caught on the wrong foot, er, the wrong hand since they would have to turn to the right through the narrow approach to the gate giving them a few moments of disadvantage before orienting themselves to face it. Those few moments would  be enough for the defenders of the fort to rain down arrows, ammunition and other means of destruction.

   We hurried behind our guide who led us up the path to the only temple dedicated to Shivaji Maharaj, Shri Shiv Rajeshwar Mandir, built by his son Rajaram.  A quick look inside and a few  moments of surprise later to  see the mustachioed Shivaji idol, having grown up seeing a bearded Shivaji staring out of history books, we almost jogged to our next halt with a quick stop in front of a photograph of that rare coconut tree with two branches. It had to be the photograph because the actual specimen was struck down by lightening a few years ago. The guide then waited a while in front of what looked like a sunken floor but not before pointing out the lone embellishment on a crumbling pillar, the only one of what I'd seen so far inside the fort.  It stood valiantly battling the ravages of time to mark what was once a palace. Surrounded by vegetation that clawed away at every structure, reclaiming the island to what it once was before Shivaji had the stones and rocks dug out to construct this fort. Every rock that went into building this fort came off the island itself.

                                               Floral Carving On A Pillar

            It was surprising to know that there were three fresh water reservoirs in the island in the middle of the sea. The sunken floor was one such fresh water tank that also had mechanisms to harvest rain water.  The third tank was multi faceted. While it provided water, it also doubled up as a temple. If the enemy did manage to overpower the fort, this tank also revealed a secret tunnel that led away into the mainland.


The Reservoir With The Tunnel

 These intrigues and ingenuity of the bygone days have  always held a special appeal for me. While rushing to complete the tour, this little birdie here distracted me with it's delicately coloured plumes. Merging with the foliage but adding relief to the ruins.

                                                            An Unidentified Bird

         We were next seen trailing behind our guy who was climbing up a steep flight of steps to the flag tower, the tallest bastion in the fort. It was from this vantage point that early warnings were conveyed to the rest of the inmates with the use of flags. The view this part of the fort offered was spectacular.  The ramparts that have held well  against the elements, stretch out enclosing the  forty four acres of the island.  And the vast blue green sea opens out limitless in it's expanse, into the sweeping horizon.

                                               View From The Rampart


  There are  temples dedicated to Hanuman, Bhavani, Ganesh but we gave it a miss. Mostly because we wanted to soak in as much of the fort and it's ambience, imagine what life was like in here during it's peak when soldiers kept watch and life went on. It is said that Shivaji Maharaj himself chose the island to build this fort to protect his coastal domain. It's fortified walls have a strong foundation of molten lead and it's walls cemented with a mixture  of lime and jaggery.


Tarkarli Beach From The Rampart

      Within the fort now are the vestiges of what was once an ambitious and formidable citadel. The handful of families that remain are descendants of the soldiers who once manned the fort, holding on to a past that has all but disappeared. Their major occupation now being fishing and providing tourist services of ferrying or guiding them through history of the fort. Our guide is one such inhabitant and disillusioned by the apathy of the authorities. Times are fast changing and so are the aspirations of the people. The school going children of these families take up home with the fishermen on the shore during the monsoon season since the families inside the fort are cut off from the rest of the world so as to continue the tradition of lighting the lamp and offering prayers at the temples inside. Their homes date back centuries and are among the few structures that are holding on precariously to  a time  that  has long gone by. Do they exist merely to carry on onerous duties in a fort which even the State has failed to restore it to a decent semblance of former glory? For how long will they remain behind while the sea raged and lashed against the walls?

    These are some questions that spring up as we walk along the ramparts. Nearing the point from where we started, a cacophony of overlapping music reach us. A few boats bob about while the groups of tourists take turns at scuba diving near the fort. A few of them are content snorkelling. I wonder if there is any fish lurking around with all that traffic and high decibel  beats. Although a shell now, Sindhudurg Fort does have an inexplicable charisma heightened by the swaying coconut trees and the open sea. Turning towards the mainland, the Tarkarli beach and the Deobagh stretch towards the right and the Malvan shore to the left.


                            Soon we leave for Malvan jetty. The sky is alive with the gulls gliding and diving while the sun descends for the day adding a glitter to the wrinkled sea. Some  gray herons watch us go by and few of them get busy looking  for dinner. The  shoreline  looms large and the Sindhudurg fort recedes  into a silhouette of a massive floating sea faring vessel.


 Please read the next part Malvan Notes 4 - The Confluence  


  1. Nature, History and tradition beautifully melded into a lovely post, Ilakshee

  2. you have a way with words. what a beautiful canvas you have sketched in your first para.... the imagery stays with you.... plan a book now. and i mean it. you should start writing long fiction too.

  3. That was a rousing opening to an oft-visited tourist magnet. You have capably pulled out the history and melded it with what remains today. An excellent piece.

  4. Such a wonderful place and fort. Nice read. :)

  5. Delightful descriptions.And astounding details about the expertise of old,bygone architects-unknown and forgotten.

  6. Thank you Suresh for your appreciation. It is much cherished.

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  8. Thank you Juanita! And more for your confidence in me :) But I have a long way to go

  9. Thank you, Uma :) Your benevolent words always encourage.

  10. Thank you Niranjan! The place evokes many thoughts.

  11. Yes Indu, the foresight and ingenuity of bygone days are always fascinating. Thank you for your appreciation :)

  12. Love how you began this post! Sowww beautifully written. Lovely pictures.

    Hmm...Im still thinking about that secret passageway. :)

  13. Beautiful post, Thanks for sharing

  14. Thanks Deepa! And am sure there is still the secret passage!


Your words keep me going :)