I have been to quite a few places in and around Mumbai but this one clearly stood out as one of the most memorable ones. Maybe it’s got to do with my penchant for beaches but more than the beaches, I believe it is the history of this place that enchanted me.
Murud is situated at around 175 kms from Mumbai on the Konkan coast. The drive involves a beautiful countryside and some breathtaking views of the open ocean.
We reached Murud at around 11 am after having started 4 hours earlier ( Thanks to some one ways in the city). The primary interest was to laze on the beach and so we decided to view the Janjira fort first. 4kms ahead of the Murud beach is the fort and a glimpse of it convinced us that we had made the right choice.
The fort is situated right in the middle of the ocean. Strong walls of stone stand tall, protecting the fort. The only access to the fort is either taking a public ferry( motorized) or taking a private sail boat. We chose the latter, not willing to wait for 25 more people for the ferry to move.
After around 15-20 minutes of sailing and a brief description of the fort by the oarsman, we reached the fort. The fort has an entrance which from afar is totally invisible to the naked eye. So much so the fort was never conquered by the British or the Prtuguese or the Marathas…Yes, this is a region that was ruled by the Africans!!
The Sidis, as they are known were soldier slaves brought in from Africa ( The Somalian region). Slowly and steadily they grew and started occupying positions of power, especially in western India.The sidis are also referred to as Abyssinians, from which is derived the Urdu/Hindi word “Habshi” used to refer to someone who looks big and ugly.
Janjira was one such region, ruled by an African nawab. Janjira jal Durg ( Sea fort) was built in the 17th century. The fort itself is spread across 22 acres and was a living fort till the 1972 when the Govt. of India shifted the entire population to the mainland. The fort holds 2 freshwater ponds and some huge cannons which successfully thwarted any attempts of an attack. Witness to this are the remains of a fort built by Sambhaji, Shivaji’s son. The fort lies right across the bay, in three pieces.
A tunnel, under the sea, runs from the fort to the mainland and leads to the Nawab’s palace in Murud. The palace is still the private property of the nawab’s family.
The economy of this “African Ruled” state was primarily run through piracy and the loot from these “pirate attacks” added to the military might and splendour of the fort.
To tell us all this was an interesting character who, with every description of the fort had a ‘sher’ of his own to share.We thus moved from wall to wall, enchanted with a history that didn’t make its way to our text books.
Each corner of the fort had a story of its own, which needs to be seen to be believed.
One of the many cannons
After spending an hour within the walls , we made our way back to the mainland, hungry and exhausted. After having a sumptuous lunch of pomfret, mutton and rotis, we decided to move towards Kashid, around 15 kms enroute to Mumbai. A hot day, none of us were quite willing to move into the water, fearing the sand and the water would be as hot.However the cool sand and the sea was a relief and we were soon running around playing with the waves. The water was crystal clear and the sand soft and laden with shells and different kinds of stones.
Four hours later, we were back in the city, back amongst the maddening crowds.