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Shirgaon Fort

Thursday, September 29, 2011



Shirgaon Fort is also located at a distance of 13 km from Palghar. It can be easily reached from Kelva, but as we had opted for public transport instead of private transport we had to go to Palghar and board a State transport (ST) bus to Satpati. It took us 30 minutes by ST bus to reach Shirgaon Fort.

The frequency of public transport is not good if you are travelling directly from Kelve beach to Shirgaon Fort. From Palghar station there are plenty of ST buses and tum tums to take you to Shirgaon Fort.


Shirgaon Fort
Shirgaon fort is well fortified and the walls are good condition. It took us an hour to see the fort. There are two towers located at the entrance of the fort from where one can geta a panaromic view of the place. The fort is small; it has a few rooms in it but they have not been well-maintained. There are many hidden caves in the walls of the fort. One cave leads to another.

Not much is known about who built this fort. However, at various points in history, the Portuguese, Marathas and the British had conquered the fort and ruled over it.


Inside the Fort
 As we entered the fort from the main entrance, we saw a unique palm tree with six to seven branches popping out. It was not something we had ever seen before.

Two steep staircases take one to the walls of the fort. The entire fort can be seen by walking on the walls. There is a water tank which looks as if it was recently constructed.


Fortification of Shirgaon Fort
Shiragon is a coastal fort and provides a very good view of the sea around. I have clicked a few photographs of horses grazing in lush green meadows with streams of water around. It was truly beautiful.

After exploring the fort in its entirety, we decided to take leave of the fort as we wanted to see Tarapur Fort.

Kelva Fort

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I decided to visit the forts of Palghar on a Saturday as Palghar is very close to Mumbai. Palghar district houses more than eight forts.

Palghar is located at a distance of 112 km from Mumbai. It is located near the Maharashtra–Gujarat border and can be approached by rail and road. Palghar is a quiet place with plenty of greenery. The roads are very narrow yet very scenic. Small and lovely houses dot both sides of the road.

I visited this sea fort along with my friend Nimish, who had earlier accompanied me to Kanheri Caves. We took the Virar Dahanu shuttle from Virar station. It took us approximately 45 minutes to reach Virar from Andheri. The shuttles are never on time. Ours was delayed by 15 minutes. In the end, it took us 40 minutes to reach Palghar station from Virar.



Kelva Fort
From Palghar, you can take ST (Stat Transport) buses and tum tum's to go to Kelva beach. We boarded the ST bus so that we could have a chat with locals regarding what we could look forward to seeing in Kelva as we were quite new to the place and there was not much information available online.

The driver of our bus turned out to be a very environmentally conscious guy. At one of the stops on the way, there were many people who wanted to alight. The driver actually shut down the engine. I was duly impressed. There aren’t many people who would remember to do that.

It took us around 30 minutes to reach Kelva beach. The beach houses a Sitladevi temple. This temple is a must-see on the itinerary of Hindus.


Fishing boats at Kelva Fort
To reach the fort we need to walk across the beach for at least an hour. The beach is covered by sur trees. We started walking towards the fort. However, as the sea was rough, it being the time of the high tide, we could not get close to the fort but were forced to see it from a distance. The fort was well fortified with the walls intact. This was indeed surprising, considering that it was built in the 16th century.

Disappointed at not being able to explore the interiors of the fort, we walked back to Kelva beach. On the way back, we saw that the fisherfolk had laid out their dried fish on thin bamboo sticks. The dry fish business in Kelva is a very lucrative one.

We had some snacks at a dhaba on Kelva beach. We asked the locals about the history of the fort. They told us that it was built by the Portuguese in the 16th century and that it was later conquered by Shivaji. The fort is rectangular in shape and it can be visited only by climbing the walls. They also informed us that there is nothing much to see in the fort.


Kelva Fort
Maybe they had read our disappointment on our faces and were trying to console us.

After having our snacks we decided to head for Shirgaon Fort located in Palghar.

Vasai Fort

Friday, September 16, 2011



My trip to Vasai fort was very fun filled; I went to Andheri station to get myself a ticket to Vasai Road railway station. As I was standing in the queue to buy a ticket, a man in the next queue told me to stand aside. He warned, “There is a car with no brakes coming your way.”

WHAT? was my first reaction. I turned towards the direction he indicated to see an obese man rushing to buy a ticket. Clearly he planned to board the train that was already on the platform. Luckily, I was able to swerve aside and let him pass. The slightest delay on my part would have caused him to miss his train and me to become collateral damage.


Trawlers in the Sea
After buying the ticket, I headed for the platform where I was supposed to meet Garcia, my colleague who was out on her first trekking experience. We had already planned to meet on the platform on which the fast trains to Vasai Road arrive. But that was not to be. Garcia turned out to be notoriously bad at following simple directions. Eventually, I had to tell her to board the train and meet me at Vasai Road station.

At Vasai Road, I met her and Porus, and then we called Piyush. Piyush is a friend who lives in Vasai. He was to be our guide for the day. 




We headed for the State Transport bus depot to board the bus which would take us to “Killebandar,” meaning fort in English.

We had to wait for the bus for 20 minutes and we used the opportunity to chat and catch up on what we had been doing in the recent past.  








When the bus arrived, it presented a strange sight. There was no door for the driver. Later, we saw another passenger standing behind the driver in the cabin. Truly, it happens only in India. The man’s dressing style provided some more amusement. He was wearing a bright pink shirt on a white pant. The ensemble was completed with brown shoes. It was when we were gaping at his brown shoes that we caught sight of the base of the cabin. It was wide open and we could see the engine of the bus and the road beneath.







The bus was filled with fisherfolk who were so loud that they seemed to be fighting and abusing one another. The bus conductor, guessing rightly that we were new to the place, informed us that was their style of communicating. 
Church
The way the driver drove the bus clearly showed that he harboured dreams of quitting his day job and taking up Formula One someday. His driving skills were seriously questionable. We were particularly grateful when we reached our destination in one piece.

The roads reminded me of the roads in Goa. They were very narrow and there were houses on both sides. Many of the homes had small Crosses outside.  


An ATM machine in a local cooperative bank had two pedestal fans on either side. It presented a strange sight. But there were other unusual things we saw there. As we moved out of the township, we saw some women drawing water from a square well.

The church, located a few minutes away from the township, reminded me of the tall and beautiful churches in Old Goa. In fact, the entire place reminded me of Goa. After all Vasai Fort was constructed by the Portuguese in the 15th century and most of the locals here are East Indians.











The doors of the church were massive and the roof was very high. Next door to the church there was a huge funnel shaped tower and right next to it there were rooms around a storey tall with beautiful carvings on the pillars and arches. These are some of the best ruins I have seen till date. Everything about this place was beautiful, I am trying to imagine how they must have built this place. A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. But pictures alone could not do justice to the beauty of the architecture. I am uploading a video clip of what I saw, so that you can get an idea about what I am talking about. The palm trees growing next to these ruins gave them a very Arabic look.

There are many broken down structures around the church. These structures are in a bad state. The vegetation around made it difficult for us to approach closer, so we just saw them from a distance and moved on.












We reached another church with a huge dome. Once upon a time the priest might have stood there to preach. The walls of this church are still standing but the roof has gone to a higher place. Sorry, couldn’t resist making that joke. A lot of bodies were buried here in the past as there are gravestones with inscriptions everywhere.

We walked a little and then went to see another ruined church in the premises. This one was smaller in size, compared to the others we had just seen.

We later went to see another church nearby. This one had high walls. There was a tower, with a spiral staircase, at the rear end of the church. The climb was worth it. It enabled us to trawlers in the sea.
Entrance via the Sea to Vasai Fort




Finally we reached the main entrance to the fort. It had two wooden doors through which one could enter the fort. The inside door was held by a bamboo beam. Had it fallen, the doors would have smashed the floor. The main door was held by three bamboo beams posted between the doors right on top at the entrance. The wooden doors were encrusted with iron knobs on the door.

The walls of the fort are in very good condition. It was nice to observe that these walls had survived five centuries. At this end of the fort, there were many broken-down ships, trawlers and anchors which were ageing peacefully.




Tablets in the Fort premises
On our way out we saw another ruined church-like structure. Only the walls were still standing. Some of the walls had arches to house the doors, but the doors themselves were not in sight. The walls were very tall and we saw a man, standing on a really tall ladder, cleaning the walls of the fort. Piyush and I wondered how the ladder was standing, On going over to the other side, we saw that it was attached to a rope which was tied to the pillar. What an idea, sirji!

There were a few carved tablets in this church. Two of them had carvings of dogs’ images, while two others contained some inscription, possibly in Portuguese. One of the tablets was emblazoned with a crest.






Statue of Chimaji Appa
All I saw in this fort were churches and more churches. The Portuguese must have been a very religious people. Surprisingly, I could not locate a single house or cannon on the fort.

Finally the last pit stop on our journey was the memorial of Chimaji Appa, a Maratha warrior. After resting over there for some time we decided to leave.

One unique feature of this trip was that it involved no climbing. Instead, there was a lot of walking to be done.

To reach Vasai Fort, also known as Bassein Fort, one has to alight at Vasai Road station on the Churcgate - Virar railway route. You can board a state transport bus from the depot from no. 3 point. Alternatively you can go there by a shared auto rickshaw. These are the public modes of transport. You can also hire a private vehicle to go there.

The fort was built by the Portuguese in 1534 and was under their control till 1739. It was later captured by Chimaji Appa.

Peth Fort

Monday, September 12, 2011



It had been a while since my last trek, so I decided to go on an easy one. Ha, ha. I got in touch with my trekking buddy Neel and we agreed to go do some exploring.

Neel, his fiancĂ©e Neelam, another Neelam’s brother Rahul and I decided to check out Kothaligad in Karjat.

Kothaligad is a small fort, roughly around 1500 ft in height, shaped like a pinnacle. Since it is located at the base of a village named Peth, it is also called Peth Fort. Not much is known about this fort other than the fact that it was captured from the British by the Marathas.


Peth Fort from a distance
We had to board a train to Karjat on Saturday morning. I filled my backpack with water bottles, and food articles. I met my trekking group at Kurla, and from there we boarded the train to Karjat.

After alighting at Karjat railway station, we boarded a State Transport (ST) bus to Ambivali. From there we had to walk all the way up to the base village of the fort.

ST buses are also known as Lal Dabba in Hindi, literally red container. The driver drives the bus so fast, you wonder if he nurses secret ambitions of being a race car driver.

It took us around an hour to reach Ambivali village. Then from there we walked to the base village of the fort. We met a few villagers on the way. Out of curiosity, we asked them how much time it would take us to reach the village. Thirty minutes, they replied. Taking their word for it, we walked and walked and guess what? After three hours, we reached the base village. Fortunately for the welfare of the villagers, we didn’t meet them again. Grrrr.
Temple cum Cave up Peth Fort
At the base village, we had our lunch as it was nearing afternoon. And then we set out to see the fort. It was a vertical climb, very steep and very tiring but after a few halts for water and quick snacks we finally reached the walls (the fortification of the fort) and entered the fort through the Maha Darwaja (Main Door). It took us two hours to reach. Phew!

The pinnacle was used as a watchtower by Maratha warriors. They would keep a watch lest their enemies attack the fort.

Amazingly the top part of the pinnacle has to be climbed from the inside of the pinnacle. Doesn’t that sound interesting? Can you imagine having to trek your way up the pinnacle from the inside of the fort which is carved out of sheer rock?
Temple Pillars
There are a few caves and a temple up here. The top of the pinnacle is like a plateau which had a few cannons and water cisterns, some of which supply water to the base village too. We shot some pictures there and then rested in one of the caves. Finally we decided to descend from the pinnacle. Luckily the descent didn’t take us as long as the climbing had and we were down in an hour’s time.

We spent some time in the village and then decided to head home. We reached Ambivali and boarded the Formula One car. Oops! I mean the ST bus and reached Karjat. We boarded another ST bus to Panvel. From there we boarded a BEST bus to Kurla, where my buddies went their separate ways. Finally I boarded a train back home to Andheri.

Now this is the first time on a trek that I had had to change three buses and two trains and by the time I reached home, I was dead tired.
Peth Fort
But it had been an enjoyable trek, and all said and done, that’s what counts. Readers, check it out some time.

Wander and Outing Essential

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wander

There is no specific or ideal time to go for a trek or an outing. If you feel that you need a break, pack up your bags and leave. You can go on an outing in the summer, monsoon or winter seasons. You can choose to go on a one-day outing, a weekend getaway or a vacation. Here is what each season has to offer you.

Summer: In the summer, a large number of people choose to take a break as schools and colleges are closed. In the summers, it is advisable to go to places which are cool and do not face a water shortage. A hill station is a good choice for a summer outing. Also in the summer you can get a very good panoramic view of the surroundings.

Monsoon: It is fun to go trekking or on an outing in this season, as it is neither very not nor very cold. The weather is pleasant. The colour green, courtesy the rains, is guaranteed to soothe the eyes. City-bred folks will definitely appreciate the sight of greenery. In this season, you will also be lucky to see waterfalls and mountains covered with greenery.

Winter: Winters promise cool weather and if you go trekking in this season you will reach your destination with less perspiration. In fact, this is the best time to go for a trek.

When on an outing, please do some research online regarding the best mode of travel, and places to stay and eat.

Depending on your budget and convenience, you can choose to travel by the great Indian railways (a mode of travel that may sometimes be inconvenient, but has its own charm), road transport, including buses, taxis, cars and bikes, ferries and private boats and flight travel.

Monetary considerations can also influence your choice of places to stay. You can choose to stay at hotels (1-star to 5-star), motels and rooms on rent. You can eat at hotels or any roadside dhabas, where cheap eating options are available. Make sure the food is hygienically prepared and served. You don't want a case of Delhi Belly after returning from your trip!

If you are going in a group, do remember to book in advance. But if you are the adventurous type who can adjust comfortably in any scenario, just do your basic research and go to your destination as you can get the best on-the-spot deals depending on your capacity to bargain. There are many budget hotels where you can avail of low-stay rooms. Similarly if you hire a private vehicle, you will end up shelling out more than you would have on government run buses and trains.

Outing Essentials

Whether you go on a one-day trip, weekend getaway or a vacation, there are some things that you had better include in your baggage.

1. For a one-day trek, invest in a good backpack, which can accommodate all your trekking requirements. At the same time, it should not be too heavy on your back and shoulders. For a weekend getaway or vacation, go with a good strolley, or a duffle bag along with a backpack.

2. An additional set of clothes is a must. Rain gear for the monsoon and warm clothes for the winters are a must.

3. Footwear: No matter what the season, when you go on a trek, it is better to wear shoes with a good grip. You don't want to slip down some of those tricky slopes. If you going to a sea fort or beach, good quality slippers and sandals will do. Again the point to remember here is that the shoes must have a good grip.

4. Water bottle

5. Food: Prefer dry food articles over oily and spicy foods.

6. Cap

7. Multi utility knife e.g. swiss knife

8. Torch with a good focus

9. Pen and notebook in case you want to jot down stuff

10. First aid kit

11. A good camera (Digital or SLR) or handycam if you want to capture the raw beauty of nature. Go for cameras and handycams which have a high Optical Zoom and Wide Angle as these are the features that will serve you best in photography. Also go for equipment which runs on Lithum batteries instead of pencil cell batteries. It is advisable to carry additional batteries and memory cards. Chargers are compulsory.

12. Lots of plastic bags to collect all your used material so as to not dirty the place around and plastic bags to pack your clothing

13. Tissue papers and newspapers

14. Your daily utility stuff

15. Jumpers or bedding if you go for camping in the wild

16. Magnetic compass

17. Match box or lighter

18. Cutlery for overnight camping

19. A mini multi utility sling bag/pouch to accommodate your camera essentials, wallet, multi utility knife etc

20. A mini stove if you plan to cook food when on a camping trip

21. Ready-to-make food stuff on a camping trip

22. A good mosquito repellent cream when camping outdoors

23. A good winter lotion for winters and a good sunscreen for summers

24. Mobile phones with chargers

25. GPS device

26. Maps

27. An open mind

Srirangapatna

Sunday, September 4, 2011



When I was a child, Doordarshan used to air a television serial named, “The sword of Tipu Sultan.” I used to be very fascinated with this serial and didn’t miss a single episode. Thanks to the serial, I began to respect Tipu Sultan as someone who had made his mark on history. Perhaps it was that fascination for the life that he lived that inspired me to begin trekking and to enjoy seeking out our glorious past which is now under ruins.

Considering my fascination for the king and the fact that I was already in Mysore, I was not about to let go of the opportunity to visit Srirangapatna, the birthplace of Tipu Sultan and the place where he breathed his last.

Srirangapatna is located at a distance of 30 minutes from Mysore. Neel and I decided to take a local bus to the place. The bus reminded me of the Maharashtra ST bus, my regular means of transport on most of my treks.

We reached Srirangapatna and decided to survey the entire city on foot. Taking a photograph of a map of Srirangapatna on our cameras, we set out on our adventure.  

Daria Saulat Baug
Daria Daulat Baug, as the name suggests, has a huge garden attached to the palace. The entire structure is painted yellow and white. We bought the entry ticket and stepped into the palace. The windows and doors at the entrance were beautifully carved. The doors were huge and looked beautiful in the yellow and white paint.

The garden was well maintained and the grass well trimmed.  The approach road to the palace was from the side and there was a rectangular garden in between with Ashoka trees surrounding it.

There were two structures painted yellow on either side of the entrance but visitors are not allowed to enter these. These identical dome shaped structures were nicely made up. Each had an entrance to it and there were many small square holes in the walls. I guess they were meant for ensuring ventilation.

As we approached the palace via the garden, I wondered what it might feel like to have such a big and beautiful garden all to oneself. As there were no hi-tech modes for entertainment in those days, the gardens were the place where the Kings used to spend most of their times when not at war.

Cannons near the Palace


Near the palace, there were a few cannons with cannon balls piled up. The cannon balls were as big as bowling balls. I tried to lift one but it was so heavy that I could not lift it. Shame! And I call myself fit!

Palace
The palace was Tipu Sultan’s place of residence. It later became the residing place of Colonel Arthur Wellesley.

Since photography is not allowed inside the palace, my readers will have to rely on me to bring them an accurate picture of the interiors of the palace.

The palace, designed in the Indo-Sarcenic style, was built in teakwood. Rectangular in shape, it is built at a height of around 5 feet. The palace has wooden pillars everywhere. The most stunning feature of the palace is that all the walls, pillars, canopies and arches have been adorned with colourful paintings. The outer wall was covered with portraits of battle scenes while the inside walls had foliage and floral patterns on them.

The palace was one storey tall with balconies protruding out from the front. It reminded me of the palaces in Rajasthan. The walls have not been painted since Tipu’s time.

Although the color has faded over the years, the sight of the palace still manages to transport you back in time to its glory days. The artisans who decorated the palace must have been true masters of their crafts.

The palace is like a tiny museum from the inside and it has photographs of Tipu and his family along with the photos of the British who visited it. The photos are very detailed. It took us around 45 minutes to see the palace in its entirety and then we headed off to see Gumbaz.

Gumbaz


In Gumbaz, lie the tombs of Tipu Sultan and his parents Hyder Ali and Fatima Begum. If the burial site is so beautiful, what must the palaces have looked like then? The artisans who worked on these constructions must have been truly creative and talented. The proof of this is seen in the fact that their work retains its splendour even after the passage of three centuries.

The entrance has been carved in the Islamic style. Ashoka trees adorn the gardens here as well.

Gumbaz, as a structure, was very tall and beautifully designed. Everything about this place is beautiful. I am running out of words to describe this place. The ground floor had pillars made of black amphibole. It differs from the colour of Gumbaz but it must have been painted that way for some reason.

Tipu's Grave


The doors at the entrance of Tipu’s tomb are painted dark brown; they are joined by beautiful arches. There is an inscription in Urdu above the entrance. The pillars were also painted dark brown and looked lovely. Gumbaz was very cool although it was extremely hot outside. So I preferred to stay inside it.

The graves of Tipu's near and dear ones
The tombs of Tipu Sultan are well kept even today as many people come to visit them. There are many tombs located outside the tomb which may be those of Tipu’s near and dear ones. These were decorated with ivory which had been presented by Lord Dalhousie. The interior walls of the Gumbaz were covered with lacquer tiget strips which were one of Tipu’s favourites. As it was a burial site, I could not take any photos inside but it was very beautiful.

Jama Masjid
Next we headed towards Jumma Masjid.

What I noticed is that most of the structures in Srirangapatna are painted either yellow or beige. Wonder why?

Jumma Masjid was built by Tipu Sultan in 1784 after he became the King of Mysore. He performed his first imamath (religious course in Islam) here.

This mosque has two identical minarets that touch the sky with an open platform next to it like a verandah. These minarets are octagonal in shape and have small pigeonholes on the dome.

There is a huge prayer hall on the western side. There is an inscription here that mentions the ninety-nine names of Allah.

The walls of the Jumma Masjid are well decorated with fine calligraphy and beautiful designs.

The Place where Tipu's body was found
 A little ahead lies the place where Tipu Sultan died fighting the British. A memorial had been built by Colonel Wesselley at the place where Tipu Sultan’s body was found.

Water Gate
The entry to Srirangapatna had been breached at Watergate, so when Tipu heard of the same he came out to fight the British. He was shot down by a British soldier. So we stood there to pay homage to one of the greatest rulers of India
Thomas Inman's Dungeons
 A little further is Watergate, the place from where the British invaded Srirangapatna. Another place worth a visit here are the dungeons named as Thomas Inman’s Dungeons. Painted white in color, these were built as an underground dungeon and used mainly to punish and torture prisoners.

These dungeons didn’t look very scary. There were a few cannons inside. We wondered whether they were used to kill the prisoners.

Srirangapatna Railway Station


Bridge on the River Cauvery


Obelisk




Next we headed off to see the Obelisk. Frankly we didn’t know the meaning of Obelisk. We thought it might be a point on the fort. After walking for around 30 minutes, we reached the Obelisk.

It turned out to be a memorial built by the Government of Mysore in honour of the soldiers who had given up their lives in the siege of Srirangapatna. The names of all the soldiers who died fighting in order to conquer Srirangapatna are embossed on the Obelisk.
Delhi Gate


The ruined walls of the Srirangapatna fort can be seen throughout the city. The wall, a storey tall, must have been heavily guarded then. There are two entrances to the city via these walls. One of these is called Delhi Gate, the other has no name.

From the Obelisk, we saw a train crossing the Cauvery river and heading to the Srirangapatna station. Trains are something which people of all ages are attracted to. We stood there to see the train cross the river and head to the Srirangapatna station and again cross another bridge to head to its destination.

Frisbee shaped boat in the Sangam River
Sangam River is a holy river here where many people come to take a holy dip. It is a pilgrimage site for Hindus. Many people sat in an upside down frisbee shaped boat and took a ride in the river to empty the ashes of the dead.

The water of the river near the banks was infested with guppy fish. We were standing with our feet in the water and could feel the fish tickling our feet.

Ranganathaswamy Temple


The last on our agenda was the Ranganathaswamy Temple. The temple was closed when we reached it. So we viewed it from the outside.

The temple was shaped like a thinner and taller version of a pyramid and had carvings of gods all over it right up to the top. In fact all temples down south have the same style of carvings on the outside of the temple.

How much time it must have taken the artisans to make these beautiful temples! Perhaps even years. Their craftsmanship too has survived the onslaught of time.

Chariot outside the Temple




Outside the temple, there is a huge chariot with wheels as tall as me, which is pulled by humans and taken for a spin around the temple. Standing next to that massive chariot made me look very puny indeed.

The chariot had carvings similar to those on the temple. The only difference was that the carvings on the chariot were carved out of wood unlike the rock carvings in the temples. The chariot was painted brown and the top of it was covered with dried coconut leaves so we could not see what was inside. It was kept on top of concrete boulders which are brought down only during festivities. This temple is very close to the place where Tipu’s body was found.

Finally most of the places on my itinerary for this trip were done.
Surveying this city had enabled made me to feel as if I had gone back in time. It was a good opportunity to see rather than just read about history.

Make sure Srirangapatna is a must-see on your list when you visit the beautiful south of India.

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