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Madh Fort, Erangal Village and Mandapeshwar Caves

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I had set my alarm clock to wake me up at 5.45 am. I wanted to start the day early. 

However, I woke up even before the alarm clock went off by the sound of a BEST bus screeching to a halt on the main road. I woke up with a start, thinking I had overslept. But a glance at the clock revealed that it was just 5.40 am. 
I freshened up, filled my rucksack with a water bottle and left. I was to connect with Dominic, my colleague who had accompanied me to Unconquered Mahuli, and Shawn, an old college friend.

Madh Fort from the Air Force Station Madh barricade
Dominic and I had planned to see Madh Fort and Mandapeshwar Caves on Sunday. I met Shawn online on Saturday on FB, and he readily agreed to join us even though he had been on the night shift the previous night. He told me that he would meet me at 7 am at Malad railway station on the western side. 

Accordingly, Sean and I showed up at the agreed time of 7 am. At that hour, the trains were empty. Dominic arrived after 20 minutes.
We went to MM Mithaiwala, opposite the railway station, for our breakfast. We had Vada Pav and bhajiya pav. Vada is a spicy potato patty, dipped in a gram flour batter and deep fried in oil; a pav is a loaf of bread. The vada is sandwiched inside the bread and served with a sweet-spicy chutney. Bhajiya Pav is a variation on the vada pav theme. Here the potato is sliced, coated with the batter and deep fried, then served in a loaf of bread with the sweet-spicy chutney.
A Big Fat Pig
After having our breakfast, we bought some snacks for our trip, had some tea and started off.
We boarded the 271 no bus from Malad station on the western side. The bus was crowded. By the time we were able to get a seat, the bus was just a minute away from the last stop, Madh Jetty. 
As we alighted, we saw a few fishing boats in the sea. The very air smelled of fish here.
Fishermen cleaning their nets
We then headed to the jetty to board a ferry to Madh Island. The cost of the ferry is Rs 6 for a return journey. 
Our ferry, packed with people and bikes, floated through the sewage and the polluted waters. This ferry was similar to the one I had boarded at Manori; only the water was much cleaner there. :) But this journey lasted about a minute. Soon we were on the other side. There is no proper jetty here so the people have to alight via the planks which act as the connectors between the land and the ferry.
There is one tendency that I have observed among people travelling by buses, trains and ferries in Mumbai. People jump off before the vehicle comes to a standstill. It sometimes makes me wonder, "Why are people always in a hurry?" "What will happen if they are a minute late?" These questions always stand unanswered. But that is the way life moves on in Mumbai or maybe all over the world. Sometimes I wonder what these people are going to do with all the time they save.
Over Crowded Ferry
The island was rather congested. I saw a couple of fisherman cleaning their nets. Some others were offloading their catch into containers. 
We walked on the island only to find that the roads were very narrow and the houses were built very close to each other. So close that, I am sure, the neighbours could hear your conversations without straining too hard. So if you have a secret to tell someone, maybe about a treasure you found, you need to find a different way of communicating the same. Otherwise the entire island will come to know about it.
 We boarded a ferry again to land on the mainland. The locals directed us to Madh Fort. We had to walk for 30 minutes to reach the Madh Mandir bus stop from where the road to the fort starts.
From Right - Dom, Sean and Me
Madh Fort, also known as Versova Fort, was built by the Portuguese. This fort offers a strategic view of the sea. Maybe it was used as a watchtower then. The walls of the fort looked quite good. This fort is under the control of the Indian Air Force. Now Sean and I were aware of this as we had read about it on the Internet. 
This led me to wonder whether it was better to read up on a place beforehand or figure things out for ourselves when we actually go to the place. Personally, I prefer to lose myself rather than know everything beforehand. I feel that this is the right way of getting to know a place. What do you think? Drop me a line in the comments section and let me know.
Madh is a fishing village, so all around you will see blue fishing nets, even on the roads. Unlike in Manori where most of the residents were Christians, here there are people of all faiths. 
Stock on the boat
The guards at the entrance to the fort told us that we would need to get permission from their HQ if we wanted to see the fort. It is a matter of National Security, said one of the guards. 
Have you ever noticed how restrictions in the name of national security apply only to us citizens? Terrorists roam about freely, doing all the damage they want to. But we did not argue with the guards. They were only doing their job. 
We then moved on to see the Killeshwar Temple behind the fort. From here one can get a panoramic view of Mumbai city. Killeshwar temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Methinks that it got the name simply because it was near the fort.
The Killeshwar temple at the base of the Fort
Near the temple premises there is an open ground where fish is hung out to dry on thin bamboo sticks. It made a lovely picture.
We saw a small sea snake here. Shawn was the first to spot it. He initially thought the snake was dead, lying there in shallow water. After spending a few minutes observing the snake, we noticed that it was moving a bit. When Shawn asked the locals about it, we were told that the snake had been caught in the net along with the fishes on the previous day. How stupid of the fishermen to take the fishes out and leave the snake to die on the shore. We then moved the snake near the water. Immediately it disappeared in the water. Thank God, we were able to save a life today! 
We then decided to explore the fort from the other side after having been denied permission on the front side. We climbed the rocks near the fort. There were some nice formations to be seen there, as a result of the tidal activity on the rocks. Sean found a couple of crabs which led to a photo session. He later found crabs that live in conical shells. 
Dried Fish on Hangers
We then started climbing up and reached the wall of the fort. This was not the main wall but another small wall next to the main wall. From there we saw a few locals who were fishing in the distance. We thought of walking there but then changed our minds as this area is under the governance of the Indian Air Force. 
We could have easily entered this fort from the back entrance. But we chose to be responsible and not trespass in an area that was out of bounds for us.
The watch guards had made a big show about national security. But if this was the level of security offered by the guards, imagine how easy it would be for terrorists to enter. The guards man only the main entrance of the fort, leaving the walls open for intrusion. This is the security we boast of.
We later headed back to Madh Mandir bus stop, where we had a few refreshments. Later we headed to Erangal, about 15 minutes away from the Madh Fort. We had not planned to go to this place, but Shawn suggested that we go there and we agreed as it was on our way. 
Along the way we saw a church, Our Lady of the Sea (Daria Mata Church in Hindi). This was an old structure with a painting of Mother Mary at the sea positioned at the entrance of the church.
After alighting at Erangal, we headed off to see Erangal Church, also known as St Bonaventure Church. This is another old structure built in the 15th century. The walls of this church are made of mud. Sean informed us that even the floor was caked with mud and that people used to sit on the floor for prayers. Apparently he had come here for a picnic during his schooldays, around 10 years ago. Now there are benches put in the church; the walls have been tiled on the inside while the roof has been fit with asbestos sheets. Inside the church, one can read the history of the church in English and Marathi on marble tablets on the walls on marble tabs on the walls. 
St.Bonaventure Church
The church faces the sea. I don’t know why this is so. Maybe St Bonaventure arrived from the sea. There is no beach in front of the church — just rocks which are submerged during high tides. 

To read about the Erangal Jatra held outside St. Bonaventure Church
We sat in the church for some time. We felt very calm and relaxed. Life in this village is rather laidback. The shops are closed in the afternoon since that is the time when people sleep. It reminded me of life in Goa, where I hail from. Sitting in a shack at the beach, on a hot afternoon, enjoying a pint of ice-cold beer, what could be better?
There was a group of bikers there who had also come to see the church. They were wearing similar black T-shirts and driving around on Enfield motorbikes. Our very own biker gang, like the Harley Davidson biker gangs in the US.
Mandapeshwar Caves
We had the snacks which we had picked up in the morning and later headed off to see the last place on our itinerary, Mandapeshwar Caves. We went to Malad station, the starting point of our journey. From here we were supposed to go to Mandapeshwar Caves.
We managed to doze off for a while in the bus. At Malad, we boarded a rickshaw to Mandapeshwar Caves.
Shawn who had been here before told me that the caves were below the graveyard of Immaculate Conception Church. Within 15 minutes, we were at the caves. These caves were the smallest I have ever seen. There is a ground in front where children play. 
These caves were built around 1500 to 1600 years ago. There are sculptures of Buddha carved on most of the pillars and one of the walls of the main cave. There is a Shiva temple here. There were two caves here side-by-side. What caught my eye was that a Cross had been carved there. I could not understand how a Cross had come to be carved in Buddhist caves. I had never seen anything like this before.
Online research revealed that the Portuguese had converted these caves into a monastery and established the Immaculate Conception Church above these caves. That solved the mystery of the Cross in the caves. The graveyard of the church rests above the Caves.
The caves are guarded by policemen 24*7. I wondered why as none of the other caves are manned by the police, I decided to ask them why. They first told me not to take any snaps of the premises as the property was under dispute. 
Cross engraved on the cave walls
They realised that I was taking pictures only after I switched on the flash in my camera. The pictures I had taken before that had gone unnoticed.
We then headed out and inquired with the children playing cricket about the walls atop the caves and if there was anything interesting to see there. One of them replied, "Yes, a graveyard." Huh? A graveyard? When did that become a place worth visiting?
 We then moved out and entered the Church premises and then onto the graveyard. We rested in the church compound for some time and then headed home.
Sculptured Pillars
In today’s outing, I travelled by train, bus, ferry, rickshaw and my feet. In all, I used five different modes of transport to get around.
Although it was tiring to travel in the hot sun, the journey was interesting. The air force guards with their stupid concepts of national security and the policemen in the caves with their talks on photography provided some amusing moments. 
I had an amazing time checking out our city with Dom and Sean. Until next time, readers, take care, and remember — The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. 


PRANNAV 555 said...

Good research and useful information provided, thanks Merwyn.

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Flature said...

Hi... more info about the St. Bonaventure Church in Erangal.. St. Bonaventure feast at Erangal is always celebrated on the 2nd Sunday of January every year. There are special BEST buses running between Malad Railway Station and Erangal (also between Marve Beach and Erangal). Those were the days of the 70,80, and even 90's, where all the East Indian community of different villages around Mumbai, Vasai and other areas went to enjoy the Festivity of this day. People then use to travel by bullock carts...early in the morning to hear the first mass i suppose its at 5 or 6.. I remember my mom telling me stories... AFter that.. people use to hire wadis own by the locals... (wadi[as called in marathi] means an old village type compound surrounded by trees) with family... friends... and then the whole group will sing.. dance... play games.. cook own food.. till evening.. just like picnic.... also there's a fair held on the beach... but now things have changed.. Gone are the days now.......There is no more free Wadis available to sit and cook nor to even park your bike or vehicle . the full cultural & traditional ambience is no more. Infact you will see more of bhaiyas around and other communities . Similar to Bandra fair... There's more.. but you would want to visit the fair.. which is going to be held this sunday 8th January..


Thanks Flature for the info, will be visiting the Erangal Jatra soon

Bhushavali said...

Thanks for this informative article Merwyn.
Ventured to the beaches and enjoyed thoroughly! :)
Didn't have time to make it to the Mandapeshwar Caves! :(
Here's my blogpost on the Erangal & Madh...
My Travelogue: Erangal - Madh - Versova (Mumbai - Maharashtra)

Bhushavali said...

Something wrong with your comment box in your blog template!!!
My comment is published but not visible. Only first n half of 2nd comment visible of the 6 comments so far!!!


Thanks Mitr Friend - Bhushavali
There is a issue wid the comments, tried figuring it out on settings but no luck :(

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing it with us.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this informative article

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