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Belapur Fort

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The rays of the early morning sun shone down on the sea, framed by mangroves along the shore. It was a site worth seeing from the bastion of the fort, although the fort itself stands in ruins today.
This is the story of Belapur Fort, once a watchtower perched on a hilltop, watching over the sea and the mangroves.
This fort was initially built by the Siddhis who had built the massive fort of Murud Janjira,  To read about Murud Janjira which later went into the hands of the Portuguese. Subsequently, it was conquered by the Marathas, and finally taken over by the British.  
Tower of Belapur Fort located at the Kille Junction, thats why the junction is called Kille Junction. This tower is covered by trees all around it making it difficult to locate it from a distance. There is a small garden at the base of the tower. The tower is a storey tall but there is no way of accessing the top floor

Today just a bastion stands, and even this has developed huge cracks in it. The walls have broken down and there are very few structures still standing, making it difficult to figure out what it must have been.
This is our history which lies unattended today, and if we don’t take care of it, it might not even exist after some years. Fortunately there is some good news at hand. Jiten Kumar, the watchman of Forest Hills Society, informed me that CIDCO [City and Industrial Development Corporation] was planning to renovate the fort. The news brought a broad smile to my face. If not for such efforts, the whole fort will surely crumble.
The fort is very small. I could not locate any graffiti here. Maybe there are no walls to write on or maybe no one has even heard of this fort.  There are two small ponds near the fort premises with lovely lotus flowers blossoming in the water. I was unhappy to see the lake covered in a sheet of green algae. It could certainly do with some cleaning.  
View from the Belapur Fort located near the Forest Hills Society

The fort is located very close to the Forest Hills Society which is also perched on the hill rock. In fact one can enter the fort from Wing A of the society. This fort is very close to Kille Junction and located in Sector 32. 
A small road, running parallel to the Uran highway from Kille Junction, leads to the fort.  A little ahead the road divides into two, one leading to CIDCO guesthouse and Forest Hills Society and the other to the Fort. In fact, either of the two roads will eventually take you to the fort.
Kille Junction is so named because there are two forts here in Belapur. Both are bastions at a distance of 20 minutes from each other. While the former gives you a view of the sea and the mangroves, the latter offers a view of the Road Junction that connects Uran, Mumbai and Thane to Belapur.

Some structures located atop the fort

The fort at Kille Junction is so well camouflaged near the trees that one can hardly locate the fort here. I found it difficult to locate it myself.
This fort was in a better condition than the one I had left behind. The walls of this fort were made of stone and held together with a cement-like material. Patches of grass, now dry, had sprouted within the walls. This is a two-storeyed building but there is no way to access the top stories. The walls had small narrow holes in them to support guns to shoot the approaching enemy.
This is also a watch tower which enabled people in the old days to watch over the land. Currently I believe some soul has made it his home, as I saw a mat and some cooking utensils in there.

Some more structures located atop the fort with openings for window

The tower which once used to watch over the land now silently watches over the busy highway that connects various places together. It has certainly seen some modernisation.
The tower is very close to Belapur CBD railway station. After alighting from the station, you have to board a rickshaw to Kille Junction. The trip takes around 10 minutes and the fare is Rs 17.  There is no provision for food and water near the fort premises.

The pond full of lotus and infestd with algae at the bottom of the fort
Both the forts are not in very good condition. I hope CIDCO’s plans to work on the renovation of these forts come to fruition. It would be nice to see these forts restored to their past beauty. If that is not possible, at least some attempt can be made to maintain the remains well.
So that is what I saw on my visit to Belapur Fort. A big Thank you to Ameya Gokhale who introduced me to this fort via his blog and to Flature who accompanied me on my visit to this fort.

Map : Belapur Station to Belapur Fort

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Vajreshwari Hot Water Springs

Monday, July 23, 2012

I had never been to the hot springs before. I checked with my net reference, Google, and learned that a hot spring is a component of the hydrosphere; it is a natural occurrence where water flows to the surface of the earth from below the surface.

So I decided to pay it a visit. Now I had been planning this trip for quite some time with Hithakshi. But somehow we could not make it. Finally one day out of the blue, Milind, a college friend, called me and we decided to head to Vajreshwari.
I immediately filled my rucksack with a 2.25-litre bottle of water, a must to cope with the heat, along with my camera and scarf and headed off to Andheri station.
Now there was a huge crowd for the tickets at the station but I was lucky enough to get tickets immediately and boarded a Virar local. I wasted no time and immediately messaged Milind to let him know when the train would reach Borivali and the compartment that I was in.

Vajreshwari Temple
In five minutes, the train was at Borivali and Milind got in the train. He had brought no bag along. I was happy that at least one of us was carrying a water bottle. I always advocate the carrying of a water bottle to meet any emergency. Food we were supposed to eat on the way wherever we saw an eatery.

At 12:20 noon, we were at Vasai Road railway station. We then headed to the ST bus station to board a bus to Vajreshwari. We refreshed ourselves with some sugarcane juice at the bus stand and then inquired at the inquiry desk about the timings of the bus. The buses, we were told, plied at a frequency of one every half hour; the next one was at 1 pm. We had to board a bus going to Vajreshwari or Akaloli.
We had ½ hour in hand and so instead of wasting time at the bus station, we decided the time would be better spent eating. We had Tomato Onion Uttappa at Hotel Haridwar. An Uttappa is a dosa-like dish in which other ingredients like tomato and/or onion, chilli are mixed with the batter. The uttappa took very long to arrive, so much so that we were afraid it would cost us our bus.
Finally everything happened in the nick of time. Our food arrived, we ate and immediately left. As we reached the bus depot, we learned that our bus had arrived and was waiting for us.

Within Vajreshwari Temple premises

We immediately boarded the bus and got ourselves seats on the last row in the bus. We both knew that the journey would be a rollercoaster ride all the way for the next one hour. Our tickets cost us Rs.57.
We had been on the road for nearly an hour when the passengers, some of them, began to disembark. So we hopped on to seats in the front. Finally at 2:20 pm, the bus reached. Vajreshwari Temple The roads were empty all the way but as soon as we neared the temple the traffic jams started. Fortunately, the bus wasn’t caught in the jam for too long.
The Vajreshwari temple is located on a hillock and a series of steps take us atop the temple. The roads near the temple are very narrow; there are shops on either side of the road. These shops sell food and articles of worship

View of the fort of Mahuli from Vajreshwari Temple

We headed off to the steps. There were yellow coloured circles, two of them in the middle of the stairs. They started from the ground and went on all the way to the top. There were small wax lanterns (diyas) kept on the stairs.  I also spotted a golden tortoise on the steps.
We finally reached the entrance of the temple. The walls of the temple looked as if they were the walls of a fort. Even the stone used to built the temple looked liked the stone used to build fort walls.
The temple was beautifully carved out of the rock; even the pillars of the temple were beautifully carved and coloured. There are many small temples in its premises.
There was a big crowd to see the temples. The temple premises are quite small and it would take less than 20 minutes to see the temple. Now I had a question in my head. Where are the hot springs?
Milind asked one of the caretakers, who informed us that the springs were located around 1 km away from the temple.

Milind and Me

From atop here we saw the entire village surrounding the temple. Even the Mahuli Fort, which I had failed to conquer, was easily visible but I couldn’t locate the springs.
We then started our walk to the hot springs. Rickshaws and horse carts (tongas) also take you to the hot springs. But considering the way they were stuffing people in them, we decided to walk it out.
There are many hotels on the way offering travelers lodging facilities, both AC and non AC rooms with TV.  They had advertised on walls and placards placed all over. I wondered what kind of seedy joints they would turn out to be. The sort of places where you would do well to keep your expectations low. If there is a toilet, then great! You know what I mean.
We saw a river like formation flowing parallel to the road that led us to the springs. Many people were bathing in it. I wondered if this was the famous hot springs. After making a few inquiries, we learned that the springs were ahead.

Hot water springs packed with people

After walking for 45 minutes, we finally reached our destination. This place was crowded with cars and sheds built by the locals to serve refreshments to the people. But where were the springs?
As we were walking to the sheds I saw a huge group of people in semi nude state bathing near the springs.
We had refreshments and then headed off to see the springs. These were small rock structures which were cut in the ground with square shaped basins of various sizes filled with water.
There are six such springs out of which four attract huge crowds. The water is hot and I dipped my feet in it. But the crowd was quite rowdy. Even though there were instructions put up advising people not to bathe in the water, people were merrily bathing. I wondered how clean the water was. Not very, considering the unwashed state of the bathers.

Our Chicken Thali
Hungry, we headed off to Vajreshwari temple. Just outside the temple there are many eateries. We patronised Hotel Kerala Kunn Bhuwan as it was highly praised by the people and other food eateries alike. We ate chicken thali and the food was truly amazing. Home cooked food. We couldn’t stop eating chicken and the rice chapattis.
The time was now 4:30 pm and we decided to walk to the bus stop after such a heavy lunch. We then boarded a bus to Vasai. Alternatively there are buses which ply from Virar to Vajreshwari, besides the private vehicles.
Vajreshwari temple and the hot springs are located on Akaloli- Vajreshwari Road, Vajreshwari in Bhiwandi taluka in Thane district, pin code being 401204.
Though the springs still have hot water in them, I guess the people should be educated on how to use the water in the springs, by just dipping their feet in it and not bathing in it.
It was a good outing. The only negative part involved the people at the springs.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

For many, Udvada is a small town located in Gujarat, but for the Parsi Community it is the place where it all began.

After the Parsis left Iran, they landed on Indian shores at a place called Sanjan in Gujarat. From there on they moved to Udvada.

Houses in Udvada
As I entered the narrow streets I saw beautiful old Parsi houses. Most were ground-floor structures with extended porches. A few were a storey tall with balconies protruding out. Most of the houses were closed, the windows and doors tightly barred and a huge lock hanging on the doors. The houses had photos of Ahura Mazda prominently positioned at the entrance. Each of the houses had a well outside. I guess the well played a very important role in their culture.

As I crossed the bylanes, all I saw were houses and more houses but not a soul on the streets. Surprising, I said to myself. So many houses but not a single person here. I moved on to see more locked up houses.

Houses in Udvada

Finally I met an elderly Parsi lady named Mahrukh. I decided to have a conversation with her to know more about the place. I asked her, “Why is it that all these houses are locked up?” to which she replied, “The people who used to reside here are now in Mumbai. They live there and come down here in the month of May, as it is holiday season there. Alternatively they do come down for Parsi festivals too.” She then pointed out the Iranshah Atash Behram and said to me, “The Iranshah Atash Behram is the most important Fire Temple for all Zoroastrians across the globe, and all Parsis pay it a visit.” She then added that though the Fire Temple was established only around 400 years old, the fire in it is 1,280 years old. I found this very fascinating.
I thanked her for the information provided by her and headed off to see the Iranshah Atash Behram. The fire temple is beautiful. The following words are engraved on the entrance: “Homage unto Thee Oh Fire of Ahura Mazda” As I am not a Parsi, I was not allowed entry inside.

Houses in Udvada

But I spoke to Mr. Dastur who resides just outside the Fire Temple. He sells articles of worship.
He told me about the history of the Fire Temple. The information he gave was the same as given to me by Mahrukh. He told me that the priest stays next to the fire temple and that there are around 150 Parsi households here but only a few houses were actually occupied.
He told me that there are no schools and hospitals in Udvada. Also, he added, there was no way to earn an income so people had no option but to leave this place and head over to Mumbai for education and other facilities. He told me that most people do come back in the month of May for their holidays and that the streets were bustling with people then.

Houses in Udvada

Globe Hotel is located very close to the Fire Temple. The tariff at this hotel is Rs 1500 for a day’s stay, inclusive of three meals.
As I had finished viewing the streets of Udvada, I didn’t see any point in staying here any longer. Also, I wanted to head over to Silvassa, my next destination.

Iranshah Atash Behram

Don’t be surprised if someone questions you on taking pictures of these beautiful houses the way I was interrogated. I was questioned about where I came from, my profession and reason for visiting Udvada. I should have asked for prior permission of the house owners before taking photographs.
Udvada can be reached by both rail and road. Gujarat Express and Saurashtra Express halt at the Udvada railway station. If you are travelling by road, you have to take the NH8. Exit for Udvada instructions are given on the highway sign boards.

Razzberry and Icre Cream soda, the local cold drinks, too good

I enjoyed roaming around the streets filled with old Parsi houses. Each of the houses was unique. The windows, doors, balconies, porches and the wells outside the houses were an amazing sight to see. Not a single soul occupied these houses and there was not a soul on the steets. All about me wore a deserted look. I felt as though I was a cowboy visiting a ghost town. Only thing that was missing was my cowboy costume and my horse.
If you love Parsi cuisine, then Globe Hotel, Adarsh Hotel, Ashsisvang Hotel and Irani Inn are the places to enjoy a hearty Parsi meal.

I then headed off to a small hotel to have raspberry and ice cream soda. Having thoroughly enjoyed both the drinks, I headed off to see Silvassa, my next pit stop.

St. Jerome Fort in Nani Daman

Monday, July 9, 2012

Standing atop one of the bastions I could see the horizon at one end, the fishing boats parked in the Damanganga that divides Moti and Nani Daman on another end and the silent fishing village of Nani Daman in yet another direction.
Entrance to St. Jerome Fort in Nani Daman. Above the Door is a statue of St. Jerome with many inscriptions and carvings on the walls of the fort.

No wonder that the St Jerome Fort was built here to keep a watch on the vessels that ventured in via the sea and also to keep a check on the enemies of the state.
Fishing Boats parked on the banks of Nani Dman

St Jerome Fort has two entrances. The main entrance is near the sea; it is placed opposite the fort of Moti Daman on the other side of the Damanganga creek. To read more on River Damanganga The other entrance is a small one which connects the sleepy village of Nani Daman to the fort.
View from the main entrance of St. Jerome Fort. The fishing boats parked on the banks of both Nani Daman and Moti Daman. with River Damanganga flowing through it in the Arabian Sea

At the main entrance is a huge statue of St Jerome, a renowned Catholic priest. A few inscriptions in Portuguese are placed below the Portuguese emblems on either side of the statue.  Atop it is placed the Cross. As I cannot read Portuguese, I cannot enlighten you on what those words meant. If you can read the language, I’d appreciate it if you could translate it for me. There are two huge human figures carved in the walls near the entrance. Carved around 400 years ago, they are still in good condition.
Within the premises of St. Jerome Fort. It encloses the Church of Our Lady of the Sea, a school, a graveyard and an open ground.

The huge main door has developed cracks in it, but it continues to adorn the entrance of the fort.
Though the fort is around 400 years old, the walls of the fort are intact. There is no sign of any breakage around the fort.  But the fort is covered by graffiti, which ruins its splendour and reflects badly on the narrow mindsets of the people who have visited this place and left destruction and ruin where once there was only beauty.

Portuguese cemetary in the premises of the Fort.

The entire fort can be covered by walking across the thick walls of the fort. It takes around an hour’s time to see the entire fort. The fort offers a breathtaking view of the Arabian Sea, the Fort of Moti Daman ,and the colorful fishing boats parked in the waters of Damanganga.
The fort comprises the Church of Our Lady of the Sea, which has now been converted into a school. A cemetery and an open ground also stand on the premises.

One of the many Crosses erected on the walls of the Fort

The walls of the fort have holes to support guns that were used to protect the fort. I could not locate any cannons on this fort. I found this strange, particularly as the fort is near the sea. There was always a possibility of the enemy attacking the fort. So did the Portuguese guard the fort with the guns they had and the infantry or was there more to it, which has been lost to us somewhere in the last 400 years?
A structure on the walls of the Fort spoiled by graffiti

Standing atop the fort, I felt as I was the Commander of this Fort, keeping a watch on the walls to check that we were not in danger of being attacked by our enemies.
There are a couple of broken down structures atop the walls of the fort along with the open spaces near them. I wondered what they were. 
This narrow staricase leads to nowhere, one upon a time it lead to somehere but now nothing exists there

Another well carved entrance within the fort premises takes us to the walls of the fort. These entrances were neatly carved as arches in the thick walls of the fort with emblems above them.

Church of Our Lady of the Sea in its premises

There are these two big rooms in here to which gates have been newly constructed. I guessed that these rooms were being misused. There were beer cans and broken beer bottles lying around on the walls of the fort, making it clear that people come here to drink.
The other entrance to the fort from land with a few gigantic rooms in its premises

Guys, this is a historical monument and not a place in which to drink and to do graffiti. Do you do the same at home? I don’t think so. Then why here? This is an ancient monument, a heritage structure, which needs to be protected by us, not destroyed.
One of hte large rooms in the fort premises now guarded with a gate as it was misused by the people. Inside I noticed waste paper, beer bottles and graffiti on the walls. Its good that this is kept closed.
So please do not drink or do graffiti on the walls of this fort or other forts anywhere.

Tribal Museum in Silvassa

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

If you want to know the history of Silvassa, how the tribals here used to lead their lives all these years then the place to head to is the Tribal Museum.
The tribal office is located near The Tourist Office of Silvassa. The tourist office of Silvassa was not of much help, considering that the inquiry desk was unmanned.
No photography is allowed in the museum. The museum timings are 9 am to 5 pm. The museum hosts some photos that feature the lifestyle of the tribals, the agricultural instruments used by them in farming, the household items used by them etc.  It also features their musical instruments and the various masks of Ravan and the Pandavas and other deities.

Entrance to the Tribal Museum
Liquor seems to be everyone’s favorite. Tribals prepare their own liquor. The instruments for the preparation of the same are up on display here.
Fishing used to be one of the primary activities here, so their traditional fishing equipments are also on display. As are instruments used for hunting. Warli Art is also on display on the walls of the museum.
The most interesting exhibits here are the 3D houses of the tribals.
It takes around 30 minutes to see the entire museum and to top it all, you can view the exhibits here at no charge at all. It is completely free of cost.
So to know the origins of Silvassa, do head to the Tribal Museum.

Journey Silvassa to Bordi

Monday, July 2, 2012

The last destination on my road trip was Bordi, a small fishing village near the Maharashtra border.
As there is no railway station at Silvassa, one needs to come to Vapi to board a train to Bordi, a railway station on the Mumbai-Gujarat rail route.
I inquired at the bus station if we could board a direct bus to Bordi. The receptionist said that there was no direct bus. He suggested that I board a bus to Vapi and from there take a train to Bordi and from there a rickshaw to Bordi.
Silvassa to Vapi by bus
Vapi to Bordi by train
Bordi to Bordi beach by rickshaw
Three different modes of transport to my final destination, Bordi.
So I boarded a local bus to Vapi from Silvassa at 8:50 am. Buses ply every 20 minutes to Vapi as it is a junction for people who are travelling to Silvassa, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman.
The bus was packed with people, most on their way to work.  The seats of the bus were a bit uncomfortable but when one is travelling, one cannot always expect a comfortable ride.
The roads leading to Vapi are bad; one stretch of road was being repaired to make it better, so the ride was a bumpy one. The amount of dust generated was bad enough. As the bus was not an AC bus, we had to keep the bus windows open to ensure ventilation.
The major difficulties that passengers face in the bus are bad and dusty roads, crowded buses and the unbearable mid-morning heat. But I was determined to get to Bordi and that was the driving factor on this part of the journey.
It took us an hour to reach Vapi bus depot which is located at a distance of 15 minutes away from the railway station.
Alternatively private rickshaws also take you there. They charge around Rs 150 per seat. The bus charges Rs 15 per seat. A difference of Rs 100.
We reached the railway station at 10 am. The Ahmadabad Virar Passenger train was to arrive at 10:10 am at Vapi.
As I was inquiring at the inquiry counter, the train arrived. I had no ticket. What should I do? Should I board the train without a ticket or should I wait in line for the ticket? That was a big question.
I somehow hurried to the ticket booking counter to get myself a ticket. A long line awaited me there. I didn’t want to miss the train either. But I still decided to stay in the line because I didn’t want to travel ticketless.
Guess what? I not only managed to get myself a ticket to Bordi at a cost of Rs 6, I even got a place to sit in the train. I was really lucky. The passenger train was bound to halt at all stations along the journey. I settled down in my seat and prepared to enjoy myself. Through past experience, I knew that train journeys are always fun.
A few passengers got in and as the seats of the train were occupied, they decided to sit in the place meant to keep the luggage. Some people were sitting and even sleeping there. I saw a passenger resting his sandals above the fan. The luggage carrier was broken in places and the poor folks that had settled up there were trying their best to make themselves comfortable on the broken seat. I was afraid that the seat would fall and send them crashing down on the heads and backs of the passengers seated below. But my fears were unfounded. Looks like these guys were used to traveling like this.
A few eunuchs entered the train, hoping to get some alms for themselves. A few salesman were there displaying their food articles and hoping to make a sale. Finally after around an hour’s time, the station arrived.
I got out and saw that we had reached Gholvad station, not Bordi. I knew that Gholvad and Bordi are neighbouring stations.
Luckily I met a Ticket Checker (TC) and he told me that the train didn’t halt at Bordi but that I could get to Bordi even from Gholvad by hailing a rickshaw at a cost of Rs 8 per seat.
I did as told and sat in a rickshaw which would take me to Bordi. The journey offered a lot of green vistas and I was cooled by the breeze rushing at me from the sea on my left hand side. I was beginning to enjoy this ride. Soon I alighted at Goolkush Hotel and from here began my effort to get the best deal to stay  for the night.
Bordi village and the beach are at a distance of 2 km from Gholvad railway station. There are very few hotels here, Goolkush Hotel, Jayee Resort, Tapovan and Anand Resort, to be more specific.
The tariffs of all these are almost the same. They range between Rs 1000 to Rs 1500 for a twin sharing room.  There are very few restaurants here.
The journey was fun as I had again travelled by three modes of transport just as I did on my way to Udvada from Daman. I have begun to get a feel of travelling. I hope to increase the modes of transport I travel by in the future.

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