In democratic times, even the minatory language of kings is genteel. ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’, reads the royal instruction hanging on the intricately carved wrought-iron gates of the Nawab’s palace. This deserted palace, situated at the top of arise dropping gently into Murud, is the address of the present Nawab of Janjira. His forefathers would not have been this bashful. Anyone attempting unlawful entry into the Janjira Fort, half a mile from Rajpuri Creek into the sea, would have had a load of gunpowder to deal with.
When the Kallal Bangdi boomed, they say the fort reverberated for up to a week. The largest of the three surviving cannons, Kallal Bangdi is over18 ft long and of immense weight. Legend has it that it set the Marathas back when they tried to build a causeway leading up to the fort. Guides will tell you that during low tide, you can see the rocks placed end on end by the Marathas to make a stealth attack. Shivaji’s men apparently made several attempts to take over the fort between 1661 and 1670. They never managed it. Today, all it takes is a nominal fee for a person to get into Janjira.
We arrive on the last day, in the last boat of the season before the rains. It is an angry day to be out at sea and the fort sprawled across a sheet of grey looks every bit the invincible mass that held out against invaders. Believed to have been completed in the 17th century by Sidi Sirul Khan (Mughal governor from 1618-1620), the fort is spread across 22 acres.
Our guide weaves a story. “During the early construction, the structure collapsed thrice. The reigning Sidi realised that a sacrifice was required. He offered his own son, a 22-year-old, to god. The fort is strong not only because of the lime, glass and jaggery mixture but also because of the blood of an innocent.” The story, one discovers later, is a complete untruth, but tales like these teem about the bravery of the Sidis. Some real and some imagined.
Things to See & Do
What does exist at Janjira is the hallowed Panchchaitan shrine, the once seven-storeyed Durbar Hall, now down to four levels; empty shells of the granary room, the armoury and the famed Sheesh Mahal. A shroud of green slime covers the two lakes, including the Chirekeni Talav in front of the Jumma Masjid. But the fort still holds together, even though time and its accomplices, the wind, the sea and the rain, keep up the attacks abandoned by the earlier adversaries, the Marathas and the British. Boat rides from the Rajpuri Jetty take you to the fort, giving you about 30 minutes for exploration. On Friday, there’s no service from 12 noon-2 pm.
“Most families lived inside the fort till the 70s,” says Mohammed, whose grandfather was employed by the Nawabs. They moved out when it became a logistical nightmare, especially during the rains.
Nearby, within the restricted confines of the 19th-century Nawab’s Palace, also known as Ahmedganj Palace, an air of timelessness clings to the walls. The ceiling has given way in some places, and like a petticoat hem, the wooden rafters show through the detailing. On the ground level, two spiral staircases rise to the upper floor, which holds the locked rooms of the present Nawab and his father. In long, unattended passages, photographs framed at ‘Gursoda and Sons’ and ‘Lala Deen Dayal’ of Mumbai hang mutely, their regal inhabitants – the late begum and Nawab Ahmed Khan –speaking in hushed tones of a lost age.
Behind faded louvered doors, the royal family occupies a few of the eight rooms during their visits. The palace has been designed in Franco-Turk style, with glass-stained cupolas on the roof of the main hall. Above the entrance is an engraving of the royal coat of arms, bearing the legend ‘Our homeland belongs to God’. Nearby, a majestic stuffed white tiger stands, telling of sport of another age.
Related: Where the Siddis Ruled
Once again, the sea redeems Janjira Palace. It’s the only feature that has remained steadfast in the tumultuous century. But from wherever the eye strains, the fort seems to allow the palace no view of itself. The Janjira Fort continues to shield its true ruler, but this time, from the spectacle of its decline.
The Sidi Tombs
Some 2 km from Murud, at Khokri, is the final resting place of Sidi Sirul Khan, Sidi Yakut Khan and Sidi Khairiyat Khan. In 1670, Khairiyat defended Janjira Fort when its own general, Fateh Khan, was willing to sell out to Shivaji. He again fought the Marathas in 1682 against Shivaji’s heir, Sambhaji. The Sidi tombs are built in the Indo-Saracenic style and have fuelled many a legend. Treasure hunters believe that the Persian inscriptions here hold the key to a hidden bounty. The previous Nawab cemented the door leading to Sidi Sirul Khan’s tomb after treasure hunters broke in.
Not much is known about the Kamsa or Padamdurg Fort, except that this unfinished fort was built around the same time as the stone fortifications of Janjira Fort. The present Nawab believes it was built by the Sidis, but it is also said to have been built under Shivaji’s instructions.
Access to this fort is possible only during October and November, with permission from the Customs.
There are no local souvenirs to be found here. But Murud is famous for its curry masalas, which are much sought after in Mumbai. To buy them, head for Khatu Mill in the main Murud market. Favourite brands include Bhandari masala and Mali masala. For those with a sweet tooth, a visit to Jai Hanuman Hotel for their barfi is worth the effort.
Where to Stay
There are many options but the best bet is Golden Swan Beach Resort, on Darbar Road. Once an MTDC hotel, it’s been privatised and includes cottages on the beach. It’s a bit of a hike unless you have your own vehicle, but Sand Piper Resorts behind Murud Police Station atop a hill, has great views of the sea and surrounding palms. Hotels on Darbar Road along the beach include Shoreline Resort and Sea Shell Resort. In the budget category, you may want to try Aman Palace Hotel.
Where to Eat
Patil Khanaval, Maruti Naka, is by far the most popular eating place in all of Murud. Run by five brothers and situated along the sea front, Patil is said to serve the best fish in Murud. Fish, infact, is expectedly popular in Murud.
Eat biryani at Paresh’s. Batata vada at Patil’s Hotel is a favourite with the Nawab, which is served with a chutney made of tamarind and fried bread ground with garlic. Sand Piper Resorts and Golden Swan Beach Resort also dish out Konkani sea food, which is truly delicious. Hotel Swayam Siddh serves some delectable meals. Hotel Vinayak and Anand Vatika near the beach have good seafood and also local veg curries. Apart from all that, have your fill of delectable coconut cream and water.
Chaul (44 km)
Sometimes, empires, like rulers, rise and fall soundlessly. So is it with Chaul, once the heart of the Satavahana kings and now just a bypass to the pleasures of Alibaug on one side and Murud-Janjira on the other.
Chaul has been inhabited since 300 BCE, its golden age spanning the reign of the Satavahanas from 2 BCE to 3 CE.“ Chaul’s pre-eminence continued till the 17th century,” says Prof Vishwas Gogte of Pune’s Deccan College, who’s spent years trying to unearth the life and times of Satavahana Chaul.
So prolific was this now-forgotten kingdom that there were various names for it. The Arabs called it Simur; then there were names like Semulla and Chimolo. Was it rice (chawal) that gave rise to the name Chaul? Or was it the lovely Champa flower? Like a fragrance dispersed in the wind, the answer has been lost.
The Portuguese built the Revdanda Fort in 1524 here and fortified it later.
At that time, Chaul was five times the size it is today. Today, the main thoroughfare of Revdanda slices through the fort. Inside, coconut groves rise amidst the ruins. Not too far on the horizon stands the Portuguese built Korlai Fort.
The people in the neighbouring village, largely Christians converted back then, still speak a curious mix of English, Portuguese, Dutch, French and Marathi. The tongue, known only to a few hundreds, is dying slowly. And the Chaul Fort, eulogised in ancient texts and inscriptions, is but a jetty for a private company.
But there are other things you could do in Chaul. Stop by at Theronda and ask to see the remains of the 36-foot-long blue whale. Look out for the ancient baobab trees too. These unusual trees, which look like they have been planted upside down, came from Africa to India over 1,500 years ago. The tree is leafless for nine months of the year and bears flowers and leaves during the remaining three.
Within the confines of the Revdanda Fort, on a tree top, is a nest which could be 13 ft in diameter. Its occupant, the sea eagle, leaves home at 6 am and is back by 6 pm. Just watching the sea eagle’s take-off is worth rising early for.
Also Read: The Corridors of Time
In Revdanda, ask for the Hingoli Devi Temple. Built by Gujarati Bhansales,the temple finds the root of it sname from a river in Afghanistan. According to lore, the Rameshwar Temple was supposed to have been built in a day by the Pandavas but they were unable to complete it. Centuries later, Kanhoji Angre (Maratha navy admiral, 1698-1729) finished the work. Look out for the intricate samadhi behind the temple. Locals believe that it is a memorial to one of the Angres. Which one, nobody knows.
There are plenty of basic living facilities available, especially at Revdanda, but the Vikram Vatika is a good choice. Everybody eats seafood in this town, so if you are not a vegetarian, you should do the same. In Revdanda market, look for Vishwas Bakery for freshly baked khara biscuits that can be dipped in hot tea.
Chaul is about 123 km from Mumbai and about 10 km from Alibaug. From Murud, you can get a taxi or bus to Chaul.
Alibaug (54 km)
It is an irony of history that in a few centuries, battlegrounds can turn into playgrounds. Alibaug, once the home of one of Shivaji’s bravest admiral Kanhoji Angre, is now the chi-chi address of celebrities who want to escape corporate warfare. But Kanhoji Angre still lives, in the samadhi restored two years ago. According to the Bombay Gazette, Alibaug was never an important town – till Angre came along and made it an important Maratha base. Till then, it was known for the gardens and wells built by a wealthy Muslim trader called Ali. Hence the name Alibaug.
An island during the high waters, the 17th-century Kolaba Fort is accessible by foot when the tide is low. In its heyday, the fort had a five-storey palace, apparently built by a younger relative, Raghoji Angre, in the 18th century. The geo-magnetic observatory, built in1905, is a good digression from history.
From the black sands of Alibaug to the white sands of Kashid, this part of the western coast of India has plenty of beaches. Ask the locals for the danger zones before venturing out into the sea.
Fish, fried, dried and curried, is a speciality of the region. Also rice bhakris, kombdi-vade and sol kadi. Check out the smaller joints that offer the same fare at possibly one-third the price.
To get to Alibaug from Murud, you can take a taxi or bus. From Mumbai, take a ferry from the Gateway of India. From Mandwa, it’s a short ride. Mandwa ferry timings 6 am-5 pm Ferry fare Rs120-200 approx.
In Alibaug, you can stay at Radisson Resort & Spa, a property on the banks of Veshwi Lake with restaurants, bars, spa and a pool. Sun Glow Resorts is nice and clean, right on the Alibaug Beach. Hotel Sea View is next door. Hotel Meera Madhav is near the ST Bus Stand. Hotel Big Splash is on the road to Thal. Sai-Inn Holiday Resort is located on Alibaug-Rewas Road.