Maharashtra, especially under the Marathas, excelled in building forts at the most difficult terrains, ranging from hilltops to the sea. While some of the hill forts are only accessible through rigorous trekking, the sea forts are more easily reachable. Despite their ruined state, the forts look invincible and are fun to explore.
Around 55km by road from Alibag and around 160km by road from Mumbai, it is one of the most popular sea forts of Maharashtra. Hemmed by a sold 40-feet high wall, with high waves beating against it, the 17th-century fort looks impressive from far. Though in ruins, the surviving architecture inside proves it was a well-planned precinct. The 22-acre fort contains remains of palaces, residence and offices, mosques and other buildings. The island fortress even contains two sweet water lakes. Some of the cannons, which ensured the fort remain invincible, can still be seen among the turrets and bastions. Sailboats ferry passengers to and fro, and may not operate during low tide. Expect long queues during peak tourist season. The disembarkation point at the fort is rather bumpy and so senior citizens may find it difficult to alight. It takes a couple of hours to see the entire fort. Carry drinking water.
Caution: Some of the private operators who manage the car parking area and the boating facilities are not tourist-friendly. Some boatmen are in league with local guides and often compel passengers to use their services.
Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji built this island fortress in the mid-17th century. With 42 bastions, much of it still intact, and guarded by the natural rock formation surrounding it, the fort was a Maratha naval base along the Konkan coast. Regular ferry boats are available from the mainland. There is a temple within the fort containing a statue of the Maratha ruler in the garb of a fisherman. The walls offer a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea. On your way out, refresh yourself with a Kokum sherbet or the seasonal Green Mango (Kairi) sherbet. Just outside the fort wall, there are a few private operators who run a rudimentary scuba diving service. A visit to Sindhudurg may be combined with a trip to Ratnagiri/Ganapatipule/Malvan. By road, Sindhudurg is 135km from Ratnagiri and 5km from Malvan.
Located in Raigad district of Maharashtra, reaching the twin-island fortresses is half the fun, riding the waves in fishing boats. Thal beach, around 100km from Mumbai by road, is the gateway to the beaches. For visiting Khanderi, which has a jetty and can be reached irrespective of tides, you have to obtain permission from the Mumbai Port Trust. There is an old lighthouse here. The local fishing communities also come here to pay respect to the Vetal Temple and the Tomb of Daud Pir. Underi, which does not have a jetty, can be accessed only during low tide.
Located on the Konkan coast, Vijaydurg is not an island fortress but surrounded by the Arabian Sea on three sides. Built in the 13th century by a ruler from the Shilahara dynasty, it was later occupied by the Marathas. The fort contained 27 bastions of which three were three-storeyed structures. Some of the old cannons and cannon balls are on display inside the fort. Remains of a water tank, a granary, a prison, etc. can still be seen. View of the bright blue sea from the fort walls is irresistible but do be careful. Situated in the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra, one of the closest rail stations is Kanakavali, 75km away by road. A visit to Vijaydurg may be combined with a trip to Malvan and Sawantwadi.
For those who are on a short visit to Mumbai and yet would like to visit one of the famous sea forts of Maharashtra, the Kolaba Fort in Alibag is the best option. During low tide, the water recedes to expose the sea bed. Then it is possible to walk up to the island fort located two km inside the sea. If you are not willing to get your feet wet, hire a pony cart for the to and fro journey.
Said to be over 300 years old, the fort contains ruins of palaces and other structures. There are a couple of temples inside, including that of Siddhivinayak (Ganesh). The annual Maghi Ganesh Chaturthi (usually in February) festival and fair is quite a crowded event. Alibag is about 96km from Mumbai by road. There is regular ferry service (except during monsoon) between Mumbai and Mandwa jetty from where Alibag is another 20km by road.