My first trip to Alibag – Murud Janjira 17 March 2016

Well this was a trip to get out of a very bad phase that rocked me in 2015. Working in a BPO meant that you never get a chance to go out and enjoy… Well you get your offs and leaves but working odd shifts means that you never feel like going out.

So when I got a 5 days leave, I decided to make the most out of it. Those were the days when I was trying to come out of a bad 2015. So it was decided that I was not going to sit at home and waste the leaves. Long distance travel was out because of the leaves. Then someone suggested Alibag. The nearest I could get to Goa with least amount of money and time. So Alibag it was.

Alibag (literally translated it means “Ali’s Garden) is 140 kms away from Mumbai. It is accessible by road, rail and ferry. Alibag and its surrounding villages are the historic hinterland of Bene Israeli Jews. There is a synagogue in the “Israel Ali” (Marathi इस्राएल आळी meaning Israel lane) area of the town. A Bene Israelite named Ali used to live there at that time. He was a rich man and owned many plantations of mangoes and coconuts in his gardens. Hence the locals used to call the place “Alichi Bagh”(Marathi for “Ali’s Garden”), or simply “Alibag”, and the name stuck.

It is around 140 kms from Mumbai and can be reached by road, rail and ferry. For road, this follows the Mumbai Goa Highway (NH 66) up to Pen and then switch to NH 166A. Alibag is around 30 kms from Pen. The nearest railway station is Pen on the Mumbai Goa rail head along the Konkan Railway route. But if you really want to enjoy your trip, then I strongly recommend a ferry ride from either The Gateway of India or the Ferry Wharf. While services from the Gateway are only for passengers, the one from the Ferry Wharf allows you to carry two wheeler for a nominal price.

The Ferry Ride

I decided to take the ferry from the Gateway of India. Being a aquaphobic, it took some self motivation to step in to the ferry. But time was an issue as travelling by road meant 3 hours of journey, where in I could reach Alibag at around half the time. Secondly, the cost factor also worked in the favor of a ferry.

One can reach Mandwa from Gateway either through Catamarans or boats. The well known operators are PNP, Maaldaar and Ajanta. The tickets can be purchased from their booths at the Gateway. For my first ride, I brought a ticket on the PNP catamaran, that was scheduled to leave at 8 am. The one way ticket cost me 180 INR.

An important thing to remember is that Mandwa is around 30 kms from Alibag. Once you reach Alibag, the catamaran operators will drop you to Alibag bus stop using the chartered buses. The ticket that you brought for the catamaran ride covers the cost of transportation from Mandwa to Alibag.

The catamaran left the jetty exactly at 8 am. Though initially a bit nervous, the surrounding sites were enough to take my mind off the fear. It was truly a sight to behold. The beautiful Arabian Sea and the ships and the boats anchored off it were enough to set my mind at ease.

Mandwa Jetty to Alibag

I reached Mandwa at around 9 am. An important thing to remember here is that the bus timings coincide with those of the ferries. So its important that you make it to the pick up point (located outside the main gate) as soon as you land. If you happen to miss your bus, then there will be a long wait period until the next ferry arrives. I stopped at Mandwa for breakfast and missed my first bus. I had to wait for 2 hours until the next bus arrived to pick me up.

From Mandwa, the bus picked me up at 12 noon and dropped me at Alibag city exactly half an hour later.

The main purpose of the Alibag visit was to visit the Janjira fort. Well being a student of history, a lot was heard about this unconquerable sea fort which even the mighty Marathas could not capture. While at Alibag, I enquired about Janjira and came to know that it was 60 kms from the main city. This meant that I had to stay overnight at Murud though initially this was planned as a single day trip. So without wasting much time, I reached the Alibag ST depo and took a bus to Murud.

The sleepy town of Murud is 60 kms from Alibag City and takes around two hours to reach by bus. The ST bus ride cost me 57 INR. You can also hire private transport but make sure that you negotiate the price before you get in.

Murud Village

Murud village is a quite and idylic beach town with beaches and lots of staying options for as cheap as 200 INR per day. If you are alone, you can stay at one of the cheapest lodges or stay at a hotel. When I visited, there was less crowd so I got the rooms cheap. It can get costlier during weekends and holiday seasons. There are numerous rooms that dot the beach side and there are plenty of options available.

From Murud, Janjira is about 2 kms away and can be reached either on foot, autorickshaw or tum tums (10 seater auto rickshaws). The rickshaws will charge you around 60 to 80 while tums tums will cost Rs 10 per seat (Charges are for 2016. This might have changed now)

Some mportant Facts to remember

  • Janjira Fort is only accessible through boats from Rajapur Jetty.
  • There two types of rides to the fort.
    • The common ride that charges 20 INR per adult and 10 INR per child. This is for a group of 30
    • The VIP ride that will cost you approximately 600 INR for a group of 6.
  • The boats wont leave until the maximum people in the group is reached. So if its off peak season, you might have to return disappointed.
  • The journey from Rajapur Jetty to the fort takes 15 mins after which the boat stays there for an hour. As per the regulations, the maximum time that you can stay at the fort is 1 hour. The boat operators are fined if they overstay.
  • Entry to the fort is restricted after 5.30 pm, so make sure you accommodate this deadline. If you are late and you do not find the group for your boat ride, you’ll have to return and try your luck next day.

I was unaware of this deadline and missed entry to the fort on the first day. But luckily, I managed to capture some amazing shots on my way back and at the Murud Beach which made up for the disappointment.

Janjira Fort

In order to get over the disappointment of the previous day, I decided to start early. It was also time to say good bye to Alibag. I reached early at the Jetty and the wait began. This time, however, I was lucky. I had a group of tourists from Nagpur were looking for one more person for their group and I joined them.

Our destination as we set sail from Rajapuri… The majestic fort at the distance.

History of Janjira Fort

The history of Murud Janjira fort goes way back to the 15th century when some local fishermen of Rajapuri built a small wooden fort called Medhekot on a massive rock out in the sea to save themselves and their families from the attack of pirates. However, the Nizam Shahi Sultan of Ahmednagar wanted it to make one of his strongholds, firstly because of the vast area and secondly because of its strategic positions.

As per the Sultan’s wish, a general called Piram Khan captured the fort and Malik Ambar – the Abyssinian regent of Siddi origin and administrative spokesman of him ordered the construction of a solid rock fortress in place of the wooden garrison. After massive scale renovations to create an impregnable structure by Piram Khan’s successor Burhan Khan, the fort was named Jazeere Mahroob Jazeera.

Today’s name Janjira is a broken down derivation of this Arabic word Jazeera which means island – it is obviously a reference to its offshore location. Murud is a Konkani word, probably referring to the Shahi of Ahmednagar. The Murud-Janjira fort stands an unconquered one as over the years the Maratha, the Portuguese and even the mighty British tried and failed to breach the walls of this sea fort. The Siddi overlords became so powerful here that they withstood every attack and defied the sovereign itself to establish a Sultanate of Janjira.

Source

Travelling to the fort was another daunting task for me as fear took over. But one look at the sight in the distance, the fear gradually subsidized.

You travel the distance in sailboats which rocks when the waves hit you. This gives you an uneasy feeling in the tummy. But its better not to think about the fear. Rather you can just focus on the beautiful monument in the distance as it get bigger and bigger every second.

The boat ride to the fort.

Slowly and steadily the fort becomes more and more visible. And when you reach close, it seems as if you are standing in front of a giant.

The marvelous piece of civil engineering and thought process is evident right before we even step in to the fort. A big reason why this fort remained unconquered was the way it was constructed. Surrounded by sea on all the four sides, it was difficult to mount a direct attack as the high walls of the fort and the outlook posts on top of it provided a perfect look out for enemies. Even if the enemies managed to hoodwink the lookout posts, it was next to impossible to find the entrance to the fort as it was difficult to spot from a distance. In order to find the door, you have to reach within 12 meters of the entrance at a particular angle. By the time the enemy found the entrance, the canons at the top of the fort would do their job.

Ever wondered how a fort this big was created on an island surrounded by water on all sides at a time when no modern engineering equipments were available? Well our local guide informed us that the stones required for the construction was taken from the island itself. Not only the fort walls but the entire village inside the fort was constructed using these stones.

The fort was a self contained unit constructed in such a way that it could endure sieges for months together. Once you enter the fort, you can see the remains of a full fledged village complete with living quarters.

Remains of a full fledged village inside the fort. I wonder how it feels to live in an island surrounded by sea on all sides. I almost felt that someone would walk out of one of those houses and ask about our well beings. The fort was occupied until 1971 and was abandoned after that.

Another amazing factor was the presence of a fresh water lake inside the fort. This lake was considered to be a marvel in itself as it is difficult to find fresh water source in the middle of the sea.

One can see the Siddhis eye to detail in every corner of this fort. The windows served as the outlook posts. From outside, the windows were so small that it was difficult to spot it. But the same windows were big enough to accommodate enough soldiers to keep a watch on the entire surrounding areas.

The fort was complete with emergency exit routes in case the fort fell. Though I doubt if anyone had to use this secret exit.

The emergency exit route that opened straight to the sea. This would have been useful if the fort fell. Though as history has it, the fort stood tall in its hey day and I doubt if anyone had to use it.

The mighty Cannons inside the fort

While every care was given to the security of the fort while constructing, what truly made this fort impregnable were the cannons located inside the fort. Cannons were a part of every military in those days and Siddhi’s were no exceptions. The fort had 23 round bastions loaded with canons during its hey day. In fact, this fort still has many of them inside. But the special ones amongst them were the trio of Kalalbangdi, Chavri and Landa Kasam, famous for their shooting range. In fact, Kalalbangdi (weighing 23 tons) is the third largest cannon in India.

Fearsome and the third largest canon in India – The Kalalbangdi weighed 23 tons. Even today the cannon looks ready to fire at anytime.

You can see many canons inside. The amazing aspect of these canons were their ability to cool off faster after being fired. This allowed the cannons to get ready for the next shot in a short time. The enemy had no chance against these mighty giants installed at the top of the fort.

Our local guide informed us that these cannons were assembled right at the fort with the Pancha Loha or an alloy of Five Metals (Gold, Silver, Copper, Zinc and Iron). This allowed the canons to stay cool in hot weather conditions and also saved them from rusting fast. Even today, the canons of the fort looks to be in prime condition and have not rusted much. And we are speaking of history dating back to 950 years approximate. A true marvel indeed.

That was all I could manage within an hours span. Our guide was quick enough to take us through all the important landmarks inside the fort. The entire fort takes around 2 hours to explore. Considering the time restrictions, that was not possible. Again make sure you hire a guide, who are the locals and are well versed with the history of the fort.

It was time to say good bye but not before capturing some more pics. The view of the surroundings from the top level of the fort is simply amazing and breathtaking. With a heavy heart, I returned to the entrance where a boat was waiting for us. Once on the shore, I also realised that I had not thought about travelling through waters on my return trip. After saying goodbye to the guide and the locals, I headed off to the Murud Bus station and headed off to Alibag from where a boat ride would take me back to Mumbai.

I have been to Alibag many times after this and each time I’ve been to different locations. (More about them some other time.) But the first trip to this island is still strong in my memories. It was truly rewarding and fun filled solo trip that I ever had.

That ends this write up about my first trip to Alibag and a visit to Janjira fort. Hope you liked it. Please leave your comments and feedback below. Until next time its adios amigos.

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