My niece had come from Delhi to visit me and she wanted to take a trek. Knowing that she had never trekked before and with mercury hitting 40 C plus I was wary of going to trek. So I suggested a middle path and decided to visit Arnala Fort.
There are very few places which are near Mumbai and yet offer you the peaceful bliss of country side's natural delight and Arnala Fort is one of them. Arnala Village is hardly 10kms away from Virar station and the best part is, as it is a sea fort, so one need not worry about the trekking hardship. In my opinion any new comer who wants to get acquainted with the History, Forts and trek and in this particular order should start from here.
Once it was decided that it's Arnala Fort this Sunday, I called up few others also in case if they want to join me, However in the end it was me,my niece Sunisha and my friend Pooja who ended up for this trek.We took an early train to Virar Station and on reaching Virar station we got out of the station from the west side and walking for hardly 2-3 minutes we arrived at the Virar ST stand. We were given to understand that the frequency of the buses going to Arnala Village are good (Almost every 15 mins) and luckily for us the Local green coloured bus going to Arnala was waiting. we quickly got hold of the window seat, the bus journey lasted around 30 minutes and we reached the Arnala Market stop.
After getting down from the bus the first thing that hit you big time is the smell of fish and the din of the crowded market place.My niece was quite amused and confused, She had this big question mark on her face " But chachu you said its a silent and serene place, yeah toh pura meena bazaar hai" I chuckled and said "Jaise Toofan se pehle shanti hoti hai , waise hi shor ke baad Shukun (peace) ... Bacha thodi Thand Rakho"
The Arnala Market or Naka has this big fish market and just opposite to that moving slightly toward the right side is a narrow road , a simple walk of 5 minutes from here will take us to Ferry wharf or jetty. Yes friends one has to take a boat to reach this fort because this fort is located on an island !
Arnala fort is also called Jaldurg (Seafort) or Jangire Arnala , at one time the Portuguese who owned this fort had it rebuilt and named it ilha das vacas. In the year 1516 a local chieftain from Gujarat Sultan Mahmud Begde constructed this fort on the Arnala island ,but in 1530 Portuguese gained the control of this island consequent to that the Portuguese nobleman tore down the old fort and did a new construction of 700 by 700 feet (210m x 210m) fort, since then for 2 centuries the control of the fort remained with the Portuguese who used it to control shipping and navigation along the northern Konkan coast.
During the late 17th century, the then Peshwa Baji Rao I , sent his brother Chimaji Appa to take over the Bassein Fort from Portuguese, later after winning the battle of Vasai, on the insistence of Shankerji Pant, Chimaji Appa lauched an attack on Arnala Fort but it was a disaster, as the Maratha forces under the naval command of Manaji Angre was routed by the superior Portuguese naval forces, but however during the second attack on 28 March 1737 the Marathas caught Portuguese by surprise and forced them to abandon the fort. The Marathas rebuilt the fort and constructed 3 bastions Bahirav, Bhavani and Bava later this fort was lost by Marathas to the Britishers in 181. The Arnala and the Bassien Fort were returned to Marathas in the treaty of Salabai but yet again the fort went back to Britishers under the treaty of Pune.
I hope now that you have brushed up little history let's move back to our journey, After getting down the bus we walked and passed through the narrow lanes which housed fishermen houses to reach the Ferry Wharf. The earlier boat had just left and the next boat would be coming in 15 minutes so we spent our time clicking pictures
One could see lots of hanging fishes being dried up in sun. It was like fishes all around you. The smell of the fish was now becoming a constant companion and we were getting pretty used to it.
Soon our boat arrived and here there was another shock awaiting Pooja and Sunisha when they realised that they will have to wade through the water to get into the boat.Quickly we removed our shoes,our mobile,cameras etc and put them in our bag. and before we could realise we were almost deep in water till waist level. I was all prepared for the shrieks of my lady companions but to my surprise and relief both of them very sportingly and bravely climbed into the boat and heaved sigh of relief.The boat was rocking as if it would drown anytime,
Just imagine rush hour crowded local train, same was the plight on this small overloaded boat. Luckily for us our fears were unfounded and we survived this sweet and small journey of hardly 5 minutes and reached the other shore. Getting down was another another task, jumping into the waist high water was now order of the day so we were well prepared for it, In fact we had started to enjoy this adventurous experience.
Getting down in cool water was a delightful experience in this hot weather but once we started walking on the beach to our despair we realised how hot the dry sand was, As we were bare footed so the burning sand had an impact of what a person must have felt walking on hot coal, running in despair we broke into unintentional tap dance to save our feets and dived into the shelter of the nearby fishermen's house.Catching our breath we started our walk to the fort.
The walk from the beach to the fort entrance is hardly a 5 minutes walk through narrow lane with the fishermen folks houses on both sides of lane and as we reached closer to the fort entrance we saw few abandoned boats and Fishermen folks unloading the mud bags for the reconstruction of the fort.
The Fort entrance has this beautiful carving of a tiger and an elephant. I had read about this carving of Elephant and tiger so was very keen to capture it on my camera. but I was shocked and saddened by the state of the gate, Some voyeuristic people who I never understood, as to what pleasure they get in proclaiming their love on the walls of heritage site,had defaced it.Hey man you have a Living room in your house Please go and put that graffiti on the living room wall,Jab baap do Jhappad lagayega sab hosh thikhane aa jayega spare the historical sites.
Another thing on entering the gate I noticed was the stack of sand bags, which meant that the restoration work is going.
As soon as we entered the fort from this gate , I noticed that one can see almost the entire wall of the fort.as the fort is kind of rectangular in shape.We saw few broken walls of old quarters, The moment we reach the top wall, we get the lovely view of the sea ahead,with small boats all around and bird's eye view of the entire fort.we started walking on the fort wall with the intent of circumventing and this is possible because the entire Rampart wall is interconnected.
walking along the way we noticed secret doors,Passages going down at some places,small windows along the wall of bastions, which in earlier they must be using to look out for the enemy. But today this small windows provided excellent location to click beautiful pictures.The portion which consists of bastion had passages going down which could take you out of the fort.However thanks to the onslaught of modern civilization which gives two hoots for maintaining the historical places these passage were blocked due to the mud,dust and the plastic waste thrown by the visitors to the fort. How I wish someone takes the initiative to clean up these passages. If this kind of initiative will be undertaken I would love to be the part of same.Once we completed our exploration of the entire fort wall we moved down from the same stairs from which we had come up and moved toward the center of the Fort. Arnala Fort has a fantastic combination of 2 different cultures with a Shrine and a Temple in the Fort complex. we first decided to explore the Shrine of Hazratshah Alishah Baba,Its a cool green coloured stucture and next to that there is a grave. Next to shrine there is a nice resting place below the tree which offers cool pleasure ,after spending some peaceful moments here we started to walk towards the Shiva Temple nearby.
On the way as we were walking we noticed this Banyan tree where we couldn't help taking some swings as they say Dil toh bacha hai ji !!
One very hilarious incident happened here , my niece got a call from her mother and she asked my niece how is the fort and she very innocently replied " Mom yeah Khandar jaisa hai " I was aghast to hear the word Khandar I said ' Beta tune toh Dil hi thod diya,I find solace in these kind of places and tune toh ishe Khanhar Bol diya."
As they say the beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, same goes here,because honestly speaking it actually is ruins but we Fort lovers see it differently because we connect and try to live the history that has happened here.On her part she had a valid point because being from north she has seen Red Fort, Hawa Mahal and few other forts So I must have smashed her fortwala dream. She kept apologizing profusely to me and I kept pulling her leg for this faux pas.
After finishing our swinging session at the Banyan tree we moved to the Shiva Temple.
The Shiva Temple on the fort is just next to the unique octagonal well. The temple offers such peace and serenity that one would simply like to sit there and meditate,
Despite the harsh sun-rays the breeze was quite cool within the temple. the sight of fort wall looked quite interesting from the temple so I took few pictures.Just outside this Shiva temple there is this unique Octagonal water well which has steps leading down the well and on the periphery of the well wall there was this Ganapati Idol. after offering our prayers to Ganpatiji and Shivji we started to move out of the Fort
This time we decided to use the rear exit to go out of the Fort, Its a a small door through which one or two person can go out at a time. The reason we exited out of the rear door was that when we were on the top wall of the fort I saw this stand alone Stone bastion behind the fort at some distance which I wanted to explore.
Moving out of this door we started walking through the fields and the local fishermen house.Keeping the Bastion in our sight we moved towards it,our little walk along the coast brought us near the Stone Tower,
We could see the Stone watch tower almost at the corner of the island with few abandoned boats scattered near it.
While exploring this Stone Bastions /watch tower I couldn't find any entrance to it so I encircled the whole watchtower and ultimately my persistence paid off when I noticed a small passage which allows the entry into this watch tower,
The problem was that it was blocked due to growth of vegetation and the passing local fishermen who saw me peeking through the narrow passage, warned me not to try any stunt of entering through this narrow passage as there could be snakes so I dropped my frivolous idea and moved on for the return journey back to the ferry wharf or jetty.Walking along the island coast we reached the point where in the morning the boat had dropped us, Now standing in the middle of nowhere its little difficult to know whether you are at the right place.
Not a soul was in sight and only the small boats lying around. we were worried as to when the boat will come, just then I noticed a woman sitting under a shadow of an old boat. I asked her when the boat will come she said as the boat guy is gone for lunch so the next boat will be at 3 pm. The time on our watch was 2.30 and sitting on the hot burning sand under equally hot sun was not on our agenda so we decided to go and check out the temple which was just at a distance from where we were standing.
The freshly orange painted temple looked too tempting to be missed so we walked through houses and reached the temple complex within 5 minutes. This was as we came to know Mata Kalka and Shitla mata mandir,We had our darshan and in the court yard of the temple we had our packed lunch of, Parathas,Theplas Puran polis and biscuits
and just before 3 pm we were again standing at the Jetty when we saw the arriving boat, It was the same adventure all over again of getting we,,climbing the rocking boat for our return journey. After crossing the sea and reaching the Arnala side we walked back to the fish market we saw a ST bus going to Kolhapur, On enquiring as to whether the bus will go to Virar Bus stand, we got positive response so we all quickly hopped into the bus and in 25 minutes reached the Virar ST stand and from there back to Virar station and finally home.
Points to Remember:
1. Carry your own water and food as the fort is on island so you may not get the stuff.
2. Once you reach the island please do enquire when the last boat will leave.
3.While alighting the boat ensure all your belongings like camera,mobile etc are in your bag because the possibility of their getting wet is very high.
4.Bus/autos are easily available to go till Arnala Naka.
5.If coming by car , remember that the Arnala Naka is a very crowed place so parking could be a big headache in that case you may have to park your car near Arnala Beach.