Continuing on my Bombay forts trail, I decided to cover 2 forts in one trip this time – Mahim and Bandra forts. They looked out on the same mahim bay, from opposite shores.
(above image credit - Ashutosh Bijoor of www.bijoor.me - an absolutely inspiring cycling blog - do check it out)
I cycled from Sion (past Sion fort - which was the first fort I visited - you can see the blog here), crossed Dharavi (past Dharavi fort – which I have yet to visit), crossed Bandra swamp and took a left for Mahim.
I must have crossed this road a million times, and I never knew that there was a fort there. And nor did any of the locals, it seemed. One or two looked nonplussed when I asked them, and then a couple confidently guided me to a police station.
‘But wheres the fort?’
‘Oh, theres no actual fort’ he replied ‘all the offices and buildings here are called the fort’
‘Balls.’ I replied ‘There is a fort here – I have seen photos and read Wikipedia and Bijoor’s blog.’
‘I tell you there is no fort’ he argued. ‘I have lived here for years and years’
‘Oh never mind’ I soothed him ‘where is the beach?’
He directed me to the beach, and I went off there, through the bamboo wala stalls and various storage buildings.
It was a sea fort . It has to be on the beach.
And it was.
But it was fully occupied by squatters and shanties and slums. I saw the fort walls and an impressive gate, but inside was full of settlements and huts. I thought of walking on the beach and getting photos of the fort walls, but the beach was occupied by a different kind of squatters – people squatting to take a shit. The beach was a huge open air toilet and was covered with shit and shitters. I saw the fort entrance and smiled – that slum dweller was staying in a royal palace.
I lacked the enthu to walk through that shit just to see the fort and so I withdrew.
It is a great pity. The Mahim fort is actually the oldest fort in Mumbai – dating back to pre Mughal times. It was apparently built by Raja Bhimdev in the 12th century and then was the main fort in the Bombay island. It was in due course of time acquired by the Deccan sultans - the sultan of Gujarat. The Portuguese entered in 1516 and conquered the fort, and wrested it from the Sultan. They also built another fort just across the creek at Bandra and were the main power in the area. Unfortunately for them, they had to cede the fort to the British because the Bombay islands were handed over to the Brits as part of Catherine of Braganza’s dowry. The British strengthened the fort, and it had a garrison of 100 men and 30 cannon – which is pretty hardcore for the time.
God knows how it sunk from being such an important place to being completely overrun by slums and filth.
In any other country it would have been the pride of the city and well maintained – only in India do we treat our treasures with such disrespect. The Shiv Sena controlled municipality doesn’t seem to give a rats ass about forts and historical places in Mumbai – they can only talk ‘Shivaji Shivaji’ but do nothing to restore and maintain history.
From Mahim I went off to Bandra, through the Sea link approach road and then crossed over to Bandstand and made my way to the fort.
This is the complete opposite of Mahim fort – it is clean and neat and lovingly maintained by the Bandstand residents association – god bless their souls. It is like a Yin and Yang – polar opposites of kismet - Mahim fort and Bandra fort – just across the bay – but two extremes of condition.
The fort itself is almost gone, only a small fraction exists now. The formal name of it is ‘Castella de Aguada’ and it was built by the Portuguese in 1640 – 400 years ago!
'Castella de Aguaga – The Last Bastion. 1517 saw the commandment of the Mahim Fort fall to the might of the Portuguese as they set foot in ‘Bandora’ (Bandra). 1640 saw the rise of the ‘Castella’ or bastion. The Portuguese built this strategically located fort as an outpost marking the southernmost tip of the mainland. Fresh water springs located close to the fort served as a potable water point when they sailed across. They exist to this day, but now serve an entirely different people – the local washermen! Though the Castella is almost entirely destroyed, the ruins remain one of the few standing reminders of the days of Portuguese glory.'
It is an absolutely lovely place – you can sit there for hours and watch the sea.
The residents association has developed a nice garden there, and as I went exploring I saw a sign that said that this was the site of the home of a Parsi gentleman called Byramjee Jeejeebhoy. Byramjee was a businessman and Philanthropist – he founded several educational institutions in Bombay and Pune – the Byramjee Jeejeebhoy college and the Byramjee Jeejeebhoy parsee charitable institution in Bombay, and the famous BJ medical college in Pune. The East India company leased 7 villages to him, and also ‘Lands end’ – the cape of land with the fort. He restored the old fort and built a beautiful house. He also built a road from St Andrews church to Lands end at his own expense and opened it to the public. Must have been one hell of a rich guy.
Now the palatial mansion is no more – only a few bricks and this sign. Such is life.
‘Are you here on cycle?’ he asked , and when I answered in the affirmative, he asked where had come from.
‘Arre! We are also from Chembur! We live in HPCL colony – have you heard of it?’
I laughed. What a coincidence.
‘I have lived in HP colony for more than 20 years.’ I replied, to his surprise. ‘My father used to work with HP.’
‘Really?’ he was very interested. ‘What is his name?’
‘S T Joshi’ I replied, and that guy was even more surprised.
‘S T Joshi? GM – HR?’
‘Yes. Did you know him?’
‘Arre! He took our campus interview, and gave me my appointment letter!’ he called his group over and told them and they all were very happy – Dad had been the interview and appointee of many of them, and they were very happy to meet me.
I was touched. Very touched. It was like...I don’t know...I got quite emotional out there. Dad is no more now, but his memory lives on.
It was really a pleasant end to the ride, and a warm memory for me as I cycled back.