Still continuing my new years resolution to cover all Bombay forts - on bicycle.
The first fort I did was Sion fort, because it had been on my mind for so many years - it was really therapeutic to finish it off, it felt like I had finally scratched an itch that had been there for a long time. You can read my blog on that here.
The next fort on my list was Sewri fort. It was on my daily ride route, right next to the Sewri jetty where it has been guarding the sea coast for more than 300 hundred years.
This fort is also British built, like the Sion fort, and was built in 1680. It was and still is, a sea fort and protected the nascent settlement of Bombay from the naval depredations of the opposing sea forces - competing European powers like the Portuguese who were dominant here, and also to discourage interest by other Europeans like the French, Spanish and Dutch who were all sniffing around Asia at the time. The local sea powers who were also dangerous were the African origin Siddis - based in Murud janjira, the new Maratha navy led by Kanhoji Angre and the feared pirates from the Malabar coast of Kerala. These pirates were so feared that there was a permanent watch tower in South Bombay to look out for them - it was called Malabar hill, and is now one of the poshest addresses in Mumbai.
The British were newly planted in Bombay - they had received a few islands which were Charles II's dowry when he married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, and the local Portuguese were not at all happy about parting with the islands they had conquered almost 200 years ago. They also knew that the Europeans had been unmolested for so long and allowed to create coastal fortified cities because the preeminent powers in Hindustan - the mughals, the deccan sultanates and even the marathas - were primarily land based empires and did not know anything about sea power. But Shivaji was a local king who had woken up to the threat of the European warships, advanced weapon technology and army science, so the British were under time pressure to develop a strong base before they got chucked out as undesirable aliens.
And obviously the current sea power - the Siddis - were seething with rage at seeing the British rising as a dominant sea competition and wanted to wipe them out. In fact, shortly after the fort was made in 1680, Siddi Jakat attacked the fort in 1689 with a huge force of 20000 men and captured it, and Mazgaon fort and burnt the city of Mahim.
However, as we all know, the Brits won in the end and became so powerful that the little fort of Sewri became unimportant and forgotten. With no regional enemies to fear, it was not required as a fighting fort, and was used as a prison, and then transferred to the Bombay Port Trust and they used it as a godown.
I had cycled by it several times and never even noticed that there was a fort there. But this time I went looking for it and saw a little path leading up a steep slope.
Just as I was downshifting gears and getting ready to battle the slope a little girl came running up to me.
'Please give us a kick!' she pleaded.
Huh? What was this strange masochistic request?
It turned out that she wanted me to kickstart her mom's scooter as mom couldn't get it to start and they were getting late for school. I did so, much to their relief, and off they went to a day of pedagogy.
I went up to the fort and was impressed by how well maintained it was!
Sure it had been restored with a little too much cement and concrete for a purist's taste, and there was a bit of graffiti and litter, but it was much nicer than what I had expected. It felt nice and tranquil, and gave the solid and unchanging vibe that you get in forts.
It was a lovely place.
I climbed up to the roof and gasped as saw the beautiful sight of the coastline, the rising sun and the hundred and hundreds of flamingos which had reached there for their morning feeding. I climbed to the edge of the roof and sat there for a long time, just soaking in the view.
Glorious. Awesome. Heavenly.
I had to really tear myself away from there after half an hour as it was getting time to go home. Also, I now discovered that I had been sitting in a puddle of bird shit and needed to get home and wash.
On the way out I saw that the martial connection of the fort was still alive, as it was next to the residential quarters of the Central Armed Police Force. Apparently they are there for our 'Proction'. And Security. Good to know.
I also noticed a small and faded sign of the Archaeological Survey of India. As is usual with ASI, they give no useful info about history and significance of the place, but only vague threats of arrest and torture if you disfigure anything.
Apparently the ASI was going to beautify and restore the place and put in a garden and promenade and amphitheater and a food court. They got a multi crore budget for it in 2008...its 2016 now, and no progress yet.
Maybe that's a good thing. Let this old fort sit alone and brood and think of long ago battles and bloodshed.
PS : I would strongly recommend Ashutosh Bijoor's blog where he has cycled to all sorts of awesome places in and around Mumbai. This is his blog about his visit to Sewri fort
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!