I hadn’t heard of Murud-Janjira till the day I visited it. Neither had I heard of Kashid, which I was able to visit only because it lies on the way to Murud. Part of a really disappointing trip to Alibaug, it was only Murud which left a mesmerising impact upon me, memorable enough to make me want to visit it again.
Murud can be reached by road in about an hour and a half from Alibaug, which is an island to the south of Mumbai. It is advisable to stay in Alibaug while you take a day out for Kashid and Murud; the latter two being remote places with scant facilities, if you are a budget traveller like me; else there are always those overpriced ‘resorts’ to choose from. We had stayed at Kashid. From there it was a long and strenuous journey till Murud. We first had to take a bus, and then walked around in search of auto rickshaws. Finding none, we found one sole share-auto whose driver naturally took advantage of us to burn a hole in our pockets, two of us being the only travellers and hence having to pay the entire fare of the journey. As we came closer to the destination, the Murud-Janjira Fort stood shining under the bright morning sun amidst the gleaming waters of the Arabian Sea. Yes, this is a fort that stands in the deep sea surrounded by water all around. This fact itself is an added attraction, what with the promise of a boat ride to reach there.
The expedition to Murud-Janjira Fort is filled with adventure right from the outset. From Rajapuri jetty, travellers have to course through the waters in a boat-ride that will have you praying for your life till you reach the fort. The journey is made over the most ancient technology – sail boats that are propelled by the faded fabrics which have torn patches stitched together at places. A tiny boat that should carry a limited number of people is over-hauled with any number of men, women and children as would please the boat-men and guides. When the single-sailed boat dangerously dipped over at one end, threatening to slide me into the water that was inches away from me; the nonchalant boat-man coolly balanced the vessel out by stationing the heftier of the passengers at the opposite end.
A while after the journey had begun, I peeped out of the shadow of the sail to check upon the view. The result was worrisome as I saw our boat in the middle of nowhere, quite side-tracked from the route to the fort. While I was beginning to wonder whether we had taken the tickets to another island (where the boat seemed to be headed) or if our humble vessel had been hijacked; my apprehension seemed to have caught on to the other travellers. As a wave of anxious murmuring rose upon that patch of the Arabian Sea, the boat-man appeased us by informing that the sails are guided only by the breeze, and the boat could head towards the fort only when the wind was favourable. Till then we could use the time to click away the serene blueness while waiting. Finally our passage resumed in the right direction, and our wonderment towards the fort kept rising as we neared it. The first fact about the fort that we were presented with is that the Murud-Janjira Fort is the only fort on the western coast of India that has remained unconquered throughout history. The Dutch, Portuguese, Marathas and the mighty British, have all remained unsuccessful in capturing this marine beauty. And the secret behind its invincibility is a sheer architectural genius – its concealed entrance.
While the hallmark of almost all forts would be their imposing entryway, the Siddis – who were the builders of the fort, built its entrance along the fort’s curvature, in a slant manner that conceals it from view. It was only when our boat reached right before the entrance, that we were able to locate it. The entrance is thus not visible from a distance, and certainly not from the shore. This was why enemy troops could be easily brought down as they went around the fort in circles in search of the elusive gateway.
Upon alighting from the boat, you step onto the majestic stairs of the fort, which have exquisite carvings on its walls that are still beautifully intact. Elephants, lion, and patterned designs adorn the walls. The only signs of damage that the ramparts bear are due to the weathering caused by the salt waters.
At this point, you are given the option of either scouring the premises on your own, or proceeding with the guides who will impart you with nuggets of history of this vast historical structure. We decided to continue with the guided tour, as we thought it was better than being completely clueless about this little-known piece of antiquity. Entering the fort, one cannot help being awestruck at its splendid expanse. The innards of the fort are richly preserved, and in fact, there was maintenance work still going on. A massive fort, within which whole communities of Hindus and Muslims lived amicably, came alive before my eyes, as I walked through the ruins. The fort was known to have a peaceful settlement throughout, and saw no lack of amenities during its heyday. It consisted of a mosque, a palace, a madrassa, and two water-tanks; the remains of which still stand almost in their entirety. It is baffling how the two water-tanks continue to hold potable fresh-water to this day, in the middle of the brackish sea surrounding the fort.
As we meandered through the rubble, we came across the remains of the Durbar hall, with an imposing three-storey height. As our guide led us through each of the floors, he promised us relief from the scorching heat – at the “A.C Room”! Just as I was beginning to doubt whether this antique paradise had been ruined with modern intrusions, I was happily proved wrong. The guide led us to the top-most floor, which had a number of arched structures. This room, as aptly nick-named by our guide, was surprisingly cool thanks to the way it was designed, and thus provided relief to its original inhabitants as well. Another example of brilliance of the builders is that the arches in the room are built in such a way, that the soldiers could hide behind them and get a perfect view of the enemy from each of the several windows in the room, without being seen themselves. Thus, the cool temperatures and safety provided to the soldiers at that time speaks volumes of the consideration that the rulers had for them; unlike the present times where those safe-guarding our nations don’t quite enjoy the same privileges from those in power.
One of the most remarkable features was the cannons, which are an alloy of five metals. Their build is such that even at the peak of scorching heat, they remain cool and can be touched. These powerful cannons, which could fire upto 12 kilmotres, numbered 200 back then; of which only three remain. The fort has 19 bastions, and supported upto 2,500 families in its golden era.
Originally built by a Koli (fisherman), the fort was captured by the Siddis and rebuilt to its known glory in the 1500s. Since then, it was the glorious period of unconquerable reign, as the fort stood valiantly against innumerable attacks, including the several attempts by Maharashtra’s greatest son Chhatrapati Shivaji. Deriving its name from the Arabic word Jazeera, which means ‘island’, this is a marvel in stone that has stood the test of time. It now safely rests under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India.