Guest blogger Mohsin Khan Pathan makes an unplanned trip to the coastal towns of Alibaug and Murud located near Mumbai.
A bunch of colleagues were transferred out of Mumbai and in the last few days of their stay here decided to visit Alibaug, famous for its beaches and forts. I being the so-called local, the responsibility of making last-minute arrangements for the trip fell on me. In reality, I knew no more about the place than my colleagues did.
On a lazy Saturday afternoon, we boarded a boat to Alibaug from the Gateway of India. The Mumbai skyline fading into the clouds made for a great sight. A flock of sea gulls hovered above the boat. What made our day was spotting a dolphin, a rare sight here. An hour and half later we landed at the clean and beautiful Mandwa beach. We were puzzled because our destination was meant to be Alibaug. We later learnt that a shuttle plied between Mandwa and Alibaug town that was just 20 minutes away. The pleasant weather and greenery ensured that the 20 minutes were over in a jiffy. After touchdown, the first thing we wanted was some food. We went to a restaurant near Alibaug bus depot, which turned out to be quite good. There, we inquired about accommodation and the tourist attractions located nearby.
The beach at Alibaug was a mere 20 minute walk away from Alibaug bus depot. We arrived at the beach and were spellbound at the sight of a sea fort standing on the ocean. We were told about a temple located inside the fort. The catch was that the temple was accessible by a speedboat but the way back was on foot. Wary of the tides in the evening, we decided not to risk it. Instead, we chilled out at the beach playing cricket, football and even running a race, which I won.
In the evening, we decided to take the good old Mahamandal State Transport (ST) bus aka ‘Laal Dabba’ to visit Murud. At the bus depot, we narrowly missed a bus and learnt to our dismay that the next bus was scheduled for two hours later. We could not stay back at the bus depot for a couple of reasons. One was that ST buses are not reliable late in the evening. The other was that we had to search for accommodation in Murud after a two-hour journey from Alibaug. The alternative was to take the 8-seater auto-rickshaw or Tumtum as it is popularly called in this part of the world. Having bargained with the Tumtum driver to ply our group of nine to Murud for Rs. 800 we set off. On the way, we came across the famous Birla temple and many beaches. However, it was dark and we could not afford to spend time exploring them. It was almost 10 p.m. by the time we reached Murud. Our worst fears had come true. All the lodges were fully occupied. Just when we had started fretting over spending the night outdoors, we met a man who took us to a nearby village. It was inhabited mostly by the local fisher folk (koli) population. After bargaining hard, we booked two rooms that could accommodate ten people together for Rs. 1400. We learnt later that almost all the houses in that village were duplex and invariably the rooms on the upper storey were let out to tourists for a decent amount. The rooms had extra cushions and pillows like in a hotel but no room service. They suited our pockets and most importantly, the place was merely five minutes away from Murud beach. We checked in and moved out in search of fuel for our starving tummies. We found a Chinese joint near the beach. The locals were in ‘high spirits’ boozing away in the nice, cool breeze at the beach. We teetotallers decided to keep warm by treating ourselves to some soup, which took around half an hour to arrive. It was almost midnight by the time we wrapped up dinner.
The morning after, we woke up early hoping to view the sunrise but the sun beat us to it. However, the fresh and cool early morning breeze and the clean and scenic environs of Murud beach were worth waking up early for. After exploring Murud for some time, we started for the sea fort at Janjira. Tumtums are available from Murud to Rajori village for 10 rupees per person. From Rajouri ferries ply to Janjira fort. Although entry to the fort is free, the ferry service is run by the locals and is poorly managed. The boats were packed with almost 30-40 people with many of them sitting on the edges of the boat. We feared the boat would capsize but were glad to reach safely. While we were waiting to alight, a man arrived and introduced himself as a ticket checker. Suddenly he got into the avatar of a guide. Initially he quoted a hefty amount but after some heavy bargaining, he reduced his charges. We hired him to guide us around the sprawling the 22 acre fort.
The fort built on an islet and surrounded on all sides by water, was a magnificent structure. A Siddi ruler of African descent built the fort around the dargah of a pir. The fort was considered impregnable because even Sambhaji, the son of the Maratha ruler Chattrapati Shivaji had failed to capture it. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) now maintains the fort. Three big cannons built from five different metals stood on the fort. Peculiarly, the cannons were cool even in the hot burning sun. An engineering marvel indeed! There were almost around 300 small cannons placed at various guarded points. The fort had three storeys. The upper one was used during summer and winter, the lower one was occupied during the rainy season and the ground floor was used to store ammunition and essential supplies. The housing structure was brilliant, with homes for people to stay in this island fort, apart from four mosques and one temple. The presence of two freshwater lakes inside the fort amazed us. At the mezzanine floor is a backdoor or ‘Chor Darwaza’ from where goods were sneaked into the fort. An underwater tunnel connects Rajori to the fort.
After spending four hours inside the fort we headed straight to Patil Wadi where we were told, we would get some really nice and fresh seafood. We badly needed it after a strenuous trek all around the fort. After lunch, we headed to Mumbai from Murud by bus.
On our way back we were couldn’t help reminiscing the wonderful moments we had enjoyed over the two days. Two wonderful, unforgettable and memorable days of our lives!