Monday, December 28, 2009

Mumbai – Alibagh - Murud Janjira

Distance : 185 Km | Time : 4-5 hours (one way) | Route : Sion – Vashi – CBD Belapur - NH 48 – Pen – Alibagh – Kashid - Murud - Janjira

All you need is a car, 2 days and you can leave on a fun drive that will take you to the few spots in MH that still retain their natural beauty and are to some extent unaffected by the commercialization that you otherwise would see at places offering such scenic beauty. Avoid long weekends and the main spots frequented by most of the Alibagh going crowd and the belt has the potential of being a perfect weekend getaway.
We started from Mumbai with nothing more than the end destination “Janjira Fort” in mind and discovered the other places enroute. The unplanned travel turned better than expected (expect for a sad memory of a lost watch. Terrible loss, will tell you the story in the post) and ended up in discovery of a ready 2 day getaway. Alibagh beach is indeed a popular weekend getaway from Mumbai, but surprisingly we spend not more than 15 mins on the main beach. The drive from Alibagh to Murud Janjira is where the real beauty of the place is. So while you leave for Alibagh from Mumbai, the real beauty lies in the last 50Km drive from Alibagh to Murud and enroute you will find (in order of occurance) Akshi Beach, Nagaon Beach, Khashid and Janjira Fort.

Here’s a quick view of what this stretch has to offer. I will start with the last stop of our 3 day break first.

Janjira Fort - The untold story of an Africans ruling this part of India !
This was perhaps one of the most exciting if not the best part of the road trip. The fort is good, but the story is the real thrill that grips you.

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Built on an island a few hundred meters off the coast by an African spice trader-king Siddhi Jauhar about 950 years ago, Janjira is one of India's few unconquered forts. Till 1947, the flag of the Siddhi kings flew from its ramparts, replaced by the Indian Tricolour after Independence. Whats striking is that the fort housed a whole village of about 500 families as late as 1970s. The families later moved and set up the Janjira village on shore. They moved out alright but the history is still alive inside the fort.

Janjira - Boat
The only way to access it is by sailboat from the beach. There were several moments when I felt that it would capsize but the expert sailors got us there safely.
'Jalzeera' -- a combination of the Hindi word 'jal' (water) and the Arabic 'jazeera' (island). Siddhi Johar an african spice trader landed on this belt of Murud and 3 adjoining districts for the rich spices and stumbled upon this island which housed a saint by the name Panjatan Paanch Peer who was respected and later worshipped by the African King. As the sage passed away the first thing Siddhi Jauhar did was build a shrine in his respect. The rest of the fort was built around it. The fort was home to three communities Muslims, Kolis and Buddhists, all ruled by an African. It doesn't get more diverse than that.

Janjira - Burjs
The fort spans over 22 acres of land covering the whole island. The rock for the fort was cut from a hill on the island itself. While centuries of pounding by the rain and the sea have eroded the stone by up to two inches at several spots, so good was the construction that the joints in the walls remain intact to this day.
The fort circumference is dotted by 22 round pillar structures or “Burjs”. These burjs while looking nothing more than the architectural pattern are part of a well superbly implemented visual trick -- the rounded walls ensure that you can't see the entrance to the fort unless you are very close and within the range of powerful canons mounted on top the burjs. By the time any invader found the entrance, much of his military strength would have been destroyed by Siddhi fire. No wonder the Portuguese, British and the Marathas failed to ever conquer it.

The front burj atop the main entrance is fitted with a mighty 22 ton connon. This is the second-heaviest cannon in India. No boat could transport such a heavy object to the island, so the Siddhis brought metal rings from Africa and then sealed them together with molten lead. You can still see the joints between the rings. Each burj in itself is a 3 stored structure. The first level on ground housed the gunpowder. By design it is built at the bottom without any windows and a narrow entry. The sea water outside the walls keep the temperatures perfect for storing the explosives. The second level is the watch tower from where the soldiers kept an eye outside. With 22 burjs the fort was secure from all sides. And the top level housed the cannons rip apart any attack on the fort. And there have been as many as 40 attempts, of course none of them successful !

Janjira - Fresh water lake
Strange, but true. In the middle of the sea on this island is a freshwater lake surrounded by miles of salt water on all sides. As Jauhar chipped away at the rock, he struck a freshwater spring. The 60-ft lake that he built served the 500 families who lived in the fort.
By the side of the lake, he built a sheesh mahal (glass palace) for his wife, Zubeida. The colored glass refracted the sun's rays to form a rainbow on the surface of the water and formed seven distinct color pattern. just so that the romantic pattern on water was not disturbed Jauhar built small outlets outlets outside this lake from where the resident of forts took water. Incidentally, this isn't the only freshwater lake on the island. There is another, which was used for bathing before prayer.

Alibagh 208 Also seen at fort are the remnants of the royal darbar. Only three-and-a-half storey's of the original seven remain. Mounted on top of a Minaret was a nagada (signal drum) that sounded the soldiers and masses to assemble in the darbar. A wide passage protected by a huge wooden door is the entrance to the darbar with a small door in one of the huge flaps which was used by all soldiers and masses. The huge door was opened only for the king & queen just so that they did not have to bend his neck for small door.
The entry doors are decorated by beautiful carvings on stone. Jauhar in respect of the skillful artisans let them be buried next to the magnificent darbar. The graves still are there and maintained as a shrine.

Alibagh 210 The main entrance has a carving of a Abyssinian big cat riding on top elephants perhaps symbolizing the African dominance of Indians. This was also the symbol on the currency of the fort which was gold and copper coins. These coins also were the entry pass inside the fort. If the person coming in failed to show the coins at the gate a cruel death awaited him at the hands of waiting soldiers.
Another fort Padmadurg Kasa, was built by Shivaji’s general Sambhaji a few miles across the bay from Janjira. Padmadurg Kasa incidentally was built as a launch pad for an invasion of Janjira. Sambhaji never succeeded, and the fort turned into a ruin.

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As you travel from Khashid to Murud on the last bend on the ghat just before Murud you will see a palace that used to be the residence of the linage of Siddhis post 1900. After independence Siddhi Mohammed handed over the fort to Govt of India. The residents of fort were allowed to live inside the fort till 1970s. Unconfirmed story is that the present lineage of the Siddhi now lives in a palace at Indore and visits the fort once a year to pay tribute to Panjatan Paanch Peer.

How to reach – From Mumbai go via Alibagh. Murud is 50 km from Alibagh. About 3 km from Murud breach is the Jetty where you’ll get sailboat to Janjira Fort. Your car will go right upto the Jetty. The parking is mainly peaceful but for some local disturbance. Another option is to park your car at Murud Beach and take a rick (Rs.60) one way to Janjira Beach jetty.
Where to Stay – Many Hotels / Tourist homes available at Murud. No prior booking necessary. Room rent would range from Rs.700 to Rs.2500 depending on lodge, guest house, hotel or resort you choose. People also rent self service flats to big groups or families.

Nagaon Beach – But for Khashid beach, i could have easily crowned this as the best beach on this stretch.
Onway from Alibagh to Murud at about 12 kms drive from Alibagh beach is a hidden marvel, which perhaps is one of the longest & finest beaches i have seen. Thanks to Swati’s instant hatred for the crowded Alibagh beach and her faint college trip memories, we left within 15 mins of arriving at the Alibagh beach in search of the lesser known Nagoan beach which in her words – had sand to call it a beach at the first place (something missing at Alibagh), was less crowded (Alibagh had tourist spread like flies on the beach) and had a beautiful lining of date palm trees all along.

Well it was not at all difficult to find, was pretty much at a 30 mins comfortable drive from the main beach and in every sense of the word true to the (above) picture that had been painted to us. Well after a 3 hour drive from the crowded Mumbai, this is the first place where you’d want to be.

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What you see in picture behind me is only one half of the long & majorly unoccupied stretch of the Nagoan beach!
Its scenic, its vast and the best part its not the popular tourist destination so you go out there and have a whole sea to yourself. The long line of the date palm, cocunet and oak trees along the shore and the two hills at each of the extreme ends of the beach make this one of the best beached in India. Stuff your bag with some snacks, music, a book maybe and you have peaceful day planned at the beach. Or just exhaust yourself in water fighting the mighty sea and doze of for an entire afternoon on the sand. On weekends you’ll also get some watersports options in banana Ride, Water scooter and para gliding.

How to reach – 12 km from Alibagh on the Alibagh-Murud path. Take a right at about 1Km after you cross Akshi beach sign board and a narrow road will lead you to the Nagoan Beach.
Where to Stay – You can stay at Alibagh also or take a beach side tourist home near Nagoan beach. Book in advance through an agent in Mumbai for long weekends especially. Room rent would range from Rs.700 to Rs.4000 depending on lodge, guest house, hotel or resort you choose.

Khashid – This is a better know place amongst all beaches on this stretch, but worth the buzz around its name
On way from Alibagh to Murud this is yet another splendid beach with a long stretch inviting you to have a days fun in sun and water. Start early from Alibagh and plan a day long stay at Khashid beach. Its worth that time. You’ll get decent options to eat. Order your food, go have a bath, come back and glutton yourself with delicacies cooked to order and then sleep on the net beds that are waiting for you. Murud is about 45 mins drive from here so you can either take a resort right at the Khashid beach or opt for a more economical stay at Murud.
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Open empty stretch of shore, a superbly strong horse and a hours of riding alongside vast sea with long sounds of waves accompanying the gallops of your horse. After rising in the meadows this is the next best thing a horse rider can dream of. At khashid I got an opportunity to live that dream.
Fast & furious horseback riding followed by hours in the sea and then a leisurely nap on the sand soaking the sun is my kind of a vacation. If that is what you look forward to, head to Khashid.

How to reach – Approx 35 km from Alibagh on the Alibagh-Murud path. Parking for Khashid beach starts right on the road so there is no way you will miss the beach. But when traveling from Alibagh do stop over for a breathtaking open stretch at about 25 km from Alibagh. No need to keep track of distance BTW, as there is now way you can miss this magnificent view too and an open stretch where you can go and touch the sea.
Where to Stay – Alibagh or Murud depending on from where you are coming. There are decent resorts near the Khashid beach. Search online and you’ll get options.

So these where the main attraction from the road trip to Janjira. And Of course to top these is the beauty of the entire drive from Alibagh to Murud with lush green mountain forest on both sides of the road, the small passing villages with life so simple and at such leisurely pace that you crave for such uncomplicated living, the sudden open stretches that throw in a view so breathtaking that you forget your real world for a while and then the superbly maintained highway from Pen to Mumbai where you test the strength of your car engine to consistently hit 140+ . All these are reason enough for me to hit the same road again as many times as i can. So anyone game for a drive?

For interested friends here’s the link for the pics from the drive

A snapshot of what you’ll find in the album. And while you have a peek at the pics i am busy packing my bags to hit the road again to explore yet again !!
60 - Alibagh Dec'09

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