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Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra

Panaji to Sindhudurg Sea Fort and back

If you are considering going to Sindhudurg Sea Fort, you’d look at the map, find Sindhudurg on it and then head for it….but that would be a mistake!

If you are looking for the fort, then the town to head for is Malvan. Sindhudurg is a town in the general area but it is a whole 15 km away from the fort.

Today I took that long journey and made a few mistakes along the way. Heading to Sindhudurg town was one of them.

The next was to rely on some google guy’s account of the distance between Sindhudurg fort and Panjim. He said it was 65 km and that it would take 1.5 hours to get there. That to a driving wuss like me, seemed very difficult, but I took it up as a challenge …pushing myself to the limits etc etc.

I am a nervous driver and allow every other bicycle, scooter, autorickshaw overtake me if I can, so that I don’t feel the pressure on my back. I don’t like driving in the rains, because unless there’s airconditioning in the car (50% chance of that in rented cars in Goa), it steams up inside. Plus I don’t like driving after sunset in Goa as there are no streetlights on the village roads – and everyone has to rely on the superstrong headlights that I can’t stand.

Even with so many wussy conditions, there still exists a narrow window of scenarios in which I enjoy long driving journeys!

So my decision was based on net research that said 65 km.

The distance actually turned out to be 105km via the highway past Sawantwadi and took 3 hours. On the return trip I took the ‘shorter’ inner road through Vengurla – 100 km and 3 hours!

***

The rented white WagonR, my man Friday in the back seat for moral support, my nikons with their place of pride on the front seat and me set out at  12 noon. Occasional unseasonal downpours. Patches of really bad roads, especially at the state border.

But mostly a soothing drive through amazing post-monsoon green fields, hills, winding ghats up the hills followed by open plateaus offering 180 degree views of the sky in all directions.

Human density drops to 1man/5km on the plateaus and the one man that I did see every now and then, only made me wonder what he was doing up there!

Tiny tea shantys offering  ‘chai-n-chitchat’ for travellers dot the main highways. Offering no-frills tea and food. You do get priceless conversations though, with the family and before the tea is over, it is possible to exchange deep life stories with these people whom I will never meet again. Ever again…!

And then there are the goan dogs that dot the highways. They deserve a special mention. They are found all over Goa, mainly on village roads but it seems that they have infiltrated the border and crossed over into Maharashtra and populated the smaller highways. These dogs are unique. When they need a place to rest, they look for a reasonably busy road, find the midpoint between the too edges and settle down on that spot for a long snooze. Middle-of-the-road is all they need – not a quiet corner, not under a tree – just the middle of the road – plain and simple. When a car comes along and beseeches the dog to get out of the way with its honks, the dog looks up lazily, and glances at the driver in annoyance for having disturbed its sleep. This does not mean that he will actually get up and move out of the way. On the contrary, even though the car is now inches away from him, he will stare the driver down, and invite him to a battle of tenacity. Between the two factions warring for that piece of road, the one with the stronger soul wins. Invariably, I lose (more proof of being a wuss at driving) to the dog  who hasn’t moved an inch since he was first woken up with my honking. A few curses and last-minute manoeuvres later, I leave, wondering about their confidence in humankind. Goan dogs – either incredibly lazy or just incredibly daft – we’ll never know which.

***

Reached Sindhudurg town after asking about 20 people at different spots along the way. In India we have the highest form of maps –  powered with non-artificial intelligence – a form that will ask you your preference ‘scenic route’ or ‘shortest route’ or ‘least traffic route’ or ‘tea-available-ahead route’ or ‘historic-temple-on-the-way route’ before giving you directions. This interactive map is the Indian Villager! All you need to do, is to stop and ask directions and people are more than willing to help. Sincerity and humility are all that’s needed to earn rich rewards here. People who remain stuck in their snobbish wells of superiority and condescending attitudes that say  ‘in my country we have GPS and detailed paper maps’ are missing the point of travel totally and depriving only themselves! But the humble villager will help even these people!

‘Atithi Devo bhava’ is their socio-moral dictat that says ‘the guest is a form of God’ (and therefore he is to be served as you would serve God)

***

Sindhudurg town finally. But it’s not the town with the fort. So we push onward to Malvan – the coastal town with a cuisine named after it – malvani food.  The quiet drive through the coconut trees and shaded roads suddenly gives way to a narrow market street that is bustling with commerce in laddoos and chivda and flowers and soaps and cloth. Makes me wonder how a small town can consume enough to sustain the livelihood of so many shopkeepers!

And then a left turn towards the sea, and we abruptly reach the end of the journey. Sindhudurg Fort in full view across the sea.



The fort was built by Shivaji on a rocky island just off the Malvan coast.

Local fishermen run ferry services to the fort and back, giving tourists an hour to go in and see the interiors of the fort.

To me, he interior was less attractive than the exterior – especially the parts that faced the open Arabian sea.

And the only way to see that is to journey along the water.

So I approached the boatmen who were filling up their boat with about 20 tourists and asked them to take me around fort in their boat.

First they threw a fit at my preposterous idea. When I continued to appeal, they directed me to some obscure other boatman (most likely non-existent) just to drive me away. I left in search of him. After I had finished walking away with my heavy camera bag all the way down the jetty, the original boatmen had pity on me and called me back to make me an offer. I accepted without a thought. And soon I was on my way to the island fort, with 20 other tourists who were to be dropped off first.


towards the open ocean

***

The magnificent Sindhudurg fort is built using grey stones, by Shivaji Maharaja on a rocky island just off the malvan coast. The logistics of bringing materials and labour to the site during its construction, must have been daunting! Further the logistics of living there – making provisions for transporting water and food  must have been mind-boggling.

But there must have been a good reason to choose this location, and all those problems that boggle my mind, must have been effectively solved, in order to create this defiant structure – one that still impresses me centuries later!

Every inch of island space has been covered up by the fort, surrounded naturally by a protective barrier of large large mossy rocks crusted with barnacles and crashing waves.


The evening light cast a softening glow on the fierce and formidable, uninviting and unfriendly structure as we circled around the island clockwise.

The damaged areas of the fort walls allowed us to see how thick these walls are!

We stopped the boat frequently for my nikons to take in the view in peace without the fear of getting bathed with the lashing waves and sea spray…

….some of which were large enough to topple a standee boat passenger!

On the way we encounter none of the dolphins that grace these waters, but we did come across some dead floating puffer fish, with their pokey skins all puffed up.

Navigating through the rocks in the low tide required the motor to be shut off, and barge poles were used to push the boat forward.

Snorkeling is also a possibility here…Not sure how the corals and the fish in Goan waters match up to other worldwide locations, but it is always a delight to be immersed in the ocean so next time I will come prepared.

Having looked at the fort for an hour from every possible angle along its periphery, we headed back to the shore.

***

A sumptuous malvani thali lunch at Hotel Sea Shore. A tedious 3 hour drive waiting! We start at 6pm and reach Panjim at nearly 10pm. Finding my way in the pitch black forest roads, along the curves up and down 8 hills, took longer than I expected.

But surprisingly, there was no fear. Or nerve wrecking tension. I drove calmly and peacefully – simply doing what had to be done.

One more journey completed. One new experience added to my treasure chest.

Oct 24th, 2010

jm

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