We leave Ratnagiri and drive southwards early in the morning. We pass by Ranpar and other places including Pawas in the hills overlooking the sea to the west. It is late October now and the grass is no longer green. The winter is knocking at the door. The Deepawali or the Diwali festival is within the week. People all around are busy making the preparations for the big day.
We intend to spend the night at Vijaydurg which is in the Sindhudurg district. But before we cross the Vaghotan river which is the border between Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, we have a couple of things to look at including a fort, a 1000-year-old temple and a raging political controversy. We also have to cross another river called Muchkundi which has a Dargah in It.
The first signboard is for Purnagadh Fort on the north bank of Muchkundi. Most political powers in the past, local or foreign made it a point to have a fort built on a strategic point of each of the river mouths in Konkan. Without them they could not think of establishing control over the region.
Near the bridge we take a left and drive past the village and along the seaside path towards the fort. After about a kilometre we realize that the road is not designed for our car. It needs a 4-Wheel drive especially after the post-monsoon scrub growth and it is not the time of the day to climb a fort. After a few photographs we withdraw.
We come around the hill and back on to the main road and cross the bridge.
When you are crossing the structure that you see under the third span of the bridge in the above picture becomes more prominent . It is the dargah of Haji Sayyad Fakhru.
This is for the first time I am seeing a Dargah in the middle of a river. It is tempting to go and see it but it is high tide now.
We move on, cross the bridge over the river and come to another signboard to our right indicating a beach. It is the Gavkhadi beach. The Maharashtra state tourism departmnt seems to be a conducting a survey here for the number of tourists visiting the place. An ‘Authorized Person’ makes a note of our visit which will be of immense importance to the researchers in History from the University of Ratnagiri in the 26th century.
For us Gavkhadi is a miracle. First we go to the beach and see the remains of the fort which we could not visit.
And then we witness another phenomena. A large number of butterflies breed on this beach. I do not know if this was one-off or a regular thing. The number is huge-in hundreds.
We drive along and come up on another hill and see a signboard for the village Kasheli which has the temple of Kanakaditya among other temples in the vicinity. We go off the main road towards west and reach the temple.
There are other temples in the vicinity but this one is the main draw.
There are some features of the temple which are worth noting. The legend says that the idol here was brought from Prabhas Patan in Gujarat which has been covered in an earlier post of this Blog. The idol of Sun God was brought here a 1000 years ago and the temple was built by Kanakabai, a sun-worshipper. In terms of the lay-out this temple resembles the temples of Kerala.
Another feature of the temple complex is the presence of an unusually large number of Tulsi Vrindavans.
The roof of the main temple is made of metal. One of the temple committee person we met says that nobody knows what metal it is.
The complex appears to have been renovated recently with new laterite masonry work. Laterite is not a stone for doing carvings but here an attempt has been made in that direction.
It is time to move and proceed towards our destination which is Vijaydurg and it ias still far away.We across this sign at Nate.
The name Jaitapur at 2.5 Kms brings up 5 year-old newpaper headlines to my mind. Jaitapur is the prposed site for a nuclear power station. The project was opposed by some locals ( as most new projects are). During the protest demonstrations the police resorted tofiring whihc resulted in death of one young man then 30. Tabrej Sayekar has now been designated a ‘shahid’, martyr.
The square is named after him. I am not sure if it is official.
The actual project site is quite far away from this spot and is across the creek. The milestone shows Devgadh at 47Kms, Vijayudurg at 44 Kms ( they are in different directions), Jaitapur at 2.5 and Musakazi at 4 kms.We want to go straight and see the remains of a fort near Musakazi. A learned local person opines that it is not worth the effort as there is very little to see there. We take his word.
The 44 Kms drive from here to Vijaydurg is quite interesting. It is the very dry plateau on the foothills of Sahyadris, almost touching the sea. This topography- barren dry land and presence of sea nearby – was the most likley reason for selecting this place for the nuclear power project. This kind of landscape is found in many parts of Maharashtra , Goa and Karnataka coast but here it appears to be very extensive. You can see the golden drying grass as far as your eyes can see. Agriculture is ruled out. The forest department appears to be trying out the Subabool at some places successfully. We could see some attempts at developing Mango plantations. Hope they succeed.
It takes us almost two hours on the winding roads to reach the Vijaydurg fort at the mouth of 40 Kms long Vaghotan at which the old Ratnagiri district was devided into Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg.
We find accomodation at the MTDC cottages very close to the fort and a nice little restaurant opposite for lunch with a lot of fish. The owner promises us fresher fish for the dinner. He keeps his promise. This place, Hotel Suruchi is the first building to the right in the picture below. The signboard is in Marathi.
Food assured, it leaves us to explore the fort. This is among the oldest fort in the region.It was completed in 1205 and has seen many rulers, probably all the dynasties that ruled this region.
The original construction is attributed to Shilahars. The fort was once covered on all four sides by water. In course of time the eastern side was filled up and road constructed – where the buildings in the above picture stand.
As you enter youwill find a disused Police Station which has the walkway lined up with Canon Balls.
The fort is worth visiting if you understand its status as an impregnable fort on which the British spent a lot of money and effort. The effort included the construction of a large naval ship at Bombay especialy to capture the fort from the the-then owners, the Marathas.
Some years back, someone had a brilliant idea that the gas Helium was discovered from within this Fort by an Englishman.I saw a poster at the gate of the fort declaring the fort as the ‘birthplace’ of Helium and 18th August being celeberated here as the World Helium day. There is an official-looking signboard in Marathi in the fort which is now pulled down which had proclaimed this discovery.
The facts are now emerging after a bit of reading. On 18th August 1868, this gas was indeed discovered from India but not from Vijaydurg but from Guntur in Andhra, not by an Englishman as claimed but by a Frenchman by the name Pierre Jules Cesar Janssen whilst observing a total solar eclipse. The Englishman in question also found this gas in the month of October the same year through a dense fog in London. His name is Sir J Norman Lockyer.The only commonality is that it was found in the Sun. The sun temple of Kasheli is not far from here but that does not mean the local politicians should make capital out of this unrelated fact.I dont want to be a part of a possible fraud but there is nothing wrong in taking a photograph at a place which ‘could have been’ of historical importance.
The fort was built in the year 1205 and many dynasties and rulers controlled it. The Shilahars, The Decan Sultanates, The Marathas, Kanhoji Angre and his successors, the Peshwas , the British etc. After careful and extensive research I have come to the conclusion that the equipment in the photographs below was not brought here by any of the above rulers.
Text by Suryakiran Naik
Photographs by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik