The British and the Portuguese appear to have been on extremely good terms in India especially in the 19th and 20th Centuries. This is borne put by their co-operation in respect of their territorial boundaries in India. The boundaries with British India and Portuguese colonies of Diu, Daman and Goa also bear testimony to this fact. The best example of their good relations is the southern border of Goa with coastal northern Karnataka. This boundary between the two empires is not marked by any physical barrier. When you drive from Goa into Karnataka in this part you will scarcely notice that this was boundary between two competing European Powers. In fact, the island of Anjediv which was a Portuguese fortress offshore is several kilometres inside the erstwhile British territory and totally removed from Goa. Looking at the map one would be tempted to suggest that the boundary should have been the Kali Nadi- the Black River.
Before you cross the Kali Nadi and approach Karwar, the place to visit is Sadashivgad which is on the northern bank of the river. You will of course cross Majali and the Majali beach on the way.
The fort of Sadashivgad has a history as all the forts have. This appears to be the southernmost coastal Fort that King Shivaji visited during his reign. Records indicate that he had taken over the fort and built a temple there. The supporting community in this southern adventure of the Maratha King was the Bhandari community and the king built a temple in the lower part of the fort. The fort is attributed to the Sunda kings who also occupied the Cabo de Rama fort in Goa. However the structure belongs to the earlier Kings of Vijaynagar who had a strong presence in this area.
Before the bridge on Kali river was built, Sadashivgad used to an important terminus for the road vehicles. One had to cross the ferry from here to reach Karwar. Now a second bridge is under construction as a part of the Coastal Highway project.
The fort is in two parts. The lower part has the Durga Devi temple King Shivaji built. Below this is a mosque.
The fort is also having a couple of other extensions down below which we did not visit.
This lady has just come out of the Durga temple. She was in tears and pleaded with Goddess for a long time to save her hard-earned money she has been saving for her old age and hiding it from her son who is probably after the money. Her money is in Rs. 500/- notes which were de-monetized last night. She does not know what to do. The best thing she could think of was to come to the temple and confide to the Goddess Durga. She did it a bit too loudly and Veena picked it up.
As she comes out of the temple we stop her and Veena explained to her that nothing has happened to her money and she can always get it converted or deposit it in her bank account which she says she has. She goes away about three fourth satisfied with the explanation.
The upper part of the fort can be approached in a car. The climb is steep at one place but not difficult. Not much remains by way of a Fort, only a few items and overgrown shrubs.
The beauty of the fort lies in the views of the area down below: the beaches, the coconut plantations, River Kali meeting the sea.The lower left picture shows the road from the north towards Goa.
As you cross Kali River and enter Karwar, watch out for a small temple to your left. The signboards are in Kannada script. This is a unique temple. The deity worshiped here is called Khapri. Khapri means a negro, black man of African origin.
He is worshipped here and offered Liquor and Cigarettes. An annual Jatra is held every year. This is when people come here in large numbers offering the above two items. The pujari explained that they can be offered any time, not necessarily at the time of the annual fair.
The legend is that this Khapri came here ‘many many’ years ago and was protecting the people of the area. He is treated as the ‘Rakhandar’, the protector.
This is late afternoon and the temple is closed. We wait for it to open. At 6 in the evening the Pujari who does not look like one appears. Very quickly he changes his attire to look like one.
This temple and the deity is very popular among the fishermen community. They do not enter the boats in the sea after the monsoons without the consent of the Khapri God.
There are many people from the African continent who sailed on to Indian coast with Gujarati and Arab traders. Some were also brought as slaves and some as soldiers in armies. The Khapri here could be any of these. The Pujari says nobody knows the exact origins. It is his family function to run this temple and do the Puja regularly. The only certain thing is the African origin of Khapri. incidentally in Konkani the term Khapri is used to denote a negro. The Khapri God appears to be quite influential here. We could see all passers-by either folding hands in the direction of the temple or bowing or doing both.
The coast of Maharashtra and Goa has very few islands. You enter Karwar and there are a number of them. From the shore one can see a few of them. Obviously we want to visit some of them. Our first choice is the one with the Lighthouse.We look for the boats to take us to the islands. We end up in the fishing harbor. The fish species are now changing. We can now see the Tuna and others which we did not encounter in the northern waters.
Salting and drying of Mackerel is an important activity.
We don’t find anyone here who could take us to the islands. We are directed to a place south of the town where there is a water sports centre. The activity here is at a low. The tourist season has not started. ‘The boats seat 16 people and it would be very costly for us to hire the whole boat’. In short they are not interested until the large number of people come. They would call us if they find others. As we can’t live in Karwar forever, we look for other boats. We are directed to the northern end of the town where the River Kali meets the sea. ‘There is a fishing village where you might find the boatmen’.
We find Nagesh and his brother here. They ask for Rs 1500/- to take us to two of the islands. very reasonable. Nagesh’s phone number is 9141320933, just in case you need his services.
Would you accept the Rs 500 notes ? ( de-monetized yesterday)
‘What would you do with them?
‘Deposit in the Bank. No problem for me. I don’t have black money’
This is in stark contrast with what we saw with the lady at the temple earlier.
We agree with Nagesh to take us to two islands, one in the river and another one in the sea. The island with the Lighthouse and is not part of the deal. He is very proud of this boat and its 27 HP Ruston engine. He has full confidence in the engine which is about half a century old.
First we go to the Kalika island in the river which has a Kalika Devi temple.
The above picture should frighten the most hardened criminal and dissuade him from doing anything wrong.
This is a small island and is surrounded by mangroves. It requires a skilled boatman to approach it. The Forest department of Karnataka has done a good job by declaring it a ‘sacred mangrove’. This will prevent its destruction.
We leave the Kalika Matha and head for the island in the sea. The ‘Mata’ of north and west has turned into ‘Matha’, indicating that we are in the south of the country.
The island in the sea we are visiting is called Kurumgad. It is a sort of tourist spot. Accommodation is available. A new road is being built. It has a couple of temples. The road to the main one was blocked during our visit by overgrown shrubs. We are told that the temple is active only during the annual festival. The presiding deity of this temple resides at a place called Kadwad ( not Karwar) and is brought here on the occasion of the annual festival (Jatra). I can see history here. The Portuguese were active here and even had an island called Anjedive not far from this island. In all probability the Portuguese must have prevented the people from worshiping the idol which was taken away far inland to Kadwad.
The journey to and from the island was more interesting than the island itself.The waves in the sea at the mouth of the river are tall and menacing but quite harmless.
The island has dense vegetation and good many species of birds.
The jetty is very small and can take only one boat at a time. After taking a round of the island when we are about to return, we had to cross two other boats to reach ours.
On the way back Nagesh points out to us several Dolphins very close to our boat. He slows down and allows us to watch them. I still have a doubt if they were dolphins as they did not jump up as dolphins do. They could be Porpoises.
It is now time to visit the fish market of Karwar. Not very large but has a large number of species both fresh and dried.
Now is the time eat something from the sea. Karwar is known for abundant catches of fish. There are two restaurants specializing in the Karwari cuisine. ‘Amrut’ is a bit upmarket place. Our favourite was ‘Parvati’ which served a vast variety of seafood with boiled rice. It specializes in small and tastier varieties of fishes and shellfishes which you rarely find in a restaurant.
Indian Navy has a substantial presence in and around Karwar. They have converted a small naval ship into a museum. It is open to public.
The famous Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore has lived in Karwar in his young days. His elder brother was the Collector during the British rule and young Rabindranath spent time with his brother here. He had a lot to say about Karwar, inscribed here under his statue at Karwar beach.
Text by Suryakiran Naik
Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik