June 26, 2013

Elephanta- The Island Cave...!!

A half an hour boat ride from Mumbai takes you to the very famous Elephanta caves. Situated on an island hill, the rock cut caves date back to between 5AD and 8AD. Elephanta island is made up of two hills most of which are covered with scattered forest patches and rock cut caves. The island has in total 7 caves of which 5 are Hindu caves and 2 are Buddhist caves. Except for the main cave, the remaining six are either partly completed or dilapidated and does not offer much to the visitors. The island was earlier known as Gharapuri which got a change in its name to Elephanta after the Portuguese invasion during which they found a large stone cut statue of an elephant on the island. The island is presently taken care by the Archaeological survey of India and is also a UNESCO world heritage site. The first eye catcher as I alighted at the jetty was the toy train filled with passengers. Visitors can either take a train ride or walk languorously to the foot of the hills. From there it is a climb up past the artifact vendors, restaurants and tourists to the caves.

Well paved path ways leading to the caves greet you and the first one that you see is the main cave. This cave which is also known as Cave no.1 and Shiva cave has a huge hall with numerous carved pillars. The walls have sculptures related to the legend of Shiva and various forms of the lord. There is also a sanctum with a Shivaling inside it and huge carvings of doorkeepers on the walls. The cave has two open areas in the form of courtyards on both sides and also a water cistern in one corner. This is also the largest of all the caves.

Cave 1
Inside cave 1
Andhakasura Vadhamurthi
Kalyan Sundramurthi

Shivling inside inner sanctum
The main attraction of the cave is the Trimurti. The sculpture which is a three headed Shiva garners the biggest attention from visitors and photographers. The 20 feet tall creation depicts Shiva as the Creator, the Protector and the Destructor. This carving is also known as Maheshmurti and is flanked by other carvings on the wall.

After gaping at the wonderful sculptures for quite some time I came out and headed towards the other caves.  The remaining caves look incomplete and does not have much to explore. Some of them have a Shivling inside a small sanctum while others are just hollow rooms with one cave having a few pillars. The other hill has 2 Buddhist caves with restricted access. There is also a canon on the hill which attracts visitors. 

Cave 2
Cave 3
Inside Cave 3
Cave 4
Cave 5
If you are a first time visitor or an archaeological lover this island cave will captivate and leave you spellbound for long. The caves might not seem very big but the sculptures, the pillars and the slabs will take you back to the long chiseling years spend in the creation of this cave wonder.

Signing Note- A beautiful island with captivating caves and brilliant sculptures...!!

Location- Off Mumbai coast.

June 19, 2013

Murud Janjira- The Impregnable Fort...!!

The journey from Alibaug to Murud was a long and dusty one with tourists and locals on a rickety bus. My face lit up only when I had the first view of the sea. My co passenger on seeing me take out my camera was kind enough to offer me the window seat. When I seemed a bit reluctant, he said he travelled this road every day and would not mind if he missed out on the scenery. He also gave me a cue each time a good vista was about to surface. Hope I get such lovely strangers next to me every time I travel. After alighting at Murud, it was a small rickshaw ride to Rajapuri jetty. From the jetty, along with a small crowd of visitors I too was packed into a sail boat. Though it seemed crowded, the half an hour sail was enjoyable with the crowd breaking into an impromptu song and music.

Though Murud Janjira fort was very clearly visible from the jetty area, its intimidating presence could not be ignored as we neared it. My eyes kept searching for its entrance but all I could see were the bastions and the fort wall. The guide, a young fellow probably in his early twenties began explaining about this 15th century fort a few minutes before we disembarked. It was his explanation that answered my search for the entrance. The entrance gate cannot be seen until you reach as close as 50 feet from the fort. Thoughtful architecture I must say taking into consideration the enemy attacks during those war times. As we neared the fort, it was the grandeur of the hidden entrance that captivated me. Absolutely a marvelous creation with steps going down into the waters and tall fort walls still standing strong even after years of battering by the Arabian sea.

Situated on an island, the fort was first built in the 15th century by a local fisherman to protect his community and folks from pirates. However the fort was later captured by Siddhis (A warrior clan which has it roots in Africa) who were chieftans to Ahmednagar kings and it is they who built the present stone fort and ruled for years. This impregnable fort was hard to take control of and neither the British nor the Marathas or the Portuguese could succeed in capturing it from the Siddhis despite their numerous efforts. Supposedly this is the only fort on the western coast to remain unconquered. The name Janjira happens to be a corrupt form of the Arabic word Jazeera, which was the actual name of the fort.

Our enthusiastic guide took us to all the major places in the fort explaining about its history, its architecture, various structures inside it and the people who once lived there. Most of this 22 acre fort is still intact with round bastions and strong fort walls forming the circumference. The bastions provide excellent vistas of the sea and main land. There are many canons inside the fort and on the bastions, which were once in use during its hey days. One of the big canons is famous for the fact that it never gets heated up despite taking the brunt of the sun for hours. One can experience this by touching this warm canon. As I wandered inside, the expansive fort opened up with architectures, palaces, residences, mosques, water tanks, exit doors into the sea and peep holes, most of which remain dilapidated. There is also an undersea tunnel which which was used as an escape route from the fort to the mainland. The highest point on the fort is a few steps high, from where the vistas of the blue sea and the brown hills are magnificent.

Murud Janjira has withstood the testing times of wars and the fury of nature for years to become one of the most prominent and popular marine forts in the country. After an hour of understanding the fort's history it was time to sail back to the jetty. As I distanced away from the fort, its intimidation reduced and once on the mainland it looked like a miniature Murud Janjira floating on the blue waters of the Arabian sea.

Signing Note- A beautifully fortified island...!!

Route- Mumbai- Pen- Alibaug- Revdanda- Murud
Distance- 160 Kms

June 6, 2013

Alibaug- Beyond the Beach...!!

Alibaug is a cliched place as every other person in Mumbai has this beach destination as their first weekend option. For non- mumbaiites like myself, Alibaug has always been an exciting beach destination. However I wanted to explore beyond the beach and after a lot of research, Alibaug itinerary had quite a few places besides the beach. A fort, a synagogue, a 900 feet high temple and the colonial remains at Revdanda formed the list of places to explore.

The journey began with an early morning rickshaw ride to Kanakeshwar temple, 13 kilometers from Alibaug. We were advised at our hotel to leave as early as possible as the climb would get tough once the sun was out in its full vigour. Situated on a hill at a height of 900 feet above sea level, the Shiva temple has an ascend of 5000 feet.  The climb initially was quite moderate but we were easily deceived by the hill top. Every time we looked up, there was some board or a resting place which made us feel we reached the top, but on reaching there we had to laugh at ourselves and climb further. The paved pathway is in fact over a couple of hills before it ends at the temple. The path has well laid steps which turned steep at certain places making our climb difficult. However, the aerial views got better with hills and greenery all across as we went higher. A noticeable fact was that there were hardly any people hiking up to the temple. We met a couple of people descending but otherwise it was just the two of us. Half way through our rickshaw driver caught up with us and gave us company till the top and all the way down.  The place is also quite thickly vegetated with lots of trees on either sides. It was just nature, chirping birds and us during the climb to the top. There are also a couple of small shrines on the way. After a long tiring climb of more than an hour we reached the top to find the main shrine also to be devoid of any devotees. There were a couple of temple authorities who wandered around. After taking the blessings we walked around and found a couple of pilgrims who were residing on top of the hill. There are also a couple of small tea shops next to the temple. The whole place was so serene and peaceful with very few people, absolutely no sound and majestic vistas from the fringes of the hill. The trek down was easier and we were back in the rickshaw in 45 minutes.

The path that leads to Kanakeshwar temple

Beautiful vistas
Well paved pathway to the temple
A stepped well en route to the temple

Main entrance to the temple
Kanakeshwar temple
From Kanakeshwar temple we went to the brightly coloured Bet El Synagogue. The rickshaw took us through the narrow alleys of Alibaug and came to a halt in front of the pink painted Synagogue in Israel lane. Another deserted place of worship. Except for an old Jew who was lost in his prayers, there was no other soul in the vicinity. The Synagogue looked beautiful with its external architecture and captivating with its internal glass works.

The Synagogue

The famous Alibaug beach was the next destination where we got dropped off by our guide cum driver who had been with us since morning. Even though the beach looked dirty with litter all over, its vastness is what attracted me and kept me engaged. Being the peak of summer, the water had receded quite a lot and the beach had become sluggish. The ubiquitous tiny crabs was the other attraction on the beach. Even though it was mid noon, people were loitering around and children were having fun on the beach.

Alibaug beach

The biggest eye catcher on Alibaug beach was the Kolaba fort. It only seemed a few hundred meters away from us, but since the beach was not very conducive for a wade across the waters, we opted for a boat ride.   However the boat ride also did not happen as the water was very shallow. Now the only option left was a bumpy tonga (horse cart) ride wading through the sea waters to the fort. I had doubts about the cart getting stuck in the sands but the horses gleefully pulled us into the waters and took us to the fort.

Kolaba fort

Kolaba fort (also known as Alibaug fort) which gets secluded like an island during high tide was ruled by the Maratha ruler, Shivaji. This 17th century fort was used by Maratha admiral Kanhoji Angre as the naval base to fight the British. The tall fort walls and a big gateway at the entrance makes this a very attractive fort by the sea. However the inside of the fort looked dilapidated. The fort houses ruins of residences and offices of the Maratha army, a few temples, a huge pond, tomb of a sufi saint, a couple of canons and many bastions which were used during attacks.  Vistas from the top of the fort walls looked stunning with the expansive sea and the distant horizon. After walking around the fort and gazing at the vistas in the hot sun we got back to our tonga for a water ride to the mainland.

Fort walls and bastions
Entrance of the fort
Remains inside the fort
Inside the fort

A temple inside the fort
An exit into the sea
A view from the fort

From the main attractions we decided to go the less trodden paths and ended up at Chaul near Revdanda. Chaul, 16 kms from Alibaug is an old Portuguese settlement which boasts of exciting places for the traveller. We had an hour to rush through whatever possible we could see before the sun went down. Our new guide, another rickshaw driver took us through a neglected Hammam khana (royal bath) , an old but still active church, Revdanda fort and Revdanda beach. The 16th century fort built by the Portuguese by the beach  is completely in ruins. However there is one single tall tower that still stands along with the fort ramparts amidst coconut plantations. Sunset on Revedanda beach was a riot of colours. We had to miss out on Korlai fort, Datta temple, Rameshwar temple and Buddhist caves in Chaul-Revdanda due to shortage of time.

Hammam Khana
Remains of the fort
Revdanda beach as seen from the fort
Alibaug as a destination has definitely grown beyond the beach and there are lots more to explore on this beach hamlet. Islands of Khanderi and Underi, the beaches of Varsoli, Akshi and Kihim and a few other temples are the other attractions of Alibaug.

Signing Note- Alibaug has transformed from a weekend getawy to a traveller's delight...!!

Distance- 100 Kms (by road from Mumbai)
                20 Kms (from Mandwa to Alibaug after a one hour boat        ride from Mumbai to Mandwa)

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