Kolaba Fort & Alibaug — for a great getaway

I finally managed to see what is said to be the most enjoyable holiday getaway close to Mumbai. One that had all that one needed to make a holiday worthwhile. There was a beach where one could relax and also a fort to explore—it was of course Alibaug with its splendid beach and the Kolaba Fort.

The Kolaba Fort is built on a rocky island and is approximately 2 miles from Alibaug beach.  There is a beautiful view of the Fort from the Alibaug beach and sunset shots seem to be the most popular. However, to reach the Fort one would have to wade through waist-deep water at low tide and use boats at high tide. To be on the safer side, low tide visits are usually recommended.

Located 35 km south of Mumbai in the Konkan region of Maharashtra, Alibaug appears to have gained popularity somewhat late, but soon thereafter, it become one of the most popular tourist locations near Mumbai. It is particularly famous for its beach covered with black sand, which is perhaps, among the blackest sand deposits seen in India. The beach is named after Ali Shah Bawa, a rich and much loved merchant who lived in the 1880s and whose ‘mazhar’ is located at the centre of the town. He is known to have had a number of orchards and gardens, hence the name Alibaug. 

The Kolaba Fort is a protected monument and despite having been pillaged, leaving only the ruins of palatial homes and temples, is appears to be fairly well maintained. It was first mentioned at the time of Shivaji who chose the location after the whole of South Konkan became free. After capturing the fort in 1662, Shivaji built and kept strengthening the existing structure, fortifying it to make it one of his chief naval stations. Initially the Fort  was under the command of Darya Sagar and Manik Bhandari, who were specially chosen by Shivaji to monitor Fort making it the centre of Maratha attacks on British ships.

The average height of the Fort walls is 25 feet and one can see two cannons lying near the northern wall. It has two main entrances, one facing the sea and the other facing Alibaug. An interesting feature of the Fort, is the presence of freshwater wells on its premises — unusual from the point of it being a seaside Fort. Inside there is a Dargah of Haji Kamaluddin Shah and a number of dwellings for workers within the fort. The just concluded Ganesh Festival was celebrated at the fort and beach with great gusto.

The Kolaba Fort continued to be restructured and added to even after Shivaji’s death and was completed by Sambhaji after the death of Shivaji in June 1681.  In 1713 under a treaty with Peshwa  Balaji Vishwanath, Kolaba Fort along with several other forts was handed over to the Koli King Kanhhoji Raje Angre. He made the Kolaba Fort his main base, from which he launched raids on British ships.

In 17 November 1721, the British were fed up with Angre’s activities and decided to join the Portuguese in an expedition against the Kolaba Fort. A Portuguese land force of 6000 and three English ships attempted to attack the fort, but failed to capture the fort.  The British blamed the failure to the “cowardice of the Portuguese”. It was at about this time that the Kolaba Fort was written about and described by Hamilton as a “fort built on a rock, a little way from the mainland which at high water became an island.”

On 4 July 1729, Kanhoji Raje Angre died at the Kolaba fort. At the time many structures within the Fort are said to have been destroyed due to a major fire incident. A second fire in 1787 destroyed many more buildings including the ruler’s Palace, ‘Angre Wada’. It is said that thereafter, the wooden structures in the fort were auctioned and the stones used for the construction of the Alibaug water works.

We now come to the fun side of the trip. There are a some very exciting boat rides offered on the beach. There is a package of 3 rides priced at Rs 500-600 per person per ride.

The three different rides offered— a ride on a simple two-seater speed boat with the attendant driving zig zag through the water. Another is a ride seated on a sofa tied to the speed boat driving at a high speed, in which you are splashed with water most of the way. For real thrills there is a third ride which appears to be the most frightening. Known as the Banana ride, you are expected to be strapped down on seats in a banana shaped open boat that is towed at very high speed by a speedboat. One tends to bounce up and down all the way.

These are all very popular. In season there is always families lined up in a queue for tickets. On a holiday, food becomes rather important. The coconut water on the beach is a real God send on the beach and happily, there are plenty of restaurants to cater to all tastes. Seafood is much in demand and for continental cuisine we can recommend ‘Boardwalk by flamboyante’, ‘Fularo restaurant’ for Indian and Chinese and for home style fish dishes, one should try out ‘Mahesh Lunch Home’. 

Shona Adhikari