Monday, July 12, 2010

Vasai fort

Seventy kilometres north of Bandra lies Vasai which though technically part of Thane district is practically a part of Mumbai. The Mumbai local train operates between Virar, a station after Vasai, in the north and Churchgate in the South. About twenty years back farm fresh vegetables would be brought to Mumbai by ‘Vasaiwallah’ every morning. But now Vasai has grown into a bustling township from a sleepy dormitory some years back. It is in this seaside township there exist the ruins of a fort built by the Portugese in 1590. Drove down all the way for a glimpse of history. It is a huge fort and we started our tour at the Holy Name of Jesus church (also known as Jesuits church - but currently known to local people as Gonsalo church) which is being renovated by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) . Sadly, the side walls which have been renovated (plastered) have totally lost their historic touch and the old world charm. The chapels inside the fort are still recognisable. They have fa├žades typical of 17th century Portuguese churches. The southernmost of these has a well preserved barrel vaulted ceiling.
Barrel vaulted ceiling
A church inside the fort
Broken pieces of carvings Tombstones inside the church
Almost on every wall of the fort, there are trees whose roots damage the structures.
Trees on walls
A settlement inside the fort Locals in their traditional attire
Formerly, the fort protected the province of Bassein and offered shelter to about 60,000 inhabitants.
Altar of one of the churches Bell tower
Vasai was the main naval base and ship-building centre of the Portuguese.
One of the entrances to the fort
The Portuguese settled here because they were shrewd enough to recognize the importance of Bassein as a strategic place on western coast.
View from the ramparts
In the 18th century the fort was attacked by the Maratha army under Baji Rao Peshwa, and fell on 16th May 1739 after a three year long campaign and a desperate resistance from the Portuguese. They left Bassein on 23rd May 1739. After 205 years of uninterrupted Portuguese rule, Bassein was progressively neglected, and the neighboring English Bombay assumed importance in trade and commerce. What remains of this Sea fort are the parts of the imposing fort walls, two access doors and vestiges of town houses and churches. Inside the fort there is a Hanuman temple and the priest looking after the temple claimed it existed from Chimaji Appa’s time. The ramparts overlook Vasai creek and are almost complete, though overgrown. Several watch-towers still stand, with safe staircases leading up.
Steps leading up to the tower
The toddy tappers
Outside one of the walls of the fort, there is a small thatched residence of Bengalis who tap toddy from the palms for sale. The fort now has become a picnic spot for families and groups wanting to spend a day together. There are no eateries around so one has to carry ones own supplies of food and drink. Here is a map to help you get there View Larger Map