Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Sunny Morning at Sewri Fort

- By Deepa Krishnan

I have been going often to Sewri these days, now that flamingo season is here.

But today, I also took the opportunity to climb up to Sewri Fort with my friend Sancia. I had forgotten my camera, so these photos are from my cell phone.

It was 8:30 a.m., and the sun was just starting to warm up the fort walls.

The fort interested me, because it is very much part of the city's history. It belongs to the heady "pirate" days on the Bombay coast, when wars were fought for control of Mumbai as a trading post.

Sewri Fort was built by the English, to protect their interests in Bombay. A carved stone over a doorway says 1736; but battles were fought here even before that.

The Siddis attacked and conquered Sewri in 1689. The also overran Mazgaon, and raided Worli. Check out the much tougher looking Siddi fort here; my daughter wrote about it when we visited. Safe in their invincible fortress, the Siddis, known for their naval prowess, were a force to reckon with.

Spurred by defeat at the hands of the Siddis, and threatened by the Marathas and other European powers, the East India Company went into a building flurry in the second half of the 1600's, raising fortifications all over Bombay.

Sewri Fort was one of them. It wasn't a useless investment. When the Portuguese attacked in 1772, the attack was repelled from Sewri Fort.

Here is a pictorial timeline of Mumbai's forts
(those that are still standing today):

As you can see, lots of forts were built in the second half of the 1600's. Most had fallen into disrepair in the last 300 years. In the last 5 years or so, the government has begun to "restore" these forts. The ones that I have coloured in blue have been "restored", but it is so insensitively done that it makes me wince.

In the photo below, you can see the original stone steps going up to a look out point. Concrete has been poured over the curved decoration of the steps, to create a cement "banister" for these steps. A concrete wall partly covers the original stone arched door (where I found the carving of the year). What were they thinking??

50 sepoys manned this fort; and it had 8-10 cannons, looking out toward the sea. There were living quarters, and ammunition stores. Today, all the bunkers are concrete, although some attempt has been made to keep the shape in line with the original construction.

We climbed up to one of the view points to look at the harbour. The tide was retreating; beneath us we could see mangroves; and amidst the retreating water, there were flamingoes feeding.

We went down and got some close up sightings of the birds. Today the sighting was really fantastic; we spotted what must have been at least two or three thousand flamingoes. The juveniles stood in little brown and white groups, and the adults stood in much larger groups of pink. Apart from that, I saw gulls, stints, kingfishers, egrets, herons and what not. But without my camera, I couldn't get any decent photos :( sorry!!

Eventually I got hungry; and Sancia also needed to go to church. So she dropped me at my mom's house, where an excellent breakfast was waiting. Dosa, chutney, sambar and molagapodi. And filter coffee to top it all. Bliss! I wish all Sundays were like this :)

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good article. What is the source

Vinayak said...

Thank you for the evocative article. Do you need any kind of special permission to get to the fort or near the mangrove?

Deepa Krishnan said...

Vinayak, no permission needed.

Anish said...

Great post. I visited Sewri Fort last spring to see the flamingoes and it was a great experience. I went around noon on Sunday and there were boys playing cricket in the fort!

Aadil said...

Sewri Fort has been very badly restored and it is a huge blunder when they do this kind of restoration work without thinking of the consequences. There is no security there and the children from the nearby localities just come and play and climb all over the place which is a real nuisance. The view from the fort is good and the flamingos are visible as a pink carpet over the mudflats!!! The terrace next to the dargah in the fort is a nice place to look at the birds from far.

Akshay said...

Interesting read! Though I grew up in Mumbai, strangely I have never been to Sewri Fort, which by now is a very common instance I guess. I would appreciate if you could tell me how to get to the fort from Sewri station on the Harbour Line. Will surely try to include this in my "Bombay Diaries".

Akshay said...

Interesting read! Though I grew up in Mumbai, strangely I have never been to Sewri Fort, which by now is a very common instance I guess. I would appreciate if you could tell me how to get to the fort from Sewri station on the Harbour Line. Will surely try to include this in my "Bombay Diaries".

Anita said...

Nice! I have been to Sewri a couple of times when the Flamingoes show up but had never thought of exploring the fort. It seems to be in reasonably good condition.

Linhy said...

Interesting blog!! come stop by my sometimes

Divya Shankar said...

Came to know that Mumbai Magic is featured on Nat Geo :)
Kudos to you, your daughter and your mom :)
Three cheers !!

Divya Shankar said...

Every detail of your blog post is superb.Thanks for the list of forts built by East India Company and marking those that are restored. Great effort.
The post on Murud Janjira is also well written.
I am not sure of the geographical location of Sewri, may I will check google now. But I hope the mangroves here remain intact. Guess a large percentage of them will be lost in Navi Mumbai airport construction. I am glad you spotted so many flamingoes and many other birds.
Not to forget - great appetizing end to the post ;)

Ashutosh said...

Thanks for sharing, Deepa! I visited Sewri Fort today morning, and it was truly a wonderful surprise. Though I was not very happy with the quality of restoration done. BTW any idea about the meaning of the inscriptions on the key stone?

Do read the account of my visit here