Cycling and Forts at Kelve, Shirgaon, Mahim and Satpaati – the Palghar Circuit
For a change, this was a planned expedition as an extension of this year’s project of visiting all the forts in and around Mumbai.
Having already visited Vasai fort and Arnala fort, I was itching to go further north in the Palghar area. There are over 6 forts along the coast near Palghar. I found the references of from Dinesh Nair’s meticulously documented trekking experience. I had originally planned to ride ahead to Tarapur, but later decided to skip the extended ride and spend more time enjoying the places in Palghar itself.
Here is the list of forts that span the Palghar coast from Kelve to Shirgaon.
Paankot / Alibaug Fort at Kelve Beach
Kelve Fort / Madla Bhurj at Kelve Beach
Bhongad / Bhavangad Fort
Mahim Fort (Kari De Mahim)
Shirgaon Fort (Sirgao / Seridao)
I put up my rough plans on the cycling groups on FB and managed to get five riders who were willing to risk accompanying me. One of them dropped out later due to inadequate sleep.
L to R: Ashutosh Bijoor, Akash Nigam, Ajay Parswani, Mihir Parmar and Bharat Bhatia
Here is the updated route map:
We started at 3 am on Sunday morning in two cars with cycles mounted on bike racks. The drive to Kelve took about 2 hours with a few missed turns due to unfamiliar roads but thanks to online maps, we reached without too much of a delay. After reaching Kelve, we parked the cars in a resort and headed out at 5:45 am with our cycles towards the beach.
Our first halt is called Alibag Fort or Paankot. The fort is almost a kilometer out into the sea at the mouth of the Vaitarna river that separates the west facing coast of Maharashtra between Virar and Kelve. This is a relatively small fort of about 75 ft by 40 ft. But the location is striking! The only way to reach this fort is during low tide, when the water recedes by over a kilometer, exposing the vast beach over which one can walk to the fort.
In the gentle light of the morning sun, the earthy colors of the fort and the silk cotton trees inside looked like a forgotten ship that struck ground years ago.
The only way to enter the fort is to climb the walls at places where there are these rectangular windows, by stepping into the cracks in the walls. We climbed up on the sea facing wall and got inside the fort.
Inside the fort, there is a fortified bastion on the sea facing end, with windows all around to keep watch on enemies coming from the sea.
The view from these windows today is peaceful, with fishing nets laid out by local fishermen and the vast beach that extends for kilometers along the coast.
The lone bastion inside the fort at the sea facing end makes the fort look like a ship. An interesting feature of the fort is a couple of silk cotton trees called Semul. My daughter’s name is derived from a Bengali version of this tree’s name – Shimul
With the rising sun behind, the silhouette of the fort with the dark clouds hanging above look menacing
The view of the fort from the sea is truly imposing. It looks much bigger than it actually is, for one can see the bastion and not the lower part behind it
After admiring the fort and climbing inside, we walked back to the main beach through slushy sand and shallow water
Our next destination was Kelve Fort or Madla Buruj. We cycled along the beach for a few kilometers to reach the second fort
Kelve Fort that lies hidden among the thick forests of Casuarina that line the coast. For enemies that got past the sea fort, this was another point of defense that would have decimated them before they entered the land
The fort itself is quite small with 4 bastions at four corners, the ones facing the sea seeming bigger and better fortified than the land facing ones. There are windows that look out to the beach and the sea, allowing the occupants to keep watch on unwelcome visitors
The famous five posing for photographs!
The next destination is Shirgaon Fort, which is about 10 km from Kelve. We decide to skip Mahim fort that is on the way and visit it on the way back.
On the way to Shirgaon Fort, we came across a small village with a huge Banyan tree with a small brightly painted temple under it. Behind the tree there was a well where a woman was washing clothes. Smoke from a fire lit somewhere nearby wafted in from behind, lit up by the rays of the morning sun to make a scene straight out of a Bollywood movie
Shirgaon Fort is easily the most impressive and well maintained structure in this area. The entrance is from the north facing wall into a bastion with a small tower and minaret above it
The entrance into the bastion is from an arch on one side of it, which leads inside the roofless bastion. The sunlight streaming in from the entrance casts a long shadow as it is still not very late in the morning.
The arch that leads to the fort from the bastion is perpendicular to the arch at the entrance. This is a pattern that is repeated in all forts, and serves to slow down any large crowd or battalion surging into the fort.
As you enter the fort from the bastion to the north, there is a clump of bushes on the left, overgrowing around a small water tank or well that is now dried up.
To the right of the entrance is an unusual palm tree that does not look like a typical palm that usually grows with a single long bark with a clump of leaves at the top. This palm tree has a single bark at the bottom, but splits out into several individual branches, each of which has a clump of leaves at the top. This is one of the unique features of this fort. There are more such palm trees around the fort.
The ramparts of the fort are accessible via small stairs that on all four sides of the fort.
Inside the fort on the west, next to the rampart that faces the sea, there are several rooms that are similar to other Portuguese forts around. These may have served as staying quarters for the occupants, or for armaments or storage. None of the roofs of these rooms survive, and some of the walls are crumbling
Beyond the west facing wall, there is a large meadow which separates the beach from the fort. We saw some horses grazing in this meadow. Apparently when the fort was built, this meadow was fully covered by thick forests of Casuarina, thereby keeping the fort hidden from view
The bastion on the north east corner of the fort has a tower that one can climb up on using a small narrow staircase. The tower seems to be reconstructed with modern materials like cement. It must have been originally constructed with lime plaster.
The riders rule the fort on this day!
From the tower windows facing the fort in the tower , one can see the entire fort’s interiors and the sea at a distance from the west facing wall
From another window in this tower, one can see the entrance that lies next to the tower with the minaret, and keep watch on whoever enters the fort.
The bastion on the north west corner, there is an old cast iron cannon, similar to cannons found in all Maratha forts in Maharashtra. The cannon is really heavy and none of us could manage to lift it alone. Finally two people combining forces could barely lift it a few inches
On the inside of the east facing wall is a small temple built into the wall that seems to be used for worship even today
The fort was so beautiful that we ended up spending over 2 hours there. It was getting hot and sunny, and we started pining for a cold drink! So we headed out from the fort into Shirgaon village
We found a small beer joint there and a cold beer seemed like a welcome break from the heat that was mounting. In the garden behind the beer joint, there were some lovely red flowers. With Bharat’s red jersey, this was a real red riot!
We stopped for a short while at Shirgaon’s beach near the municipal school
Then we rode about 5 km ahead to Satpaati, which is a quiet fishing village that abuts the northern end of Palghar area, separated by another creek. There we stopped for breakfast at a local restaurant that is run by a cranky old man who is a stickler for process. He made sure we kept all our equipment in a corner that would not disturb other guests, and also gave excellent local food
While we were sitting and having our breakfast, a group of local traveling musicians arrived
With painted faces and adorned with beads and a crown, they sang beautiful devotional songs for us and accepted a small token payment
After breakfast, we headed into the center of the town where we met these drummers who were waiting to play for some function in the temple. We requested them to play for us, and they gave a an enthralling performance!
After that rousing performance, we headed back towards Kelve. Though it was hot, the breeze was still nice and cool, and the road was shaded by the many trees that lined it. When we reached Mahim, some of us branched off to visit the fort that lies towards the shore, in a small lane that turns away from the main market in Mahim village.
Mahim fort is between Kelve and Shirgaon, and is in quite a dilapidated condition. It lies at a corner of Mahim village which is just 5 km north of Kelve.
The fort is rectangular structure with two bastions on extremes of the sea facing wall, and an entrance on the opposite wall that leads into the small and quiet street outside.
There is a stairway that starts in the middle of the western wall and splits up midway to go either ways towards the two bastions…. somewhat like the stairway made famous in the Titanic movie! Just next to the staircase on the right, there is a small well that is now dried up.
As you climb up the stairs on the left, you come to a wide doorway which is overgrown with a large banyan tree whose roots make a nice swing.
We had parked our cycles on the street that one can look down upon from the ramparts above.
After all, we did complete the four forts that we had planned to see! Now it was time to get back to the resort for lunch
Finally back at the resort, we had a shower and were treated to a simple but tasty meal
We mounted the cycles on the cars and we were ready to head back to Mumbai!
Thanks to Raj Resort and Rohit Raut, it’s owner for the hospitality and allowing us to park our cars safely in their parking lot while we cycled around.
On the way back from Kelve, we had to cross a small mountain range, and this nice temple at the base just as you begin the climb up.
We reached Mumbai at around 3:30 pm, just over 12 hours from the time we set out in the morning. This was really a fun ride! Thanks to great company and with no impediments we enjoyed the day in the best possible way – riding our cycles!