When it gets to Saturday evening, I usually start feeling the itch to figure out a route to ride on Sunday. Last night was no different, and with the current theme of riding to all the forts in and around Mumbai, I looked up Belapur Fort.
The location of Belapur Fort really surprised me – for it lies at the junction of Palm Beach Road and Uran Road – a place I have driven by several times, and also cycled to before. I did not know that a fort lies hidden among the trees there.
As you can see from the map above, there are two locations that are supposed to contain forts in Belapur. (In fact there were even more locations that are now lost and destroyed.) The first location is at the end of the Belapur Island near Divale village in Sector 14 of Belapur. The second location is near the junction of Uran road and Palm beach road.
The fort has an interesting history:
Built in 1560–1570 by the Siddis, after they wrested control of the area from the Portuguese, it is located atop a hillock, near the mouth of the Panvel Creek. In 1682, the fort was recaptured by the Portuguese, who had managed to annex the regions controlled by the Siddis, near Belapur (at that time known as Shabaz)
In 1733, the Marathas, led by Chimnaji Appa, wrested control of the fort from the Portuguese. He had made a vow that if it were to be successfully recaptured from the Portuguese, he would place a garland of beli leaves in a nearby Amruthaishwar temple, and after the victory the fort was christened as Belapur Fort. The Marathas ruled the area until 23 June 1817, when it was captured by Captain Charles Gray of the British East India Company. The British partially destroyed the fort under their policy of razing any Maratha stronghold in the area
During its active days, the fort stationed four companies each of 180 men, and 14 guns ranging from 4–12 pounds (2–5 kg) in weight. An underground tunnel is also supposed to exist, which many locals believe connects it to Gharapuri Island, the site of the Elephanta Caves
I was eager to see the fort, and left at 5:30 am from Andheri, and cycled via Airoli to Thane-Belapur Road and then turned right towards Palm Beach Road at Nerul. Once I joined Palm Beach Road, I cycled till Belapur and first visited the Divale village location.
But when I reached the village, the villagers who are all fishermen told me that there was no more any fort there, and only a Mosque remains at the top of a small hillock.
I then head off to the junction of Uran Road and Palm Beach Road to investigate the other location of Belapur Fort. The first part of the fort lies on a traffic island at the junction. There is a small garden full of thick trees and this watch tower is hidden inside. I have passed this traffic island several times, but did not know about this hidden treasure.
I walked inside and around the watch tower. It seems to have been suitably restored and is now well maintained.
I then went looking for any other remaining part of the fort. Behind the traffic island, a small road leads inside a residential area that is thickly wooded. Here, a CIDCO guest house now occupies what used to be the fort’s interior. There are other residential building here too.
The only remaining vestige of the fort is a bastion that lies at the top of a small hill. There is no proper path to climb the hill and one has to find one’s way through thorny bushes.
Finally it is time to head back down, for I have already spent over 2 hours between the two locations, and it is already getting quite hot.
I take a short tour of the Belapur port that is just ahead from this road, but it turns out to be quite nondescript, with a few yachts moored there, and people busy cleaning and painting them.
I then rushed off, leaving him to enjoy his morning in peace. Though it was quite hot, the cool but moderate head wind was comfortable without forcing me to exert myself too much.
I reached back home by 10:30 am. This was a good ride – over 80 km of cycling – but I was left with a melancholy mood about the disappearing historical sites.
The route map:
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
Danda Bhurj 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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!
A video compilation of the expedition:
Thanks to Bill Buse who posted this!
This was a totally unplanned expedition. Slept late on Saturday night but put an alarm for 5 am by habit. 5 am on Sunday morning, I was wondering where to cycle to that would be a relatively short ride, for it gets really hot after 9 am in May. I thought of visiting another fort somewhere within an hour’s ride from Andheri… that pretty much limits the distance to somewhere in Thane. So I googled “Thane fort” and the first hit was Ghodbunder Fort. I looked up the map to see how to get there.
The round trip distance is just over 45 km – which can be easily covered in 2 hours at my normal speed, so I would still get an hour to spend at the fort and still be back before 9 am.
I left home at 5:30 am and rode along the highway till Mira Road, then took the detour towards Ghodbunder village. I reach the fort in just about an hour at 6:30 am. The fort is in the Ghodbunder village, nestled among small village houses along the coast.
Finally its time to bid adieu to the place, as it is now almost 7:30 am and time to head back lest I burn in the sun on the way back.
There is a mind-boggling amount of data floating around our society. Physicists at CERN have been pondering how to store and share their ever more massive data for decades – stimulating globalization of the internet along the way, whilst ‘solving’ their big data problem. Tim Smith plots CERN’s involvement with big data from fifty years ago to today.
Dr. Tim Smith works in the CERN IT Department leading a group that provides services for the 10,000 strong CERN user community covering the domains of Audio Visual, Conferencing, Document Management and ePublishing. This includes a team which develops, installs and maintains instances of Invenio, the CERN Open Source Digital Library system which powers the CERN Document Service.
Here’s a quotable extract from his talk:
If big data has been around for so long, why do we suddenly keep hearing about it now? Well as the old metaphor explains, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – and it is no longer just Science that is exploiting this.
The fact that we can derive more knowledge by joining related information together and spotting correlations can inform and enrich numerous aspects of every day life…
- in realtime such as traffic of financial conditions,
- in short term evolution, such as medical or meteorological ,
- in predictive situations such as business, crime or disease trends.
Virtually every field is turning to gathering big data…
- with mobile sensor networks spanning the globe
- cameras on the ground and in the air
- archives storing information published on the web
- and loggers capturing the activities of internet citizens the world over
The challenge is on to invent new tools and techniques to mine these vast stores, to inform decision making, to improve medical diagnosis, and otherwise to answer needs and desires or tomorrow’s society in ways that are unimagined today.
A short but nice off road track exists in Yeoor Hills. The Thane cyclists headed by Jose George of Haybren Adventures had announced the ride and about 30 riders turned up. We started at 6:45 am from the base of Yeoor Hills. The entrance to the park at Thane provides access to Yeoor. The road climbs up to Yeoor hills in a steep but smooth tar road. However, one needs to take care not to run into the several vehicles that are driven on this road.
To reach the off road section, take the left at the last bus stop inside Yeoor. At the end of the road, there is a private road to the right and straight ahead is the off road track that heads into the forest. About 6 km long, it is a rocky path with gentle ups and downs, that culminates in a dried river bed, that has water only in the monsoon.
After we climbed down from Yeoor to Thane, I still had over an hours ride back to Andheri through the hot sun. Thankfully, I managed it without incident and was back home by 10:30 am.
This was a fun weekend for cyclists in Mumbai. A group of cycling enthusiasts led by Zubair Lodi, Meenal Sharma, Dipti Shah and Bilal Moolji conceptualized and put together this event in the Pushpa Narsee Park in Juhu. The best part is, the event was announced online on Facebook, invitations sent to all cycling groups online, registrations happened online, and everyone just turned up! A total of 265 people registered online to attend the event! The awareness and interest in cycling is growing by the day, and that is really great to see. Thanks to all the cyclists like the organizers of this event, and the leaders of all the groups who tirelessly work to keep the communities active!
And here’s a wonderful video compiled by Nasir Nash with shots from the event:
As a proud father, I’m happy to show off a video created by my dear daughter Shimul, from clips captured during our last weekend’s sojourns together.
Jonathan runs a regular show titled Tech Vibe Radio, and has had a string of interesting episodes. I was honored to be able to talk to him, and am excited to be an extended part of the Pittsburgh Technology Council.
I talked about two of my favorite topics – Science Fiction and Big Data Technology and how they are coming together.
Having done an interesting ride to Elephanta Caves, I was planning to ride to the other famous Buddhist caves in Mumbai – Kanheri Caves. With no specific plans this weekend, I made the usual last minute decision of cycling there on Saturday night, and roped in Sameer to join this adventure.
We were hoping to be able to convince the forest officials to allow us to use the route via Vihar Lake, but found out that the road was permanently closed after the leopard attacks in the park. So we had to take the normal route from Borivali National Park. However, as the distance is quite short, we decided to do a bit of a round-about route in Aarey before heading out to Borivali.
Here is the route we took – a total circuit of just above 50 km.
We started our cycling tour from Aarey Milk Colony at 6 am, just as the light of dawn started penetrating the darkness.
Our first stop was at Powai lake. Though it is April, the clouds looked ominously like monsoon… but rains are always welcome in Mumbai!
On the way back, we took the route via Royal Palms and got back into Aarey, to then take the Western Express Highway to Borivali.
The park opens for cyclists at 7:30 am and we were there exactly in time to be let in. There were hordes of visitors waiting in line to get in, and we stood in the queue for buying tickets, and then headed inside towards Kanheri Caves.
The road in the park is beautiful, surrounded by dense jungle on both sides, and yellow flowers lining the roads on both sides. There were several visitors who were walking or jogging, as well as some cyclists. We met Jagat, a fellow cyclist who joined us till Kanheri.
At Kanheri, we had to park our cycles below the caves. We locked both mine and Sameer’s cycle together to a pole, and headed up to the caves. The ticket booth was managed by an impressive ex-armyman with imposing looking mustaches.
There are lots of monkeys around near the base of the cave. This monkey was about to snatch my phone as I was taking its photograph. The monkeys here are very bold, and actually come and snatch food and water bottles from your hand. I saw one monkey snatch a bottle, puncture it with its teeth and try to drink. When if did not manage to do so, it threw the bottle back to the owner in anger!
The first cave number 1 is an unfinished chaityagrha, originally planned to have a double-storeyed verandah and a porch, apart from the pillared hall.
Cave 11 which is also known as ‘Darbar Hall’ consists of a huge hall with a front verandah. It has several sections. One such section has a small hall with a stupa. The hall has a shrine on its back wall and cells on two sides. The floor of the hall two low stone benches resembling Cave 5 of Ellora
Cave 4 has a small and intricately carved Stupa. I did a bit of research to find what the significance of a Stupa is, and found this info:
The stupa, universal throughout Asia, evolved into more than a reliquary monument. It has become an expression of the ideal of Enlightenment. Statues represent the Buddha’s body, Dharma texts his speech. Stupas are representations of the Buddha’s mind. They reveal the path to enlightenment, or how the mind can actualize its full potential and be transformed into enlightenment. Stupas can be seen as an expression of the five elements.
- Earth, which spreads out in the four directions, provides the solid basis.
- The dome is the garbha (“womb”), primordial, creative
- Water – formless potentiality. It is also called the anda, or egg.
- The conical spire is Fire, which always rises upwards. It represents the wisdom which burns away ignorance.
- The crescent moon is Air, expansive, waxing and waning (an ancient symbol of the feminine).
- The circle is Space, wholeness, totality, with no end or beginning.
- Finally, above the circle is a jewel, which represents a higher state of reality, gone beyond the five elements. It is the ushnisha, present on the crowns of all Buddhas, revealing their perfect, enlightened state. This ascent to perfection is laid out with precision in an Enlightenment stupa.
The most prominent among the excavations at Kanheri is the Cave 3, which is a chaityagriha which was excavated during the period of Yajna Satakarni (c. 172-201 A.D.). The entrance of the cave has three doorways.
Cave 3 is adorned with two giant, up to 7 m high figures of standing Buddhas on each side of the entrance porch. It seems that it was these statues of Buddha in 6th century that started a tradition to create collosal statues of Buddha – a tradition that spread all over Asia.
The chaityagrha inside this cave is one of the largest in India. The chaityagrha closely resembles the one at Karle in Pune. It consists of a large rectangular hall with an circular back, a verandah and a spacious court in front. A row of 34 pillars divide the hall into a central central area or “nave” flanked by two aisles on either side. The roof of the nave is barrel-vaulted while that of the aisles is flat. The pillars have different styles and shapes and are not really symmetrical. The stupa at the back is at the center of the circular area.
Next we climbed up the hill above the first level of caves. We first saw an unidentified cave that had an interesting set of carved panels.
The next cave was number 90. Cave 90 is famed due to the oldest preserved mandala shaped in early 6th century AD.
Inside the caves are carvings and inscriptions. The inscriptions are written in the Pahlavi language. They have apparently been left by Persian travellers who visited Kanheri. One inscription is historically significant as it refers to the marriage of the Satavahana ruler Vashishtiputra Satakarni with the daughter of ruler Rudradaman I in a futile attempt at preventing the decline of Satavahana Empire.
After this impressive dose of history, it was getting quite hot with the sun blazing down at us, and we decided to head back after a brief tea and vada-pav snack.
The tour was not very long – 50 km end to end, but the caves were worth the visit. Must do this again in the monsoon, when the entire forest comes alive with a bright green!
See the video clip of the ride: