Cycling to Vasai Fort (Bassein Fort)
One of the first forts I visited when I started cycling was to Vasai Fort. That was way before I started the project "Mumbai Historical Sites Cycling Association", but the grandeur of the place was truly breathtaking!
This weekend, I revisited the fort, cycling from Andheri to Vasai and returning along the coastal road via Uttan.
Here is a quick video summary of my ride:
The background score of the video is an excerpt from the groundbreaking album "Tadhom" by Viveick Rajagopalan and a team of rappers from Mumbai. Do listen to the entire album here (http://www.viveick.com/shop/)
The ride of just over 100 kms from Andheri started with a nail in my tire thanks to the horrible state of the western express highway due to the ongoing Metro work. I sat on sidewalk under a street light and replaced the tube. But once I reached Naigaon, the beautiful salt pans with the sunrise reflecting in them got my spirits up, and I enjoyed the ride to the fort.
Here is the route I followed:
Vasai Fort Photographs
Here is a collage of photographs from several previous visits to the fort:
Brief History of Vasai Fort
The Thane District Gazetteer contains a detailed history of Vasai and the fort.
Here is a date-wise set of excerpts:
- In 1532, to put a stop to raids and prevent the Portuguese from spreading further north, Shah ordered Malik Tokan, Governor of Diu to fortify Vasai. A citadel was built, both the creek and the sea sides strengthened with ramparts surrounded by a ditch full of salt water, and the whole was garrisoned by a force of 15,000 cavalry and infantry
- The Portuguese soon attacked the fort. They landed a little to the north of the citadel, and the vanguard, led by Diogo de Sylveira and Manuel de Macedo, scaled the ramparts, and, in spite of their small number, dashed on the enemy and put them to flight. The Muhammedans fled leaving large stores of provisions and ammunition, and the Portuguese secured the island with loss of only two persons of mark and a few soldiers. On account of its nearness to their new fort of Chaul, and because they could ill-spare a garrison, the Portuguese razed the citadel to the ground, and retired to Goa with 400 captured pieces of artillery.
- In 1533, Sultan Bahadur of Gujarat agreed to cede Vasai and its dependencies to the Portuguese, gave them the right of levying duties on the Red Sea trade, and arranged that his vessels should call at Vasai and take a Portuguese passport.
- Shortly after 1590, new fortifications were begun and finished about the close of the century. They are described as a strong stonewall with eleven bastions mounting ninety pieces of artillery twenty-seven of the bronze, and seventy mortars seven of them bronze. The fort was defended by twentyone gun-boats, each of them carrying from sixteen to eighteen guns.
- Vasai was famous for its ship-building and had the advantage of being the headquarters of a rich tract of country, held by large Portuguese proprietors, whose wealth and the retinue and the court of the Captain of the North greatly enriched the city. The space within the walls was kept entirely for the higher class of Portuguese who tolerated no artisan or native among them.
- In the beginning of the seventeenth century (1607) Vasai was a great place for ship-building and had a large trade in timber and building stone, which was as fine and hard as granite, and was used in all the Goa churches and palaces. In 1612 it was besieged by the Musalmans but apparently without success.
- The European travellers of the seventeenth century (1634) described Vasai as a handsome well-fortified town with a convenient harbour, in a country growing much rice, pulse, and other grains, oil and cocoanuts. The city-wall was of stone three miles round with three gates two main gateways, one to the east, the other to the west and a smaller portal to the south, and eight bastions, some of them unfinished. On the south or sea side, where there was little risk of an attack there, was only a single wall.
- In the decay of Portuguese power towards the close of the seventeenth century Vasai suffered considerably. In 1674, Arab pirates from Maskat landed at Vasai and, unopposed by the panic-struck garrison, plundered all the churches outside of the walls, refraining from no cruelty or violation. In the same year Moro Pandit established himself in Kalyan, and forced the Portuguese to pay him one fourth of the Vasai revenue.
- Two years later (1676) Shivaji advanced near Vasai, and, in spite of some slender hostility, fortified a place called Sibon (probably Saiwan) and in 1690 the Marathas, though unsuccessfully, invested Vasai
- In 1728 a Portuguese officer, sent from Goa to examine the fortifications, found most of the outposts in a wretched state ; the fort and stockade ill placed and in bad repair ; the garrison short of their proper strength, and the few soldiers untaught and undrilled, useless except as robbers.
- In 1738 the Marathas seized the small fort of Arnala to the north of Vasai and soon after, by occupying the islands of Varsova and Dharavi and the creeks between Vasai and the mainland they completely isolated the city. On the 17th February 1739 the siege of Vasai was begun, and, under Chimaji Appa, Bajirav's brother, was pressed with a skill, courage and perseverance which no other Maratha besieging force has ever shown.
- On the 4th May 1739 the Portuguese offered to capitulate. The terms were honourable. The garrison, auxiliaries as well as regulars, were allowed to march out with the honours of war, and, to such of the people as wished to leave, eight days were given to gather their property.
- Under the Marathas Vasai with the name of Bajipur or Bajirav's city, continued a place of importance, the headquarters of the governor of the country from the Bankot river to Daman.
- In 1774 the town was taken by the British but soon after was restored to the Marathas. Six years later (1780) Goddard, leading his army by land from Surat, arrived (November 13th) before Vasai. On the 10th when a breach was nearly completed, a conditional offer of surrender was made but refused, and next morning the garrison surrendered at discretion.
- In 1783 under the terms of the treaty of Salbai March 1782, Vasai was restored to the Marathas. At the close of 1802 (December 17th) Bajirav Peshwa, flying from Yeshvantrav Holkar, reached Vasai from Suvarndurg on the Ratnagiri coast. Here he was met by Colonel Close and Mr. Elplainstone his Assistant, and on December 31st the Treaty of Vasai was concluded.
- In 1838 Mrs. Postans described it as long forsaken with no inhabitants except a few fishermen and hunters. Since 1838 Vasai fort has remained almost deserted.