Mumbai's Monuments can Boost Fort Tourism

Mumbai: Standing tall and bearing the scars of innumerable battles, the remnants of forts in Mumbai are a testament to the valour of Maratha warriors in the centuries gone by. But most are in a dilapidated condition or have been renovated in a way that has robbed them of their original grandeur.

While this city is known as India's business and entertainment capital, Mumbai is not known outside for its forts. Historians and conservationists believe that if tended with proper care, these monuments can give a boost to "fort tourism".

Sharda Dwivedi, veteran historian, researcher and author of several books on the history and culture of Mumbai, is saddened by the lack of care for the forts. The city is home to at least 10 forts that, if developed, can be a major tourist attraction, she said.

"Bombay (Mumbai) has the second largest number of art deco buildings after Miami in the US. However, unlike Miami where an entire precinct was restored, making it an international tourist attraction, here we do little to preserve our heritage," Dwivedi said.

"Moreover some forts, instead of being restored to original glory have just been tampered with using concrete and cement. The state archaeological department has not even bothered to appoint a conservation architect to restore heritage forts," she said.

Castella de Aguada, also known as the Bandra Fort, located at the land's end in suburban Bandra was built by the Portuguese in 1640 as a watchtower overlooking the Mahim Bay to the south and the Arabian Sea to the west.

Under the supervision of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the fort is currently under renovation.

Not very far from the Bandra Fort, towards the south, is the imposing Mahim Fort. The fort is today literally buried under a pile of garbage.

Strategically located in the Mahim Bay, the fort overlooks Worli to the south, Bandra to the north and Mahim to the east. In a state of disrepair and threatened by encroachments and tidal erosion, the fort is one of the few that are right next to the sea.

"This fort is the best example of total neglect by the state. Where would you find a fort which is as strategically located in the middle of the city?" asks Abha Narain Lambah, a conservation architect.

"One has to literally wade through an awful lot of trash to reach the fort," she added.

The Riwa Fort, right in the middle of Dharavi, the biggest slum of Asia, also requires conservation. Also known as the Kala Qila or the black fort, it was built by Governor of Bombay Gerald Aungier in early 1670s.

In north Mumbai, the Madh Fort, also called the Versova Fort, is located in a secluded spot in Madh Island. It was built by the Portuguese as a watchtower in the 17th century.

Although its external facade is intact, inside it is in a bad shape. Surrounded by local fishermen communities, the fort has been a popular shooting spot for Bollywood movies like "Love Ke Liye Kuchh Bhi Karega" and "Mard".

Also built by Aungier is the Sion Hillock Fort, which is currently the office of the Mumbai circle of the ASI. Sion, in central Mumbai, was a boundary between British-held Parel Island and Portuguese-held Salsette Island, the fort was built between 1669 and 1677. The fort is dilapidated.

"Not a single fort today is in a stable condition. Forts like Riwa and Mahim are surrounded by encroachments," said Anita Rane-Kothare, head of the department of ancient Indian culture of St. Xavier's College.

"This is the situation a year after the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 2010 (Amendment and Validation) came into force January 2010," she added.

ASI's Superintending Archaeologist (Mumbai circle) M.S. Chauhan said while restoration is under way at most forts, removal of encroachment and other logistics will involve several other government agencies.

"But I do agree that once properly restored and cleaned up, the forts can definitely attract many more tourists and encourage 'fort tourism'," he said.

According to Rane-Kothare, the act strictly prohibits any construction within a 100-metre radius of the protected monument. The Sewree Fort, the Sion Fort and the Worli Fort also badly need restoration.


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