Day 5The journey to Murud, a little-known destination on the Maharashtran coast around 150 kilometres south of Mumbai, took approximately six hours - not necessarily because the roads are shite, but because there’s a lot to take in en route. Once we had escaped Mumbai’s urban sprawl and the subsequent land of the shipping containers, the ‘real’ India started to appear. And very nice it was too - steep forested hills, colourful villages and glimpses of the Konkan railway, one of India’s most aesthetically-pleasing lines. And about five miles from Murud the first palm trees started appearing; always a good sign for the beach-hungry traveller.
I envisaged Murud being a kind of exclusive Goa. No European I know has heard of it, nor many Bombayites I had spoken to. And on arrival at the government-run resort just back from the main beach, it was clear there weren’t many other people around (apart from a party of Whirlpool engineers from Pune, who partied hard, as refrigerator designers and washing machine engineers tend to do, long into the night). During a stroll on aforementioned beach I noticed the imposing silhouette of Kasa Fort - an island fortress four kilometres out to sea - though at this stage I had no idea what it was. I asked the security guard, and to compensate for his lack of English he thought he’d repeat “Kasa Fort” until any other thoughts my mind may have been harbouring were totally banished. “My friend has boat, 350 rupees,” he said, gesturing towards the island. “Meh, when in Rome,” I replied, before verbally hitting his befuddled face with a firm “OK, boss”.
Before I knew it I was speeding off in a crappy boat, part of which fell off as I hurled myself aboard, to an island whose most recent function was a high-security prison. There were two chaps on the boat with me, neither of whom spoke English or made even the slightest effort to acknowledge my existence. “Please smile at me,” I asked them, “I need some reassurance that you’re not going to abandon me.” Nothing. Time to up the ante. “A little kiss maybe, just on the cheek?” Nada. It was worth a try. We arrived after 15 slightly uncomfortable minutes at sea, in both a physical and social sense, when I was unceremoniously dumped into the shallow waters, thus ruining my Peacocks finest espadrilles. My boat chums then sped off into the sunset (literally), giggling like schoolgirls (probably).
Day 6I was only in Murud for one night, but it was a bit of a wrench to leave. It really is rather nice - at the northern end of its long, perfectly-clean beach is a huge palace overlooking the sea; in front of you is a centuries-old fort and at the southern end you can sit on an elderly donkey for a couple of rupees. This place really has everything, but this morning it was time to depart for the star attraction: Janjira Fort.
Located just 500 metres offshore from Rajpuri, a run-down fishing village not lacking in charm, Janjira is the only fort on India’s west coast to have never been conquered. By anyone, ever, despite the best efforts of the Dutch, the Marathis and those bastards from the East India Company. So who the hell did it belong to? Well, since you asked so nicely, it was built by the Siddis - descendants of sailor-traders from the Horn of Africa - way back in 1140. And yes, they were pirates. Bloody good ones.
On arrival at Janjira I knew I was in for a treat. The gateway is pretty tiny given it’s the only entry point to the 22-acre fort, and once I climbed up the steps it was, to use an old cliché, like stepping back in time. Or, as I tried to joke to one of my Indian counterparts, like a set from Indiana Jones. He humoured me with a smile sans eye contact.
I was looking forward to the journey back to shore as our guides promised to rig the sails (we were pulled there by a tug – tugged, if you will), but first we had to clamber aboard. Everyone thought they were being polite by obligingly moving towards one end of the boat so that others could board, which had the inevitable effect of making the vessel tip to a fraction of the point of no return. It was mildly exhilarating.