For a history buff, there is a lot to explore in and around Mumbai… Not too far but yet ignored. Ghodbunder on the northern tip of Greater Mumbai’s Sashti (Salcette) island is one such place. I am a Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj ‘bhakt’ and there are so many fascinating stories that teach us a lot even today. He was perhaps the first Indian ruler to acknowledge the importance of warfare at sea and guarding our coastal borders. The birthplace of the first fleet of the Maratha navy is somewhere close to Kalyan-Bhiwandi in the Ulhas river waters ( Shivchhatrapatinche Aarmar – Gajanan Bhaskar Mehendale)
The river mouth was guarded by a series of forts and minor fortifications. On the northern tip there is a Portuguese fort of Vasai (Bassein) and on the southern bank another Portuguese post at Fort Ghodbunder (named Cacabe Da Tanna by the Portuguese) It has been established that the first 35 Gullivats of Shivaji’s navy entered the open seas through the Vasai creek (Portuguese records by Pisurlekar) This is a visual story of Fort Ghodbunder which was witness to this historic event.
Shivaji hired a Portuguese naval architect named Rui Leitao Viegas and his son Fernao Leitao Viegas to build a naval force against the Siddi of Janjira. If you see the maps above, these Gullivat ships perhaps not in complete battle readiness would have to pass under the nose of Portuguese guns at Bassein and Ghodbunder. When the captain at Vasai got to know of this development he consulted the viceroy in Goa and decided to destroy this infant naval force before even it could enter the blue seas. The portuguese captain seems to have demanded more frigates and guns for this. But executing this plan basically meant antagonizing Shivaji. The maratha cavalry was menacingly close to Salcette and perhaps Shivaji’s envoys passed the message that this navy is being raised against the Siddi of Danda-Rajpuri and any aggression would lead to military retaliation. Portuguese papers show that the diplomats finally settled on reprimanding Shivaji in ‘gentle words’
This is the point from where perhaps the Portuguese governor of the north nervously saw Shivaji’s Armada of 35 gallivat ships sail into open seas. In the event Portuguese navy attacked this infant Navy.. Bassein and Salcette would have faced cavalry charge from Marathas. It was an important moment in India’s maritime history. But the garbage dumps here remind us that history or no-history we are apathetic about how we keep our surroundings.
Ghodbunder is located a few Km north of Dahisar – the Northern entry point to Mumbai.. it is a small detour off Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway. Once you climb up on the hillock through the narrow bylanes of the village you will notice an old black rock bastion with Jaripatka flag hoisted (Saffron Maratha flag with golden borders)
There are no boards/ signages from ASI or the tourism dept giving us any insight about the monument. The fort lies ignored fighting the test of times all alone. Some ancient records have called Ghodbunder Hippakura but according to Wing Commander Naravane this is disputed. It was a port to import and trade Arabian horses and hence named Ghod(horse)+Bandar(port)
It was under Portuguese control till 1737, Shivaji tried to capture the fort in 1672 but his army was repelled. Later during the campaign of Vasai, Peshwa Chimaji Appa’s army captured this for Marathas. Khandoji Mankar constructed fortifications in the vicinity. (Vasaichi Mohim – N Y Kelkar p.180) After the fall of Marathas, British forces captured Ghodbunder and it was used as clerical office for the Thane district. Indians after independence – simply ignored the monument.
One can still see some Portuguese styled arches and a church like structure with series of empty rooms adjoining in linear fashion. There is a huge tank like structure which seems to have had modern concrete strengthening and on the top of the hillock there is one huge bastion surviving.
From the top of the citadel you get a good aerial view of the fort enclosure and the surroundings. On the western horizon one can spot latest multi-storied buildings in the Mira-Bhayandar township and towards north lies the junction of Ulhas river and Vasai creek.
There is a church like structure which looks a bit Islamic in aesthetics on the eastern height of the hill and has been described as the Nawab’s palace in the book Heritage sites of Maritime Maharashtra.
There is a lot more to explore in this region! Especially a detailed photo story on the majestic fort of Vasai (Bassein) keep watching this space.