WORDS: NOLAN MASCARENHAS
PHOTOGRAPHS: JYOTHY KARAT
GREAT FROM: Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore
GREAT FOR: History lovers and nature enthusiasts
On a sunny day, as guards do daily rounds atop a fortress, a speck bobs in the waves, a couple nautical miles away. A sense of urgency fills the air, as a bugle is sounded, to announce an impending attack. As the boats inch closer to shore, the guards man the turrets and battle stations and the cannons are readied.
This is the kind of image that comes to mind as you peer out to sea on a breezy afternoon – a remembrance of Goa’s historical past, of the conquest of land, power and supremacy. The sunny state’s chequered history is dotted with vestiges of her past. Today, her forts bear a mute testimony, serve as relics of colonial rule, and are quite the tourist attraction. Get acquainted with this history as you visit these storied forts.
Start off at Corjuem Fort, 4km away from the village of Aldona. Constructed in the mid-1500s, this fort is smaller in size than other Goan forts, but it’s a good outpost from which to survey the surrounding land. It’s also rich in historical lore and intrigue – you’ll learn of the legend of ‘Ursula e Lancastre’, one of the defenders of the fort. Determined to succeed in a man’s world, she disguised herself as a man and travelled the world, eventually serving as a soldier. It wasn’t until she was captured and stripped that her secret was uncovered.
Across the green fields, towards the southern bank of the Chapora River, stands Chapora Fort, built by the Portuguese in 1617 on the site of an earlier Islamic structure. The village of Chapora and the fort get their names from Shahapura or ‘the town of the Shah’. When you visit, you’ll see that the bastions are topped by cylindrical towers. You’ll also hear the legend of Sambhaji’s conquest of this fort. The story suggests that the Maratha leader’s warriors conquered it by clinging to 1.5m-long monitor lizards. They had the Portuguese general surrender the fortification without firing a single shot. There used to be a church within these walls, as well as officers barracks and quarters, but none of these exist today. There is, however, a great view of the sunset across the Arabian Sea as well as a spectacular one over the peninsula, the river and the beaches.
In Bardez, you’ll find the stolid Reis Magos Fort. Built during the 16th century, it rises theatrically over the steep slope of the headland. Back in the day, Reis Magos had a defence system, meant to fend off enemy ships crossing the Mandovi. You’ll notice the cylindrical watch turrets atop the high walls here as well. Today, the fort is restored and used as a cultural and heritage centre.
Head up north to visit Fort Tiracol, a small but strategic outpost that has River Tiracol to its north. You’ll have to board a clapped-out ferry from Querim to get here. Then, a sinuous coastal road climbs to the top of a rocky plateau, and winds through a swathe of thick woodland before following the course of River Arondem, through vivid paddy fields, coconut plantations and temple towers. This fort was built by Maharaja Khem Sawant Bhonsle and was then taken over by the Portuguese. Now converted and run as a heritage hotel the fort also has a church – usually closed, but open to the public every Sunday for mass.