Sea forts have always fascinated me. On a journey down the Konkan coast, I discovered three of them. As a reward for my toil, I also stumbled upon a coral reef.
The first of these was the fort of Janjira. On a stormy night in the 17th Century a ship carrying spice traders from Africa was washed ashore by the tidal waves. When Rajaram Patil, the king of Murud, refused to offer them shelter, the fearless warriors known as the Siddis decided to forcibly stay put. They have been here for three centuries, and the present Siddi Nawab of Murud continues to live in his palace on the hilltop.
The fort of Janjira stands 90 ft tall above the sea, and 20 ft deep. It took 22 years to build, is spread over 22 acres, and has 22 bastions. It's considered 'ajinkya' or invincible as the British, the Portuguese and the Marathas all failed to conquer it.
This fort is said to have been built to protect a Sufi saint called Peer Panchatan Baba. His tomb is the first thing you see when you enter the fort. The guide whispers that the saint's power is still undiminished. Even when the monsoon tidal waves outside the fort rise up to 40 ft, they are said to miraculously stop at his feet.
The fort of Suvarnadurg is in Harnai, arguably the busiest port on the Konkan coast. I scanned the horizon for a boatman who would row me to the fort. An old man agreed and we set sail.
The boat soon landed on the shimmering white sands of the beach at the edge of Suvarnadurg. The main entrance to the fort is so well camouflaged that you don't see it till you are very close.
The famed guerrilla strategy of the Marathas is evident in the layout of this fort. It has a maze of escape routes called 'Chor Darwazas'. Soldiers would retreat through these routes, reach the mainland through a sea tunnel, and ask for additional reinforcements.
The last of the forts was Sindhudurg, the jewel in the crown of the Maratha Empire. Built under the personal supervision of Shivaji himself, it's a fort of immense strength. Its foundation is laid in solid lead, and its walls are reinforced with 1500 tonnes of iron. Inside the fort, Shivaji's footprints and handprints have been preserved.
But for me, the best part of the journey came last. On a round trip of the rocky island, I saw impeccable beaches laced with white sand. Right behind the fort was the most pristine beach of them all, with coral reefs floating in urquoise blue waters. Right in front of me, on the Konkan coast, I had a breathtaking glimpse of the beautiful Andamans.