Easily accessible from Mumbai is an old fort that was built by the ruler of Gujarat but taken over by the Portuguese invaders who turned it into a compact city of sorts with living quarters, garrisons for soldiers, stores, places of worship, and so on. Now, although some of these structures have turned into ruins, the fort continues to impose its majestic presence and makes for a perfect one-day getaway.

On the outskirts of Mumbai is a low-budget one-day travel destination which has historic lineage, a wonderful beach, a mesmerizing landscape and a Buddhist ‘Stupa’ close to which is situated the five century-old Portuguese fort named the Bassein Fort. This is Vasai, which was known as Bacaim by the Portuguese and Bassein by the British. Bassein Fort, dating back to 1532, is about 55 kilometers from Mumbai and was built to provide protection to the entire province of Bassein. This was a territory controlled by Bahadur Shah, Sultan of Gujarat, who ceded it to the Portuguese on December 23, 1534. Thereafter, Nano da Cuna laid the foundation of the city and fortified it further. In the 18th century, the fort was taken over by the Maratha army under Peshwa Bajirao’s brother, Chimaji Appa. The British shortly attacked and took over the territory from the Marathas as the price for supporting one faction of the Marathas against another.

The Fort
Unlike other forts which are built to strengthen strategic points having warfare material and the presence of soldiers, Vasai Fort was actually a fort city complete with churches, hospitals, learning institutions, and other administrative and community places. It was for this reason that the Portuguese used it as their commercial and military base on the northwestern coast in India. Surrounded on three sides by the sea and only accessible by land on one side, Vasai Fort proved tough to conquer. A very high and strong wall on the land side made it one of the most impenetrable forts. The Portuguese were known to be fierce seafarers and they had a large fleet defending the fort from the sea side, thus making this fort completely invincible. The fort was also used as the official residence of the Portuguese governor when he made his visits to the northern region.

Portuguese Coin Counter stamped by Maratha Srub and

The main gate of this large fort leads to a small courtyard from where one can climb the ramparts to take a look at the old structures. The ramparts, although overgrown with vegetation, continue to stand in their original state and overlook what is called the Vasai Creek. Locals also call it the Bhayander Creek. Several watch-towers too have survived the ravages of time and weather and you can climb up on staircases that are still safe. The Portuguese buildings inside the fort are in ruins, although there are enough standing walls to give a good idea of the floor plans of these structures. Some have well-preserved facades. In particular, many of the arches have survived. These are decorated with carved stones, the markings on which have now become indecipherable.

St. Anthony Church Bassein Fort

Three chapels inside the fort are still recognizable. They have facades typical of 17th century Portuguese churches. The southernmost of these has a well preserved barrel-vaulted ceiling. The fort is often used for shooting Bollywood film scenes, including ‘Josh’and ‘Khamoshi’. The fort also provides a great vantage point to observe butterflies, birds, plants, and reptiles. A little further from the fort is the Vasai village where you will find a community of fishermen who speak Marathi. Put together, the entire region in and around the fort presents a vivid and colourful picture. Recently the Archaeological Survey of India has started restoration work of the fort.

Portuguese Time Church Bell in Bhimashankar Temple

Accessibility
You can take a Western Railways’ train bound to Virar from Churchgate and get off at Vasai Road. If you are coming from the Central Railway or Central Railway Harbour Line then you have to switch to the Western Railway line either at Dadar, Bandra or Andheri. Another railway line connects the Central and the Western Railways’ lines from Vasai Road Railway Station to Diva, a stop just beyond Thane on the Central Railway line, and long-distance passenger trains travelling this route also carry commuters between the two lines. A new railway station named Kopar has been set up, which is between Diva and Dombivli. Passengers travelling from Thane or Kalyan can alight at Kopar from where they can catch the Diva to Vasai train. The railway station of Vasai Road is only one hour by train from Kopar.

Excursions around Vasai
Vasai Fort has historic, scenic views surrounded by Beaches. The Buddhist Stupa at Sopara nearby is said to have been visited by Lord Buddha. The village of Nirmal was believed to have been set up by Lord Parshurama, and has a Temple of Shankaracharya known for his visit. Along with the oldest church built in 1557, St. Michael’s Church in the village of Manickpur was built in 1606. The Fort in the Village of Arnala built by Marathas is woth a visit. The 400 years old Jain Mandir at village Agashi is visited by lots of followers. Sruchi garden and the beaches of Suruchi, Arnala, Rangao, Kalamb are famous. The First Indian Christian Saint Gonsalo Garcia hails from Vasai and Fr Stephen Thompson Who wrote the Bible(Kristapuran) in Marathi Lived in Vasai in the 17th Century.

Text and Photographs: Pascal Roque Lopes
Source: Maharashtra Unlimited Volume 3 Issue 2 (2014)

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