The melange of the crowd, ranging from college-going students, and local families to both domestic and foreign tourists come across the way as such is the popularity of the age-old heritage, Bandra Fort located in the 'Queen of Suburbs’ in Mumbai. A spot for hanging out, overlooking the majestic Rajiv Gandhi Sea link, the fort embodies the changing times — from old Bombay to new Mumbai — with the charm remaining the same for all these years for Mumbaikars and tourists alike. At least our recent visit to the fort attested the same.
Regardless of the mode of transportation used to reach the place, a well-bricked passage leads to the fort. The walk is pleasant, offering a view of the Arabian Sea to the right and five-star hotels to the left, with numerous cars parked on both sides of the road. We strolled past these sights to enter the fort, where we discovered a small yet visible 'Maa Devi Sthaan,' a temple dedicated to goddess Durga on the left. We then entered through the giant main gate, which strictly prohibits crossing after 6 p.m. It's worth noting that this temple is worshipped by the local fishermen residing in and around the area.
While gazing at the erstwhile fort, we contemplated its historical roots, which reportedly trace back to the 17th century. According to historical accounts, the Portuguese constructed this fort in 1650 with the dual purpose of monitoring Mahim's Bay to the south and overseeing the Arabian Sea and the northern sea route. At that time, the fort was equipped with seven cannons for its defense, and a freshwater estuary provided drinking water for passing boats. It was this connection to the water source that earned the fort its popular name, 'Castella de Aguada,' derived from 'Castelo da Aguada,' which translates to 'Fort of the Waterpoint' in Portuguese. Additionally, historical records suggest that the nearby Mount Mary Church was built around the same period to serve the soldiers stationed at the fort.
Later, as the Marathas grew in power in Bandra, notably in the eighteenth century, the fort started being seen as a threat to the British. Although the fort remained under the Marathas till 1774, the British made their way into the fort and took it over from the Marathas. As the reports by the government go by, around 1830, the Britishers gave the part to a philanthropist, Byramjee Jeejeebhoy, who then made his home on the same hill where the Bandra fort was situated. It is also said that the fort was, later, renamed Byramjee Jeejeebhoy Point. Clearly, like many historical sites, the Bandra Fort also is maintained by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI).
The current charm
People sitting on the boundaries of the fort
After all these years, what remains is the fort's ruins, which are more than enough to captivate the attention of many young visitors—mostly the majority that flock to this place. And there's a reason for this. The fort is conveniently located in close proximity to several present-day colleges and nearby attractions such as the Band Stand and the residence of the King of Romance, Shah Rukh Khan. Moreover, it's one of the very few spots in Mumbai that offers a clear view of the Worli Sea Link. However, only a few may notice that the fort also provides a glimpse of the Mahim River.
As we advanced from the main gate, the greenery spread in a park-like area that captured our minds. One could say that it is a recent development, only of the last few years to attract even more crowd to the place. While the tourism department does not share a profit of the visits with the entries being free, the nearby stalls selling snacks surely get their livelihood running from it, although, the cost is borne by the site with leftovers and trash. Having said that, one might find it amazing to know that some of the sellers here have been existing for a very long time here.
The park-like area on the left side after the entrance isn't just adorned with greenery; it also features several steps leading up to the fort. These stairs provide space for benches, similar to those on the right side overlooking the sea. As we continued, we reached the land's end, where the fort's structure followed a circular shape, offering views of the sea, the sea link, and glimpses of Band Stand. Although there are no designated seating areas, the crowd here takes the liberty of sitting on the fort's boundaries to soak in the beauty of the sea and the sunset visible from there.
A small hillock in between the staircase on the right side
Adjacent to this circular structure are the stairs that lead to the top of the fort, surrounded by bushes and overhanging tree branches as one ascends. We climbed to the top, and all that lay before us was water and waves. In between these stairs, there are passages leading to small hillocks on the right side with the sea link in the backdrop. It's worth noting that numerous rocks are placed along these sides, which some might find adventurous to descend.
The only thing that appears disheartening at this beautiful place is the engraved stones with information and the history of the fort that have cornered themselves with dust and no attention. Some of these stones are so ancient that — in the absence of the revamp work — are not even visible even if one wants to read. There are a few old inscriptions on some of the walls but hardly can a commoner read or understand it. And such should not be the condition of the site that attracts folks in such a good number. Only the Archaeological Survey of India can restore the fading history of the fort in the minds of the daily visitors, preventing it from becoming just another ordinary hangout spot.
However, the fort has been a pioneer in setting up the mood of romance and drama in various movies like Dil Chahta Hain, Wanted, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, Talaash, Aashiqui 2, and more. After all, there are a few such places in Mumbai that have remained the major charisma of the city and surely, Bandra Fort is one of them.