Since 1986, the Youth Hostels Association of India (YHAI) has been celebrating Independence Day by hoisting the tricolour atop forts in Maharashtra. In 2007, they trekked and hoisted the national flag atop Rohida fort (3,660 ft) while in 2009 they headed to Torna fort (4, 603 ft).
Over the last four years, they have been trying to fuel their initiative by raising awareness about the forts within Mumbai. This year, they will be going all out by simultaneously hoisting the tricolour atop seven significant forts within the city frontiers.
“Mumbai boasts of forts at Sewri, Sion, Reva, Dharavi, Mahim, Bandra and Worli. However, very few people are aware about these forts and, hence they don’t feature on Mumbaikars’ or tourists’ travel itinerary.
Today, batches of participants will trek to their designated forts and hoist the tricolour simultaneously across the locations,” says Anil Bhandari, Chairman, Youth Hostels Association of India -- Kandivali Unit.
Bhandari adds that the aim is to motivate people to make them aware of the city’s cultural heritage. “We hoist the flag, sing patriotic songs and distribute sweets. Sometimes tree plantation drives are also held,” he explains.
Different teams will be formed and the participants will assemble at 7.30 am at the fort designated to them, while the coordinated hoisting will take place at 9 am.
Speaking about these heritage structures’ significance, Bhandari says, “These forts had once protected the city and even today, they hold great importance because of their strategic location throughout the city.
Unfortunately, they have not been maintained on par with the standards of a heritage site.” In 2009, 15 members of YHAI had visited these forts and found some of them to be worth a visit. Over the last three years, they have been visiting these forts regularly with 30 to 50 new participants. In February this year they had organised a cycling trek to these forts with 20 participants. “During our visits, we found that the condition of these forts was pathetic and there was no support from the government, (except at the Sion fort) and hence, no proper fencing, cleanliness and information boards etc.”
Following their trips, YHAI came up with certain suggestions to maintain the forts which included declaring these sites as protected monuments, fencing them and employing a security guard along with disconnecting water and electricity connections to thwart encroachments.
How to save Mumbai’s forts
> Every fort should be declared as a protected monument.
> Fence every fort and employ a security guard. To cover the expenses, we may charge nominal entry fees, as done at other places, like Kanheri Caves and Elephanta Caves.
> Organise cleanliness drives.
> Disconnect water and electricity connections to illegal encroached hutments.
> Display information boards at every fort.
> Create a museum / photo gallery at the Sion fort to showcase Mumbai’s forts.
> Once it is clean and access is good, these can be included in Mumbai Darshan tours.
> Include information in the MTDC brochures.
Observations at the forts
> Encroached by local gym.
> Access is very bad.
> Surrounded by debris.
> Can only be viewed from outside. Cannot be entered due to encroachment.
> Surrounded by debris and garbage.
> People use the Seaface for their morning ablutions. Hence, it is impossible to access via the sea entry.
> People who had occupied the fort illegally have official light and water connections.
> Maintained by private authorities.
> The security officials had no identity cards. This has been reported to the police.
> There were numerous couples at the fort, it deters families from moving freely.
> To climb up the fort, we need to use the local wooden steps. There were no arrangements for climbing up the fort.
> Cannot be seen completely, as it is surrounded by slums.
> The top of the fort was strewn with garbage.
> Central entry to underground room was covered with sewage.
> Surrounded by debris and garbage.
> There is no demarcation between the garden and the fort.
> Was in good shape, physically, as it was rebuilt by Archaeological Department. But it is doubtful, whether it will remain the same in the coming years due to government control.
> People were playing cricket inside the fort.
> A liquor party was in full swing when we visited last year.