“Madam, we suggest you avoid the trip to the Janjira sea fort,” was the near-apologetic response of a hotel owner of one of Alibag’s sea-fronting properties, when a friend had requested for a tour guide to this much-visited attraction.
Going by the state of neglect that has plagued the fort of its splendor and uniqueness, he was right. Each time we’ve headed to this sea fort, we have noted its unchecked ruin. Usually a favourite for film shoots, the site has been bearing the brunt of litter, vandalism and whatnot. The decline is unfortunate considering it rises like a magnificent stone citadel in the sea. Sadly, precious little seems to have been done to ensure its safety and upkeep as a historic marvel of the state. All of this boils down to the overall disrespect that we seem to have for our natural and man made treasures.
The Janjira fort is just one example. Ask any hardcore trekker who has done the fort circuit in our state. Maharashtra, with the Sahyadris belt in particular, boasts of probably one of the highest density of forts seen anywhere in India. This number is more impressive if you add the stunning sea forts in the Arabian Sea that line the Konkan. Then, there’s the architectural wonder at Daulatabad as well. And, we aren’t even counting the numerous forts that dot the rest of the state. Regular trekkers will cringe when asked about the condition of most forts. Poor signage, lack of historic information and no security means they are exposed to definite ruin. Why not identify some of these robust reminders of our past, and create fort trails based on varying degrees of difficulty? An architect friend who had visited Spain for a project shared how heritage groups, backed by the administration of the province were doing terrific work to ensure their heritage was in good hands, and were showcased on tourist itineraries. Imagine the same being incorporated here? Looking at the scant respect UNESCO World Heritage Sites (read: Elephanta Caves) in our own backyard get, the scene here isn’t encouraging.
Not only would such projects give tourism a new dimension but they will also provide employment options to villagers. We recall a visit to Sinhagad outside Pune a couple of years back. The shocking state of this site pained us, and left us breathless (even the bravest wouldn’t make it past the ‘restrooms’). The space had been reduced to a mela on a hilltop with a ‘panoramaic view’ as one signboard promised.
Such is the condition of our state’s rich, diverse heritage — one that is in dire need of an immediate, sustained plan, lest we lose it all, one and by one. With it, countless chapters will be reduced to rubble as next generations will never know of its existence and importance in shaping our history; all thanks to lack of vision by the powers that be.
The writer is Features Editor of mid-day