Protect the protectors

Maharashtra might be proud of the several forts that dot the state -- a historical feat worth every Mumbaikar’s pride. Yet innumerable forts such as these, built by different rulers of the state, lie in ruin.

“Within a radius of 50 km there are more than 75 forts around Mumbai that are just lying in neglect. Many of them belong to the Portuguese and some to other Indian dynasties that ruled Maharashtra,” says 49-year-old Ashutosh Bijoor, an IT professional and a passionate cyclist. Bijoor is one of the several cycling-enthusiasts in the city who regularly goes on trails to different forts around the city.

Cyclists at Vasai Fort. Pic/JP Shetty

It was during these expeditions that his group came across the poor state of these once- majestic structures. “People marvel and take care of beautiful palaces, but very few care about these forts. There is no one taking care of most of them,” says JP Shetty, another cycling enthusiast. “Once we visited this fort called Nagle Bunder between Mira Road and Vasai and were shocked to see that the illegal quarrying around the fort had almost reached its walls and if care wasn’t taken about it, the structure would soon be lost,” says Bijoor.

Ruins of a chapel in Vasai Fort. PIC/ JP Shetty

Hence, in order to make their cycling trails more productive and do something about this threat to our history, Bijoor founded the Mumbai Historical Sites Cycling Association or MuHiSiCA. As a part of this group, members visit one location around the city every weekend and make note of details such as the history of the location and the GPS route that would help several others who care about these monuments to visit the place and help generate data that would aid their preservation. Bijoor had earlier written a letter to the Archaeological Survey of India’s city office to get some help and bring forth the plight of these structures but received a disappointing response. Finally some assistance from Delhi urged Bijoor on.

Paankot or Fort in the Water is a fort located off the coast of Kelve beach. Pic Courtesy/ Ashutosh Bijoor

“I later came across an organisation called Durg Sanvardhak Sangh, who along with several other such organisations has been doing some commendable work to save these structures. At a meeting of all these organisations on July 27 and 28, in Pune, we discussed various options to save our historical structures. We really wish people living in the city get aware of what’s around them and save our heritage,” hopes Bijoor.

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