A towering makeover

Jan 24, 2013, 07:58 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

Lighthouses have traditionally helped confused seamen drop anchor safely. Now, these tall structures are being redeveloped so they can do the same for a government determined to increase its revenue

In a bid to increase tourism, the central government has decided to jazz up lighthouses along the country’s coastline. While several lighthouses are already open to the public, this is the first time such a concerted effort is being made to make these beacons of hope attractive to tourists.


In the first phase of the project, Kanhoji Angre and Sunk Rock, two lighthouses off the coast of Mumbai, will be redeveloped into tourist hubs, complete with special ferry services, a museum, water sports activities, hotels and mid sea restaurants. MiD DAY brings you exclusive details of the plans for these lighthouses.


What: Lighthouse at Kanhoji Angre Island


Where: One hundred and eight kilometres from Mumbai by road and 23 kms from Gateway of India by sea, Kanhoji Angre Island is situated opposite the fishing port Thal in Alibaug district. It was formerly known as Khanderi island but renamed in 1998, on the 125th anniversary of the Mumbai Port Trust, in honour of Kanhoji Angre (1669-1729), the most notable commander of the Maratha Navy. From 1708 till his death, he fought against the British, Dutch and Portuguese naval forces and protected the region between Mumbai and Vengurla (except for a few territories belonging to the Muslim Siddis). 

How: The plan is to conserve and restore all historical components of the island. These include the remnants of a fort built by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj between 1660 and 1678 and the lighthouse tower and building constructed in 1867 by the British. The proposed structures, such as the amphitheatre and a museum, would merge with the existing terrain so the character of the place is retained. Existing structures will also be reused and the development will be eco-friendly and self-sustainable, through rainwater harvesting, solar and wind energy and other measures. The path for a guided heritage tour will go around the island and along the fort walls. All parts of the island will be interlinked with foothpaths to facilitate short walks.

The proposed museum will showcase the bravery of Kanhoji Angre through ship models, wax models, paintings and short films. Light shows and laser shows on the topic will also be screened in the proposed amphitheatre. The structure, which will face east, will have a maximum seating capacity of 300 persons.

What: The conceptual master plan for the zoning of Kanhoji Angre island


How: Heritage zone: Will consist of the 1 km long wall of the Maratha Fort, the proposed museum and a sea-facing amphitheare.
Hospitality zone: Will host hospitality-related activities, different types of accommodation, restaurant, campsites and an outdoor gathering area for functions.
Lighthouse tourism zone: The components would be the focal point of activities in the southern part of the island.
Water sports zone: It will be the place for camping and other activities such as banana boat rides, water scooter rides, fishing and adventure sports.

What: Sunk Rock Lighthouse

Sunk Rock Lighthouse
Sunk Rock Lighthouse

Where: Located mid sea off Colaba, it is 3.5kms from the Gateway of India. It was built by the British in 1884 and is 22 m tall.
How: Edutainment (Education, Heritage Conservation and Urban Entertainment) is the proposed theme. Ferry services from Gateway of India covering Sunk Rock, Prong Reef and Dolphin lighthouses, and a mid sea restaurant at Dolphin lighthouse are also in the redevelopment plan.

Let’s do the lighthouse rock...
... but do watch out for its impact on the environment and local flavour too, say experts

The lighthouse initiative has elicited a mixed bag of reactions from the congratulatory to those who attach riders to the development plans. Says Milind Deora, Minister of State with the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications and the Minister of State with the Ministry of Shipping within the Government of India, “The Indian coastline is surrounded by scenic lighthouses, which have tremendous potential to host tourists. These magnificent structures could be developed for a dual purpose serving as lighthouses and as tourist spots for domestic and international visitors. Additionally, this will help in stimulating economic activity and growth in these regions.”

Kanhoji Angre island
The plan for the zoning of Kanhoji Angre island

Capt. A M Surej, Director General of Directorate of Lighthouses and Lightships (L & L) adds, “This is a very good proposal. Initially, the Parliamentary Committee in 2002 had mooted the idea, but now the Ministry and the DG have taken it forward. Though the word ‘lighthouse’ may be very old, mariners still extensively use it. The radio navigation systems based in lighthouses are a value added service that we provide to mariners. One is sure lighthouse tourism will not only help us to inculcate history in the minds of the young generation, but would also open up a new arena for tourism. We are hoping that by 2014, we should be able to throw open a few out of the 13 lighthouses we propose to change to tourist spots.”

Yet that upbeat mood is tempered by some words of caution. Says Debi Goenka, environmentalist, “It is a good idea, provided they do not come up with any new construction by setting up restaurants, pubs and casinos, which would then become an issue. Lighthouses are the best place to take panoramic photographs of the coastlines and there are structures more than 100 years old, which are still standing tall. If the idea is to merge with tourism, then they should do something on the lines of bed ‘n’ breakfast, where even locals can earn a living and at the same time, the lighthouse surroundings are not affected. If boosting tourism, they should first remove the ‘No Photography’ tag and allow tourists to click pictures.”

There is also a note of cautious optimism from Dr Jiyalal Ram Jaiswar, Senior scientist, National Institute of Oceanography, who says, “This is a very good idea, but the development should not divert the natural ocean current paths. If the direction of the current is changed due to development, then there will be other changes pertaining to ecology of the water. The government should take into consideration sea bed characteristics in terms of bathymetry of the area, seismic survey and ecology of the costal water, etc before starting the work.” From local flavour to the environment, it is about sensitive, sensible development. 

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