Sanjeev V Sardesai
Among all the existing forts in Goa, the most expansive one is the Cabo da Rama in Khola, Canacona. It lies on an extended promontory that extends westward into the Arabian Sea.
This fortress is supposedly named after the male protagonist of the Indian epic Ramayana – Sri Ram. In fact, Cabo da Rama literally translates to ‘Cape of Rama’. As it is located in Khola, this fortress is also known as the ‘Kholgad’ (‘gad’ meaning fort).
Possibly built by feudatories of the Saundekar Kings in the 17th century, it encompasses an area of approximately 1, 79,000 square metres, within its steep walls. On its three sides – north, south and west, it is surrounded by the Arabian Sea and has a natural protection from enemy ships, with a very rocky and treacherous shoreline.
On the eastern side, the fortress is separated from mainland Canacona, by a wide and deep trench, cut out in solid laterite rock. This deep trench acts like a ‘dry moat’, similar to that of Fort Aguada, acting like an effective barrier to stop any advancing enemy forces. It is said that walls were built, at either ends inside this trench, to retain rain water, which could further slow down the enemy.
When visitors approach the fort from Khola, they are treated to a beautiful drive with the nature at its best, leading you through a canopy of green cashew plantations. There is a parking space just outside the fortress, and one can walk a small bridge to enter the fort, over the dry moat. What catches the attention of the visitors are the repeated long slits (about 3 inches in width), running top to down, all along the fort frontage walls. These were the openings used to shoot arrows or fire guns at enemies, without exposing the soldiers to enemy fire.
The first thing you see as you enter the fort is the chapel of St Anthony. A ‘sterculia foetida’ or nagin tree is seen in front of this chapel. This acted as a ‘lightening conductor’ to protect the chapel bell.
Behind this chapel, under a huge banyan tree are the ruins of a structure, which since 1932 was used as a ‘jail’ by the Portuguese to incarcerate delinquents, rowdies and criminals. In 1957, this jail was abolished and the detainees transferred to other jails in Margao and Panaji.
What is surprising is that the actual entry gate of this fortress facing east was possibly created later by the Portuguese for convenience of access. The main entrance of this fort faces the north, towards the seaside. Access into the fort through this gate, by any enemy, would definitely have been a herculean task, as it is steep and has a curved route, hiding the door from sight. This curved route is called as a ‘Gomukh’ (cow face) type entrance and defended the main door of the fort from any direct canon attack from the sea.
From this original entrance, towards the north, we can see a naturally created huge giant human figure stretching into the sea, having a distinctive head with eye, nose, and chin, a prominent neck, and a body. This visual treat should not be missed!
Just below this entrance and inside the fortress precinct is a huge, masonry built fresh water lake. Though presently semi-dry, it must have held a huge quantum of potable water during its days of prominence. There is also a well in the fort precinct, but sadly it has run dry.
The ramparts all along the fort, and specifically those towards its eastern end, are massive and create a feeling of an adventure trail when one climbs the steep stairs and stroll over them. However, care must be taken not to act fool-hardy once atop these ramparts, as a fall could be fatal. We can see many rusting canons placed here, which at some period in time protected the fort from enemy attacks. Many of the canons have been removed when the fort fell in disuse.
This fort has seen many audacious times, especially when Haider Ali, father of Tipu Sultan attacked and forced the Saundekar king to flee his kingdom at Saunde near Sirsi in Karnataka in December 1763 and seek Portuguese asylum, while Haider Ali laid siege to the fort of Cabo da Rama. This siege continued for three months, till March 1764, before it was lifted and Haider Ali returned to Karnataka.
Today, besides a few structures, some in ruined state, the entire central part of the fort has a lot of shrubbery. One of my friends, Sarvesh Borkar discovered a few rare petrogylphs or rock carvings on the rocks, within this fort. A long walk to the end of the fort, overlooking the Arabian Sea, reveals a tall, abandoned masonry pillar and a residential structure, which may have acted as a light house, to warn approaching ships. Just a warning, the last portion of this fort is on the verge of collapsing as the massive rocks have sheared off, and display a deep crevasse.
The massive laterite fortifications surround the entire precinct of this fort and all along the sea front. Many ruined structures can be seen all along these fortifications, which at one time served the purpose of guard houses and barracks. Sadly, this fort is seen has been given a step-motherly treatment, with most of its fortified walls collapsing and no preservation has been carried out till date. If this continues, this magnificent heritage asset of Goa will be lost in the sands of time.