Sanjeev V Sardesai
Goa, the idyllic port was identified over the ages by many names under local rulers and Indian scriptures, including Aparanta, Gomant, Goparashtra, Gopakapattana, Gove; the Greek traders knew it as Nelkinda, Melinda and other names while the Arab traders knew it as Sindbur or Cintabor. Initially, due to its natural port facilities, this land strip found favour with many powerful dynasties, since 200 BC and attracted traders from far flung countries of Africa, Mediterranean, China as well as those ships which transited to trade with the Far East.
But as time went by, the dynasties declined in power and these lands came under the reign of the European dominators of the seas – the Portuguese, in 1510. It was only around 1778-88 that the present day borders of Goa came into existence after lands were ceded in the South from the Saundekar King.
There existed a flourishing trading port, inside the River Zuari’s estuary, past the present day Mormugao (not Marmagoa) Port on the banks Goa Velha, the known as ‘Gopakapattan’. We could enlist it amongst the richest ports in the world then, as a major chunk of gold, pearls and diamonds were traded here. Gopakapattan was the second capital of the Kadamb Dynasty, after shifting from Chandor or Chandrapur.
Today the Mormugao Port Trust (MPT) runs the port which is considered amongst the best natural ports of India, receives ocean liners and luxury cruisers along with other commercial vessels. This stands to benefit the Goan populace with the luxury passenger liners bringing in short period up-class visitors who are offered great facilities to promote tourism.
It is magnificent to watch the huge Luxury Passenger Ocean Liners coming in to berth at the Port side from the Mormugao Fort. The fort overlooks the Arabian Sea, the mouth of River Zuari and the sprawling port. You will always see hectic activity going on below along the berths, with huge cranes and machinery, growling at work.
To reach the Mormugao Fort, you have two choices. You can drive up to Headland Sada, past Vasco city, and enter the MPT headquarters precinct, with permission. This is advisable for senior citizens or those with walking problems. The fort is just about 50 mtrs walk over a very beautiful walkway created and maintained by MPT, leading up to the main gate of the fort.
But the adventurous, you can have a hefty walk uphill, and then you can enter the fort from below, walking over almost 150 steps. But the walk is an amazing experience, as you walk through a canopy of trees, filled with birds and if lucky, may have a monkey or two for company.
This fort is more of a lookout post, rather than a citadel, but during its time of operation, the range of its canons must have been far reaching in its duty to guard the port mouth. The frontage looks very formidable, and has a narrow entrance. There is a huge cross and a small chapel inside the fort precincts. The earlier ammunition room as well as the shelter of the guards is not in a very good condition, but the steep staircase leads you to the ramparts along the top of the wall. From the ramparts of the facade, you can see the port, as well as the frontal area of the fort; while the other rampart leads you northward to a Bastion or a masonry platform of the fort, where the canons were kept.
Take care to walk along this rampart and experience the exceptionally great view of the mouth of River Zuari, the vast Arabian Sea and the magnitude of the Mormugao Port. Recently, in the vicinity of this fort, an ancient Sati Stone was found and was handed over to the Directorate of Archives & Archaeology, Government of Goa by MPT, through its deputy controller Manoj Joshi.
Now that you are Headland Sada, the home town of the Civil Jail, you can also visit the fortifications nearby, just above the Japanese Gardens. But when you reach there – do not search for any Japanese type manicured garden, as only the name has stuck, while the garden has faded away; though a modern garden exists. You can see a long fortification wall here and a small shrine to a local deity. If you have the time and the inclination, then you can visit a beach, after a walk down of about 150 metres and then up again. But the unhindered view of the sunset from here is not to be missed.
Did you know that the first military airstrip, in Portuguese Goa, was at Vasco Headland Sada? The Portuguese military operated their aircrafts here before it was decided to shift the operations to the present day Dabolim plateau in the year 1955. It was initially known as “Aeroporto da Dabolim”, but was later renamed to “Aeroporto Benard Guedes” after the Governor General of Portuguese Goa.
On December 18, 1961, during the Indian armed action to take over Goa, at around 11 a.m., the airstrip was bombed by a wave of Indian Air Force planes that took off from the Sambra Airport at Belgaum and dropped more than 63,000 pounds of bombs to destroy the airstrip. The intention was not to destroy the planes and property, but to incapacitate operations of any flights. However, two passenger planes that were present at the airport – a Lockheed Constellation of TAP airlines and another Douglas DC-4 of TAIP airline, took off at night with refugees and headed for Karachi, after the soldiers repaired the runway temporarily.
It is recorded that these planes were intercepted by the Indian Air Force fighters before they crossed the Indian border, but were allowed to proceed as the pilots assured that they were not carrying any military personnel, and their passengers were women, children and a few men.
Though the Dabolim Airport has got an international status today and is managed by the Airports Authority of India (AAI), it is under the strict control of the Indian Navy, which operates its highly modernized fighter jets from here. Dabolim – from a very old architecture Air Control Tower (ATC) during Portuguese era, today boasts of high tech sophisticated ATC and a passenger hub that is a pride of Goa.
But if you think that our people have to be just satisfied by looking at planes from far, or a few lucky ones get to fly, then you are wrong. About 2 kilometres down the road, on way to the Bogmalo Beach, is a place you must visit with your entire family. This is the Naval Aviation Museum, the one of its kind in India. You can experience the planes at a touching distance – the children will be thrilled! Let us know more about this and the other facets in the forthcoming article.