Sanjeev V Sardesai
After completion of a 100 article run, let us now start conquering the forts of Goa. It is sad that according to my friend Sachin Madge – a person with in-depth knowledge of the forts in Goa and an equally excellent sculptor – that there were more than 50 forts, fortresses and fortifications all over the land. But the ground reality, of these forts is very bleak and depressing.
Today there are just about 7 or 8 edifices worth the tag of ‘forts’; while we do see the ruins of another about 9 -10 earlier forts. It is disheartening to note that the decline in the strength of these fortifications is primarily due to the apathy of the Goans.
An amazing compilation, ‘Fortresses & Forts of Goa’ by the former Director of Archives, Goa State – Dr Prakashchandra P Shirodkar, published by the Directorate of Art & Culture offers a beautiful insight into these edifices and informs us of the thrilling chronology, feats and incidents that took place in and around these forts.
Is it not an irony that the very massive fortifications, erected by dynasties and rulers, to protect a huge populace from offending attackers, are today, themselves, helplessly fighting nature for their own survival?
Today, let us travel to the furthest point of our State and a part, which is not geographically connected to Goa, yet is one of the most scenic regions. Tiracol, also known as Terekhol – an approximately 13.85 lakh square metres of land that is entirely detached from mainland Goa by River Tiracol on the south, shares its entire north border with Maharashtra.
Tiracol in Pernem (Pedne’) Taluka, is said to have got its identity due to two folk accepted reasons. First, possibly, because the river was ‘unfathomable’ near this region (Tir = point and Khol meaning ‘deep’) or the other thought is that this land was the furthest point (Tir) that was deep to penetrate (possibly ‘Khol’).
Before we travel anywhere into this land, so mythologicallly created by Lord Parshuram’s shooting of seven arrows, we must understand that Goa is part of the Konkan belt, along the Arabian Sea, and prior to the arrival of the Portuguese, was ruled by many factions of dynasties and petty chieftains and each had his own identity for their respective parts.
Though the Portuguese arrived and laid anchor in these regions on November 25, 1510, they could keep a hold only on the three provinces, today known as Tiswadi, Bardez and Salcete (which included Mormugao), till around the last quarter of 1700’s. The present borders of Goa were formed only around 1788. During this time Tiracol was wrested from the Khemsawant’s of Sawantwadi, by the Portuguese and remained a part of Goa and since then has always been an integral part of Goa.
The Fort Tiracol or Terekhol is located on a high bank, just across the scenic Querim (Keri) beach stretch of Pernem taluka. From Panaji, Tiracol is about 47 kilometres if approaching via Siolim and Arambol to cross over through the Keri-Tiracol ferry crossing; and about 57.5 kilometres if travelling over the Kiranpani-Aronda Bridge. In the latter case, you have to first cross over into Maharashtra border and then detour to approach Tiracol through the Goa borders. But the journey is picturesque with the view of the sea and the river playing hide-and-seek.
Please check with the locals, prior to attempting to cross the Keri ferry if the same is in operation or not. Many times travellers reach there only to find that due to tides the vehicles cannot be boarded. If you feel energetic and decide to walk, the fort is about 1.5 kilometres from the ferry point and you can keep the vehicle across the river and walk to the fort. Tiracol fort has an approach road which is very narrow and caution must be exercised when driving up or down this route. You can see a small chapel at the base, near a small cemetery while the Church of St Anthony rests within the fortification walls of the Tiracol Fort.
When you reach the parking base, under a huge banyan tree just outside the fort, you see a memorial cross and another plaque; and an artistic memorial erected in memory of two brave Satyagrahis (late) Tulshiram Balkrishna Hirve or Hirve Guruji and (late) Sheshnath Wadyekar, who sacrificed their lives, in 1955, during the Goa Liberation movement. The most prominent part of the fort that welcomes you is the protruding Guard House Turret, attached to the fortification. The fort entrance is comparatively narrow and on entering it, you have to turn sharply to your left to enter the fort.
Today part of the Tiracol Fort has been converted into a Heritage Resort and has a fine restaurant on the bulwark of the fort, overlooking the Keri Beach and the Arabian Sea. Seven luxury rooms are named after the seven days of the week.
Immediately on entering the central area you are greeted with the majestic facade of the St Anthony Church, initially established in 1746, and the open-arms statue of Jesus Christ. If you are lucky to reach in time on Sunday mornings, you can find the church open, the interiors will leave you in awe – the beautiful wooden pulpit, affixed on the wall, used by the priest for the sermons and the choir balcony are beautiful.
A small courtyard, in the middle of the fort, connects to the upper ramparts by a very unique staircase, with its flat ramp in the central part, and steps on either side. This was to assist the rolling up of the cannons and ammunition, in case of an attack.
The forts walls offer you a fantastic view, all around. In case you are a sunrise or a sunset person, Tiracol Fort rampart is your ideal space.
Another part of this fort that you must visit, with the permission from the resort management, is the seaward fortification, accessible after you walk down a flight of steep steps. Here you come across a circular area, where earlier the cannons would be placed to deter any unfamiliar ships from entering the mouth of River Tiracol. In the past, there were 22 cannons on this fort, deterring any enemy from being too adventurous.
This fort has been a mute witness to many inhumane atrocities during the long, rough walk to the freedom struggle of Goa. It is said that in 1835, during the Portuguese regime, there was a mutiny and takeover of this fort leading to the beheading of civilians and displaying their heads on tall spikes.
A visit to this fort with a little understanding of its history shall infuse a sense of awe. It is but an hour of a drive from the capital city, and a day’s outing shall be great. Let us start our journey of visiting the other forts of Goa, from Fort Tiracol.