Part II to the series dedicated to Lonely Planet for saving my arse continues in India, where we typically need more saving than usual, especially before smartphones were around and data packets were plentiful. The LP Guidebook was still the de facto authority travelling everywhere, but even more so in developing countries and especially especially helpful in India, as you seen in our first episode navigating the Indian Rail network. Wouldn’t have been possible without it.
So here, not only did the book bring me to a certain place, it actually introduced me to it. A jewel near Mumbai that few international tourists know about.
It is the black fort of Janjira.
This mighty black fort was a pirate fortress built in the middle ages and survived countless wars and battles, whether it was the Mughal empire or the English colonialists, no one succeeded in taking it. It remain undefeated until now, trodden over by throngs of domestic tourists and bathed in rubbish by the countless picnics on its once proud ramparts. We’ll get to that in a moment.
So. While it’s near Mumbai and can technically be done in a daytrip, it takes some meticulous planning to ensure it happens. At minimum, if you do everything right as prescribed int he LP Guidebook, you can get there in around 4-5 hours. Catering in the return trip of around the same time, you have only around 2-3 hours at the fort, and again this is given you do everything right, so it is crucial you place all your faith in the book and do everything it says.
Step 1: 1hour Boat trip from Mumbai to some port village (Difficulty: Easy – Tons of tourists do this, and just stand near the gateway of India and you’ll be bombarded with more deals than Groupon ever gave you) Just take any boat to this town, see some seagulls on the way and a great sunrise.
Step 2: 1.5 hour Bus ride to a random village on a random hill. (Difficulty: Moderate) I know you want to know which random village, but really it’s impossible to remember and i’ve lost my dearest LP Guidebook, so i really can’t tell you which, but it shouldn’t be difficult to find out. This is where it gets interesting because you have to walk along the port town until a certain bus terminal and pronounce it the right way to get the right tickets, and nothing here is in anything other than Hindi, not even the restaurant, not the road signs, not even the toilet sign and certainly not your bus ticket. Strangely, the advertising board is.
And despite it being a really small town the bus terminal is not exactly small, when i arrived, there were at least 20 buses each with its own snaking queue. No joke. So the trick is to shake your head and say the name of the next town to everyone and see if they shake back. If they don’t, don’t board.
Step 3: Get anything with wheels to the port village opposite Janjira (Difficulty: Hard) If you got that ride, you got a scenic ride up a mountain for around an hour. Then the situation drastically changes. Everyone from your bus will suddenly disappear into their own villages, asked to be dropped off along a random stretch with nothing in sight and then your turn. When you alight, there’s likely not even anything there. Somehow i walked around the village and managed to hail an autorickshaw – much like a half disassembled tuktuk. Yea it’s bare bones even by tuktuk standards. And then again, say the name of the next port town. Do the same shake head drill and then you should reach your next stop in an hour or so.
Step 4: From the port town, it gets easy. Suddenly everyone’s here again. Once you arrive you should see a snaking queue way outside town, far from the shore, just queue up there. In time, you will slowly see some English signs, the shore and some really cool catamarans that packs you like pigs to a slaughterhouse across a narrow channel to the Black Fort in sight. THAT SIGHT IS GORGEOUS. Up until then, really it’s painful. But when you see it, it’s all worth it. The catamaran will drop you off right at the entrance where you have to jump onto a flight of staircase that descends into the water. There’s only one small entrance, probably that’s why it’s so hard to take this fort.
Great views all around, and if you slow down to take in the imagery and re-imagine what it must’ve been like years ago, you’ll feel the beat of Pirates of the Caribbean playing all around you, blacksmiths hitting the anvil with their hammers, archers making arrows and the like. Old cannons, secret passages, amphitheatres, hidden ponds are littered around the complex and you can find your own little corner to enjoy the peace reclaimed by nature. The Black fort is already half covered in moss and crawling plants, and once great arenas are filled with water giving rise to a sense of tranquility that’s really hard to find in people-packed Indian cities. With the return leg to go, there’s only 2-3 hours here but its all worth it!
Without the LP Book, i won’t even know about this place, much less get here. The names, timings, description of each place was really crucial too, without which i could have been stuck in any one of those places, and not made it there or back! And so here’s part 2, the road to the black fort of Janjira.