Sanjeev V Sardesai
The River Chapora gets its identity from the village, at the mouth of this river. Vagator-Chapora lies about 10 kilometres from Mapusa, and about 24 kilometres from Panaji. This area shot to prominence in the mid 1960’s, with the advent of young, care-free Europeans whose hippie lifestyle brought several inquisitive Indians to the area.
The carefree, yet harmonious lifestyle of these foreigners, coupled with their ‘full moon night’ parties and the ‘flea market’, was a cocktail of entertainment for the orthodox non-Goans. However the village’s prominence was not restricted to this modern era attraction; it already had a prestigious royal heritage, from many centuries ago.
These lands, at the North-West end of Bardez Taluka, were still under the reign of Adil Shah of Bijapur. ‘In 1683, Sambhaji, the Maratha king attacked and conquered this area. It was then that the Mughals started to construct this fort in 1696-1697’, as per the writings the book titled ‘Fortresses and Forts of Goa’ by P P Shirodkar. Adil Shah’s reign here, gave the area the name ‘Shahapura’ or village (pura) of the ‘Shah’. After the conquest by the Portuguese, the name was corrupted from ‘Shahapura’ to the present day Chapora. But the Fort Chapora, in its present state, may have come into being around 1717-1721, after the Portuguese took over and strengthened it.
After more films began being made in Goa, the identity of this area was further polluted, with tourists asking directions to the “Dil Chahta Hai” Fort.
The fort built atop this steep hillock commands one of the finest and holistic views of the Goan scenery. Though this fort was built by the ‘Mughals’, as per P P Shirodkar, to protect its lands against the Marathas and later fortified by the Portuguese, it was also very strategically placed to control any sea faring vessel in and out of the River Chapora.
This river was preferred by many foreign traders, especially from the Middle East and Mediterranean for their trade. The Arabs, in their trade of Arabian horses to the Far East, as well as to neighbouring regions docked here at a small inland village port, which to date carries the identity ‘Arabo’ or ‘the locality where the Arabs inhabited’.
To access this fort, one has to travel to the village of Chapora, locally known as ‘Caisuva’, via Anjuna. This fort has two parts – the upper fortified area atop the Vagator village and another similar fortified edifice, seen down in the fishing village of Chapora, now in a totally dilapidated condition. This was the ‘customs building’, which was used by the Portuguese to recover taxes from the sea-faring vessels.
The Directorate of Archives & Archaeology, Government of Goa has plans to create a walkway to the fort, as the steep hillsides are inaccessible to many visitors. Pay parking bays have been created at the hillock base. One must avoid driving to this location during long weekends or high peak tourist season, as the narrow village roads tend to get overcrowded flanked by hawker shops on both sides. Also you have to time your visit to this fort, as it is open from 9.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.
It is surprising to note that a very huge fortress like Chapora has a very narrow entrance, which faces the East, towards the village. Once you enter, the thickness of the walls overwhelms you. The area encompassed, within its walls, is irregular, flat and elongated. On either sides of the entrance are two angular bastions, extending outward, possibly to repel enemies from entering the main gate. At its peak, having five bulwarks, it hosted 32 canons. Today, not a single canon can be seen here.
The interior of this fort are open grounds, bereft of any construction or even a tree. We can see the ruins of a possible barrack that may have housed the Captain of the Fort and the troops that guarded it
Though the area towards the North East seems to be squarish, the South West end elongates towards the sea, and displays a long semi-circular bastion, which probably was to extend stability to this wall, in case of enemy canon fire, from the sea. From this semi-circular bastion, which lies straight ahead, on entry – the expansive Arabian Sea comes into scintillating view; and assisted the fort keepers to keep an eye on any enemy vessels approaching the fort or the river.
The shore below the fort is very rocky, and deterred any ships from coming close. Standing atop this bastion, you can get an aerial view of Vagator village and beach, as well as part Anjuna Beach. One must take precautions, not to be too adventurous on these fort curtain walls, as a fall could be fatal. We can also see an exclusive, almost a private strip of a small beach, just below the fort, hidden amidst the tall laterite rocks.
From the North East end of this fort, which can be accessed by turning right on entry, we can see the Chapora River across which lie the Mandrem and Ashvem Beaches
It is said that this fort had two “escape tunnels or routes”; but these cannot be physically found now. However, there is something that every visitor must take note. When you enter the fort and proceed towards the NE area, you can see many elongated piles of laterite stones. The explanation given by a few locals is that these are the graves of the Adilshahi soldiers, who had died here. Could it be true? Only your visit to this fort could unravel the answers!
Do not forget to visit the other edifice in Chapora village.