Korlai Fort. A taste of Portugal in the Konkan.
The fish are everywhere. Heaped high on tables. Drying in copious quantities on front porches. Flaying in ingenious, net back-pockets of weathered fishermen. Swimming in fiery red curries. And being licked lazily by cats who treat these abundant morsels, less like food and more like extensions of their paws. There’s so much of fish around, that it’s hard to tell if the Konkan is the coastline or the ocean itself.
Till a feisty old lady, determined to plug the last bit of space left in your stomach, cuts open a golden Alphonso Mango. This is the land of the King of fruits after all. The only strip of it in the world that the king of fruits deigns to spread its braches on and multiply.
The Konkan coast. A gorgeous stretch of more than 25 beaches. Each so proud of its beauty that it alters the shade of its sand ever so slightly to stand apart. If you have about 15 days to spare, take a road trip from Mumbai to Goa along this coast. It’s a feat to keep your eyes on the road and your jaw from dropping.
We did the road trip at the fag end of the monsoon; when the catch is not-so-good according to the locals. The size of the pomfret in my plate prompted this apologetic remark. It was less than a foot. These people obviously have a good sense of humour as well.
The food in these parts is spicy- deliciously spicy. Flavoured heavily with a generous mix of malvani masala that is unique to the region. You’ll find it deepening the colour of the fish and mutton curries, lending a sharp bite to the vegetable and usal dishes and infusing its distinct aroma into your fingers for the length of your culinary adventures through the region.
The first stop- Alibaug. The place I discovered my first Khanaval. These are small, family run eateries right by the road or along the coast. Their small boards invite all, with words every foodie longs to hear- home cooking. Gharghuti jevan in marathi. Words that became music to my ears for the rest of the trip.
Front porches double up as al fresco dining areas. A small sink is provided to wash the road off your hands. The man of the house takes your order (which means he will tell you what the catch is for the day and you accept). And the women of the house execute it to perfection. In a matter of minutes a wonderful spread of chapatti, dal, fish-fried and curried, rice, prawns, chicken, vegetable, fiery pickle, lime wedges and onion rings is laid out in front of you with a warm smile and a genuine interest in your belly being filled to satisfaction. It’s like eating at someone’s home. And that’s just what it is- someone’s home. Most Khanavals are extensions of the villagers’ homes. And what better way to discover a region than by eating the food that the locals do!
The Alibaug – Murud road that leads to the Portuguese fort of Korlai is sprinkled with relics from the past. It runs through the ruins of the Revdanda fort and a quaint village. A few walls remain with their inscription plates and cannon balls still affixed. And a walk on the main road will reveal the ruins of a Jesuit monastery, which sadly has only one stately wall remaining.
24 km away from Alibag, the pretty village of Korlai- an ancient Portuguese hamlet, houses the ruins of an imposing fort and a functioning ancient church.
The locals here speak a unique language called Kristi- or Portuguese Creole, a blend of Portuguese and local Marathi that is spoken by the Christians.
The drive through the village up to the Korlai lighthouse and fort is breathtaking. Peer out of the window and you’ll find yourself looking down craggy cliffs that drop down to a golden sand beach and azure waters- untouched and picture perfect.
The Korlai lighthouse which charges a nominal Rupees 5 is a must see. It is totally electrical and its light can be seen from 40 kms. in clear weather.
It also houses 3 cannons in its compound. Behind it are well preserved steps leading uphill to the beautiful Korlai fort.
At the northern end of the fort is machi which has an ammunition room and 4 cannons facing the sea. It is called ‘Crusachi Bateri’.
The rest of the fort is on top of the hill.In all there are five bastions and it is said that during the Portuguese rule there were 70 cannons.
With just the blue sky above you and the silence of a fort lost in time, sitting here and letting it all sink in, is an experience like no other.
And just to remind you that this is the Konkan; when you look down at the Korlai village, you’ll see ribbons of plump bombil, mandelis, shrimps and many other fish I’ve never seen drying in the gentle sun.