Hiking - Destination

Arnala Fort Trek: A Complete Guide to the Island Fort Trek

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If you are on a visit to Mumbai or are a resident there you must opt for this trekking experience of a different taste; unlike most popular trekking routes through the Himalayas, the Arnala Fort trek is unique and worth experiencing. Since it is a one-day trekking program, beginners can easily traverse it without much difficulty.

Let us now go through the minute and essential details about this trail for trekking near Mumbai:

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Arnala Fort Trek: An Overview

Arnala Fort

If the uniqueness of the island trek lures you to visit the Arnala beach and fort then here's a quick overview, take a look!

  • Where it is Located: 10 kms north of Vasai, near Mumbai in Maharashtra
  • Number of Trekking Days: 1 day
  • Total Trekking Distance: 12 km
  • Trekking Grade: Easy
  • Best Season: September or October onwards (post-monsoon)
  • Trail Type: Well-laid trail
  • Livingit Rank: Beginner - Enthusiast

About Arnala: The Fort and the Beach

The Arnala Fort Overlooks the Arabian Sea

The Arnala fort stands proudly by the wonderful views of the Arabian Sea with several historical significances up its sleeves; it has Portuguese, Marathi and Mughal connections.

Built in 1516, by a chieftain in Gujarat, popularly known as Sultan Mahmud Begda, the Arnala Fort sits strategically at the mouth of the river call Vaitarni and the Arabian Sea. Later in the 1530s, the Portuguese force laid their establishment with Bassein as their capital or headquarter. One of the Portuguese nobles, during his lifetime, demolished the old and ancient fort only to construct a new one, in the same place. The fort remained under construction during the two hundred years of Portuguese rule. They monitored navigational operations along the coast of Konkan from this fort.

The fort witnessed another conquest over it in the late centuries of the 1700s and early 1800s, when the Maratha army or Maratha Confederacy, after much struggle gained their power in the major part of Maharashtra. It was during the reign of the contemporary Peshwa, Baji Rao I that the fort was brought under the dominion of the Maratha rule. Chimaji Appa, the Peshwa’s brother along with his advisor, Shankarji Pant planned to win over the Bassein Fortress and carried out the same. After two strong and surprising attacks from the Maratha forces, the Portuguese had to abandon the Arnala Fort and flee. The plaque constructed on the northern wall tells about the victory, even today. The fort underwent another reconstruction and makeover in the hands of the Marathas, who eventually put up 3 significant bastions, named: Bava, Bhairav, and Bhavani.

The Arnala fort observed another victorious force in on 18 January 1781 in the British troops who defeated the Marathas in the Anglo- Maratha War I. Even though the Marathas tried to control and maintain the fort even after the waging of the three Anglo- Maratha wars, it along with the Bassein Fort went in to the hands of the British. Later, they were again returned to the Marathas as per the Treaty of Salabai. Nowadays, the fort lies in a very dilapidated condition and is being taken care by the government to sustain its glory.

Best season to visit the Arnala Fort

A Quaint Facet of the Arnala Fort

You may visit the Arnala Fort enjoying exuberant views of the Arabian Ocean during any time of the calendar year. However, it is advisable that you visit around the months of September and October in order to avoid the wrath of whimsical monsoon. Visiting during autumn would also be beneficial as you would get to enjoy clear and distinct horizon and skies.

How to reach the Arnala Fort

The Arnala Fort gifts you with the opportunity of boating; for reaching the fort by 10 minutes, either from Mumbai or from Borivali. These two cities are located only 50 kms and 20 kms away from the fort and thus can be reached easily without much effort. The nearest railway station is at Virar, from where you may board an auto rickshaw or bus or a car or a taxi and reach the port from where the boat ferry. The distance between Virar railway station and Arnala beach is about 10 kms. However, since the Arnala Beach lacks a jetty or a quay, you have to wade through the beach waters for about a few minutes from your ferry to the beach, through a knee-deep water level. Getting back to the boat from the fort also requires you to wade again .this might be the only clumsy episode in the entire trekking schedule. This might again be a very enjoyable episode as well. Before visiting the place make sure to check out the Elephanta caves ferry timings.

The timings are as follows:

06: 00 hours to 12: 30 hours

04: 00 hours to 07: 00 hours

Location of Arnala Fort on the Arnala Beach

The Arnala Fort is located on the island called Arnala Island along the Arnala Beach and is at a distance of 8 miles from the historical city of Bassein or the contemporary Vasai, in the north, in the district of Palghar in Maharashtra. It is enclosed by waters on all sides and thus is popularly know a Janjire Arnala or Jaldurg, meaning the ‘fort built of water.'

Model Itinerary

08:03 am start at Virar station
08:30 am Have breakfast at a local food joint.
09:00 am Start your journey towards the Arnala village by local transport
09:30 am Travel by a ferry boat to Arnala Island Fort
10:30 am Reach the Arnala Fort and explore it thoroughly
01:30 pm take a break for lunch and follow with fun activities with your children or partners
04:30 pm Return Back to Arnala Village by a ferry boat
05:30 pm Watch the mesmerizing sunset at horizon of the Arnala Beach
06:30 pm Start to reach Virar station by local transport
07:00 pm Reach Virar station to a catch local train to Mumbai to other destination.

Key Interests and Sites to Visit

Let us now focus on the key places to be taken care of, if you are on a journey to the Arnala Fort.

The Arnala Beach

The Arnala Beach

The beach is a key and unavoidable attractions of the place as you can never overlook it, being on an island. It is a perfect shade of blue that sheds away all your tiresome troubles and makes you wonder about the beauty of the place.

The Arnala Beach Fish Market

Arnala beach fish market
Fish Drying Activity on the Arnala Beach

Walking along the Arnala Beach would lead you to walk past the small houses of the local kolis or Fishermen. You would be entering into an area of a wide array of a variety of fishes, fresh and dry. The stench of the fishes left to bask in the Sun would bother you at first, you will gradually get accustomed to it; the wondrous sight of thousands of fishes, either stacked or hung would steal your attention. The market, like most Indian local market, is a bit dirty but the unique location of the Market would wipe away such a flaw. Besides, if you are a fish lover, then we know, we do not need to explain much!

The Jivdani Temple or the Jivdani Mandir

The Hindu goddess, Jivdani Mata resides in the Jivdani Mandir in atop a hill here and the temple is one of the popular tourist and pilgrim spots; people either come here to sever the beauty of the deep values below the temple or to worship the goddess and some visit for both the purposes. A visitor has to climb about 2000 steps to reach the temple located in one of the hills in the Satpura range in the Deccan. The numbers of visitors are noticed to swell up during Tuesdays and on Sundays but the tide of visitors becomes difficult to stem during Navratri. The legend of Jivdani Mata dates back to the era of Mahabharata and the temple is believed to be built within a 17th-century fortress called Jivdani atop the hill.

The Carved Entrance of the Fort

Carvings of Elephant and Tiger Heads on the Entrance of Arnala Fort

The entrance of the fort greets you with pairs of elephants and tigers carvings on either side; however, they were a bit defaced by intruders at some point of time. Even though they are not completely intact, the ruins and remains hail about the glorious past they observed. It is a peace imparting fact to know that restoration and reconstruction have been going on for quite a span of time, with utter care, in order to preserve this heritage site. Images of tigers and elephants have been auspiciously incorporated in most of the reigns of various significant and insignificant rulers, hailing from various religious and communal back grounds; the Arnala Fort does not stand otherwise.

The Arnala Fort

The Dilapidated Arnala Fort Still Owns a Character

The dilapidated Arnala Fort is very close to the ferry and you would able to reach the main entrance within a couple of minutes if you walk along the visible boundary wall of the fort. Insides it, there is a small mosque as well as a temple and the famous octagonal water reservoir with many tortoise paddling in it. Try to reach the fort before dusk so that you are able to catch the setting Sun rays blushing upon the fort walls. The Arnala Fort has not only aged with time but also with glorious experience owing to Portuguese, British and Maratha masters ruling over it at different times.

The Octagonal Water Reservoir

Octagonal Water Reservoir at the Arnala Fort

There is a quaint octagonal shaped freshwater reservoir within the premises of the fort walls. This octagonal water reservoir serves as a residence to numerous tortoises that live in it. It is located alongside the tombs of Hajjali and Shahali as well as the Hindu temples of Ambakeshwar along with the famous sacred Paduka of Maharaj Shree Nityanand.

The Temples of Ambakeshwar

The temple of Ambakeshwar is a characteristic Shiva temple where the lord of dance is worshipped every day with utmost devotion. You would enjoy unique photogenic views of the fort premises from inside the temple to capture in your memory. The temple of Ambakeshwar is located close by the distinguishable octagonal reservoir of water and houses the idols of goddess Bhavani and Lord Shiva.

The Tombs of Shahali and Hajjali

Close by the temple of Ambakeshwar and the octagonal water reservoir is the shrine of Hajjali and Shahali. It is a fascinating aspect of this place that is an abode of both Muslim and Hindu discipline, owing to the adventurous past of the fort. The tombs have been carefully preserved by the authority for tourists and visitors and also to retain the humble beauty of the place.

The Paduka or sacred sandals of Shree Nityanand Maharaj

The next significant aspect of the island fort is the presence of the Paduka or the sacred sandals of Maharaj Shree Nityanand; it not only is a spectacular quaint little thing but also an auspicious treasure of the island that uplifts the holiness of the place. He had been a motivating Indian spiritual guru who is believed to have benefited lives of many before attaining his Samadhi.

The St. Peter’s Church

The St. Peter’s church adds to the religious dynamism of the island. It is beautiful and pristine and is known to attract tourists easily with its charisma. It is perfect places to enjoy your peace of mind and meditate. Regular mass is held in this church every Sunday Morning and a grand festival is observed on Christmas and on its Eve. If possible try to attend these days here instead of the glory and luxury of a city.

The Watchtower

The Watchtower of the Arnala Fort

The watchtower is located in the southern part of the fort and the island and is about 550 metres in height from the base. It has a very small passage to enter the tower. It has served through centuries to the various reigns at different historical periods serving to guard and protect the fort. The proudly standing bastion is made out of the same stone that the fort and walls are built with.

Where to stay on a visit to Arnala Fort

There are numerous places to lodge in Arnala Island, as:

  • The Vrindavan Hotel
  • Golden tulip Vasai resort and spa
  • Ya niwant beach resort
  • Hotel Maxwell cum holiday homes
  • Seasons Hotel and Banquets
  • Arnala Resort

There are several other options to choose from for staying on the beach of Arnala.

Why Should You Visit the Arnala Fort

A View from One of the Arnala Fort Windows

By this time you have realized that the Arnala Fort has been hiding from the eyes of the travel enthusiastic mass for a long time. It is such small little island with so much to offer and so much to cherish about. It is a perfect weekend getaway for people living in Borivali or Mumbai; people living away from these places may too arrange to visit this place within their itinerary within a very cheap budget, without having to extend leave from your workplace much.

You must visit it because it would take away all your tension and weariness of a city life observing the simplicity of the fishermen village. The crystal clear Arabian Sea reflecting the blue abode above is another spectacular phenomenon to be experienced a must. The pace is endearing for both children and adults and thus you need to worry about leaving your kids behind at home. The place is a must visit for camera buffs and history enthusiasts for its rich cultural past.

Things to remember before visiting the Arnala Fort

Before planning your trip here, there are certain fundamental things that you must keep in mind, as:

  • You must carry your own food because there is almost no availability of inns or restaurants here as people here are mostly engaged in fishing.
  • Do not wear gold or precious jewelry here as it is very risky.
  • It is advisable that you stick to wearing covered dresses, as wearing short dresses is not allowed.
  • Smoking and drinking are strictly prohibited in the island.
  • Keep in mind about the timing of the last ferry for returning; otherwise, you have to spend the entire night on the barren beach.

Summing Up 

Arnala Fort's Backyard

The Arnala Fort Trek can be covered within a couple of hours and does not require much fitness that you need to be prepared with beforehand. Also, you can visit this place on a shoestring budget, so it would not fall heavy on your pocket. Make sure carry enough water with you to stay well hydrated. Since the trekking involves hiking on flat land you do not require to carry much gear; a small backpack of about 20 litres of volume is more than sufficient. Besides, you may carry snacks and lunch as told before; you would not get any option for buying food here. Carry a raincoat or an umbrella, in case it rains. Also, carry a rug to enjoy a small hamper picnic with your companions. Carrying a camera is optional, though it is advisable that you do; you would not want to lament and blame yourself if you are unable to take pictures of the beautiful sights you would observe there.

The Arnala Island at present is a residence of about as much as three thousand individuals who strive to enrich the fishing industry without even having knowledge of the fact. They go for fishing as they do not know any other way of supporting their lives. Be amazed to observe how they cultivate their lands and store the harvest for their own use, round the year. They draw a perfect picture of our ancestors who completely depended on early humane ways of living; modern technology or luxury have not affected or contaminated their characteristic lifestyle.

Arnala Fort island
The Arnala Fort Island (source)

It is a pity that such a wonderful place is in utter ruins today. Away from the city life, amidst the deep blue depths of seawater and lush green, with a fort of its own, the island has so much to teach us. It is an abode of meditation that detoxifies the effects of the humdrums of the city life. The government of Maharashtra has lent out its hand to preserve and beautify the island; planting of coconut trees and ‘Suru’ have catered to enhance the coastal exuberance of this dot of land on the Arabian Sea. Get lost in the historical quintessence of the place observing the cannonball that is still a hostage to one of the fort walls or while encircling the primitive watchtower.

So, next time when you cannot decide upon visiting a weekend tour with your family or friend, switch to this quaint little island instead of Ratnagiri or Khandala for a different experience altogether. Or if you are not a resident of Maharashtra, include within your itinerary, the Arnala Fort, alongside the Elephanta Caves, the Ajanta and the Ellora or the Biwi Ka Makbara. Make your acquaintances aware about this hidden little place on the map of India.