As my taxi rolls aboard the ferry at Keri, Goa’s northernmost beach, I marvel at the beauty around me. Narrow stretches of golden sand line both sides of the Tiracol River, which reflects the bright blue of a cloudless sky. Ahead, separated by an estuary from the mainland, the stone walls, bastions, and towers of Fort Tiracol crown a grassy hill. Constructed in the 17th century by Raja Bahadur Khem Sawant Bhonsle to defend the state from invaders and pirates, the fort is now a heritage hotel and my home for the night.
Close to Goa’s border with Maharashtra, Fort Tiracol was caught in a violent tug-of-war between the Portuguese and Marathas for over 300 years. It housed royalty and regiments until the mid-20th century. Now, the large wooden gates with metal spikes reveal a boutique resort set with pretty turquoise chairs and white patio tables.
Within the stone walls, the plush rooms, originally barracks, open onto a courtyard. When the fort was attacked, soldiers could rush to their positions on the parapets or to the arrow slits in the turrets. Some rooms have paths leading down to a circular bastion, conceivably a watch and defence platform. Below this, rocks mark the spot where the Bhonsles anchored their sizeable fleet.
The rooms are named after the days of the week. I’m in Tuesday, a standard room that is anything but, with a four-poster bed, large-screen TV, spacious bathroom with a gilded mirror and an armoire, and a balcony overlooking the sea. Tempted by the ocean, I head out for a stroll, negotiating the rocks that lead down to the bastion. Fort Tiracol and its surrounding grounds are spread over about 14 acres and, though they are open to day visitors, I see few (9 a.m. to 7 p.m.).
As the sun descends into a copse of palms, I find a spot to sit and watch a tourist scale down the walls to the red rocks at the hill’s base. The Marquis of Alorna, a viceroy of Portuguese India who stormed the fort in 1746, may have led his forces from that very approach, beating back Bhonsle’s army. The Portuguese chapel built here at that time still offers Sunday services.
Walking around to the edge of a cliff, I wonder where the fort’s 12 cannons used to be. Instead, I find an al fresco restaurant and, perched on the ramparts, a bar called The Tavern, where guests sip Bloody Marys, their minds far from the bloody history of these walls. Few know, for example, that in 1835 an entire garrison of soldiers had their heads mounted on spikes for being part of a coup to overturn the appointment of a Goan as the head of state. But now there’s only the sea view, the evening breeze, and an exceptional eggplant Parmigiana, which I enjoy on my balcony.
Appeared in the June 2016 issue as “Over the Ramparts”.
The hotel has seven vintage-chic rooms, including two suites, and a family room, all with flat-screen TVs, hairdryers, kettles, and free Wi-Fi. The hotel organizes coast cruises and river fishing trips at an additional charge (77200 56800; www.forttiracol.in; doubles from ₹6,000 from May-July, up to ₹17,000 during high season).
The hotel is located about 81 km/2 hr north of Goa’s Dabolim Airport (taxis ₹2,000 one-way). From the jetty at Keri beach, take the taxi on the free ferry across the Tiracol River (every 15-30 minutes), then drive five minutes up a narrow road to the hotel.