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Fort by the sea

How long will the stone hold off the water? Rocks at the splendid Bekal fort set you thinking



THE LAST WAVE A visit to Bekal fort must mean an experience on the rocks for those bits of water PHOTO: K.K. MUSTAFAH

Bekal fort is sheer grandeur. What else is it when a vast, empty fort sits all by itself on the edge of the sea, overseeing the endless horizon of its waters? It is a fort that has everything in its sight; a steely resolve, a defiance. It is where the water stops. On the rocks, just in front, the water cuts into a thousand pieces. What hits you is still the last wave. Or is it? For now it is. Because the water always looks to threaten. What you watch at Bekal is this wonderful duel of stone and water. At the edge, it's risky, but tantalising. That's what makes for the excitement, doesn't it?

A Bekal fort visit must mean an experience on the rocks for those bits of water. It must also mean a walk — a run may not be possible — on its walls, preferably when its raining and the waves are lashing — like Arvind Swamy's in Bombay. An unforgettable shot for its technical and aesthetic possibilities. And the unforgettable song "Uyire... Uyire... " That heavenly figure running on the sloping ramp on one of the towers inside the fort. Wasn't that Manisha Koirala's?

Where and what is this Bekal? It has quite a bit of history to it. Bekal is on the seashore of Pallikara village, 12 km south of Kasaragod town. According to Bekal Rama Nayak, a local Kannada writer, the word, Bekal is derived from the word Baliakulam, meaning Big Palace. The place is said to have been the seat of a big palace. The term Baliakulam came to be known as Bekulam and later as Bekal.

It was usual in older days for every royal palace to be protected by a fort. The Bekal fort might have, therefore, existed even from early days of the Chirakkal Rajas. While writing a description of the Kolathiri Kingdom in his Kerala History, K.P. Padmanabha Menon writes: "The eldest of the male members reigned as sovereign Kolathiri. The next in succession, the heir apparent, was the Thekkelamkur. The residence assigned to him was the Vadakara fort. The third in succession was the Vadakkelamkur in charge of Vekkolath fort. This V(B)ekkolath fort is identified by some scholars as the present Bekal."

H.A. Stuart, in his Handbook of South Canara (1985), makes this observation: "Several forts were built by the Shivappa Nayaks of Badnore between 1650 and 1670. The two forts of Bekal and Chandragiri were originally under the Kolathiri or Chirakkal rajas until the time of Shivappa Nayaka's invasion. Perhaps, the Bednore rulers might have rebuilt and improved it."

The Bekal fort, which is of great historical and archaeological interest, is the largest and best preserved of its kind in the district and the land on which it is situated, runs into the sea with fine a bay towards the south. According to the South Canara Manual, Bekal fort fell into the hands of Haider Ali in 1763. It housed the Huzur of Canara during Tipu's time, and the remains of the gallows reminiscent of the days of Mysorean occupation were seen here till a few years back.

After the overthrow of Tipu Sultan in 1799, Bekal was incorporated into the dominions of the English East India Company. The erstwhile Kasaragod taluk of South Canara district was known as Bekal for more than half a century.

The beauty of the fort perhaps lies in one arresting contrast — immensely lush green fields enveloped by intense chocolate brown walls. With nothing in between, except emptiness, which is exactly how it should be, the eye won't have enough of this. And then there are deep wells and passages. The passages are interesting. You get in from one end and it winds its way left and right and you don't know where you getting out. And then the towers — from where you see the beautiful line of coconut trees lining the beach in front of the fort. In the end, the fort head that runs right into the sea. There, you can stand proud getting a measure of what the water is like.

HOW TO GET THERE

There are two routes to get to Bekal. One is through Madikeri and the other through Mangalore. The distance via Madikeri is 380 kms and via Mangalore 425 kms. But the Mangalore route is preferred because NH 17 makes for a smooth drive. There are also buses from the city bus station. The journey takes around eight hours. Accommodation can be found at Bekal Resorts near the fort. One can also stay at Kasargod.

PRASHANTH G.N.

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