Nearly a year after declaring grand plans for developing lighthouse tourism in the state, Maharashtra has finally embarked on a journey to develop lighthouse tourism. Recently, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari laid the foundation stone of a passenger jetty at Kanhoji Angre Island, located 12 nautical miles south of Mumbai. The lighthouse is one of the two lighthouses near Mumbai to develop tourism.

“This is the first island in Maharashtra to develop lighthouse tourism. Here, tourism will be promoted by Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation. Till now, we have received all the necessary sanctions for the construction of a passenger jetty at the cost of Rs 16 Crore,” Mumbai Port Trust vice-chairperson Yashodhan Wanage told The Sunday Guardian. The small island is described as “High Potential Site” by the Directorate General of Lighthouses and Lightships.

In total, nine lighthouses from Maharashtra and Goa are a part of the Ministry of Shipping’s list for the development of tourism. They include Sunk Rock, Kanhoji Island, Uttan Point, Korlai Fort, Jaigadh, Ratnagiri, Devgadh, Vengurla Rocks, Tolkeshwar Point, Fort Aguada and Sao George.

“It is significant that the lighthouse on Kanhoji Angre Island is being developed for tourism. Kanhoji Angre was the first admiral of the Maratha Navy. His naval prowess helped him to be the undisputed king of the seas. The British, the Portuguese, the Dutch could not defeat him. When we will celebrate ‘Visit Maharashtra Year’ in the year 2017, such places will prove to be a definite tourist attraction,” Devendra Fadnavis said.

“It is a moment of pride for the Angre family. I have told the government that I will be glad to share the artefacts and information about Kanhoji Angre,” Raghoji Angre, the direct descendant of Kanhoji Angre, told The Sunday Guardian.

Khanderi island, situated in the middle of the Arabian Sea, over 12 nautical miles south of Mumbai, marks the entry point to Mumbai harbour. According to the Mumbai Port Trust, the fort here was built by Shivaji Maharaj in 1660-78, and then handed over to the Maratha naval chief, Kanhoji Angre in 1707.

“Kanhoji Angre was an Admiral of the Maratha Navy who created a base on Khanderi Island and inflicted casualities on colonial powers by attacking their merchant ships. He fought and won a number of sea battles till his death in 1729. Khanderi Island was renamed in his honour in 1998 on the occasion of 125th anniversary of Mumbai Port Trust. The Kanhoji Angre Island is a historic symbol of the naval heroics of Kanhoji Angre. Even today, the battlements and fortifications of Shivaji Maharaj’s times are intact,” an official of the Mumbai Port Trust said.

At present, regular ferries do not operate to the island. It is approachable from the Gateway of India or from Thal village in Alibag. From Gateway, it takes an hour and a half in a speed boat to travel to the island. Dodging its way through the huge fishing nets laid en-route, the speed boat can take longer than that. From Thal village, the fort is barely five kilometers. But at present, a private fishing boat has to be hired to reach there.

The fort offers unhindered and panoramic view of the Arabian Sea. Even today, one can see some canons on the fort. The fortification in huge black rocks is also an attractive sight.

“The decision to explore the tourist potential of Kanhoji Angre Island Lighthouse, for visitors of Mumbai and around, has been taken as this lighthouse is a serene and extremely environment-friendly destination. The fort bastion and canon point in the island are worth visiting from a historical perspective. The island has picturesque views and visitors coming here can enjoy an enriching experience,” an official said.

Gadkari said the plans for the small island with barely 18 acres of land were huge. “The fort walls will be restored as per the guidelines of the archeology department. There will be landscaping of the island, heritage walk, guided tour, light and sound show, cafeteria, amphitheatre, water sports, a camping site with Swiss tents,” he said. The development of premium accommodations for night stay and light and sound show will take place in the second phase.

Though the plans for the island are huge, the available infrastructure lacks woefully in providing even basic facilities at present. There is no system of waste disposal and waste management on the island. A visit at a time when the island has not yet been developed as a tourist destination throws a bad light on its situation. The sea surrounding the island is littered with plastic bottles and plastic wrappers. On the island itself, one can find empty glass bottles, plastic wrappers and empty packs of eatables strewn across the fort.

Supply of potable water too might be a challenge considering the only big open source of water is unlikely to support the kind of footfall expected on the island. The opening of shops, cafeterias and restaurants may only add to the litter, unless the authorities open facilities for the recycling of plastic waste. Going by the experience at tourist spots so far, the scenario isn’t encouraging. Another major challenge will be generation of energy through unconventional means. Officials of the Mumbai Port Trust said that solar energy was a very sustainable option for the place. But given the size of the island, the land available for all activities is merely 18 acres.

The agency developing any facilities on the island will also have to make arrangements for sewage treatment. In case of residential facility which is to be provided at later stages, the arrangement will have to be strong and sustainable.

As of now, the project is in a nascent stage. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has only given clearance for the construction of a jetty. For any other facilities to be provided on the island, proposals will have to be moved and sanctions will have to be sought.

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