PLACES OF INTEREST

BANKOT

Bankot or Fort Victoria (Mandangad T.; 17 55' N, 73 00'E), is a minor port. Bankot lies at die foot of a rocky headland in the extreme north of the district on the south shore of the entrance to the Bankot or Savitri river, [It seems possible that the Savitri is Ptolemy's Nanaguna, which in his map enters the Arabian Sea within Ratnagiri limits. Nanaguna should perhaps be Nana Ganga, or the little Ganga, a name naturally applied to Savitri, as it is a small stream compared with the other Mahabaleshwar gangas, the Krishna, Vena and Koyna.] 73 miles south-east of Bombay. [The name Bankot given to the fort by Marathas, was in the time extended to the settlement, a pieth at the foot of the hill. Velas, the original village, on the coast two miles south of the fort, is inhabited chiefly by Hindus, as Bankot is by Musalmans.] A mile outside of the village, and two miles south-east of Fort Victoria, the bar of the Bankot river, with a narrow channel on its south-east side, stands nine feet deep at low water. Though well-buoyed the bar is much exposed even in the fine season (September-June), and should not be passed without a pilot.[ Taylor's Sailing Directory, 386. ] Bankot, though closed during the south-west monsoon, opens earlier and remains open longer, than most Ratnagiri ports. The river is, for vessels of 16 feet draught, navigable eighteen miles to Mhapral in Dapoli and for vessels drawing seven feet, ten miles further to Mahad in Kolaba district.

It is now little more than a large fishing village. Cocoanuts, betel-nuts and salted mangoes and small quantities of salt fish, and fins and maws are exported.

Trade had long left Bankot. A few resident shopkeepers supply the people with cloth, grain and groceries. Bankot has no manufactures, but at Bagmandle on the north bank of the creek, a few sails find employment in weaving coarse cotton cloth. Bagmandle has been a part of Kolaba district since 1949.

The volume of traffic that passed through the port in 1954-55 and 1955-56, is given below:-

 

Imports

Exports.

(tons)

(tons)

1954-55

10,729

7,352

1955-56

2,531

2,011

Chiefly from cowdung and bad drainage, Bankot had for many years a bad name for fever. Now sickness has much decreased. The water supply is scanty. At Velas, the birth place of Nana Phadnis, a few miles south of Bankot are the remains of a masonry aqueduct of considerable length said to have been built by him (1720-1800) and where his statue was erected in 1955.

Bankot does not seem to have ever been a place of importance. [The Chinese traveller Hiouan Thsang (640), is supposed to have embarked at Bankot. The identification is doubtful. Nairne's Konkan, 10.] In 1540, Dom Joao de Castro, under the name Beicoim, describes the Savitri river with great detail. It took its name Beicoim from a town on the south bank about a league from the river mouth. Ships went there to load wheat and many other kinds of food, and had its harbour not been so difficult, it would have been one of the first places an the coast. [Primeiro Roteiro da Costa da India, 41. He says the river is also called the Mahad river from a large town of that name and the Honey river from, the quantity of honey found on its banks. Beicoim would seem to be a corruption of Velas.] In 1548, with other Bijapur coast towns, [Grant'Duff. I. 76-78.] it was destroyed by the Portuguese. No further reference has been traced till on 8th April 1755, five days after the fall of Suvarnadurg, Commodore James of the British fleet arrived off Bankot. The fort surrendered on the first summons. Commodore James handed over charge to the Marathas, and at the end of the rains (October), the fort and nine neighbouring villages [The nine villages were: Velas, Veshvi, Bagmande, Shipole, Kuduk, Panderi, Pave, Kumbala, and Dasgaon.] were ceded to the British and its name changed from Himmatgad to Fort Victoria. [Nairne's Konkan, 92.] To the English Bankot was chiefly valuable as a place from where Bombay Europeans and Musalmans might be supplied with beef. There was also the hope that its once considerable trade would revive. It proved very serviceable in providing hemp ropes then much in demand for lashing cotton bales. As it was, the population doubled within ten years and nothing but the want of fresh water prevented a much greater increase. Several wells were dug and ponds repaired and every spot of arable land was made the most of. But as a great part-was bare rock, the settlement never yielded much agricultural wealth. Many of the people keeping their families and property in British villages earned their living by tilling lands in the neighbouring Maratha territory. Bankot never became a place of trade. The country inland was rugged and difficult and as vessels of about twenty tons (70-80 Khandis) could at that time easily pass up the river, the whole traffic centred at Mahad. [In 1818, so safe was its navigation that "on the occasion of the attack on the strong fortress of Mandangad. Prince of Wales Cruiser and Sylph Brig went twelve miles up the river and might easily have gone further. Collector to Gov. 15th July 1819. Rev. Diaries 142 of 1819, 2573.] In 1818, on the final conquest of the Konkan by the British, a detachment of British troops was for a time stationed at Bankot and it was made over to the headquarters of the Collectorate. In 1822, the station was broken up and the headquarters moved to Ratnagiri. Bankot was then made a sub-divisional station under a mamlatdar. Subsequently in 1837, the mamlatdar was removed and Bankot was placed under a mahalkari. The place proved so unhealthy that it was given up, and the mahal-kari's headquarters were changed to Mandangad. Mandangad was later again changed from a mahal to a taluka in the year 1945.

On a high red hill covered with low bushes, stands the old, now much ruined fort, small and square, with bastions like those of many an English river mouth or harbour fort. Round the walls on the landside is a ditch. There are two separate bastions connected with the fort. One of these called the Refuge, Panah, was built by the Habshi to guard the creek. The other bastion, high up the hill and approached from the water bastion by 300 steps was built by the Angres. From this second bastion a further ascent of about 700 steps leads to the fort. Both bastions are now in ruins, but there are still the remains of a covered path. The fort was in 1862 in "good order except for the part of the outer wall on the western side. It had no garrison and had only a scanty supply of water. [Govt, list of civil forts. 1862.] There are also the foundations of several good dwellings with the remains of gardens and several tombs.

To the north of Hareshvar, the round hill across the river is a rather famous but architecturally common-'place temple. Not far from the temple are the remains of a garden, house and a lake made by the wife of one of the Janjira Chiefs. At Velas, are two temples dedicated to Shri Rameshvar and Kalbhairav, built respectively by Moroba Dada Phadnis and Nana Phadnis. The chief Bankot buildings are the custom house, the traveller's bungalow on the hill overlooking the harbour entrances and the residences of the Parkars. a distinguished Muhammedan family who enjoyed grants of land from Government as rewards for faithful services in collecting supplies for the fourth Mysore (1799) war.

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