Sultan Battery: The only bonsai fort in India

Sultan Battery in coastal Karnataka is too big to be a watch tower, but too small to be a fort. A visit to the fort made famous by Tipu Sultan

  • Bonsai is the Japanese art of creating a miniature version of trees

Sultan Battery in Mangaluru (aka Mangalore) is a watch tower constructed by Sultan Fateh Ali Sahab Tipu, better known as Tipu Sultan, some time in the 1780s. The tower oversees the Gurupura river. It is built about a kilometre before the river merges with the Arabian Sea.

The primary aim of the ruler of the Mysore kingdom in south India was to prevent war ships from going up the river to access his territory upstream. The other reason was to monitor the trade via the river.

Sultan Battery signboard

The name of the fort is spelt differently by various people owing to localisation of the Anglicised part — Battery. So, locals do not actually call this Sultan Battery. It’s more like Sultan Bbaa-thee-rii.

The fascinating part is that this tower was constructed more like a fort. It has points to mount cannons and storage space for ammunition.

 

Once Tipu was defeated and killed, the tower may have been forgotten. But if he had managed to keep the British at bay for some more years, this tower might have been expanded and turned into a full-fledged fort.

Right now, though, this tower looks like a bonsai fort. One of the smallest in India, or even the world. Pretty much intact.

Too big to be a watch tower too small for a fort
Too big to be a watch tower and too small to be a fort

Sultan Battery is one of the few forts on the coast of the State/province of Karnataka.

The approach road is narrow. But that does not deter visitors. It is a popular spot for the people of Mangaluru who gather at the tower in the evening on most days to simply sit by the river. Many take the ferry across the river to get to Tannirbhavi beach that faces the Arabian Sea.

Sultan Battery
Approach to Sultan Battery from the city centre
View from Sultan Battery
Evening in Sultan Battery
Ferry to Tannirbhavi beach
Ferry to Tannirbhavi beach
Gurupura river
Gurupura river

How to get to Mangaluru

Mangaluru has an international airport, but a limited number of flights from overseas. Instead, there are several flights from Mumbai and Bengaluru. The best option is to travel via Bengaluru — by air, train or bus.

Accommodation

Plenty of options from budget to high-end hotels.

Local commute

The local bus network is impressive. In addition, you can opt for either an autorickshaw or cab for commute within the city.

Proposed itinerary

I can suggest three options.

Option 1: With Bengaluru as the base, plan a day’s trip to Mangaluru (aka Mangalore). Take the last overnight Volvo bus of KSRTC, which is around 11.30 pm to Mangalore. The air-conditioned bus and service are comfortable. Bus is the preferred mode of transport for people commuting between the two cities.

You can expect to reach at 7 am, or earlier. You will find plenty of autorickshaws that will take you to your hotel. Make autorickshaws the default mode of transport in Mangalore.

Check in at your hotel. Once you have freshened up, visit the St Aloysius chapel in the college by the same name on Lighthouse Hill. The college is a landmark that every autorickshaw driver knows. The chapel is in the college campus.

Plan for lunch at Machali behind Hotel Ocean Pearl near PVS Circle. Machali means fish. This is the best place for a nice meal of the local cuisine. A fellow blogger Darol D’Cruz has written in detail about this restaurant, and some other attractions of Mangalore. I have tried the anjal (King fish) tawa fry and prawn biriyani. Yyummmy.

You might have to wait for a table because this place is usually crowded for lunch. It’s patronised by office-goers nearby. Because of the crowd, your lunch — from arrival at the restaurant to paying the bill — could take up to two hours. Plan accordingly.

Post-lunch, you might want to take a siesta. Mangalore can be pretty hot and humid for most part of the year.

Around 4 pm, you can go to Sultan Battery. That will give you enough time to take the ferry to Tannirbhavi and back before sunset.

Once the Sun has set, you can head to Pabba’s Ideal Ice Cream Parlour. It’s the pride of Mangalore. The concoctions they have come up with have kept Mangaloreans slurping with joy for over 30 years.

A Tiramisu at Pabba's
Pabba’s Ideal Ice Cream Parlour in Lalbagh

A visit to Mangalore is incomplete without a visit to Ideal Ice Cream Parlour. Ask any Mangalorean. I have seen this place packed even on weekdays!

The parlour is about 1 kilometre from the KSRTC bus stand where you can board the overnight Volvo back to Bengaluru.

Option 2: If you are planning to visit Mysuru, once you are done, take the bus to Mangalore. The journey by road takes up to 6 hours. You can opt for one of the overnight buses.

Option 3: If you are in Goa, take the overnight bus to Mangalore and back for a day trip.