After various unsuccessful attempts, the VOC opened a base in Surat in 1616. Surat was the main port of northern India, and belonged to the Great Mogul Empire. The merchants of Surat sailed to Persia, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Initially the VOC purchased cotton fabrics from the Surat merchants who traded them in Atjeh. The fabrics were an indispensable means of exchange in the Moluccan spice trade. During the course of the 17th century the Company succeeded in capturing the bulk of the trade in cotton and spices between Surat and the archipelago. The VOC had no forts and relatively few employees in Surat. Compared with its other bases, the Company's military presence here was minimal. In the early 18th century the Mogul Empire began to decline. This led to unrest in the interior, and supplies of cotton and indigo to Surat dwindled. Trade with Persia also diminished as a result of political unrest. During the 18th century, Surat's role was taken over completely by Bombay, where the British maintained a trading base. The VOC carried on a flourishing trade at Surat. The Company had been granted a number of trading privileges by the Mogul emperor and the Surat directorate established other trading bases in centres as far away as Agra. Once the VOC started trading cotton and spices in the Red Sea region and opening trading bases there, many Surat merchants feared that they would lose out to the Company there too. But although there was a decline in the overland caravan trade through Persia as a result of the VOC's shipments of cotton and spices to Europe, the Company was never able to dominate the trade in the Red Sea region completely. The Company's directors and merchants in Surat lived in fabulous style. Their public appearances were as impressive as those of the local nobility or courtiers at India's imperial palace. For example, they would travel in canopied palanquins, accompanied by a complete retinue. It was often a source of considerable annoyance to Company officials in Batavia, but the Surat office maintained that it was essential to make a display of power and wealth in order to achieve anything in India. The VOC opened a base at Surat in 1616. The first director took up his post there in 1620. Surat was in English hands between 1781 and 1784. The VOC subsequently regained control only to lose it once more to the English in 1795.