Friday, December 28, 2007

Raigad Fort

When Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj calls, you just get up and go. And that is exactly what we did last Sunday! On the dot at 0540, we set out from Bandra, onto the Mumbai Goa highway NH17. It was dark and chilly. The excitement at visiting a place that I had been trying to visit for the past twelve years, but somehow had never managed to do so, for a variety of reasons, was palpable. The drive, all through until Mahad on the highway was smooth. At Mahad, we took a left to reach Pachad, which is at the base of the famous fort Raigad. This road was a two-laned road that at times narrowed down to a single lane. It also had an exciting batch of about a dozen hairpin bends. Due to paucity of time and stamina, had decided to take the cable car which operates from the point where the motorable road ends and lifts you upto the fort in a matter of just four minutes. Reached the Ropeway starting point at 0915hrs, having covered a distance of 191kms.The Ropeway traverses a diagonal length of 760 metres and a steep ascent of 420 metres – a distance which would have otherwise taken us around 3 hours over 1450 steps! They charge you Rs.140/- per head for the journey up and down in addition to the services of a guide to take you around the fort. We had a typical Maharashtrian breakfast of Kanda-pohey in the cafĂ© run by the Ropeway operators, purchased the tickets for the ride to the fort and bided our time in the waiting area for our turn. The Ropeway seemed more like elevators going up and down! Within minutes, it was our turn to get into the cable car and I readied my camera to get some pictures. Got some and before I could catch my breath it was time to disembark at the Mena Darwaza – the alighting point for the Ropeway travellers. There we were met by Mr. Gaikwad, our guide on ‘Raigad’, who took us to a waiting group for further action. Once he had assembled about thirty of us, he started his spiel. The starting point of our tour was the Mena Darwaza – the entrance through which the ladies of the Fort would enter. Fort Raigad was the capital of the most illustrious Maratha sovereign, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. European historians have described it as 'The Gibraltar of the East'. The sheer vertical rock face soaring into the sky above appears defiant and insurmountable. As he took us along through the various points on the Fort, he explained everything beautifully and with a great amount of passion that was heartening to note. Innumerable tales of Shivaji’s strategies and valor were narrated as reasons towards his many wives. Apparently, he married princesses from various places to ensure that he would not be attacked by the rulers of those states! We counted eight living quarters specifically meant for his queens. He was so organized that he had a full-fledged ‘Secretariat’, the remnants of which can still be seen. To ensure that his entourage and their families who lived with him on the Fort were comfortable, there was a ‘Bazaar Peth’ that was headed by one Nagappa Seth. Trading of daily consumables was carried out here for the convenience of the Fort residents. However, nowhere on the Fort was anyone allowed to display their name on any property and Nagappa wanted to feature somewhere somehow. Since he was not allowed to display his name anywhere, he displayed a ‘Naag’ or snake on the wall of his shop to symbolize his presence! We were then shown the ‘TakMak’ point, which is the edge of a sheer cliff from where traitors would be thrown off as punishment. This particular point also has a curious tale of steadfast devotion and obedience. Chhatrapati Shivaji used to visit the place often and would always be accompanied by a ‘Chhatri’ or an Umbrella bearer. On one of these visits, due to strong winds, the Chhatri bearer who was under orders not to leave the Chhatri under any circumstances, was blown off the cliff but miraculously parachuted down to a village named Nizampur. Chhatrapati Shivaji then announced that the village would henceforth be called ChhatriNizampur! The most amazing place was where he held court or Durbar. Right from the doorway to his throne, anywhere in the court, if anyone even whispered, it could be heard very clearly at the throne. Our guide proved it to us by asking us to wait near the throne and he stood near the doorway and whispered ‘Shivaji Maharaj ki’, to which all of us promptly responded with a ‘Jai Ho’! And this is no covered auditorium! Amazing architecture indeed! The architect has also carved his guarantee on the door leading to the Jagdishwar temple, which Shivaji visited daily, stating that it will stand the test of time and shall remain forever! Adjacent to this temple is the Samadhi of Chhatrapati Shivaji, behind which one can see the statue of a dog on a pedestal. This, we are told, was Shivaji’s faithful dog ‘Waghya’ who committed suicide on learning about the death of his beloved master! Hence, he was immortalized next to his master. The overall area over which the Fort is built is huge and it would take at least a couple of days or more for a thorough absorption of the history therein. So, with a promise to return yet another day and spend a couple of days in the peaceful environs, we start on our way back. Lunch at ‘Kulkarni’s Suyash’ restaurant near Mangaon on our return trip is memorable for a couple of reasons. The first of course is the delicious food in a natural ambience and second is the crows that descend on the tables at every opportunity to peck at the leftovers. This inspite of the catapult bearers who keep taking potshots at the intruders. It seems like a regular game between the birds and boys! Fun to watch. Post lunch it was a straight drive back home with a feeling of day well spent. Getting there: By Road From Pune: Chandni Chowk - Paud Road - Mulshi – Adarwadi - Nizampur - Mangaon - Mumbai-Goa Highway - Mahad - Raigad Distance from Pune to Raigad is 150 Km. From Mumbai: Mumbai to Panvel by Goa highway towards Goa up to Mahad-Raigad. Distance from Mumbai to Raigad is 190 Km. For details regarding the Ropeway, visit their website at Accommodation: MTDC has cottages on top and reservations can be made at The Ropeway organisation also has accommodation details of which can be obtained at Restaurants/cafes are run by MTDC and the Ropeway organisation at the Fort. You will also find locals selling typical Maharashtrian food and buttermilk at the Fort. The locals do not have any stalls but carry the food in baskets on their heads.