Saturday, February 29, 2020

Fort 4: Weekend Trek to Raigad...Truly a Fort fit for a King!



The Magnificent Raigad 


Name: Raigad (Formerly Rairi)
Height: 4400 feet/1356 metres above sea level
Trek Category: Easy trek through the Maha Darwaza climbing 1737 steps
Equipment required:  None but wear appropriate trekking shoes for this trek
Base Village(s): Pachad and Raigadwadi 
Distance from Pune: 132 kms from Pune, via Tamhini Ghat Road. Bad roads (till the ghats) lengthens the travel time to about 4+ hours 
Time to trek uphill: 1-2 hours approximately. A Ropeway (trolley) is also available to get to the top of the fort. https://www.raigadropeway.com/ticket.html
Where to stay: Staying overnight is possible in self-pitched tents or in one of the rooms or dormitories available there. 
Booking site: https://www.raigadropeway.com/accommodation.html
Where to eat: Carry your own food & water if possible as limited options are available.  Pithala bhaakri, vada pav, misal pav is usually available at the Sarja Hotel near the ropeway. Sometimes the villagers can also arrange for fresh meals as requested. Meals (Rice plate) need to be ordered in advance at the Sarja restaurant if staying overnight on the fort
Best time to visit: November-February and monsoons
Guide services on the trek - Not required as the trekking path (steps) is quite straightforward and evident.



Takmak Tok on the left and the fort ramparts/steps on the right

History of Raigad:

This fort was captured by Shivaji Maharaj from the Mores, ...surprised? Yes it was not built but rather captured and renovated by Shivaji to make it his capital. As per the records, the fort was earlier known as Rairi and was built by Chandrarao More in 1030 AD. The Mores were the cadet dynasty descending from the earlier Maurya dynasty.  Shivaji seized this fort from the Mores in 1656, renovated it and later in 1674, he was coronated as the Chhatrapati on this very fort.

This fort changed many hands after the Marathas. In between, it was captured by Aurangzeb and renamed as Islamgad to be captured again by the Marathas. Later, in the early 19th century, 1818 to be precise, the fort was destroyed by the British and brought under their territory. Thereafter this fort was closed to the public for close to a century. There ended the saga of this illustrious fort as it was in its hey days, but today, thanks to the efforts of the Maharashtra Government and ASI, the fort has been well maintained and has acquired an iconic status of having been the capital of the Maratha Empire.

Today, this fort is no longer just a trekker's delight or a tourist spot, it has become a pilgrimage for Shiv-Bhakts who throng the fort in thousands on Shivaji Jayanti. Thanks to the ropeway, many visitors plan a day's visit to this  magnificent fort and pay their respects to Shivaji Maharaj.



Points of interest on the fort


Getting to Raigad fort from Pune:

1) Raigad is situated near Mahad in Raigad district of Maharashtra. It is about 132 kms from Pune via Tamhini Ghat. The road conditions, especially after crossing the ghat, are not that great and it takes about 4-4.5 hours to cover the distance.

Pune --> Paud Road/Mulshi Road in Pirangut --> Tamhini Ghat Road --> Pachad Road in Nizampur  --> Raigad fort


2) There is another longer route from Pune via Varandha ghat which is around 147 kms.

Pune --> NH48 --> Bhor/Kapurhol Road --> MH SH 70 in Bhor --> Mahad naka --> Varandha Ghat Road --> NH66 --> Raigad Road --> Raigad fort

There are no direct buses or trains to the fort from Pune. It is advisable to hire a cab or take your own vehicle to reach the fort.

Parking:

Parking is available in plenty at the base of the fort. One can park overnight as well for a nominal fee in the hotel/dhaba premises.


Food and Toilet Facilities

Obviously there are no toilets during the trek or even in the base village. Wondering when will the ASI start having such basic facilities near heritage sites...

Food options, mostly snacks, are available in plenty at the base of the fort. Villagers sell water bottles, buttermilk, lemon juice and other packaged snacks on the way to the fort and also on the fort. They even arrange for home-made rustic food on the fort like pithala-bhaakri, dahi and thecha if one request them beforehand.

There is also a small restaurant on the fort, just behind the ropeway, which goes by the name Sarja Uphar Gruh. It serves snacks and can even arrange for a rice place or a thali on the fort, if requested in advance.


Staying Overnight on the Fort

This fort is huge and offers a lot to see The distances between the various points of interest are also large making it quite a task to cover the fort in one day, especially after travelling from Pune or Mumbai. Hence it is advisable to stay put on the fort for a night. 

We stayed in one of the non-AC rooms of the Raigad Ropeway Lodges. The rooms, although very basic in nature, were spectacularly clean and well maintained. It provided us with good clean linens, beds, blankets and bathroom. Towels were not provided to us so be sure to carry them with you if you plan on staying here. 

The Trek/Ropeway

One has to climb around 1737 steps to reach the fort. It took us slightly more than an hour to reach the top. The steps are in great shape and regularly maintained by the authorities. The steps are not too steep as well and barricaded well with stone walls.

Soon we reached the Maha Darwaza, the one and only entrance to the fort and made our way inside the fort. This entrance is massive as the name suggests and still stands strong today without a single crack in its structure. This door used to be closed at sunset everyday only to be opened the next day at sunrise.



Maha Darwaza - the main entrance

The sturdy Maha Darwaza from inside


The other quicker route is to take the ropeway from the base of the fort and reach the top in just about 5-6 minutes. The ropeway drops you just off the Mena Darwaza. The ropeway costs around Rs 185 for a single ride and Rs 315 for a two-way ride for an adult.  Here is the link to the ropeway site:
https://www.raigadropeway.com/ticket.html


Exploring the Fort

This once impenetrable fort has numerous points of interest for an avid tourist. One can start exploring from the Mena darwaza near the ropeway and  begin with the Queens' palaces.  Shivaji Maharaj had 8 queens in his lifetime. His first wife and chief consort, Saibai Bhosale breathed her last on Rajgad and another queen, presumably Putalabai  stayed in Pachad at the base of the fort. So rightly there are remains of 6 quarters in the Rani Vasa (Queens' Palace) of which only the base remains with evidences of a private bathroom in each quarter.

The Queens and the other royal ladies used the Mena darwaza to access their quarters, while Shivaji and the other nobles used the Palkhi Darwaza on the other side to enter the premises. Just to the right of the Palkhi darwaza are some deep rooms which are believed to be granaries of the fort. Next to the granaries is Shivaji's royal bath with an impressive drainage system. Adjacent to it is a secret room where confidential meetings were supposed to be held. In the front are the remains of the watch towers which were built to keep an eye of any untoward movements near the fort. They were 7-storied in structure when they were built, out of which just 3 floors remain today.



Watch Towers


Ruins of another watch tower


In front of these towers is the deep Ganga Sagar Lake. It is said that water from the Ganges was brought on to the fort for the coronation ceremony of Shivaji Maharaj. After the ceremony, the remaining holy water was emptied into this lake and hence the name - Ganga Sagar. This lake never goes dry even in the harsh summers and was a reliable water source for the fort in the olden days.



Watch towers and Ganga Sagar Lake


Shivaji's residence, the Royal Palace covered a huge area in front of the watch towers. Sadly, today the palace is in ruins with the just the stony base intact. The wooden palace is long gone. Beyond the palace lies the public durbar or his courtroom. The durbar is massive with a Nagarkhana darwaza (the darwaza holding the grand musical instruments) on one end and a Sinhasan or a throne at the other. The accoustics of this durbar are particularly noteworthy as even the slightest sound could be heard from one corner of this durbar to the other. It is also said that when the King leaned towards the left and whisphered, only the people on his left could hear what he said, the people on the right side of the durbar could not hear the King and vice versa. Amazing isn't it!



All that remains of the Royal Palace is...

Nagarkhana Darwaza - the main entrance to the public durbar


The sinhasan today is a replica of the original one which is said to have weighed 1.28 tonnes in pure gold, precious gems and panch dhatu. Such was the magnificence of the throne that it was much talked after and even recorded in the annals of history by those present in the coronation. The coronation was a grand affair fit for the Chhatrapati and even grander was his throne.  Unfortunately, today, no one knows the whereabouts of this throne. After the escape of Rajaram from Raigad fort in 1689 to escape the Mughals, it is not exactly known what happened to this throne - whether it was taken and hidden away in safety by the Marathas or was it destroyed by those invading the fort. Today, just the replica remains...


The Sinhasan


Making your way through the Nagarkhana darwaza, you pass through the Holi cha Mal - the area where the fort used to celebrate Holi - and see another statue of the Chhatrapati seated in all his glory. In front of this statue lies the Market Place built on an elevated platform on either sides of a wide road. The height of this platform was such that it enabled the horse riders of yore to shop without alighting from their horses. The planned and well-built market place speaks volumes of the architectural layout of this fort.


The elevated market shops

The Market Place with shops on both sides of the road


Hiroji Indulkar was the chief architect of Raigad. Using stone and lead, he had built an invincible masterpiece that safeguarded the Swarajya on numerous occassions...of course until it was destroyed by the British using cannons from close quarters. Such was his faith and loyalty towards Shivaji that as reward for his years of hard work, he asked for neither weatlh nor fame but just for an inscription of his name on the one of the steps leading to Jagdishwar temple. The inscriptions still exists today and reminds us of the hard work and sacrifices of thousands of Marathas who contributed in building the Empire.


The inscription of Hiroji Induklar


Jagdishwar temple is another beauty and an active temple on the fort. It appears like a Masjid from a distance with minarets on four corners to lead the enemy into believing that it was a Muslim place of worship. The door of the temple is also quite low so that invaders who tried to enter the temple had to stoop low and could easily become a target for the Maratha soldiers inside. An excellent example of military camouflage, as it could ward off hostile invaders like the Mughals or Nizams who were intent on destroying Hindu places of worships.


Jagdishwar Temple

The Shivalingam inside the Jagdishwar Temple


The Samadhi (tomb)of the great King lies in front of the temple. The tomb was discovered in 1880, almost 60 years after the fort was abandoned and then renovated in 1895 to its present state. Next to it is the tomb of Waghya, his loyal dog who supposedly jumped into the King's pyre after his master. There is some controversy going on regarding the veracity of the existence of Waghya and today the canine's samadhi is being protected by the ASI.

Amidst all these architectural marvels, lies the natural marvel of Takmak Tok, a place of execution from where the guilty were thrown off the cliff to carry out a death sentence. This place experiences such high velocity winds that it is difficult to stand on the cliff lest alone peer down the steep valley. The point today is safeguarded with railings and is a popular tourist point. Legend has it that one of Shivaji's guards who was holding his umbrella (chhatri) could not withstand the velocity of the wind and was blown away from the cliff. However, as luck would have it, he clung on to the chhatri like a parachute and safely landed at a place below known as Nizampur - which has been duly renamed as 'Chhatri Nizampur' village since then.



Takmak tok


Another awe-inspiring story of the fort is how the Hirkani Buruz was built. I am sure many of you would be aware of how a young mother clambered down an unfortified steep cliff on Raigad to get back to her young one after the Maha Darwaza of the fort was closed for the day. A Marathi movie by her name - Hirkani was released recently in 2019 glorifying the brave mother. The Maharaj recognized her bravery and rewarded her by fortifying the cliff and building a bastion in her name - the Hirkani Buruz. This buruz is on the other side of the fort towards the west and offers a panoramic sunset view if visited in the evening.

There are many other points of interest on the fort like the Hatti Talav, Wagh Darwaza and much more.  I am sure there will be many more stories too to go along with them. Two full days of exploration is what would be needed if you decide to explore the fort end to end. Hence, it is recommended to hire the services of an experienced guide to save time. Guides are available just outside the ropeway and the price for visiting various points are already fixed. So there is no hassle of bargaining or fear of getting cheated. A whole day's tour with the guide today will cost you around Rs 1500.

So what are you waiting for? Plan a trip to this erstwhile capital of the Maratha Empire and relive its fascinating history through the numerous tales and legends that surround this fort.