A grand monument of Chhatrapati Shivaji is all set to be built in the Arabian Sea. But in constructing a brand-new memorial, the monuments that the great ruler left behind – the forts of Maharashtra – should not be forgotten.
Chhatrapati Shivaji was, without any doubt, the most beloved king of Maharashtra. So it is only natural for several people to support the construction of a monument in his memory. However, logically speaking, one cannot help but wonder if there’s really a requirement for the kind of monument that has been proposed recently!
When Shivaji was king, his prime territory lay among the Sahyadri mountain ranges of the Western Ghats. The forts that he conquered, built and developed as strategic locations during his reign still stand tall on the mountain peaks of Sahyadri as well as across the coastline of Maharashtra. A visionary king, he also developed his own navy and secured his kingdom with strong sea forts like Sindhudurg, Vijaydurg and Janjira.
The legacy that he has left behind in the form of over 400 forts that are simultaneously historical monuments and architectural marvels is astounding. These forts themselves serve as the biggest tribute to a great king.
The argument in the favour of the new monument is that it’s set to become a sensational tourist destination. However, if the existing forts are conserved, restored and maintained, they too could become tourist attractions. Forts like Raigad, Shivneri, Pratapgad, Lohgad, and Purandar, which are well-known, maintained and more accessible, see thousands of visitors through the year. But there are many magnificent forts in the state like Mangalgad, Prachitgad, Kailasgad, Vasota, and Harishchandragad, which are go-to places for avid trekkers, yet unknown to the public. Though the government has roped in funds to develop forts like Shivneri and Raigad, many find their efforts inadequate and feel that there’s scope for much more.
There’s no exact record of the number of forts in the state. It wasn’t before 2015 that the State government decided to take up a survey of all forts, which is still underway. Only 82 forts in the state come under the authority of the State and Central archaeological departments, while the rest are managed by the revenue department, or are privately owned. Some are being conserved by NGOs. But this is a mammoth task and it is difficult for small organisations to raise funds for conservation work.
With the foundation stone for the new monument laid, this might be an apt time to take a recce of seven little-known forts that are crumbling due to neglect across Maharashtra.
1. Mangalgad or Kangori
Located at a distance of about 20 km from Mahad, the fort is about 2,400 feet high and can be arrived at only after crossing a tough road winding around the mountain for over two miles, making it an exciting destination. The fort was constructed by the infamous knight of Jawali, Chandrarao More and then conquered by Shivaji. It is located at a strategic point in the valley of Jawali, which made it secure and difficult to attack back in the day. There are several other forts like this one, such as Makarandgad, Chandragad, Kawala Fort, and Pratapgad in the Jawali valley, each one possessing a unique, rough beauty.
The 4,665 feet high Harishchandragad fort in the Ahmednagar district is famous for being one of the best and most challenging night-trek locations in the Western Ghats. Situated near the Malshej ghat, it is around 90 km from Kalyan. There are multiple routes to access this fort and one often encounters fellow trekkers on these routes. The most difficult and challenging route is the Nalichi Vaat, which literally means ‘a way through a small tube’. This is a narrow channel requiring an 80-degree climb. Trekkers enjoy the challenge and often carry climbing gear. Many speak of the overnight camp at the top of the fort as an experience of a lifetime.
3. Alang, Madan and Kulang
Although these are three different forts, together they are famous for being the toughest hike for enthusiastic hikers. They are situated in the Kalsubai range, where many of the highest peaks of the Sahyadri, such as Kalsubai and Ratangad, lie.
The Alang Madan Kulang trek is reputed to be one of the toughest hikes to embark on. This trek allows one to explore a varied landscape by descending into deep valleys and gorges, walking long trails, and climbing steep slopes. Alang terminates in a huge plateau that offers a panoramic view of Kulang, Madan, and Kalsubai. Out of the three, Madan is considered to be the most difficult to climb.
Prachitgad, also known as Uchitgad or Rangna, is a huge fort that covers an area of over five acres. It is said that Shivaji built Prachitgad and Mahimangad near Kundi so as to go from one end of Sahyadri to the other. The fort served as a checkpoint to keep track of the happenings in western Maharashtra and Konkan.
The fort is located in the Chandoli National Park of the Sangli district. It has a strong outer wall that is still intact, but only the ruins of the inner wall are now visible. The fort has a well, a temple and five canons. The well has sweet, drinkable water. Trekkers often follow a four-hour trail from the village Patharpunj to reach Prachitgad. It is advised to have a guide while following this route, since someone unfamiliar to the area is likely to get lost. The Kandhar Doh (Kandhar lake) is a popular pitstop for trekkers.
Kailasgad is the sort of destination only seasoned trekkers in search of unorthodox hiking grounds are aware of. Blessed with a scenic setting, the fort is surrounded by the backwaters of the Mulshi Dam. Kailasgad was built during the reigns of the Satvahanas, according to experts. There are no known significant historical facts about the fort, except that it was visited by Shivaji once when he was the king.
Kailasgad, positioned strategically within the ghat region, was a fort from where soldiers could keep watch on the surrounding regions of the Tamhini ghat. It is an abandoned fort and, consequently, poorly maintained.
To know more about the forts in Maharashtra, visit the official website of Maharahstra Tourism here. To know about and contribute to the conservation work taken up by the organisation Shri Shiva Durga Samvardhan, visit their official website here or their official Facebook page here.