High on History: Forts of Maharashtra – Mumbai Touchdown June 2009

It’s reigning history. And raining too. The monsoons are easily the most invigorating time for city slickers to hit the outdoors. Maharashtra’s forts offer an exciting option to rediscover history, complete with lush landscapes and heady pathways for company. Mumbai Touchdown charts out fascinating trails to five imposing citadels that have stood the test of time.


An impressive structure in the middle of the sea, Sindhudurg embodies the nautical adventures of the Maratha empire.

Spread over about 48 acres, Sindhudurg fort was built by Shivaji in 1664 AD. Though building a sea fort is a humongous task, there were no compromises while constructing the heavily fortified Sindhudurg. Located off the Malwan coast, the fort’s zigzag outer wall has numerous viewing spots to see the enemy approach from any side. Of the total fifty-two main bastions, two along the wall offer views of the Arabian Sea at Mumbai and Goa sides.

If Shivaji left no stone unturned in the effort to make the fort impregnable, he made life inside the fort equally comfortable by having his troops bore three freshwater wells, named Dhudh (milk), Shakhar (sugar) and Dahi (curds). There are many temples, including one dedicated to Shivaji, inside the fort. It’s a challenge to visit all of the fort’s must-see sites on your own.

So it’s advisable to get a guide, usually seen at the shops near the entrance. These shops sell packaged snacks, soft drinks and other knick knacks. The fort still houses about 100 people, and is open to visitors from morning to evening.

The only way to reach the fort is by boat from Malwan port. Visitors can stay only for an hour inside the fort, after which the same boat takes them back to shore. If you need to stay for more than an hour, offer to pay waiting charges to the boatman. Sindhudurg town is about 510 km from Mumbai on the Goa Highway. The fort can be approached only through a narrow navigable channel, between two small islands of Dhontara and Padmagad. Ferries ply regularly from the Malvan port to the Sindhudurg fort.

Best time to visit: June to February


Wet grass, misty air, slippery rocks, steep climb, crumbling stairs, murmuring streams – Sudhagad during monsoons is all of this and more.

At a height of about 2,200 feet, Sudhagad fort is believed to have been built in 200 BC. The Bhora Devi temple on top is said to have been built by sage Bhru Rishi. Sudhagad was managed by the kings of Bhor dynasty, who worshipped Bhora Devi. The first reference to Sudhagad is in the year 1436 when the Bahamani Sultan won over the fort. In 1657, the fort came under the control of the Marathas and the name was changed from Bhorapgad to Sudhagad.

External walls of the fort are still in relatively good shape, though the fort itself is in ruins. The area near the temple is dotted with stones, which we assume to be a burial ground for soldiers. There’s an ashram on top whose inmates will cook basic food for you for a fee.

From the base village, it’s a four-hour moderate trek. Where the route becomes very dangerous, a ladder is provided on the rock face to facilitate climbing. At one point, the path is just enough for one person to walk. When it becomes cloudy, visibility reduces to a few feet ahead. Thankfully, villagers have stuck sticks on either side to prevent anyone stepping into thin air.

After the adventurous climb, a vast plateau welcomes one. A further ten minutes walk takes one to the temple and the fort’s ruins. Take a stroll, relax and enjoy the view around. The area near the temple is dotted with hundreds of tombstones, supposedly those of the warriors and their wives who performed ‘Sati’.

A little exploration leads to a huge entrance in the middle of the forest, the route used for getting elephants to the forest. It’s amazing to see the huge stonewalls constructed along the steep slopes of the mountain still standing intact. Another marvelous sight is the ‘Chor Darwaza’, the secret passage used by soldiers to escape as well as to attack enemies in guerrilla style. The narrow, tunnel-like stone stairs gives an eerie feeling.

Sudhagad can be reached from Paachapur village, about 24 km from Pali, famous for the Ballaleshwar temple – one of the Ashtavinayakas. Drive down the Mumbai-Goa Highway; take a left at Nagathone and Pali is another 8 km ahead. If you can’t explore the driving down option, board a Karjat-bound local train from Mumbai. State Transport buses ply occasionally between Karjat and Pali. One can stay inside the temple, but be prepared with sheets/sleeping bags, candles and food.

Best time to visit: June to February


Overlooking the sleepy town of Junnar, Shivneri is famous as the birthplace of Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji.

Built on a triangular hill at a height of about 3,500 ft above sea level, Shivneri was a heavily fortified fort and was chosen by Shivaji’s father Shahaji as a safe place for his pregnant wife during the continuous warfare in the region. Many of its fortifications are well-preserved. Though born there, Shivneri was never ruled by Shivaji. Of course, he tried twice to capture the fort. Some 36 years later, it came under Maratha rule, but was taken by the British later.

Shivneri is greatly favoured by tourists for its historical significance. Vehicles reach till the base, but there’s no bus service. Hence, one has to depend on private cars or auto rickshaws. However, the 3-4 km walk from Junnar is quite enjoyable, especially when it rains. From the base, steps are provided.

The fort has seven gates, each still intact. Apart from enjoying the architectural beauty, one can visit the temple of Goddess Shivai as well as enjoy the beautiful view of Junnar town from top. Junnar is about 160 km from Mumbai and about 100 km from Pune. Shivneri is just 3 km from Junnar.

Best time to visit: June to February


Located at the highest point in the Mahabaleshwar hill range, Pratapgad witnessed many dramatic moments in the history Shivaji’s kingdom.

Now, here’s a fort at a height of about 3,543 feet above sea level that provided a good view of the surrounding area and control of a large portion of the ghat section. It’s believed that Pratapgad was constructed under the close supervision of Shivaji’s Prime Minister Moropant Trimbak Pingle.

The construction of the fort – with an upper fort on the crest of the hill and lower fort immediately below it on the south and east – helped to guard the passage to the hill on almost all sides. On the west and north sides of the fort, there are huge and almost vertical cliffs that make it inaccessible. On the east and south, there are dense forests on a sloping terrain. The entire Mahabaleshwar range can be viewed from the east of the fort while on the west is the Konkan valley.

Afzal Khan, the commander of the Bijapur army, was dramatically killed by Shivaji at Pratapgad. The war that ensued was gainful to Shivaji. Khan’s tomb is outside the fort. A recently added impressive attraction here is the elegant bronze statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on horseback, erected in 1957 and unveiled by late Prime
Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.

Pratapgad is a very popular tourist destination and is easily accessible. The base village Wada, which can be reached from Mumbai, Pune and Satara, is just 4 km away. Though vehicles reach till the base of the fort, the 4-km-walk along the circuitous road from Wada is a nice experience. Guides offer their services at the gate and hiring one ensures that you get a quick history lesson immersed in local flavour. The fort also has a few food and refreshment stalls.

Best time to visit: June to February