Our escape to Rajgad fort…

It was going to be yet another boring weekend and after undergoing perpetual stress at work; I as usual wanted to get away from Pune. I ganged up with three other friends (Anand, Prafulla and Pratik) who had a mutual feeling. As you know that the History repeats itself, here too it repeated but in a different way. Just as Shivaji escaped from custody of Aurangzeb at Agra to come back to Rajgad his mountain capital, we too decided to escape to Rajgad from our tiring work.

Rajgad as the name suggests is the ‘King of all Forts’. This fort has great historical relevance, as it was Shivaji’s favourite fort and is first mountain capital. Rajgad is south-west 40 Kms from Pune. Rajgad boasts the highest number of days stayed by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on any fort. He spent almost 25/30 yrs here. Rajgad is famous for its construction. Fort is about 1350 mtrs. high.

The fort can be divided into four different parts based on geographical terrain and fortification. These are the three sub-plateaux (Machee) namely Padmavati Machee, Suvela Machee and Sanjevani Machee, and at the centre Ballekilla (meaning “small fort”).

Padmavati Machee (north end) :This machee is the site of Padmavati Temple, Padmavati Lake, Chor Darwaja, Pali Darwaja, Gunjavane Darwaja, Daru Kothar (storage of arms and ammunition), Diwankhana, Rajwada (ruins), Ghod Tale (Horse Lake), Sadar (office) and Dhalkathi (flag hoisting place).

Sanjeevani Machee (southwest/west end): This huge, beautiful and royally constructed machee faces west and has a three-stepped (layered) fortified structure. Each of the lower levels is separated from the higher one by a fortified bastion with a gate that could be defended independently. The lowest level is beautifully fortified by double curtain walls (chilkhathi) separated by a deep trench, on average 12 feet across. One can walk between these walls. The outer wall has openings to let soldiers out for sudden attack.

Suvela Machee (south east): This is another grand machee facing east with lots of secret routes and doorways. This one is a double-stepped fortified machee with the steps separated by a beautiful bastioned doorway. At the end of first step a hole cuts across the rock; one can sit on this hole (nedhe). The final (lowest) step like Sanjeevani Machee is has a double curtain wall. To the south side of this machee one can find a beautiful triangular bastion called Kaleswari buruz having an escape door near it. The home of the renowned military leader Tanaji Malusare in this machee.

Bale Killa (centre): This is the highest part of the fort which has remains of palaces, water cisterns and caves. It has a beautiful entrance door called Mahadarwaja. One can view the whole fort and the vast surrounding expanse.

On a very short notice, four of us decided and planned to have the weekend over the King of Forts. So as planned we set off from Swargate bus stand, Pune at 8.30 am on Saturday morning. Speeding past the highway we wanted to reach the base village by 11 am. The day before we had taken the route info. Somewhere it said that you get down at the base village Velhe and from there we can start our climb. Little did we know that Velhe was the basevillage of Torna Fort and not the Rajgad Fort. When we reached Velhe, we already knew that we were running behind schedule for the climb. Not wasting much time, we quickly had our breakfast as we all were famished.

From Velhe we took a private car to reach one of the basevillage of Rajgad, named Pali. Pali is a small village at base of the fort which leads to the Pali Darwaja of the Fort. From Pali we started our actual journey towards the fort with the treacherous Sun right above our heads. The scorching afternoon heat took its toll on us. With all that trekking material accounting to almost 4-5 kgs hanging on our shoulders, we had to take stops at regular intervals to rejuvenate ourselves.

After a tiring steep climb of 2-3 hrs, we eventually reached the Pali Darwaja, where we had some fun taking snaps. An awesome view we had from the top. You get a pure sense of achievement, an accomplishment after you reach your destination. A few steps from Pali Darwaja and we reached the Padmavati Machee where you’ll find the actual ruins. Just having a look around, we could really feel the History and those golden days of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

Rajgad fort, which is 1350 mts in height consists of three long ridges leading from the central ‘Bale Killa’ (the central place), which is almost 500 feet high and really difficult to climb. Then you have the Padmavati Machee/ridge towards the south is where the main temple and water tank is situated. It offers a good place to stay! Then there is the Sanjivani Machee ,Suvela Machee. The Suvela Machee is one of the strongest places on the fort. The third Machee – Sanjivani is very beautiful too.

We had decided to park ourselves at one of the temples with the other trekkers, but all the temples were occupied. Hence we finally decided to camp in the open. We camped on the verandah of the Daru Kothar(Explosives room). It was around 3 pm and we had enough time on our hands to take some rest and explore the fort. We first went to Suvela Machee. You get a spectacular view of the Fort and the surrounding ridges from there. On your way to the Suvela Machee you’ll come across a Chilkhati Buruj (Watch tower) and a really big hole in the huge rock wall(called nedhe), almost of the size of a Volkswagon Beetle. While coming back to our camp from Suvela Machee, we spent some time there in the hole admiring the nature’s magic. Once back, we relaxed for a while and chalked out the next day’s schedule. It was almost sunset, so took off to catch the awesome glimpse of the Sun setting behind the dense fog.

The view of the sunset from Rajgad is really awe inspiring as the sun sets behind the Torna fort surrounding the entire ridge and valley between Rajgad and Torna with an orange halo for a brief period that seems like eternity. Rajgad connects to Torna vide a ridge and this is a complete day’s trekking taking about 6 -7 hours of trek.

After sunset we prepared a good sumptuous dinner which included lots n lots of Maggie. We had candle light + torch dinner and after dinner decided to sign off into the open and sleep under the open skies. At Rajgad, you lie down and look up at the skies you see so many stars, a rare treat for city living Puneites. We ended up doing a little bit of stargazing. At around 11 pm the tiredness of the day’s activity set in and we slept wonderfully amidst a natural surrounding with the wind playing its night song on an otherwise silent dark night. We experienced both the weathers in a single day itself. Scorching heat in the afternoon climb, and bone chilling cold in the night. I had two sweat-shirts on and a double pair of stockings (football socks), still I could feel the cold. Finally, after a struggle of an hour or so with the cold, I finally was lucky to get some sleep. The cool breeze blowing around would try to break my dreamy sleep once in a while. Then very early in the morning at around 3.30 am, I just got up, took my torch and went around in the dark abyss. After wandering around for some time, I came back and took a nap.

Next morning (Sunday) we were up by 6.00 am. We first washed the utensils that we used the last night for cooking, packed our stuff and set off to for Balle Killa, which is a 45 minute climb from Padmavati Machee. It is a very difficult climb. However there is a railing on your way up to make the climb possible. Once you have reached the ancient Gates that mark the entrance to the Bale Killa, the sense of achievement is universal as one glimpses into a beautiful view of the lake from the top. We spent time talking about the place clicking photographs. One can see the whole of Sahyadri’s from the top of this fort. The vision includes Torana, Raireshwar, Mahabaleshwar, Pratapgad, Raigad, Lingana, Bhatghar, Tung, Visapur and Sinhagad.

The bird’s eye view from Balle Killa was something that really cannot be described in words. You have to be there and experience it. Having our breakfast of fruits and bhel, we took some breathtaking snaps before we started climbing down from Balle Killa. It was 9 am when we reached back to our bags kept at the Daru Kothar. We could not explore Sanjivini Machee as we were running short of time. All of us had to get back to our jobs, which mainly provides our daily bread and butter and there was no shying away from that fact. Having got a good reason to come back yet again, we started descending, we set off for descend to the Gunjavne village through Chor darwaja. Gunjavane is another base village. This is the village from where people mostly prefer to climb. It was 9.40 am when we actually started our journey back after filling up our water bottles. We had to reach Gunjavane before 11 to catch the state transport bus to Pune coz after 11 am the next bus is at 4 pm. Hence, without taking any stops, we literally ran down all through our descend and reached the base village in exactly 1 hour (10.40 am). It was a thrilling experience of non-stop running down the mountain.

After we reached down, we made ourselves some sandwiches waiting for the bus. The bus arrived at 11.15 am and after a few minutes we were enroute to Pune. Reaching Pune at 2 pm, we head back to our homes. A perfect end to an adventurous weekend.

Rajgad is truly a place to visit and remember the greatest Maratha King. One must visit the fort and enjoy the nature and the beauty of the great fort.

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