Mar 29, 2010

Pune-Mahabaleshwar-PratapGarh

Come summer and one longs for a break from the sweltering heat! The lesser beings like me don’t always get a chance to escape to some exotic locale but where I went it was no less beautiful.

Mahabaleshwar is aptly referred to as the queen of all hill-stations. Nestled in the lush greenery of evergreen forests, Mahabaleshwar is a cool hill-station located in the heart of the Sahyadri hills in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra. I call this pet summer destination MahaB and it takes about an hour and a half to reach there by road (located about 120 km (75 mi) southwest of Pune and 285 km (177 mi) from Mumbai to be precise).

Being a complete foody uppermost on my agenda were Strawberries and Mulberries. MahaB provides for almost 85%of the Strawberry cultivation in India. As soon as we arrived at the toll Naka we were flocked by hawkers and we readily bought off small baskets  full of fresh, ripe and humongous sized strawberries and lovely rich purple Mulberries. I found the fruits tasted even sweeter, luscious and succulent than ever, this time! I love to see red and purple stained fingers and lips after gorging on the simply wonderful fruits. We arrived at Mapro Gardens and set about what I was longing to do….sinking my teeth into a lovely, red strawberry (even as I write, right now) !
Freshly cut slices of Strawberry liberally filled into tall glasses with huge dollops of snow-white whipped Cream is literally mouthfuls of pleasure. I reveled in it to the point of forgetting that people were watching my gluttony! :)
Mulberry (colloquially referred to as Tutoo) & Cream was brimming and spilling over from huge bowls which was immediately, scoop after scoop, polished off in no time!

If you plan to visit on a weekend during the summer holidays, which is the ‘season’, it’s most advisable to make prior bookings in your choice of resort. We got a lovely suite which granted a fantastic view of the gorgeous Green valley that is a whopping beauty in the misty morns’.

Then the actual touring of Mahabaleshwar commenced with a visit to the main shrine, the temple of Mahabaleshwar (Lord Shiva) in the Old Kshetra Mahabaleshwar. Mahabaleshwar derives its name from this temple of Lord Shiva, made of three Sanskrit words: Maha meaning Great, Bali meaning powerful & Ishwar meaning Lord. The history and mythology behind the temple of the Very- Mighty- God has been well-described here

Photography is strictly prohibited here so I regret not being able to secure any for this travelogue. I guess, you’ll have to visit to experience and see the sanctity and peace I found as I offered prayers here.

The PanchGanga Temple built by the King Singhan of Deogiri in 1215 which was later rebuilt in the 16th Century. This ancient temple houses the water tank which is considered the source of the river Krishna that flows across Maharashtra, Karnataka & Andhra Pradesh. The mouth of the statue of a Cow in this temple is the legendary spout through which the river is born.

Amongst the scores of scenic points, the most interesting is the Elephant’s head point. You can even reach the point atop the head and get a breathtaking view of the panoramic valley.


Boating at Venna Lake in the evening is a pleasurable experience, one shouldn’t miss. The lake is spread over 28 Acres and the boatman rowing our boat informed me that it must be 30 ft deep. This is a perennial lake, Mahabaleshwar’s water resource.

The stretch outside the lake has a host of entertainment venues like Go-Karting Tracks, Open land for Horse-riding, Ferry-wheels, etc.

I’ve picked up a pair of gorgeous, silk-lined Razai (quilt) at the market.

If you dig authentic Maharashrian Non-veg food then Babachi Wadi is the place to check out at MahaB. It’s a quaint, shack-like restaurant in the middle of the market area, where you will be served piping-hot, spicy Kombdi-Wade or Mutton-Wade ( This is a spicy, rich, meat Gravy served with big Bhatura or Puri-like bread ), from a humble but clean kitchen. I promise you the food is of lip-smacking goodness. One can even get a delicious plate of spicy Pithla-Bhakri along with lovely rings of pungent onion, lime pickle and fresh green chillies here! So keep your inhibitions aside and hog away here, like I did!


Next on our itinerary was the famous, strong and formidable hill fort PratapGarh!
PratapGarh was rebuilt by Chattrapati Shivaj Maharaj in the 17th century after he took over Jaoli and Mahabaleshwar. We drove from Mahabaleshwar for about an hour again, through the snaking AmbeNali Ghat to reach the fort. Hiring a guide, we learnt a lot about its magnificent history!

The architect of the fort Hiroji Indulkar applied great thought to making the fort as invincible as possible. One of the prominent features that contributed to making it a strong fort was the double rows of thick walls on all sides with tiny windows at vantage look-out points .

While quarrying the side of the mountain for construction material, they hit upon spring water, thus making the site self-sufficient in water supply and building material.

The most significant role played by this fort in the history of the Maratha Empire was the defeat of the mighty Afzal Khan at the hands of Emperor Shivaji. It was at the base of this fort that the towering 7 footer, Afzal Khan failed to kill Shivaji with a bear-hug embrace and a hidden dagger- katyar. Shivaji was protected by armour underneath his clothes. He immediately emboweled Afzal Khan with one swish of the Wagh Nakhi, Tiger’s Claw. The complete and awe-inspiring history of this fort & the historic battle that ensued can be read here.
Shivaji’s lieutenant successfully captured the fleeing Afzal Khan and beheaded him. His head was carried away to the Raigad fort to be presented before Shivaji’s mother Jijabai. His body however was interred at Pratapgarh, itself. Seen in the pic’ is the spot of the Shamiyana, erected for the rendezvous between Afzal Khan and Shivaji Maharaj, where Afzal Khan’s tomb now stands.




                                          



The main entrance to the fort is the imposing Maha Darwaja.
Stepping through, one can touch and feel one of the ancient Canon, Top still at the spot, where once upon a time, it must have been readied for attack.    In those times each gun had her own name but the guide couldn't tell us what the name of this one was. With or without a name, she's beautiful, isn't she?
The convoy of the king and the king himself always used the Palkhi Darwaja.

This is the view from the execution (Kade-lot) point. From here an errant lieutenant or traitor would be dumped in a gunny bag and pushed off the cliff to a definite death in the menacingly deep valley.

To commemorate the tricentennary of the historic conquering of the mighty AdilShahi Killedar Afzal Khan & the Maratha King Shivaji Raje Bhaonsale, a statue of an equestrian Shivaji was installed at the top of the Pratapgarh fort in 1959 AD. Made of an alloy of 4 metals this statue weighs approx. 4000 Kgs.

The TulzaBhavani Temple housed within this fort was built by Shivaji Maharaj and his mother Jijabai who were ardent devotees of the goddess. It is believed that a prayer sent up to Godess Bhavani seldom goes unfulfilled. I paid earnest obeisance and returned with a happy heart. A holiday not at all planned but really well utilized!
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