During the last weekend, I visited the beautiful hilly haven of Mahabaleshwar, which is situated some 269 kms from Mumbai. Before we go any further, you must know that the month of May is especially harsh as it is the crescendo of the Indian summer season. Temperatures reach 40 degrees Celsius (and beyond), you can not go out in the afternoon without risking sun burn; so when you get the chance to spend at least a few days away from the sun and go in the mountains, you jump on it. This post will be about the first half of the trip.
It was the first time I’d traveled via the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, and it was a very pleasant ride. I am prone to motion sickness but that didn’t affect me much this time (I conquered it with a mix of medicine and sitting in the front seat.) The journey lasted for about 8 hours; starting at 12 p.m.; with a stop at McDonald’s and at a place called The Fountain, which had the most divine Tender Coconut Ice Cream I’ve ever tasted. We reached Mahabaleshwar at around 9 p.m.
One thing you must know about Mahabaleshwar is that this place has a bounty of fruits which are utterly delicious and difficult to find otherwise. Strawberries, figs, java plums (Jambul/Jamun), raspberries, etc are found in abundance. Also other berries (बैर, बेर,बोर – zizyphus) can be found, like these: called “chinimini bora” (marathi for petite berries).
Nestled in the natural splendour of this place is the famous Pratapgad Fort. Its name literally translates to “Valour Fort”, and was the site of the famous battle between Chatrapati Shivaji and Afzal Khan on Nov 10, 1615. Built in 1656, the fort stands 3,540 ft above sea level, and has a splendid view for miles. Unlike other forts, this one is actually owned by the descendants of the Maratha King, though is opened for tourist visits.
This 17 feet high equestrian bronze statue of Shivaji was unveiled by Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, on the 30th of November 1957.
Most of the sites inside the fort have stories behind them, such is also the case with the Bhavani mata temple in the fort. In 1661, Shivaji Raje was unable to visit the temple of the goddess Bhavani at Tuljapur. He decided to dedicate a temple to the goddess at this fort itself. This temple is on the eastern side of the lower fort. According to what the guide told us, we were to focus on three things once inside the temple, first, the murti of the goddess, second, the sword of Hambirao Mohite, who supposedly killed 600 men in battle (with that same sword); and thirdly, the crystal figurine of a Shiv Linga.
I’ve visited one other fort of the Shivaji Era (Raigad), and I found this one a bit better in condition, as there are still people living in the fort area. A thing which was very obvious was the amount of heritage that was lost during the years under the Mughals and the Britishers. Most of the original structure of both the forts had been demolished and only a husk of what had been remained. The emptiness echoed as I wandered along the black stone floors. There’s a need to rediscover and keep the past alive, which is glorious to say the least. Indian history is rich and vibrant, much more than other civilizations. It feels as though we know a lot less about our own heritage than we do about other cultures.
We talk a lot about what all happens around the world and how heroic Hercules was, but there was a man in India whose glory was as great as Alexander’s.
More about the trip in Part II.