Distance: 415 km SE of Mumbai Travel Time
When to go: Panhala can be visited any time of the year, but the monsoon is best enjoyed by those who enjoy getting drenched reularly. In mid-December, there is a lovely winter warmth in the sun and a pleasant coolness in the shade.
Tourist Office: MTDC, Kolhapur
Toll free: 1800229930
STD code: 02328
Rail: Nearest railhead: Kolhapur (19 km/ 45 mins).
Road: Take the expressway to Pune. Take NH4 to Kolhapur, via Satara and Karad. Panhala is just off the Kolhapur-Ratnagiri National Highway No. 204
Once the abode of the greatest of Maratha warriors, today, Panhala (literally, home of serpents) is Maharashtra's smallest, albeit fastest developing city. The history of Panhala is inextricably linked to the history of the Maratha Empire. Shivajii captured the fort here in 1673 and Panhala was the state capital until 1782. The Maratha sovereign is said to have spent a lot of time in the fort, which was the largest of all the Deccan forts and strategically located at the apex of the Sahyadri mountain range, on an important trade route. It was taken over by the British in 1827.
Locals claim that most of the 150 original wells of the medieval fort of Panhalagarh were snuffed out when the town’s roads were being laid. This must have been sometime after 1842, when the British opened up the fort to other settlers. You can still see people pulling water out of one of the 35-odd surviving wells.
Things to see and do
The ruins in Panhala are scattered over a small area. They are from different times, and are often just vestiges. Although many ruins offer a great vantage point, visitors must brace themselves for steep walks uphill to get to them, which can prove to be especially difficult in the thin, chilly mountain air. Those who persevere are rewarded with great views and evocative ruins.
Built by the famous king called ‘Bhoj’, Ambarkhana, also called Dhanya Kothar, is a massive, well-preserved 11th-century granary, which is still functional. There are three buildings called Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati, which can collectively store upto 100 tons of grain. A large group of peasants comes out of the old ruins regularly, having stored their produce in the pits of this structure that has impressively withstood the test of time.
The aptly named Sunset Point is known for the awe-inspiring views it affords of the surrounds. Called Pusati Buruj in the ancient days, it was the northernmost point and thus an important watchtower from where soldiers could keep an eye on the movements of the enemy. Swallows and hawks continue to glide over the valley here. Behold the vast Masai plateau from any of the bastions in this part of the fort.
A single-storeyed structure, dating from the 11th century, Sajja Kothi is a great vantage point on the eastern battlement of the fort. The stone arches on its terrace, the open steps without railings, the overhanging canopy, all serve as framing devices for fun tourist photographs.
Tabak Van Udyan and Wagh Darwaza
Trees are allowed to grow any which way in Panhalagarh. They are given the leeway to make room for themselves, to stoop low to the ground with the weight of their aerial roots, which then become accessory trunks. Some adventurous branches even encircle the parent tree.
The hillsides are densely wooded of course, but even within the city, public parks have been developed around them. The most elaborate and enchanting of these is the Tabak Van Udyan. The hill beyond the original fort gate called Wagh Darwaza has been cut into a series of long steps from which paths head further into the tree cover. Stone benches gleam invitingly from inside mossy rock-cut caverns. At the end of it all is a panoramic view of the valley.
Sambhaji Temple, Kalavanti Mahal and Dharam Kothi
These three structures, adjacent to each other are, however, separated by time. The Sambhaji Temple is intriguing on account of its deity, worshipped locally. Dharamkothi has a lovely facade. Its name, as well as that of Kalavanti Mahal, are convenient local nomenclatures: the Dharam Kothi was where alms were once distributed, and the Kalavanti Mahal/ Naikinhicha Sajja is said to have been the abode of dancing girls in the time of Ibrahim Adilshah.
Teen Darwaza and Andar Bav
Both these buildings have a military past. Teen Darwaza was a gate within Shivaji’s fortifications, and Andar Bav was a trap for attacking soldiers during Adilshah’s time. Located adjacent to each other, the grounds of the two buildings are now the site for a large tourist camp.
Nagzari and Parasher Caves
These caves are not very far from each other. Nagzari, an old water source of the fort leads onto Parasher Caves, where the famous 18th-century Marathi poet Moropant is supposed to have composed his greatest works.
Near the town bus stand is a charming, active town library, which has in its possession, for viewing by visitors, a manuscript in Moropant’s own hand, with some of his verses.
Where to stay
Valley View Grand (Tel: 02328-235036; Tariff: INR 4,600-6,700; www.grandhotelbombay.com) has nice views. MTDC’s Mahalaxmi Resort (Cell: 09422046609; Tariff: INR 600-1,200; www.mtdchotels.com) near the fort is clean and comfortable. Hotel Hill Top (Tel: 235154, 235054; Tariff: INR 2,300-3,000; www.hotelhilltop.com) is located at Teen Darwaza. Panhala Fort Resort (Cell: 09422045334; Tariff: INR 650-1,600; www.mtdchotels.com), also a MTDC property, is near the fort. Empire Hotel (Cell: 07588620096; Tariff: INR 1,500-1,700) is by the bus station, and has a very comfortable set of spacious one-roomed ‘cottages’ set in a large arbour of trees.
A roomy sunlit Government Guest House (Kolhapur Tel: 0231-2666855; Tariff: INR 400) overlooks the whole hill station, next to Sajja Kothi. There are 6 double rooms, but no provision for food. Prior booking and permission letter required from Executive Engineer, Special Project (PW) Division, and Kolhapur.
Where to eat
The simplest looking lunch homes arranged around the bus stand – Gouri Dining, Khanawal, Om Ganesh – serve the most fresh, delicious food, meat especially. The famous Kolhapuri meat curry with the two accompanying sauces, the livid Tambda Rassa and the white Pandra Rassa are all a must try. Hotel Hill Top serves good vegetarian fare such as sol kadi. Valley View Grand is recommended for Chinese food. Om Ganesh and Khanawal are very good for simple vegetarian fare also. The other small places around the depot serve a decent poha/ upma breakfast. For a fancier meal, you could try Sanjha Chulha, at the Kawade Guest House. The MTDC restaurant at Mahalaxmi Resort serves mostly vegetarian and nonvegetarian Maharashtrian fare plus Punjabi and South Indian dishes.