Some people would have you believe that the gods themselves once walked this land. Two particular deities in Raigad and Mahad, however, were mere mortals whose amazing lives and struggles elevated them to this level, and their images have now been strewn all over this region. As you go from one tourist trap to another in Raigad and Mahad, your respects will be demanded many a time in front of statues of Shivaji Maharaj and Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar.
What to See and Do in Raigad
Shivaji’s father, Shahji Bhonsle, had selected Rairi Hill near Mahad as a suitable capital because of its unscalable rock face. The fort that Shivaji later built atop Rairi, where he crowned himself under a chhatri and thus became ‘Chhatrapati’, and where he died, remained unconquered throughout his lifetime.
There was only one path up and throughout his reign the king offered handsome gifts to people who could figure out unconventional methods of making it to the top undetected. The British, who called Raigad Fort the Gibraltar of the East, eventually got to it and blew up quite a bit of the structure. What remains is largely ruins, with some new structures, the most important of which is the samadhi of Shivaji.
If you choose to climb on foot instead of taking the ropeway, you will pass some strategic gates and towers. It is a tough 2-to-3-hour hike starting from Pachad village. If you take the cable car instead, visit the small but interesting museum at the base station. You will be shown a short documentary as part of the ropeway package and will get free guides too once you reach the fort. However, if you want the guides to speak Hindi or English instead of Marathi, they will ask for ‘consideration money’.
Even though there are no grandiose remains on top, it’s an incredible experience just to be up there. The views are expansive and if you happen to go during the rains you will realise, with pleasure and thrill, that the fort was built as high up as the clouds.
Takmak Cliff and Lingmala Rockface can be exhilarating for rock climbers. On the top, you can see the gutted Queen’s Palace, as well as the granaries, Raj Bhavan and Takmak Tok, or the ‘punishment point’, from where Shivaji’s enemies were unceremoniously hurled down into the valley. There are also Gangasagar Lake, which apparently has waters from the Ganga brought here for Shivaji’s coronation, Jijamata Palace and Jagadishwar Temple nearby to visit.
For more information on the ropeway, check out the state tourism website.
Where to Stay and Eat
Raigad Ropeway (Pune Tel: 020- 25459730/ 32/ 35, Cell: 07447480222; Tariff: `800–2,500, dorm `250), earlier Jog Engineering Lodge, offers accommodation both at the ropeway base station and within the fort. Although the facilities are basic, it is well maintained. MTDC Resort (Cell: 09422787776; Tariff: `1,800), near the fort, has a fantastic location. It offers 10 rooms, two dorms, and has a restaurant. Raigad Ropeway has a restaurant called Sarja at the base station, which serves decent south-Indian thalis. Snacks are available here and at MTDC.
Mahad (27km): Chawdar Tank is right in the centre of Mahad town. In 1927, as a symbolic blow to the centuries-old caste hierarchy that he spent his life trying to struggle against and break, Dr BR Ambedkar drank water from this tank, reserved for the upper castes. Ten thousand people had gathered with him in an event that became famous for all posterity as the Mahad Satyagraha.
Also, take a dip in the hot water springs at Sav Unala. There are caves at Shivtargad, 55 km away and right next to a waterfall. An ascetic called Ramdas Baba, lived in these caves for 14 years, writing the Dasbodh Granth. Walan Kund is also 55km away, but in a different direction from Shivtargad. If you throw in food in the freshwater, fish will come for it seven successive times – each time a different shoal and each shoal comprising bigger fish than the last.
For accommodation, there is Motel Visava, Hotel Saitej, and Kuber Palace Resort right on the highway. All have restaurants attached to them.