Tuesday, 31 January 2012

History of Lohagarh

Debasish Sinha

Lohagarh Fort
Lohagarh, which literally means the ‘Iron Fort’, was extensively used by the great Maratha King Chhatrapati Shivaji and is located at an altitude of more than 1,050 metres on the Sahyadri ranges which divide the Pavna basin and the Indrayani basin. Lohagarh Fort was one of my dream destinations owing to its historical importance and ancient architecture, as well as the scenic beauty surrounding the fort.

The fort attracts most tourists during the monsoon season, with a lot of greenery and a variety of flowers, waterfalls in full flow and the clear rocky trail – making it a paradise which provides a lot of activities for the trekkers. The long, stretching plateaus are fascinating to watch. The main characteristic of Lohagarh is the strong fortification built on a large plateau. The fort’s four mammoth gates are still intact and in good condition. A panoramic view of the Pavana Dam can be seen from the fort. Food is not easily available on the route and most of the food stalls sell only water, tea/coffee, snacks, soft drinks and sometimes, Vada pav.

It was during the month of November that my senior colleague Dugdharam Kalita and I had to visit Pune, which gave us the opportunity to see the historical Lohagarh Fort. The scenery during November was a bit different from the one in the monsoon season, with the greenery turning yellowish-brown due to the waterfalls being totally dried-up, leaving behind the rocky trails.

We started at about 11.30 a.m. from Pune, preferring to take a local train, available from Pune to Lonavla station and back to Pune uptill 12.30 midnight. Malavli is the previous station before reaching Lonavla station, which is almost seven kilometres from the Bhaje village, but if you don’t have a personal vehicle, you will have to walk the entire distance to the Bhaje village which is at the base of the trekking trail to the Lohagarh Fort. So, we decided to get down at the Lonavla station and took an auto-rickshaw for a to and fro ride. We crossed the bridge over the Pune-Mumbai highway to step into a short, paved road which leads to the Bhaje village.

A wide, stone-lined track from the Bhaje village leads towards the fort. On the left, some concrete steps proceed to the famous Buddhist caves of Bhaje. We proceeded along the track leading to the fort. The arduous walk to the fort is wonderful due to the picturesque scenery and cool mountain air. A variety of birds and insects can also be spotted in these hills. After reaching Loharwadi, a village situated in the depression between Lohagarh and Visapur, also a place where vendors sell refreshments at the base of the fort, a track towards the left takes you to the Visapur Fort, which is larger and also higher than the Lohagarh Fort. Now in ruins, the history of the Visapur Fort is closely linked with that of the Lohagarh. British troops in 1818 AD set up their canons at Visapur for utilising its higher position and bombarded the Lohagarh Fort, forcing the Marathas to leave the fort.

Lohagarh Fort was occupied by many dynasties — the Satavahanas, Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Yadavas, Bahamanis, Nizam Shahis, Mughals and the Marathas. Shivaji captured Lohagarh in 1648 AD and used it as a watchtower to guard his trade route. Shivaji’s battle for independence from the Mughals started at the fort of Torna in 1643 AD, but by the Treaty of Purandar, he had to surrender it to the Mughals in 1665 AD. It was recaptured by Shivaji in 1670 AD and was used for housing the treasury. From then on, the fort remained with the Marathas. But later, both the Lohagarh and the Visapur Fort were taken over by the British in 1818 AD.

With a sparse settlement, a statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji, a small restaurant, along with a banner of Junglelore — an organisation which offers several trekking expeditions and some travel tours — the stone carved steps ascending towards the right mark the beginning of the climb to the gates of the fort. The ascending steps seem to be in good shape. However, at some places, they are displaced, probably due to natural calamities. The stone blocks used in the fort walls, which were fitted together with some adhesive materials other than cement, stand witness to the perfection and expertise of the workmanship in those ancient days. The fort wall with the three layers of defence can be seen and easily ascertained. Absence of architectural decorations, as well as the functionality of the fort walls make it a perfect fighting bastion, which sets the fort apart from other fort-palaces elsewhere in India.

On the top, there is a small temple of Lord Shiva built at the centre, with a statue of the Nandi bull, Lord Shiva’s escort, sitting in front of the temple’s entrance. The undulating terrain provides breathtaking views in all directions. The Vinchu Kata (scorpion’s sting), so called because of its shape, is an extension of the fort which was used as a line of defense in ancient days. The stepped bawdi (tank) used as a water storage facility, shows the meticulous planning of the ancient warrior kings to ensure abundant water during a siege. The Lonavla reservoir, shimmering under the rays of the setting sun, surrounded by the Deccan plateaus of the Sahyadri hills, is a sight to behold.

Finally, it was almost 6.00 p.m. when we started our return journey from the famous Lohagarh Fort, with enthralling memories and hopes for another visit during the monsoon season.

After an hour’s walk, we reached Bhaje village at the bottom of the hill where our auto-rickshaw was waiting. From Lonavla, we took a local train, which dropped us at the Pune station.

Courtesy: The Assam Tribune (22 January 2012)
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