The movie for the day was ‘The Great Wall’, a Chinese film starring Matt Damon with the script revolving around a fantasy-war fought by the Chinese army stationed atop the Great Wall against a horde of mythical creatures. The warriors fight valiantly using the brilliant blue crane corps and black powder to their advantage, but the wall itself has several secrets inbuilt to defend the land of the red dragon. Battles and ancient architecture – a much-needed trigger to make me sit down and pen this long-pending piece.
The Royal Entrance
Cut from the Great Wall to India. Pratapgad, Maharashtra to be precise. The first trip for the year saw us heading to Mahabaleshwar with a couple of friends for some good weather and fresh strawberries. Of the routine sight-seeing spots, Pratapgad was the only one that held our interest. And so there we headed.
When I first shifted to Pune, all the frenzy around Shivaji Maharaj was very amusing for me. The city comes alive on Shivaji Jayanthi with the saffron flags and Jai Bhawani Jai Shivaji chants and some youngsters even march up the famous killas of Shivaji to hoist the flags. But none of this really enthralled me, until I found myself climbing up the Pratapgad with Sandeep, a descendant of the Shivaji army who doubled up as our guide. Generations have gone by, but the pride and loyalty remain. Generations of the army family continue to live inside the fort, carrying out the many rituals, “The doors are closed at six, and our day comes to an end, we don’t step out after that,” says Sandeep. The fort is a private property, maintained by the heir of the erstwhile Satara princely state.- Udayanraje Bhosale, an MP. One hell of an ancestral property to inherit no?!
Cannon posts opposite the entrance
History textbooks have taught us that Shivaji Maharaj was known for his use of guerrilla warfare to one up the Mughals. This visit to Prathapgad truly brought alive those chapters. The fort is a standing testimony, illustrating some of Shivaji’s tricks. The structure is built in two parts, the lower fort, and the upper fort. The lower fort walls are lined with bastions with a narrow hidden entryway, making it difficult for big armies to navigate through. The main entrance itself is surrounded by hidden posts to shelter soldiers and cannons, ready to raise hell. The fort walls beyond the main entrance are lined with chutes carved to spill hot oil on the attackers.
Restrooms with a view!
The hilly terrain has been used as an advantage to store the flowing waters in tanks for during long battles. The architects even had the presence of mind to build restrooms, humble stone structures, for the soldiers. Once an army enters the fort, there is no alternate route for retreat, as there is only one entrance. The upper fort is at a higher altitude giving enough time for the army to shield the fort from the attackers, and the only exit at the summit is more of an escape route than an exit, allowing soldiers to escape back to the base to lock the attackers inside the fort.
A water storage pond/tank midway through the fort.
This is just one of the many.
The escape route entry on top, now restricted, and rectangular escape route that
opens into the hills below
The most famous battle of Prathapgad was fought between Shivaji Maharaj and Afzal Khan, the braveheart commander of the Adilshah dynasty. The story goes that Afzal Khan was desperate to bring Shivaji down from the mountains to the plains to gain an advantage. But Shivaji used his cunning & strategy and sent word through an emissary to inform Khan of his reluctance for a battle and an agreement for a peace meeting with the commander unarmed, barring personal guards. Afzal Khan knew this was an opportunity to outwit the Maratha warrior, and arrived at the base of Prathapgad with his guards and a dagger. The commander least expected Shivaji to be armoured and carrying a sword. A battle ensued among the guards and ended with Shivaji Maharaj beheading Afzal Khan. A little away from the fort, looms the tomb of Afzal Khan, but the structure after several mishaps has been closed down for public entry.
Afzhal Khan’s tomb
The Statue of Shivaji Maharaj
Exploring the fort takes about half a day, including a visit to the Bhavani mandir built by Shivaji in response to a dream and the majestic statue of Shivaji Maharaj on a horse. The handicraft emporium is quaint and also has information booklets on the fort and its history. Along the length of the fort, several refreshment stalls are lined up serving cool tak, soul kadhi, kokam juice and nimbu pani, in pretty terracotta lotas. We even managed to purchase a few to carry back home as a solace for the scorching summer days ahead and as a keepsake from this well-spent afternoon.