The state of Maharashtra has no larger a personality in its illustrious history than Shivaji Bhosale or Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. He was known as a king of the people and was loved for his remarkable military skill, secularism and respect for women. We travelled to three forts that played significant roles on his path to founding the Maratha Empire.
We started our journey of discovery bright and early one morning and headed out east from Mumbai along the NH222 towards Malshej Ghat. The roads along this route are smooth surfaced and twisty and just a delight to drive on in the sporty Polos. The automatic transmission on the GT TSI was super smooth with crisp shifts, up and down the DSG gearbox through the many turns. The GT TDI on the other hand has a very torquey diesel engine and this kept gear shifts on the manual transmission to a minimum as it navigated the twists and turns on the way up to the ghat.
For our first stop on our journey of discovery, we chose the Shivneri Fort as this was the birthplace of Shivaji. In 1630, the fort was part of the kingdom of Adil Shah, Sultan of Bijapur. Shivajiâ€™s father, a general in the Sultanâ€™s army, moved his pregnant wife to the safety of the well-protected fort.
Itâ€™s quite a climb to the top of the fort, with all of us having to stop and catch our breaths on a couple of occasions. The view of the surrounding valley is spectacular and itâ€™s easy to see why this was such a secure fort in history. It sits in the centre of a valley with a perfect view of all the possible approaches. After spending the day exploring the fort, we headed towards Pune for the night. Next morning, we planned to head up to Sinhagad to catch the sunrise but the road on the way back to Pune is not in great shape. It was also choc-a-block with traffic in the evening, meaning that we reached close to midnight with little hope of reaching the fort the next morning by sunrise.
The fort is just 28 kilometres (a 45 minute drive) from Pune with a steep climb to the fort through a narrow twisty road. On a weekday, the fort is a pleasant place to visit but because of its proximity to Pune but itâ€™s a mad house on weekends with traffic snarls and no parking. As we approached the peak of Sinhagad, we realised that missing the sunrise was no bad thing. The arrival of the monsoons meant that the fort was obscured by dark clouds.
Sinhagad was significant in Shivajiâ€™s story as it was the site of one of his most famous victories. In 1670, with the help of his most trusted generals, Tanaji Malusare, who scaled one of the steep cliffs surrounding the fort with the help of a monitor lizard and managed to open one of the gates. This turned the tables in the battle and led to a Maratha victory but at the cost of Tanajiâ€™s life as he perished in the battle.
From the car parking, itâ€™s a short but steep walk up to the top but the fort is also a favourite of trekking aficionados who trek from the base of the hill all the way to the top. Once on the top, one gets a birdâ€™s eye view of the concrete jungle that is Pune now. A short walk to the eastern side of the fort reveals more pleasing views. We headed down to the car park where a delicious traditional Maharashtrian meal of Zunka Bhakar and fresh curd in earthen pots awaited us.
After lunch, we shifted the GT TSI into Sport mode and made the most of the grunt from the GT TDI as we had a good many kilometres to go to reach Raigad Fort before dark. We really enjoyed the beautiful sporty handling on twisty mountain roads on the dash to Raigad. The fort is roughly 130 kilometres from Sinhagad and 170 kilometres from Mumbai. It also is the only fort with no road access up to the top and this means that the only way up is on foot or via a cable car. After two days of climbing all the way up to two forts, thereâ€™s no prizes for guessing which method we chose to get up the mountain. We paid our respects at the Maratha kingâ€™s memorial and after some exploring, headed back. Raigad is also the final resting place of Shivaji who died from an illness in 1680. It was a fitting place to end our journey. We headed home with a new found respect for the Maratha King and also for the Polo GT TSI and GT TDI that were excellent companions on our tryst with history.