Some people would have you believe that the gods themselves once walked this land. Two particular gods in Raigad and Mahad, however, were mere mortals whose amazing lives and struggles elevated them to the level of celestials, 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 BR Ambedkar. It is also likely that as you move your eyes away from the consecrated sites, you may feel there is a larger nameless, faceless force at play here, because how else does one explain the beauty of the mountains?
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 during his lifetime. There was only one path up and throughout his career 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’s a tough 2- to 3-hr 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 in 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 immense 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, there is the gutted Queen’s Palace to see, 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.
Height of tribute
VM Jog was such an admirer of Shivaji that he undertook the construction of the Raigad Fort Ropeway at his own company’s cost so that more people could visit the fort from where Shivaji ruled. The Rs 3.1-crore project was completed in 1996 and continues to be run by Jog Engineering Ltd. They run the ropeway with great care, and there have been no accidents so far. Tickets cost Rs 180, Rs 85-115 (students) or Rs 115 (senior citizens).
Though the ropeway was initially meant for the feeble who could not make this pilgrimage on their own steam, most ablebodied people also prefer it to the tough hike up, and it’s definitely the best way to go. The ascent offers breathtaking views.
Two cable cars at a time make the 1,377- foot climb. What’s very exciting for some and scary for others is when mist covers the top of the hill and the cabins seem to disappear into nothingness.
Location Shivaji’s eternal resting place is up in the mighty Sahyadri Hills, near the Savitri River and 27 km from Mahad
Distance 204 km S of Mumbai Journey time By road 5 hrs
Route NH17 to Mahad via Panvel, Kolad and Dasgaon; district road to Raigad
When to go June to September; November to March
Raigad Fort, Post Pachad
STD code 02145
By Anuradha Kumar