Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Raigad: In the Chhatrapati's Kingdom - Part Two

After a good afternoon's rest followed by refreshing cup of tea (machine tea I might add, since there is no kitchen at the top - everything is bought from the foothills), we set out to further explore the fort. After about an hour of revisiting the 'Balle Killa' and the market place, we rested for a while to catch the sunset. And it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. The pictures,of course, speak for themselves. By this time, the clouds in the sky had cleared, but the clouds below had not, giving rise to a fabulous sunset in which the sun setting over the hills was actually above the clouds in the valleys below. Not many places where you would see such a sight. Totally transfixed, we simply kept clicking, not wanting to let go the opportunity of preserving the moment for posterity. Once the sun went down, it was time to beat a hasty retreat back to the rooms since there are no lights inside the fort. So once it gets dark, it can be quite scary even with a torchlight (not to add the frequent steps where one can easily trip). We, of course, were back in our rooms in time. A typical 'thali' dinner followed (served quite early at around eight). After that was a 'gup-shup' and a card session that went way past midnight. After that, we resolved to go back to the fort in the pitch of darkness with nothing but a small torch. After going up about a dozen steps, we looked back to take a picture of the resort amidst the darkness, with the clouds still giving us company. We sat their for a few minutes. Unfortunately, the clouds deprived us of a chance to do some star-gazing, so we returned to the rooms to hit the sack.

The morning was clear as we woke up just before and set out for the Shivaji samadhi and the temple adjoining it. As if to show us the way, the sun rose almost exactly behind the samadhi itself. Reaching the samadhi made one's heart swell with pride and emotion. To offer homage at the place honouring the great warrior was a moving experience. Besides the Chhatrapati's samadhi was the memorial of his favourite dog. The last major point to visit was the Takmak Tok. Set apart from the other attractions on the fort, the Takmak Tok was used to throw off serial offenders during Shivaji's reign. Once I reached the place, I understood why. The steel fencing on both sides offered some comfort. But take them out of the equation and it is a scary affair. At the furthest point, the 'tok' (edge) is barely a couple of feet wide with deep ravines on both sides. Reaching there without the comfort of fences would have taken some courage three centuries ago.

After a breakfast of 'Pohe', it was time to leave the fort with fond memories. The return trip had a detour to the village of Pachad near the foothills, where the samadhi of Shivaji's mother, Jijabai stands. The trip to Raigad, apart from offering a much-needed respite from the daily routine, was also a throwback to the great history and legacy of my state. !!


PS: Dear Reader.... This marks the 100th post on my blog !!!.. With your continued patronage, hope to score several centuries more !!.. Thanks a lot ;-)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Raigad: In the Chhatrapati's Kingdom - Part One

There are some places that you visit just to get away from your daily drudgery. Such places may not have the best sights in the world, but that is never the point. With nothing really particular to visit, all you plan to do is relax, take a stroll and generally take whatever comes your way. On the other hand, there are some places that you visit with a pre-determined purpose. Such places have a particular magnetic attraction and an aura that invites thousands from near and far. For me, and most people in Maharashtra, the fort of Raigad is one such place. The capital of our state’s favourite son, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, has long held a fascination for me and last weekend, I finally managed, along with my B-school group, to reach the fort, which is literally the heart of Maratha pride.

Saturday early morning saw us (Anjali and me) jumping in the hired car and, picking others along the way, off we went on NH-17 towards Raigad. With the monsoons especially playing truant this year, we all were sceptical of the weather we would get there. Nothing we saw on our way there really gave us any relief. It continued to alternate between sunny and partly cloudy, with not a drop of rain in sight. And we could see many fields, all ploughed and sowed, ready for the showers. We were praying for the rains to give us relief, they were praying for their livelihood !!. We reached the foothills of Raigad by around noon, after a five hour drive. There we went to the base station of the famous Raigad Ropeway for a quick ride to the top. One tribute to Raigad’s prowess as a fort (it is sometimes called ‘Gibraltar of the East’) is that there is still no motorable road to the top. And before the ropeway started, the only way to reach the top was to walk the 1500 odd steps, as in olden days. Two of our group members did take that route, whereas the rest of us took the easy way out and were at the top within five minutes. Contrary to what I had read beforehand, the ropeway ride was a smooth one (though thankfully there was no wind at that time). And by around 12.30, we had reached the back door entrance of the fort.

The operators of the Raigad ropeway have accommodation facilities (strictly functional, I might add) besides the ropeway station. Hence, we checked in, freshened up and went off to explore the fort. And it is a big fort to explore!! It was certainly one of the biggest forts that I had visited (a walk from one end to the other is a good couple of km). And literally, each square foot of the fort smelt of history. The ‘Balle Killa’ (Main Fort) had the main ‘darbar’ with the Chhatrapati’s throne at the head (with his statue still proudly holding court). One could easily visualize a court session in progress, with the ministers deliberating over matters of strategic and social importance along with Maharaj himself. Behind the darbar were Shivaji’s main chambers and behind that, the chambers for the queens. Walking further ahead from the darbar, we saw the main market place of the fort. The market place consisted of a wide walkway in the middle flanked by shops on both sides. Again, the scene of a typical market day with traders (who all used to endure the three hour climb of the staircase everyday)* selling their stuff to the fort occupants arose vividly in my mind. At around this time, the weather started changing for the better !! Grey clouds started building up, the wind picked up and the approaching rain could be smelt. We stopped by at one of the few huts on the fort for a quick meal of traditional ‘zunka-bhakar’ prepared by the locals. This again was different experience for us. Sitting in that dark hut (no electricity at the top except for the two ‘resorts’), with eyes watering because of the smoke of the ‘chulha’, we had a satisfying lunch. And as we left their hut to return to our rooms, the rains hit us, with the clouds in tow. And within a few minutes, the entire scenery was transformed. The market place suddenly seemed a different place with visibility reduced to not more than 15-20m (see pic). The rains had finally come to our rescue !!!. Enjoying ourselves in the drizzle and feeling on top of the world, we returned for a good late afternoon rest.

- More to follow….


* Regarding the traders, the most famous story is that of Hirkani, a lady living at the foothills of the fort who used to come to the top everyday to sell milk. One day, she was late in finishing off in the evening and consequently, when she reached the gates of the fort in order to go back to her place, she found that the gates had closed for the day. With her infant waiting in her village at the foothills, she scaled the fort walls and then literally descended a steep cliff and got back to her village. Shivaji Maharaj named the cliff ‘Hirkani Buruj’ in her honour and looking at that, the mind boggles as to how she could have even attempted it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Random thoughts on today's headlines !!

With my blog being dormant for nearly three weeks now, and with nothing really particular to write about, I figured out the best way to keep the writing habit alive is to comment on some of the day's headlines. Not only is this a good way to ensure that newspapers are read (I subscribe to four different ones - including two business dailies - and hardly read anything), but it also a good way to develop your writing skills, especially for first-time bloggers. So on a lazy Sunday morning, I finally got down to reading today's DNA and found some really interesting articles, some of which I thought of commenting on (after all, dont we all have an opinion on everything ?).

Mirch Masala in Australia: This, of course, was the front page headlines and talked about how Indians down under are arming themselves with chilli powder and pepper spray to fight off potential attackers (taking a cue from Ketan Mehta's movie in the 80s). I really think this is getting uglier and scarier by the day. A few days more of this senseless violence and we would have a full fledged diplomatic row between the two nations, spilling over to all fields. Already, some bars in Mumbai have stopped selling Fosters beer and more are expected to follow suit !!! And while the Australian cricket team's tour to India is some months away (October), if this continues, their team can expect more than a hostile reception here. The other thing, of course, is that an eye-for-an-eye policy rarely brings with it any positive results. So here's hoping that all this hostility on both sides quickly becomes a thing of the past, else we might have to see full-blown clashes on the streets of Melbourne and Sydney.

Black Leopard spotted after 67 years: This was the headline that really cheered me up. To think that a species of leopard, hitherto thought of to be nearly extinct, can be seen after so many years in the Sahyadris is quite heartening. Just goes to show that there are still tracts of forest here in India that can still harbour big animals like this without the outside world seeing them for so long. This, in itself, is fantastic.

Call of the Sahyadris: With the monsoons round the corner (and hope they finally arrive this week), the Sahyadris is the place to go. With a myriad of forts dotting the landscape, the onset of monsoons signals the start of the trekking season. Especially during the first few rains, when the ground is still not soft enough to be dangerous for trekking, there are plenty of opportunities for avid trekkers to enjoy nature at its best. This year, I hope to have a few weekend outings there, starting with a visit to Raigad coming weekend.

Want your area cleaned ? You can make it happen !!. This is another novel idea to improve our local governance. Once this act is passed, each polling booth will have an Area Sabha with the councillor as the chairman. All registered voters would be members of this Sabha. This Sabha would have the right to suggest priority of schemes and development programmes to be implemented in the area. The only question is, who is going to listen and take appropriate action ??. Also, as with most good intentions, the success of this idea lies in its execution. For example, in any case only half (or even less) of the registered voters actually vote. So how many of them will voluntarily turn up to be members of this Sabha and, more importantly, participate in it regularly. I do not mean to sound pessimistic, but I do sincerely wish this idea a lot of success, since it is neccessary to give more teeth to the lowest level of the government that most directly interacts with the general public.

So these were some random comments of today's headlines !! Hope to make this a regular feature henceforth...