Maharashtra

Ancient forts of India – The Devgiri fort or the Daulatabad Fort

I had planned to visit the city of Aurangabad for a long time and the city was a surprise package indeed. While I was always intrigued by the caves that had been built over a 1000 years ago at Ajanta and Ellora (Ajintha and Verul as known originally in Marathi), I had no idea that the city held much more history.We reached Aurangabad after a comfortable early morning train journey that ended at lunch time. After refreshing ourselves at the really nice Lemon tree hotel and even having a dip in the really big pool, we headed out to start our exploration of the city with the impressive Daulatabad or Deogiri fort.

Built over a 1000 years ago as well, the Deogiri fort has seen multiple dynasties rule over it from the Yadavas of the 9th century to famous rulers such as Alauddin Khilji, Mohd. Tughlak and later the Ahmadnagar sultanate and Mughal empires. Situated quite strategically, Devgiri was later renamed to Daulatabad by Mohd. Tughlak who even moved his imperial capital from Delhi to Daulatabad.I had gone here with my family ranging from 6 to 60 year old and I must say, the fort was very doable for everyone. While the older generation enjoyed the history on offer, the 6 year old, enjoyed prancing about on the steps and ‘exploring’ and climbing every where that could be climbed!

The Daulatabad fort is quite an impressive monument and merits several hours of exploration. Situated on a hill, like all forts,one can marvel at the structure that was built hundreds of years back and still stands the test of time. Even as quite a bit is still in ruins, there are several impressive structures that still stand proud and imposing.As we enter the grand gates of the fort, we walk on a gentle incline interspersed by a few steps and pass by several structures including temples on the way to the main fort. All along, we can gaze a this tall tower that looms before us at a distance.While the Bibi ka Maqbara, in Aurangabad is the most famous monument that has been inspired by the Taj Mahal in its design and architecture, the Chand Minar in the fort complex has been inspired by the Qutub Minar at Delhi in height as well as its reddish hue. . At 63 meters in height, the Chand Minar is visible from every corner of the fort and is very pleasing to the eye.

We go along, and marvel at the cleverness of the fort. Like every fort, there are several clever means to stop enemy intruders from entering the fort. First, the steep hillside (much of it even cut to make it smooth an steep), can prevent the enemy from climbing the fort. The next layer of protection is the surrounding deep moat which once was teeming with lethal reptiles (and now with dumped bisleri bottles) and a single drawbridge that can send enemy soldiers to a an ignominious end. The single entrance if they do breach the fort ramparts is built particularly cleverly in the form of a befuddling maze ‘Andheri’ in dark passageways that can send enemy soldiers hurtling to their death from the hill or een be burnt by hot oil being poured on them from secret holes. I can almost hear their cries and marvel at the brilliance of the architects and even the enemy soldiers who managed to breach this almost impregnable structure.To reach the top of the fort, one needs to climb 750 odd steps and be rewarded with phenomenal views of the surrounding countryside and town. On the way you will see several interesting structures including the Bharat Mata temple, the Chini mahal, kacheri, and other buildings. The Mendha Cannon was quite a cool relic. One of the biggest cannons in India, the Mendha cannon employed by Aurangzeb has a Ram shaped head and can swivel to point everywhere but the mother fort itself in case enemies access it. For the cannon buffs (I am sure there are), this cannon is a must-see!Overall, the fort is decently well maintained, and is clean. The ‘Andheri’ passage and the surroundings could be better maintained as there is a terrible stench of pigeons / bats roosting in ‘Andheri’…unless the smell was designed to make the most intrepid faint even back then! However, some paths are treacherous and one can trip and fall especially if one ventures in the dark alleys of the fort. A definite feedback to have some lights in dark areas where tourists venture or warnings to use a torch if you do venture.There are even ramps for wheelchairs for quite a distance in the fort, which is something I noted for the first time in a fort.All in all, a superb fort and a day well spent. The cloudy weather certainly helped as well and we had a pleasant trek up the fort. If you do venture when it is hotter though, a water bottle is well advised.To make the trip more enjoyable, hire a certified guide who can point you to the different structures and their significance in the fort or atleast purchase a tourist guidebook that you can refer to and make the story come so much more alive as you envisage what it must have been in its heyday.Well that is the end of day 1 at Aurangabad.Some more pictures for you.

Categories: India, Maharashtra

A weekend trip to Nasik

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Where next? …The Ramayana Trail at Panchvati, Nasik

It is better to make plans to local places that work rather than grand plans to exotic places that don’t work.

With that as the motto for a long weekend, we embarked upon zeroing on a place at drivable distance from Mumbai that wouldn’t have us paying an arm or a leg or at least a very fat undeserved amount!

We zeroed in on the not-so-sleepy city of Nasik at an easy driving distance from Mumbai to be our first quick vacation distance. Nasik is a city at about a 4 hour fabulous drive from Mumbai.

My memories of Nasik from the days bygone, was a place I had visited before I got married to ward off the evil eye and basically indulge my parents in eliminating the evil ‘Kal Sarpa dosh’…some terrible planetary alignment that would have made my marriage prospects really bad! And all the evilness foretold could be done away with a mere Pooja at the holy city of Nasik at the ancient temple of Trimbakeshwar. That simple! Well, if it were not for superstitions, I guess, half the religious tourism wouldn’t be what it is today!

Religious tourism aside, Nasik has a lot to offer in terms of non-religious place to see as well, and one can easily spend 2-3 days exploring the city.

Fun facts about Nasik –

  • Nasik has one of twelve Jyotirlingas at the famous temple of Trimbakakeshwar – A Jyotirlinga is considered to be a manifestation of Lord Shiva. It is believed that the Jyotirlingas are columns of fire piercing through the earth.
  • Nasik is the largest wine producing district in India with the most well-known Indian brand Sula. Also home to winefests such as the SulaFest during harvest season
  • The Currency note press and the India security press are located at Nasik to print Indian currency notes and government stamp paper
  • Houses a unique Coin museum
  • Is one of the four destinations in India that hosts the largest peaceful religious congregation globally – the Kumbha Mela
  • Panchavati in Nasik is the setting of one of the most loved epics in India – the Ramayana
  • The father of Indian Cinema – Dadasaheb Phalke was from Nasik. You can visit a memorial in his name here

 

Religion/Mythological sites –

The Kumbh Mela

Legend has it that the nectar from the famous churning of the ocean by the Devas and Asuras had fallen in four of the places, where the Kumbh mela is held today. These include Ujjain, Allahabad, Haridwar and Nasik. The Kumbh mela is touted to be the largest congregation of religious pilgrims in the world and has put Nasik on the global map for religious travel. The city is replete with temples, some really ancient, some less so and some really quite new to fool gullible tourists into parting with their money under the guise of religion.

Ramayana trail

In addition to the Kumbh Mela, Nasik is where the most important parts in the Ramayana played out. Panchavati and Tapovan where the trio of Rama, Sita and Lakshman had made their home is a part of Nasik. Earlier the picturesque forest, Panchavati is now alas, yet another urban jungle. In Panchavati, there is an entire Ramayan trail which traces the ‘Aranya Kanda’ (Book of Forest) from the Ramayan. On the trail, you can find out where Lord Rama, Sita, Lakshmana had stayed while at Panchavati, the location of the infamous cutting off of Surpankha’s nose, where the ‘Lakshman Rekha’ had been etched by Lakshman and where Sita was carried off by the evil Ravana. You can also see the banyan trees which give the forest its name of being the forest of the Panch or Five Vata (Banyan) trees.  Another spiritually significant place is the Ramkund, which is a holy tank where Lord Ram and Sita used to take a bath during their exile. This is a place where ashes of the deceased are immersed to help them achieve liberation. However, I would take most of these supposed spots with a pinch of salt or kumkum or whatever! Apart from a few, many of these seem to have cropped up as modern structures in a concerted effort by all the tourist stakeholders in Nasik to add to some spots worth viewing. Of all the places on the Ramayan trail, I frankly liked only the spot on the banks of the Godavari below. Who’s to say it is real or not. But I don’t think the GPS really existed at the time, for us to be able to drop pins on where exactly these purported spots are.

A warning to those uninitiated into the religious travel – Most ancient temples in India are super crowded – probably seem to be more real than the modern ones. The temples of Trimbakeshwar, Someshwar, the Sita Gupha (cave) are ridiculously crowded with throngs of devotees lining up for an exalted ‘darshan’ or viewing of the Lords for ‘blink and miss’ facetime lasting roughly between 2 seconds and 10 seconds depending on how strong you can be to resist the pushes when you least expect them. So for a 2 second darshan you can expect to be in the queue for 2 hours and yet be contented after the darshan. You can also try paying your way (Rs 200 per person at Trimbakeshwar) into an express queue that will still take you 1.5 hours for the darshan. Thankfully, there are plenty of people manning all the queues and with the numerous barricades there is little possibility of breaking the queue and starting arguments.

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Trymbakeshwar Temple (Wikimedia commons)

Popular religious places at Nasik are the

  1. Trimbakeshwar temple where the river Godavari originates. This temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlings in India
  2. Ramkund
  3. Kalaram temple at Panchvati,
  4. Someshwar temple
  5. Muktidham temple
  6. Sundarnarayan temple
  7. Kapileshwar temples
  8. Sita Gumpha at Panchvati

A point to be noted is that most of these religious places do not allow photography, so whatever pictures I have are from wikimedia commons.

Wine tourism

Nasik is now purported to be the wine capital of India. One of the warmest regions in the world to create wines, Nasik offers in India what Napa offers in the US. A wine tourist destination (if not the finest wines in the world)! As late as the 1990s an entrepreneur Rajeev Samant, set up the first vineyards in Nasik noting its conducive climate and soil. From a few acres in the 1990s the Sula vineyards are now a whopping 1900 acres of land and one of the biggest wineries and brand of Indian wines. The Sula vineyards now offer wine tours, wine tasting and a snazzy resort with lively restaurants. Expect hordes of tourists on all weekends!
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Other attractions

The Coin Museum – The Coin museum set up in 1980 is a vast collection of coins tracing India’s evolution and history through the ages through its various currencies, dynasties and rulers.

The Pandavleni caves – These 2000 year old caves are a group of 24 buddhist caves built atop a hill. You need to climb about 200 steps to reach the caves and also feast on picturesque vistas osf the city below. These caves may not be as grand as the Ajanta-Ellora caves at Aurangabad, but they are quite amazing to visit if you are around.
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The Pandavleni caves (Wikimedia commons by Mrunal12)

There are also plenty of other places around Nasik that are picturesque to visit. Amongst these are

  1. The Saputara hillstation
  2. Dudhsagar falls
  3. Bhandardara hillstation
  4. Bird Sanctuary

All in all, a great weekend destination from Mumbai/Pune with plenty to see and do. Not much to do for kids, but well, one needs to just find a park to keep them entertained.

Categories: India, Maharashtra | Tags: , , , | 12 Comments

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