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At the Cradle of Maratha History
by Santosh Kumar

Apply Caution
Be cautious on your drive to Shivneri Fort.

Whoever knows Maharashtra, the economically most advanced state in India, knows that the history of Maharashtra is solidly and predominantly linked to a towering personality called Shivaji, who ruled Maharashtra in the 16th centaury. Shivaji was arguably the most victorious Hindu king India has ever seen. This spirited guerilla fighter had ferociously scuttled all efforts by the British colonialists and Moghul kings to conquer his kingdom.

His omnipotent presence in the minds of people in this part of the country is just an indication of the charisma he still commands over his disciples. Here, the chatrapati (the king of kings as Shivaji was titled) is not just remembered or admired, but worshipped literally. No wonder Shivsena (translated Shivaji's Army), a regional political party in his name, continues to rule the state of Maharashtra, exploiting the emotion and pride that Shivaji still evokes among the people of Maharashtra.

The aura and awe of Shivaji is best experienced at Shivneri--the legendary Maratha's birthplace. Here people believe that Shivaji is the last incarnation of Lord Shiva and they hastily add that he was the most powerful incarnation of Shiva too.

Shivneri Fort and its History

Shivneri Fort is 105 Kms away from Pune. The city of Pune is known as the Detroit of India basically because of the presence of major automobile companies like Tata Engineering, Mercedes Benz India, and Bajaj Auto etc. Pune is around 160 kilometers southeast of the largest city of India and the capital of Maharashtra, Bombay (has been renamed as Mumbai by the Shivsena government).

History says that Shahaji Bhonsale--father of Shivaji--was facing turbulent times, with constant Moghul attacks. One of his worries was the safety of his pregnant wife Jijabai. Shahaji had selected Shivneri Fort and kept her there because of its uniqueness and difficulty for enemies to reach the Fort. Shivneri is a strong fort with steep rocks on four sides, strong fortifications and massive doors. The fort was then under the charge of Vijayraj, a relative of the Bhonsales.

The Route and the Ride

Pune to Narayangaon: 75 kms

I kicked started my Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle to life, early in the morning. Leaving early has a couple of benefits for a biker. You can avoid scorching sun above your helmet and there will be less traffic on the road. Both situations are a boon for a biker.

From Pune you need to take the Bombay-Pune Road and from Nasik Phatta, taking a diversion and catching Nasik Highway (NH Division 5). You have to hold your horses during the first 10-15 kilometers. The road is quite crowded because of the industrial town on the way. Along the way the traffic thins down and you can fire your cylinder a little more vigorously. The road cuts through another industrial town, Chakan. After Chakan again the road is comparatively low in traffic. So have a blast.

Rajguru Nagar is another place on the way. Apply caution when you approach the Junction. People cross the road as if they got the road as their dowry.

You will cross two Ghats on the way. Khed Ghat and Awasari Ghat. There are boards, that warns you to be careful so please be careful. Though both the ghats do not demand for extra ordinary riding skills to maneuver you have to be careful because truck drivers Schumacher around here.

It takes 1 hour 30 minutes to reach Narayangaon. You can arrive sooner with a kamikaze attitude.

You may take a break at Pyare Kisan Udupi Dhaba (hilarious isn't it? It's a tea stall) and have a tea. The tea is really good. I strongly recommend it.

Narayangaon is a small, crowded town famous for its wine yards. The Riviera brand of wine, which is popular in India, is brewed mostly in Narayangaon. An annual Grape crop festival is also quite a famous event at Narayangaon.

Narayangaon-Junner-Shivneri: 30 kms

From Narayangaon, you need to take a diversion and hit the Junner road. In the beginning the patch is rough but after that you get an empty straight road to Junner. The road is straight but the surface is not very smooth. I suggest that don't push your bike to its limit because you may stumble upon a dog, out of the blue, crossing the road at its own pace. So be watchful and enjoy the ride. Both the sides of the road you can see lush green wine yards festooned with Juicy fruits. From Narayangaon you will take hardly 40 minutes to reach Shivneri Fort.

The Fort

You can ride up to the bottom of the hill where the steps to the Fort begin. There are more than 260 steps to reach the top of the Fort. From the starting point itself you can see the steep rocks along which the fort is built. First go to Shivai Devi Temple and offer your prayers. King Shivaji is named after this deity. It's a small temple on one of the cliffs of the fort.

Climb up further and you will unmistakably encounter Mr. Sopan Thorpe who sells nimbu sharbat (limejuice) and chaas (buttermilk). He has captured the most strategic location in the Fort so that visitors can't miss him. The second important thing is that the visitors would be too tired to ignore his limejuice. Have a glass of that and talk to him about the history, myths and mysteries surrounding the place. If you are keen, you will not be disappointed. While talking to him also see the breath taking views of Sahyadri hill ranges nicely laced around with the Mina River.

From this point the climb ends. You can walk along the vertical limits of the fort enjoying the magnificent views it offers throughout the walk. Now you are heading for the Shiva Temple, the birth place of Shivaji. The monument is maintained well, though in the surroundings you can see some crumbled structures. Remove your shoes and get into the temple. You may relax for some time near the windows enjoying the breeze as well as the splendid sight of the valley. Man! Here history murmurs in your ears. The greatest fighter and the greatest survivor of the Indian history was born here, pretty much where you stand now and played with his kid friends, grew up hearing heroic stories from his valorous mother and became a messiah for his people.

Come out of the temple and head for the last point of the fort. It's a dead end like a tip of the arrow. It's a massive, frightening cliff. Be careful, a slight slip will send you into the lap of death.

Now, walk back after paying silent tribute to the mighty Maratha. Say good-bye to Sopan Thorpe. Walk down along with a bunch of school kids (whom you generally see whenever you go there) listening to their gossips and anxieties about the examination results.

Kickstart your bike and ride back. I did not take a break while coming back and touched Pune within two hours. The roads were empty, and you have a Royal Enfield Bullet. Blast on full throttle and the thump will keep invigorating you along the way. No matter how long you ride.

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