Fort Jadavgadh: A taste of rich culture
Aruna Rathod experiences royalty at a fort, and Maratha history at one of the world’s first museum fort hotels.
I always wondered what it would be like to live in a fort palace. Little did I know that the experience would soon come my way, without travelling too far. Fort Jadavgadh near Pune, approximately 180 kms from Mumbai – the financial capital of India – is easily accessible by road. It is the only Heritage Gadh Hotel of Maharashtra and promises visitors a rich royal Maratha experience.
After leaving the city of Pune, it’s mostly a flat landscape and a small mountain with winding roads before one reaches Fort Jadavgadh. It’s a short drive upto the fort. The thick grey walled structure seems impressive located on a small hillock. Built by Raja Pilaji Jadhavrao, a valiant Maratha General, the fort was a centre of power in Jadhavwadi.
As we drive up, it’s a picturesque backdrop of a brown mountain since it’s peak of summer season, interspersed with green, the blue sky and the majestic fort in the foreground. A traditionally dressed valet takes the car away, while another ushers you into the fort. Fascinated, I look around at the big grey stones that are almost square, that form the steep steps and walls of the fort. It’s a short climb up, and the side walls of the fort extend for a distance, a part of it covered with ivy, and the entire magnanimity of the structure is breath-taking. A sentry blows a trumpet (tutari in the local language) to announce our arrival, another sentry beats the drums – a royal welcome!
Welcome to history
A young girl, dressed in the traditional sari typical to the region, applies vermillion to our foreheads and I am given a rolled up manuscript of the programmes and ushered inside the fort. I spot a large flat stone, and stop to read the placard – Elephant’s plate – it says. Another exhibit is the hand grinding flour grinding mills, and it’s a short steep walk upstairs before we reach the courtyard, which houses rooms, another flight up to the second level and the view is amazing. A terrace that is windy, even in summer, overlooks the village and the hills beyond – the Sahyadri mountain range.
Settling into my luxurious room, a size fit for royalty, I relax for a while. Post a sumptuous lunch of Indian and continental specialities, I decided to explore the Fort and read about it’s history. Since the fort was a residence of the grandson of the great Chhatrapati Shivaji, it has great significance. Steeped in Maratha architecture with woodwork and rock stairways, it had grand residences too.
I began with the Aai museum that houses beautiful silver and brass items used in homes and kitchens of an era gone by. An audio tour of the Fort is a must as it takes you right from the entrance with the huge stone elephant plate to the dungeons and tunnels. One of the dungeons has been converted into a wine cellar, while the others are open for enthusiastic visitors to explore – as it is a narrow passage that goes down a number of steps into darkness; to the set up on the terrace of the fort. The central part at this level has a large swimming pool called the Kund which is temperature controlled. The Maharani suite overlooks the entire fort and the pool. The spa too is located at this level. The audio tour goes on to the quarry, temple, gates and walls, the sprawling gardens – leaving you sufficiently ravenous for high tea.
Evenings are great with cool breeze and live music, alongwith an array of kebabs. You can have a meal at either Payatha –an indoor restaurant with a sit out or Chajja which is the open air restaurant.
At night, I went through the leaflet that is rolled like a message (a practice of the olden days); I see that there is a trek at 6 am! Not upto it, I decided to skip it but make it a point to attend the door opening ceremony of the fort which is a daily routine.
Other activities include learning to play local games; and cricket too. For those who are interested, they can enrol for a sari/dhoti draping class; learn mehendi or pottery, go for a bullock ride; learn to make a rangoli, so there’s enough to keep one occupied, especially children.
Strolling to Payatha, I chance upon a colourful poster with photographs of exotic birds. The staff tells me that over 25 varieites of birds are indigienous to the area and Fort Jadhavgadh abounds with owls, kingfishers, parrots among others. For those looking for a different kind of experience, there are luxury tents too at the foot of the hills, with a fantastic view of the fort and the hills.
I found it an absolutely refreshing hotel, great for weekends for city dwellers and overseas travellers to get a taste of local history.
Fort Jadhavgadh, a Gadh Heritage Hotel, Hadapsar-Saswad Road, Jadhavwadi, Pune 412 301