It had been a while that I and Yuvaan wanted to visit the Shivneri fort, which is the birthplace of Shivaji Maharaj. It is a bit far, so had to plan it in advance. I had told Yuvaan that we would be leaving early, so he had to sleep early. However, as per his normal routine, he slept late, and couldn’t wake up in the morning.
On the way to Junnar
So, I had to literally carry him, and make him sleep in the back seat of the car while I drove towards Junnar, the base village of Shivneri.
Yuvaan getting up...
It wasn’t before long (about half an hour into the journey) that the dude peeked his head above the comforter, and wished me good morning! And, then once he was awake, he came up in front, to see how the road is, what kind of cars are we overtaking, and how much time before we reach Junnar.
I had been to Junaar only once before, while on my way to Harishchandragad, which was way back in 1997! At that time, I had known a guy called Jitendra Hande-Deshmukh, whose ancestors used to be the Sardars of Junnar, and commanded a lot of respect.
The road while entering Junnar
Also, a colleague of mine at the college that I teach at, is one of the direct descendants of the Sardars, so Junnar evoked in me a very different kind of feeling - primarily because of the fort, where Maharaj was born.
It was during Shahaji’s time (Shivaji’s father) that he was constantly on battle, and he was busy with his cavalry, and didn’t have any fixed location. With his wife pregnant and no close place to go, he requested the Sardar of Shivneri to kindly arrange for his wife (Jijabai Lakhujirao Jadhav), who was the daughter of the king of Sindkhed.
He himself was a very brave and respected warrior and his daughter was going to give birth to another warrior, who would go on to rule Maharashtra!
First Darwaza (door)
We reached Junnar as the sun was rising in the east, and it being a winter month, there was a bit of chill in the air. The chill was subdued by the sun rays, but still I told Yuvaan to wear a light jacket on top of the T-shirt he was wearing.
We started climbing on a trail at first, which didn’t last long.
The trail got converted to steps which were cut, all the way to the end. Around half an hour of climbing up, and having crossed around 7 darwazas (doors) of the fort, Yuvaan was a bit tired and thirsty, so we sat down at one of the stalls, which was just setting up shop, and we were his first customers. We had a glass full of buttermilk, which was tasty and refreshing.
Once we topped out on the fort, past about 7 doors, we came in front of a ruin, which probably would have been a place for large gatherings at that time. It had a high ceiling, and was enough to seat about 100 people at one time. Moving away from the ruins, on the way to the actual birthplace, we saw many neatly carved water cisterns.
Big water cistern...
Such cisterns are a common facets on all these forts, as water is a basic necessity for humans to live. But, the marksmanship with which these are carved in rock, the size of them, as well as their location, which is finalized based on the location of the spring which feeds it throughout the year - is just amazing! One of the bigger ones was so big that about 20 - 30 people could easily swim in it, if decided.
The trail naturally leads to the birthplace of Shivaji Maharaj, which has been restored by local activists.
Also, right besides the birthplace, there are remnants of wadas from that era, replete with rooms, as well as toilets which were built outside of the wadas during those times. While roaming around such old structures, one often wonders - how they used to live in those times, and how life would have been during their time. After going up the small minaret which houses Maharaj’s birthplace, we walked towards the farthest point on the fort. On the way, we saw a huge man-made pond which might have been a source of water for animals on the fort.
Nice Picture Frame
Once we reached the farthest point, we could see two things - we could see the Buddhist caves in a distance, which we had in our mind, to go and see.
Inside the first ruins..
Also, I think we got a chance to see Harishchandragad, one of the mightier forts in Maharashtra, which has a 3500 ft wall, called the Konkan Kada. I know a few people in Pune who have climbed it, along with the pioneer who opened a route on that face!
Ruins at the entrance of the fort
Trail up the fort
Once we were done taking some pictures on the last bastion of the fort, we decided to move back, as we had to also see the caves, and return back to Pune which was going to be a long journey. So, we started walking back to the main darwaja, but on the way - we saw a construction which was a well / pond which was extremely well built. This was called the Badami Talav (pond), which had intricate carving on the walls and there were steps to go down to the water.
At the entrance of the birthplace of Shivaji Maharaj!
I guessed it must have been a place for utility work and for the horses to drink water from. This pond was very well built, and it was a pleasure to see and explore the pond.
It was getting very hot, and I was concerned as the water I had was almost going to finish.
Nicely built water cisterns all along the way
So, I returned towards the main gate, and bought a bottle of water (which I am always against), before starting our descent towards the car. Just before we descended the last of the darwajas, there was a temple called Shivayi Devi Temple, a little off the trail, but was interesting. So, we went and paid our respects to the temple, and as we were returning, Yuvaan shouted out - Baba, see that trail going at the back of the temple - let us go there and explore what is ahead of it!
I declined but he was quite persistent - so we took that trail, and went till the very end. To our delight and amazement, there were caves of Buddhist era over there, which none of the normal visitors seem to know about.
Birthplace, from outside.
Yuvaan was so excited that he told me multiple times - “See, its because I insisted that you came, and see how pretty all this is!” It was fun to explore the caves, but they were cut out in a rock face, and at some places, you would have to go on a little precarious trail, where a slip of foot would have meant getting hurt badly!
After our exploring the caves, to cross the 7 doors, it became a little boring, as it is always boring to descend on steps. But, somehow we managed, and we got down to the car, where we changed into something more comfortable, and drove towards Junnar, where we had to have our lunch - we were starving!
Before going to Junnar, I asked Yuvaan at an intersection - do you want to go see the Buddhist caves? This involved a climbing of about 350 steps cut in a rock face, which looked quite thrilling. He readily agreed, and off we were - to climb the steps and have a look at the Buddhist caves.
Yuvaan doing meditation
We entered through the barricade where a person was collecting toll from us to allow us to park our car inside the parking provided. But, once we were inside, and about to get down from the car, all of a sudden Yuvaan told me that he is tired, and that he doesn’t want to climb the stairs anymore.
Looking towards Harishchandragad
People could swm in these...they were so big...
I was kind of expecting this, as the sun was beating down upon us! I just smiled, and asked him one more time - are you sure?
Road to Buddhist caves...
He said - Yes, and I drove away towards Junnar, to find us a place to eat our lunch. We found a decent place called Hotel Ratna Palace, which had a good feel, from the look of it, from outside. Also, a couple of cars were parked in front of it, which meant that there were people / families inside.
So, we went ahead and ordered Yuvaan’s favourite - Butter Garlic Naan, and a Paneer Curry to go with it. We heartily had our lunch, and then we set off for the return journey to Pune. It got dark by the time we reached Pune, but it was a wonderful day spent, marvelling at the place where one of the greatest Maratha warriors was born.
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