It was a symbol of Maratha pride, the capital of Chhatrapati
Shivaji's kingdom and vision of a Hindavi Swaraj (Hindu rule). The
majestic Raigad Fort, which resisted British attacks for over a
century, is now conquered by a million domestic and foreign
tourists every year - thanks to a cable car at the historical
And unlike the erstwhile British rulers, the modern-day commoners
take barely five minutes to make it to the fort atop the Raigad
Nestling in the heart of the Sahyadri mountain range, Raigad Fort
is around 140 km south of Mumbai and has become a must-see
destination on the itinerary of tourists visiting Maharashtra,
site manager R. Kulkarni explained.
"The ropeway has given a significant boost to the number of
tourists. Earlier, very few tourists took courage to walk up the
nearly 1,500 steps which took around four hours, and one hour
while returning," Kulkarni told IANS.
Mumbai-based construction major Jog Engineering Ltd took up the
challenge of constructing the ropeway project and completed it in
April 1996 at a cost of Rs.31 million (Rs.3.10 crore).
Nearly 15 years later, the ropeway has seen nearly a million
people gliding up and down each year - or around 15 million so far
- perhaps more than the total population of Chhatrapati Shivaji's
Constructed on a sheer rock face tearing into the sky, Raigad Fort
offers a commanding view of the hills on all four sides. The hill
itself is 425 metres tall and has a near-flat surface of around
The approaching enemy was visible to the fort's sentries long
before they could come near, making it an extremely strategic
Though it remained under various dynasties for nearly six
centuries, Shivaji finally gained control over it in 1656 and came
to stay there in 1670.
According to historians, when he first saw the place, Shivaji
remarked: "This fort is formidable. All sides appear as if
chiseled from a mountain of solid rock. Not even a blade of grass
grows on the sheer vertical rock. This is the ideal place to house
The fort witnessed several historical moments - the coronation of
Shivaji on June 6, 1674, followed by a second 'tantrik' coronation
on Sep 24 that year, and finally his death on April 3, 1680.
After Shivaji's demise, the Maratha empire which he built in less
than three decades crumbled and went under British control.
The glory of the Maratha empire can be gauged from the ruins and
the ramparts of the Raigad Fort as the two delicately dangling
cable cars zoom up the two ropeways that do not have any
The entrance for the three-hour tour is from the Mena Darwaja at
the fort's rear and a quick climb takes the visitor to the
imposing Ranivasa, or the chambers of Shivaji's six queens.
Close by is Shivaji's own palace, and his ministerial chambers,
food granaries, several natural reservoirs and two huge tanks to
cater to the drinking water needs of the people who lived there.
Also adjacent are the Raj Bhavan, where he used to hold his public
durbars, and the Raj Sabha where he sat on a 10-tonne golden
throne and was coronated in a lavish ceremony.
The commoners' entrance to the fort was through the Nagarkhana
which has astounding acoustic effects even today - a whisper can
be heard clearly over a distance of more than 200 metres, despite
the height and windy conditions!
Outside the Nagarkhana is the venue for festivals called Holicha
Mal, the temple of Shirkai Bhavani, the presiding deity of the
fort, the Jagadishwar Temple, and the revered samadhi of Shivaji.
The samadhi remains in an excellent condition thanks to the
initiatives of personalities like eminent freedom fighter Lokmanya
Bal Gangadhar Tilak and many more after him.
The British had sounded the death knell for the legendary fort
after the final battle for its control in April 1818.
The British artillery continued to pound the fort for days
together and the magnificent building burned for 11 days.
The defiant Raigad Fort was finally humbled May 10, 1818.
Nearly eight decades later, in 1894, Lokmanya Tilak launched two
important public festivals to bring the masses into the struggle
They were the Ganesh festival in Pune and others parts of the
state and the Shivaji Jayanti celebrations at Raigad Fort. Both
became popular annual features.
With Shivaji Jayanti, hordes of Shivaji fans and others started
going up the Raigad Fort, a grueling four-hour walk up. Earlier,
the number of visitors used to be barely a few hundreds, which
grew to a few thousands post-Independence.
Today the number of tourists here has crossed the million mark per
annum thanks mainly to the ropeway, founded by an ardent devotee
of Shivaji, the late V.M. Jog.
Earlier, the rugged, barren hill-top was out of bounds after dusk,
but now the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation has
developed over two dozen cottages which are hired out to tourists
for an overnight stay.
Thus, nearly two centuries after the Raigad Fort crumbled before
the might of the British, its legend has again come alive and the
place has become an important destination for students,
picknickers, historians and tourists alike.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at email@example.com)