Maharashtra – the land of the Marathas – is home to numerous forts. The forts here are either straddling the hills, or are dotting the long coastal line. Maharashtra, due to its location, was considered as an important region in the medieval India. Its long coast was used for maritime trade. And its Sahyadri range provided a natural defense. The hills of this range were ideal for building forts and castles. So, if you want to explore the forts in Maharashtra, you either need to climb the hills, or walk along the coast. Many of these fortifications are associated with Shivaji – the great Maratha leader – who left a huge impact on the socio-political arena of Maharashtra.
Popular Forts in Maharashtra
This fort is the brainchild of the Maratha King Shivaji. He had a knack for military architecture; Pratapgad is a fine example of that. He built it around the end of the 17th century. It is true that it was impossible to capture this fort given its complicated design. Along with its sturdy construction, the fort also enjoys a commanding location on a spur in the Sahyadri Hills. Walking along the ramparts, you can capture the views of the undulating hills of Sahyadri. To the west and the north of the fort are sheer precipices with a vertical fall of up to 250 m.
Location: Pratapgad is 21 km east of Mahabaleshwar, and 137 km southwest of Pune.
Of all the hill forts in Maharashtra, Raigad is the mightiest. Spread over a hill, that rises 2700 m above sea level, Raigad dominates the surrounding valley and the hilly terrain. There are splendid views of Sahyadri’s hills from the top of the fort. The sturdy ramparts are made up of basalt blocks mined from the hill itself. Around the base, the length of the walls is about 40 km. Hence, it was almost impossible to lay siege around the fort. This massive fort is dotted with the gateways, watch-towers, water bodies, and remains of quarters. Shivaji was cremated here; a temple called Jagdishwar Mandir is situated near his tomb. A statue of Shivaji is placed in front of the remains of what was once a market.
Location: Raigad Fort is 82 km northwest of Mahabaleshwar, and 131 km southwest of Pune.
From architectural point of view, Daulatabad is the most impressive hill fort in Maharashtra. Yadavas chose this lone hill to establish their capital in the 12th century; then it was called Devagiri. It is one of the most impregnable forts in the country. This fort is divided into three zones: Balakot, Kataka, and Ambarkot. Balakot is the hill itself which rises 200 m above the plains. Kataka is the fortification around the base of the hill. And Ambarkota is the outer fort which encircles vast area along with the inner fort. There are remains of palaces, pavilions, and mosques in the fort. Don’t miss to check out Chand Minar, Chini Mahal, Bahmani Palace, Mughal Pavilion, and Jami Mosque.
Location: Daulatabad (Devagiri Fort) is 17 km northwest of Aurangabad.
Vijaydurg is set atop a rocky promontory jutting out of the shore. Of all the sea-side forts in Maharashtra, Vijaydurg is the most popular. Situated 75 km north of Malvan, this fort is surrounded by sea on three sides. It is connected to the mainland by a narrow neck on the south. After taking charge of Vijaydurg, Shivaji bolstered the defense of the fort. He added three lines of defensive walls, 27 bastions, and 300 guns. The bastions have slit holes and openings for cannons. There was also a moat before the main gateway. The moat has been filled and the gateway has disappeared. The fortified area, 17 acres, is dotted with the remains of the old structures.
Location: Vijaydurg is 75 km north of Malvan, and 98 km south of Ratnagiri.
Shivneri Fort is the birthplace of Shivaji – the founder of Maratha Dynasty. This fort is situated near the town of Junnar in Pune District. The triangular hill is the site of the fortification. Centuries before the kings reached this place, it was utilized by the Buddhist monks. There are many caves on the eastern flank of the hill. To reach these caves, you’ll need to undertake a tough trek. To reach the top of the fort you need to opt for ‘Rajmarg’ which has flights of steps. On your way you’ll cross seven defensive gates. Up there you get to see a two-storeyed pavilion which is said to be the birth place of Shivaji. There is also a small mosque called ‘Kamani Mosque’.
Location: Shivneri is 95 km north of Pune, and 157 km east of Mumbai.
Janjira, a 17th century fortress, is situated off the shore of Rajapuri village, near Murud. It belonged to the Siddi clan of rulers who had their roots in Abyssinia. The ramparts of this fort, studded with bastions, rise 15 m out of the sea. It is said that as many as 572 cannons were ready to fire at the approaching enemy. Some of them are present even today, pointing out of the niches. While all the structures inside are ruined, you can still identify the mosque, school, and the meeting hall.
Location: Janjira Fort is off the shore of Rajapuri village near Murud.
Sindhudurg has a fortified area of 48 acres on an island near Malvan Town. It is just half kilometre off the shore; boats are available to reach the fort. Sindhudurg is the creation of Shivaji. Its ramparts are 4 m thick and up to 10 m high. The length of the fortification is 3 km. The fort has only one entry gate situated in the northeast corner; it was difficult to find for the enemy. Sindhudurg is the only place which has a temple dedicated to Shivaji. There are also a few other temples in the fort. A small populace used to live in the fort but now their numbers are dwindling.
Location: Sindhudurg is 500 meters off the shore from Malvan beach.
Rajgad is where Shivaji stayed longer than any other forts of Maharashtra. It straddles a triple-pronged hill and its highest part is 4600 ft above sea-level. The only way to reach the fort is by climbing up from a hamlet called Vajeghar. The climb takes about two hours and good fitness level is needed. Many adventure seekers opt to stay overnight in the fort. A temple up there can accommodate up to 50 people. The fort has ruins of granaries, residences, stores, and reception halls. Climbing up further can take you to the inner fort called ‘Bala Kila’. It has remains of the palaces and chambers.
Location: Rajgad is 66 km southwest of Pune, and 116 km north of Mahabaleshwar.
Panhala, situated near Kolhapur, has a fort set on a spur overlooking an important pass. Its 7 km long walls impart a roughly triangular shape to the fort. In many parts, steep escarpments topped with parapets act as protective walls. It encases memories of many dynasties. But much of what you see today is attributed to the Adil Shahi King. Shivaji had stayed here for a short period though. Dotted about within the fortification are granaries, pavilions, stepwells, and ruins of palaces. There are many underground tunnels in the fort. If you are a connoisseur of military architecture, you will be able to notice many defensive elements here.
Location: Panhala is 22 km northwest of Kolhapur.
Sinhagad literally means ‘Lion Fort’. It sits atop a steep hill and is just 30 km from Pune. The fort is completely ruined. Except ramparts and gateways, nothing has survived. But it makes for an exciting day trip from Pune. You can either drive up to the fort or choose to trek. There are multiple trekking paths with varying steepness. If you do it gently, you would take about 1.5 hour to reach to the top. Walking along the ramparts at the top is the best way to earn some magnificent views. In 1647, Shivaji controlled Sinhagad for a while before losing it to the Mughals. Thereafter, it alternated between Marathas and Mughals.
Location: Sinhagad is 30 km south of Pune.
Offbeat Forts in Maharashtra
Visapur and Lohagad Forts
Visapur (or Visapoor) and Lohagad are twin forts situated in Maval Taluka of Pune District. These forts enjoy proximity with the famous Bhaja caves. The only way to reach Visapur fort is by trekking. The trek is moderate but at a normal pace it can take more than 2 hours. It is best done in monsoon when many waterfalls have come back to life. Entire path is scenic. As compared to Visapur, Lohagad is a small fort. But it is pretty intimidating due to its shape and location. Its walls cling to a steep cliff. Be ready to ascend about 1.5 km to reach the top. The path has enough steps to exert you well.
Location: Visapur is 63 km northwest of Pune, and Lohagad is just about 2.5 km from Visapur.
Kolaba Fort is situated on a low rocky island in the Alibag Harbour. This quadrangular-shaped fort was once the naval headquarter of Kanhoji Angre, a Maratha General. Its basalt walls were reinforced with 17 bastions; three of them have remained intact. A long causeway leads to the main entrance. The entry gate has iron-spiked teak doors, and is flanked by towers. While all the buildings in the fort are ruined, the shrines have been restored and renovated. There are a few Hindu temples and a Muslim shrine in the precincts.
Location: Kolaba Fort is just 230 m off the Alibag beach.
Purandhar (or Purandar) Fort is set amidst a scenic landscape, which becomes even more scenic during monsoons. Spread across a ridge, this fort is 4472 feet above sea level. Shivaji’s son Sambhaji was born here. British, after capturing it, had used Purandhar as a sanatorium and detention centre. Along with the gateways, there are remains of several ancient shrines in the fort. There is a road which leads to the lower part of the fort. From there you need to ascend 350 m on foot. The hike is enjoyable.
Location: Purandar Fort is 55 km south of Pune.
Tikona Fort is meant for the trekkers. None of the structures built by the kings have survived except an entrance and a temple. There are a few caves which are said to be from Satvahana period. This fort is situated on a pyramidal hill at a height of 3500 feet above sea-level. The trek to Tikona begins from Tikona-Peth, which is the base village, situated near Kamshet. The fort had come under Shivaji in the year of 1657. For a brief period after 1665, Tikona was lost to the Mughals. But Marathas recaptured it later.
Location: Tikona is 50 km west of Pune.
Going to Suvarnadurg today is more about enjoying a trip off the coast and less about tracing its history. This island fort lies unmaintained. It enclose a huge overgrown land which is dotted with the remains of the old structures. The fort walls have only one entry gate, and are bolstered with round bastions. Walking around in the fort you will find many tanks along with a step-well. It is said that a tunnel connected this fort with a small land port called Kanakadurga.
Location: Suvarnadurg is 16 km from Dapoli and 98 km south of Murud.
Portuguese were the creators of Bassein Fort, which is locally known as Vasai Fort. Situated by the coast, it overlooks the mouth of a small river. During the time of Portuguese, Bassein had shaped into a flourishing port town. Today, within its ramparts are the remains of churches, chambers, and convents. The walls of the fort were strengthened by nine triangular bastions. Today the buildings inside are in a ruined state, and are covered with vines and bushes.
Location: Bassein Fort is in Vasai, 73 km south of Mumbai CST.