Sunday, April 18, 2010

2 to 4-Apr-2010: Gaavilgad Narnaalaa

Till now we had seen the forts and the forest in Sahyadri range. This trip offered us a chance to see forts and forests in Satpuda range in the North Maharashtra. Melghat Wildlife Sanctuary is situated between Amaravati and Akola districts. Gaavilagad and Naranaala forts are on the fringes of the sanctuary. They were built to obstruct the invaders coming from the North.

How to reach there
Gaavilgad fort is situated just 3 kilometers from the famous hill station Chikhaladara. One can reach this place from Akola and Amaravati. Both these places are connected by train to Mumbai and Nagpur. Chikhaladara is nearer to Amaravati than Akola. From Amaravati, Chikhaldara is nearly 100 kilometers. From either of these places, there should be state transport buses plying to the hill station. However it is best to arrange your own transport.

From Chikhaldara, the distance to Semadoh should be around 20-25 kilometers. However the road travels through jungle.
Prior permissions must be obtained to travel on this route and stay at Semadoh. It takes nearly one hour to reach Semadoh from Chilakdara by your own vehicle. Please note, the frequency of the public transport is very less in this region.

From Semadoh, the road to Naranaala fort passes through almost entire Melghat Wildlife Sanctuary. It takes nearly 3 hours by your own vehicle to cover the nearly 100 kilometers.

Naranaala fort is nearly 75 kilometers from Akola via Akot. It takes nearly 1.5 to 2 hours for this journey by your own transport.

Gaavilgad and Naranaala forts are hill forts in the Satpura ranges. These forts are massive and strong. They were meant to guard the area from the Northern invaders.

History of Gaavilgad fort
Gaavilgad fort is situated 3 kilometers from Chikhaldara - a hill station in North Maharashtra. It was important in defense of the Deccan plateau from the Northern invaders. The fort derives its name from Gavali (cow herders) who inhabited the area for centuries. There existed mud structures. It was built by Gaavils. It was, however, later occupied by Gonds. During the later period, the fort fell to the Mughals. In 1425, Ahmad Shah Wali build several fortifications when he was stationed in Elliachpur (Achalapur). Despite its importance, the fort does not have any significant history. After the Muslim rulers, the fort was controlled by the Marathas and finally the British.
The fort has several inscriptions in Persian recording the date of building of each of its seven gates. It has two water tanks (Devtalav and Khantalav), which would have been the main water source in case the fort was besieged. Within the fort the ruins of a mosque stands at the highest point in the inner fort and is built in the Pathan style of architecture. The mosque has a square canopy with intricate stone lattice work and a seven arched fa├žade. The mosque originally had two minarets, only one of which is intact today

History of Narnaalaa fort
Narnaalaa fort was repaired by Ahmad Shah Bahamani in 1425 AD. The fort passed on to Fatehulla Imad Ulmulk in 1490 AD. Later the fort passed on to the Nizams and then Marathas. The Bhosles surrendered the fort to the British on 6-Jan-1818 along with Gaavilgad.

Narnaala fort lies nearly 20 kilometers North of Akot in Akola district. Shahanoor village lies at the base of the fort. The ascent from Shahanoor village is nearly 10 kilometers to the top of the fort. There is a tarred road till the top of the fort.
The entire fort complex consists of three forts. The eastern most fort is Jafarabad. In the center, Narnaala fort. Teliagad lies in the west of Narnaala.
There are 22 entrances and numerous bastions to the fortifications in the complex. The fortifications are erected where there is no natural defense.
There are 4 main entrances to the fort complex. Delhi Entrance; Akot Entrance; Sirpur Entrance; Shahanoor Entrance.
The Shahanoor Entrance consists of three separate gateways. The outermost gateway on this entrance is Shahanoor gate. It is plain in structure. It is the first entrance to the fort. It has some lion carvings. Hence it can be concluded that it predates Muhammadan rule in the area.
The second gate is Mehendi entrance. It is probably of the same origin as the Shahanoor gate. It has no significance.
The third and the innermost gate on this entrance is Mahakaali gate. It is the most beautiful work on the fort. There is nothing Hindu about this entrance. It was built by Fatahulla Imaad Ul Mulk in 1487 an year before he repaired Gaavilgad fort. It has intricate carvings with balconied windows as guard rooms. There is a pot on the left side of the entrance, probably to collect the coins as a tax. Some stones have fallen and few of them are stacked behind the gate. This gate is ornamental. The entrance was defended primarily by Shahanoor and Mehendi gates.
There are two carvings on this gate. The upper inscription of the gate is as follows:
On the date of victory saith the Lord God most high and exalted, whosoever enterth herein is safe from fear. The year 892 (AD 1487).
Far removed from the imperfections is God. There is no God but the one God and Muhammad is his prophet of the God. May God bless and save him and may the God bless all the prophets and apostles and the favored angels. Praised be the Lord God, the ruler of the universe. Lord, have the mercy on the legitimate khalifahs, the rightly guided, exalted over others of the believers and Muslims, namely Abu Bakr the Truthful, Umar the discriminator, Uthman, and Ali the approved of the God, and Hasan Ur Rahza, and Hussain, and all the martyrs of Karbala, and Hamza and Abbas and all those who accompanied the Prophet in his emigration to Medina, and all those who helped him there. May the acceptance of God be on them all. (Written by Muhammad Abdulla)

The lower inscription is as follows:
In the reign of the great and exalted sultan the Gazi Shahabuddin Waduddin Mahamud Shah, the son of Muhammad Shah the son of Humayun Shah, the son of Ahmed Shah, the Son of Mahamud Shah the rulers of Bahamani. May God perpetuate his rule, his kingdom, his khilafat. (Written by Kamaal Jung)

After passing through these gates, one reaches the top of the Narnaalaa fort. There are several buildings.
Jaamaa Masjid stands in one of the courtyards. There is a fountain in front of the building.
Ambar Palace/ Queen's Palace/ Darbaar Hall/ Baaraadari is situates right in front of the Masjid. It has a stoned courtyard. It used to function as an assembly hall. The stone arches of this building are filled with shoddy brickwork. There is a stairway to go at the top of the building.
Opposite to the Ambar Palace is the tomb of Burhanuddin. It is on the bank of Sakkar Lake. It is said that dog bites are cured at this place.
Sakkar Lake has water all around the year. It dried up in 1899-1900. It has few legends connected with it.
A little further, on the right hand side, there is a structure with three arches. There are four covered tanks. It is called Oil Ghee Tank (Telache Tupache Taake). Why only oil and ghee require such special storage? Probably the real purpose must be to store something else.
A little ahead is the bathing complex. It has different chambers.
A little further on the left side if the ammunition store. Right in front of the ammunition store, there is a viewing point. The scene is very panoramic. The structure below is the Mahakaal entrance.
The path leads us to one of the large cannon. It is said to be 9 yards (9 gaj). It has an Persian inscription. It reads: He (God) is everlasting one. The emperor Auranzeb Alamgir. This is the nine yard gun which was made during the rule of Dakhanis. Now Atiu Beg, the slave of the imperial court having come to this fort of Narnaalaa in the month of Janadi Ul Awwaal in the year 1091 of the holy Hijra, has mounted the gun by the grace of His Majesty, the lord of the Earth, and the age, and the ruler of the earth and its inhabitants, the true spiritual guide. Written by Pahlad Das the Kayath. It is 150 years since the gun was captured. But nobody has mounted it till now.
So sad that the gun is filled with stones and pebbles.
There are some more buildings in the ruins. The area further is restricted to the visitors. Back near the Sakkar Lake, there are few more buildings. Probably stables, etc.

9:00 PM Left Pune by a private bus to Amaravati in Maharashtra

8:00 AM Reached Amaravati. Immediately took a private vehicle to Chikaldara.

1:00 PM Reached Chikaldara
Since the road is narrow and hilly in places, it took a long time to cover the distance. There is nothing significant along the road. The area is not picturesque during summer months. Once we climbed the hills and reached Chikhaldara, the picture changed. The hill station in North Maharashtra was refreshing. Even during the summer when most of the subcontinent is burning, this place was relatively cool. The leader completed formalities and we immediately set out for lunch in one of the hotels. After having lunch, we took some rest in a lodge.

4:00 PM Gaavilgad fort
Went to see Gaavilgad fort which is 3 kms from Chikaldara. The fort is huge. There are lot of fortifications. We could not see complete fort due to the dusk. We could not cover the palace and temple. This fort requires at least 4-5 hours to completely explore.

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 A tree in the wall

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Main entrance of the Gaavilgad

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Fortifications

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Bastion

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Another entrance

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Broken Gand Bherud

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Ramparts

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Ramparts within the fort

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Another entrance

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10

In the evening, we had our dinner and went to the hotel.

6:30 AM Started for Semadoh camp from Chikhaldara.
In the morning, started for Semadoh camp from Chikhaldara. The route is narrow and through jungles. We stopped in between to enjoy the jungle. On the way, we could spot a few birds and a wild boar (pig). During the entire trip, this was the only animal we were to see. And not the one we came here to see. i.e. Tiger.

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10

8:20 AM Reached Semadoh camp through jungles
At last, we reached the Semadoh camp. The authorities explained that the safari for Tiger spotting can happen only at two times a day immediately after daybreak or just before dusk. That is the time when the tigers are expected to come out for food and water. This safari must be accompanied by a forest guard. Melghat is a jungle. It is not a Park. The wild animals must find their own food. They are not fed.

9:00 AM Went to Kolkaas camp
Since the safari was in the evening, we went to Kolkaas camp. It is nearly 15 kilometers from Semadoh on the road towards Dharani. We had our lunch there. We roamed in the camp for some time. Took some rest under trees.

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Kolkaas Camp

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Seepana River

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Mahua Fruits

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Dry tree in the dry river bed

The river Seepana that runs through Semadoh and Kolkaas camps is dry. The river bed is considerably large.

4:00 PM Jungle safari
By 3:30 PM, we were back in Semadoh camp. With the guide, we set out for the safari to watch Tigers. In nearly two hours, we could only see some birds. Peacocks and a Crested Serpent Eagle. We were extremely sad that we could not see any sign on a Tiger. As per last census, there are 65+ tigers in the reserve. None of them showed any mercy towards us. Dejected, we were back in the camp. There we saw that the last time a tiger was sighted by a tourist was one month back!

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 The forest

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Crested Serpent Eagle

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Ant Nest

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Observation deck

6:30 AM Another jungle safari
In the hope to see any signs of tiger, we went for another safari early in the morning. Still no luck. The tigers were still elusive. We could spot only wild boar.

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Wild boar

I wondered if there are any tigers in the reserve or not. They do not come out in the morning or in the evening. In the afternoon, it is too hot to go out and hunt. The guide explained to us that there is lot of water in the jungle. Hence the tigers need not come to a single place for water.

The best place to see such wild animals are in the respective National Parks like Corbett, Gir, Ranthambor.

9:00 AM back to Semadoh camp
We were back to Semadoh camp. We packed the bags and left the resort. We had heavy breakfast in Semadoh.

10:00 AM Started for Narnaalaa fort
At last, we started for another fort on the Southern edge of Sayhadri. It took us nearly two hours to cover the distance of 80-90 kilometers through the narrow, hilly roads. The entire forest consists of Teak trees. During summer, the teak sheds leaves. Hence these jungles do not look nice. We see only stumps as the forest.

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Dry jungle

12:00 PM Reached the base of Narnaala fort
After starting on the road to Dharani from Semadoh, we took a detour to Akot. Before reaching Akot, we can reach Naranaala fort. This fort is also huge in its expanse as compared to the forts in Sayhadri forts.

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Narnaalaa fort from the base - only one third of the view

At the base of the fort, the leader obtained permissions. This fort comes under another wildlife reserve. There is a museum at the base of the fort. It contains good information on Tigers and other wild animals. We requested at one house for the lunch by the time we come back from the fort.

1:30 PM Reached the first entrance
The fort top is nearly 10 kilometers from this place. All along, there is not a single green tree. The Sun was blazing in the sky. The heat was becoming unbearable. The road skirted the first entrance. Suddenly we came across the second entrance. We were amazed. This is one of the most beautiful entrances built on a fort. This is called Mahakaal entrance. But it does not have a trace of any Hindu origin. This must be built by Muslim rulers.

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Mahakaal entrance

Then we reached the top of the fort. There is a lot of construction on the top. One Masjid, One Dargah, One cannon, one ammunition depot, one bath complex, etc. Could not see all the buildings due to lack of time. The cannon is a very large one.

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Ambarkhana

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Shakkar Talao

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Shakkar Talao

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Oil and Ghee tanks

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Chor Darwajaa

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Ammunition Depot

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Nine yard canyon

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Bating complex

From Trips - Gaavilgad Narnala Apr 10 Masjid

The actual fort complex consists of three forts. It is a huge complex. Since we had limited time available, we could see only the main Naranaala fort top.

3:30 PM Back to the base
By now, we were getting very hungry. Hence we returned back to the base. Had a very good home made lunch. That gave us immense satisfaction. It also set us for the long and arduous journey ahead.

4:30 PM Started for Akola
Since we did not have any reservation back to Pune, we soon rushed to Akola to catch any transport to Pune.

6:00 PM Reached Akola
We were in Akola in one and half hours via Ahcalapur (Elliachpur). The leader explored various modes to go to Pune unsuccessfully.

8:00 PM Boarded bus to Aurangabad
At last, we boarded a State Transport bus to Aurangabad. It dropped us at Aurangabad at around 1:00 AM.

2:30 AM Boarded bus to Pune
After waiting for a bus to Pune, at last we boarded a bus at 2:30 AM. It reached Pune by 8:00 AM in the morning. The return journey was thus a painful one.

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