If you dig a slice of heritage and a piece of history, Fort Jadhavgadh in Pune is one vacation you just can’t miss. An impressive heritage property the 18 century fort makes you connect instinctively to its royal legacy and fascinating past. Throw in a scenic drive from Mumbai and the luxuries of today and what you have is a perfect holiday.
There is something ineffably mesmerising about staying in a heritage property. You don’t have to be a history seeker or luxury addict for that. Peshwa town’s well guarded secret, this charming, unassuming and unhurried masterpiece is three and half hours drive away from Mumbai (on the old Pune – Satara road). Once you cross the Express way the drive gets slower but prettier as you pass swaying sugarcane fields, mountains and winding ghats.
Perched on a hill the fort was built in 1710 by Pilaji Jadhavrao, a Maratha General in the army of Chatrapati Shivaji as a residence as well as a safe haven during Mughal attacks. The fort was restored and converted into a resort by hotelier Dr Vithal Kamat in 2007. The armour of spikes on the main durwaaza, the rock stair ways and the stone balconies are a relief from the sterile glass and steel structures of today. The welcome too is unique. A mavla blows the tutari (traditional Maharashtrian trumpet) and women in nine yard sarees apply the tilak.
A narrow flight of stairs take me to my room – the Maharaja Suite. This used to be the king’s den I am told. And it looks every bit fit for a king – intricately carved four poster teak wood bed, silk upholstery, old world lamps and a bathroom that equals the size of most houses in Mumbai! Small niches in the wall hold artefacts reminiscent of the Maratha era. A large balcony overlooks the hills and fig farms.
The rooms or kholis are built naturally on the side walls of the fortress. Old world charm meets new world luxuries as hand-woven Indian silks swathe the interiors and stone balconies over look the hills. Some rooms even come with open to the sky bathrooms. It’s designed in such a way that you can have a natural shower when it rains. All rooms come with high ceilings, sunken bathtub, all glass bathroom and a private balcony.
The steps going up the main entrance of the fort are made of huge stone blocks. This was done to make it easier for the horses and elephants to climb up. After entering through the main spiked doorway it takes two sharp curves to reach the fort interiors. This was done to make the task of a probable enemy and his troops all the more cumbersome if they had to force entry through the main door, inadvertently giving precious time for those inside for last minute preparations. Smart.
The fort also holds a number of dungeons used to store grains and as an escape route during those tumulus times. Some even housed prisoners of war. Four of these enigmatic dungeons have been traced and restored. It is believed that one of the dungeons could have been a secret pathway that Pilaji Jadhavrao and his men used in times of crisis. Armed with a torch I sneaked down one of the dungeons and it was nothing short of thrilling.
The fortress was built for practical purposes and is devoid of any intricate designs, delicate carvings or decorative art on the ceilings and walls. The wood work, the main durwaaza with an armour of spikes, the rock stair ways all lend the fort a distinct masculine air. Although not as magnanimous as other Maratha era forts like Sinhgadh, Jadhavgadh has quite a few architectural similarities and is a fine example of Maratha craftsmanship.
The fort also houses a swimming pool fringed by frangipani trees. A gentle breeze drops these white and yellow flowers all around and lends the surrounding a beautiful sweet scent.
After a leisurely breakfast I set out to explore the museum within the fort. Built on a horse stable it houses artefacts painstakingly collected by Dr Kamat himself over 40 years. A cultural cognoscenti can easily spend a day at the museum which exhibits a superlative collection of everyday items dating back to the early 17th and 18th century. Among the many fascinating items on display is the world’s biggest lock with seven keys without a key hole! Other items include brass kitchen items, bullock cart, palkhi, war ammunition, tanjore paintings, ornate doors, etc.
Fun activities at the fort
It’s now time to experience the Maratha way of life – a bullock cart ride. The carts are beautifully decorated with bells, embroidered patches and colourful headgears for the cows. Mattresses and pillows placed on the cow’s back make the ride comfortable. The cart takes me around the villages adjoining the fort and it’s an unforgettable experience. Don’t miss it.
Other interesting activities include plucking fresh figs off a tree on a fig farm and even milking a cow if you please! You can even learn to play the tutari at the fort (however badly!) and hear it resonate across the atrium. Or get clicked for posterity with your beloved alongside a real cannon. Romance will come easy when you are on 25 acres of landscaped greenery against the backdrop of the majestic fort. I take my shoes off and feel the unbelievable sponginess of the garden. The term ‘green carpet’ was never more relevant than here.
Lunch is served at Chajja the 24-hour coffee shop. I skip the interiors for the balcony that overlooks the fields. This was where the king and queen would sit for hours whispering sweet nothings to each other on swings whose hooks can still be seen fixed above. I plonk myself on one of the lounge sofas and wash down the tandoor dishes with a tall glass of freshly squeezed sugarcane juice.
Dinner is alfresco at Payatha where the women from the nearby villages roll out the perfect bhakris (hand breads) and kombadi wade (five grain deep fried puris). Other delicacies worth trying include the tamda rassa and Kolhapuri mutton. Live music adds to the atmosphere.
Fort Jadhavgadh has many quiet places to curl up with a book. You can choose the shade of the old umbar tree or slide into a hammock under the tamarind tree on the lawn and get introduced to the whole new concept of ‘horizontal bird watching’. You may spot barbets, leaf warblers, spiderhunters, tailor birds, kingfishers and orioles. A bright green bench located on the lawn makes a great place to have a cup of tea and bhajias. The swaying of the bamboo groves, the chirping of the birds, the humming of the bees and the rushing dragonfly – make Jadhavgadh so enchanting and charming.
For anyone who’s ever had the urge to flee the rat race and drive off to a sleepy village with fresh air, velvety grass and a breezy, barefoot lifestyle Fort Jadhavgadh would most likely fit the bill.
GETTING THERE: It’s an hour away from Pune by road. After exiting the Expressway take the Kondwa Pisoli road to Saswad. It’s a 2km drive from Dive Ghat, a popular landmark.
COSTS: Jadhavgadh can be experienced through a weekend stay or if you are short on time through a tour. The tour is free. Room rates start from Rs 13,000 to 17000 which include breakfast and all meal for a couple per day. A complimentary massage is also included in the package. The suites cost Rs 21000.
Address: Jadhavwadi, Hadapsar Saswad Road,
Pune – 412301
Tel: +91 9987573811 / 15 / 18
NIVEDITA JAYARAM PAWAR