Pratapgad is well known for the cunning assassination of the Mughal warrior Afzal khan at the hands of the Maratha king, Shivaji on November 10, 1659. The details are delightfully captured here.
The historic fort, built is 1656 by Shivaji, about 120KMs from Pune, and less than 30 KMs from Mahabaleshwar, is built on a steep mountain, well separated from the neighboring landscape.
Shivaji was a clever administrator and a just ruler. He was a fierce warrior and often led his troop's from the front. He invented ganimi kava, a guerilla tactic that used the element of surprise and the hilly Sahyadri terrain to fight the larger, better equipped armies of the Mughal emperor of Delhi, the Nizams of Hyderabad and Ahmednagar and the Adil Shah of Bijapur. He built many forts in Maharashtra. Using his keen eye for detail and his hands-on knowledge of warfare, he participated in the design process of his forts and suggested several simple yet ingenious defense devices.
The structurally sound fort of Pratapgad illustrates several of these.
Take, for example, the main entrance of the fort.
The steeply graded road has been craftily twisted and two turrets have been strategically added. The confined area leaves a negligible angle for cannons to shell it, assuming you actually lugged the cannons on the steep hill. The final short ramp makes it difficult for elephants to be used as battering rams as there is barely any space to gain momentum. And all the while, soldiers standing on the turrets had a great angle at the enemy.
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In the patio of the Bhawani temple, is a battery of startlingly modern-looking vintage guns from the 17th and 18th century. There is a rock cutter, a shoulder mounted flame thrower, and a “lightweight” 35KG sentry gun.
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Pratapgad has a fort within the fort. The outside or the lower fort was used by the working class members of the fort – soldiers, sentries, merchants, maintenance etc. The inner or the upper fort called the ballekilla had the living quarters for the fort keeper, for the king and important staff members. This where the armory and the treasury was along with food and water storage.
The entrance to the two turrets is cleverly camouflaged between two turrets. The doorway is not visible until you are halfway up the stairs. This is obvious protection from the the prying eyes of walk-by spies and – you guessed it – almost zero line of attack for guns and elephants.
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The ballekilla held the main offices and was never given away easily. There are many secret passageways – chor dindy – that open into the ballekilla. Except that they were not means to escape to safety. The tunnels run around the fort walls and will deposit you back at the entrance of the inner fort.
Here is why; The enemy is fought until the bitter end. The remaining soldiers back up into the inner fort. The intensity of the resistance drops. The enemy senses victory. They break through the doors, see the fort empty, and just as they are peering down the walls to catch a glimpse of the running enemy, and are attacked from behind by the soldiers that they were just chasing a minute ago.
The view from the inner fort
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Convicted criminals and traitors were bound, gagged and tossed off this sheer cliff face. The cliff face was kept vegetation free to prevent slowing down the fall.
Survivors were brought all the way up and tipped into the valley again.
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There are two sets of steps in this frame: One set has been in existence for over four hundred, the second is spanking new, put in place in 2005. I guess, no need to elaborate which is which?