You do not have to be a Sun Tzsu to understand why this fort was of such strategic importance to the Maratha empire in the 17th century. Situated 4000 feet above sea level and 1000 feet elevation from the ground, Sinhagad has line-of-site to four other forts with clear, breathtaking view of several hundreds miles of surrounding terrain. From every angle, Sinhagad looks impregnable!
India’s premier National Defense Academy is based 30 KMs away in the city of Pune. The officers in-the-making are often asked to perform a "Singad" as part of the discipline. To SIngad, the cadet leaves Khadakvasala before sunrise, sprints to the top of the fort (without using the road) and back before lunch. An average cadet does this 20-25 times during their 2 year tenure.
You enter the fort through the Poona Darwaza (Pune gate). Immediately on the right, is the Daruche Kothar (ammunition store), one of the only surviving buildings on the fort. It survived because the English - who destroyed everything else on the fort - used it as a church.
The ammunition store
On the left, a little tunnel has been carved into the hillside and leads to little cubicles. This is Ghodyacha Paga or the Horse stables.To my untrained eye, the architecture and design of the stable seems out of place with the rest of the fort. It always reminds me of the cave temples of Ajanta. Ajanta predates the fort by more than 400 years.
The horse stables
The path then brings you to Tanajichi samadhi - Tanajis's resting place - the most well known and spellbinding story connected with Sinhagad.
The story starts on Rajgadh. In the 17th century, the Maratha king, Shivaji, had to hand over Kille Kondana (the Kondana fort) to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb as a part of the Purander treaty. Within months of escaping from Delhi and returning to his base in the green valleys of Sahyadri, Kille Kondana was one of the first forts Shivaji wanted back. He picked his childhood friend Tanaji Malusare to lead the campaign.
History says Tanaji single handedly stalked the fort for 9 days, disguised of a Gondhali, living in a small village called Umbarthe at the foothills of the fort. He came to the conclusion that Udaybhanu, the Rajput fort-keeper, had secured every possible entry point into the fort. Except the sheer cliff on one side of the fort that has always been considered un-climbable.
On the no-moon night of Feb 4th, 1670, Tanaji hid a group of 300 mavalas – Maratha soldiers - outside Kalyan Darwaza, the main entrance during those times. Then while the army on the fort was in the midst of a drunken orgy, he led a group of 200 soldier to scaled the impossible cliff in absolute darkness. With a stiff tropical wind blowing that night, the soldiers used knotted hemp ropes to slither up the smooth rock.
By the time Udaybhanu collected his soldiers and mounted a counter, the Kalyan Darwaza has been opened from the inside and let the 300 force in.
Infuriated that his defense had been breached, Udaybhanu attacked Tanaji. Their sword skirmish is said to have covered almost 3/4thof a kilometer on the fort. At one point Tanaji lost his shield to a massive blow from Udaybhanu blow. Under the influence of sheer adrenalin is said that Tanaji used his left hand to ward off the sharp steel. The battle ended with neither warrior facing defeat. Tanaji and Udaybhanu killed each other almost simultaneously.
Shelarmama and Suryaji ensured that the remaining Maratha army surged ahead and took the fort despite being outnumbered 1 is to 3.
The next day when Shivaji was told about Tanaji, he uttered the immortal words " Ek gadh ala pun ek sinha gela" (I won a fort but I lost the lion). Kondana was hence renamed Sinhagad or the Lion Fort
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Besides being used as a training ground by the NDA, Sinhagad is famous for its “fort lunch”. A mere 30 minute ride from Pune, a healthy crowd - the local marathi manoos, the swaggering engineering students, the ubiquitous software professional, and even a tourist or two - flock to this historic fort to indulge in a hardy Maharashtrian lunch.
The sumptuous offering consists of phulkas (small round puffed wheat bread), pithale (a spicy chich-pea gravy garnished with curry leaves) accompanied by sliced onions and thick, cool yogurt set in austere earthen bowls. It is my favourite lunch place in Pune.
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The last time I was there, we retained a local guide, who claimed direct lineage with a lieutenant in Shivaji’s army
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Kalyan Darwaza: This portal was the main entrance to the fort in the 17th century
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The famous battlefield on Sinhagad is today used for cricket by the locals.
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In the parking lot, a small truck is used as a mobile grocer