Nose squished to the window of the plane as we prepared to land in Pune, my 10-year-old daughter commented that the hilly landscape looked like a crumpled green bedsheet. “Armies galloped through these hills on horses a few centuries ago,” I added to her already imaginative rendition of the terrain below.
“How about showing the history rather than teaching?” she suggested. And thus was born the idea of a nature-cum-history weekend trip to the fort town of Sajjangad. Choosing it over the other 349 forts in Maharashtra was not difficult. The fort is less than 127km from Pune and makes for a memorable drive through the expansive vistas of the Western Ghats.
April, the cusp of summer, was already a tad late for the journey; January would have been ideal. Nevertheless, we started early on a Saturday morning to beat the heat and took the Mumbai-Bengaluru highway that wends through the hills. We had driven 100km south before the city of Satara emerged. Framed between hills, it gets the name from seven prominent mounds (saat tara); Ajinkyatara, Sajjangad, Yawateshwar, Jarandeshwar, Nakdicha Dongar, Kitlicha Dongar and Pedhyacha Bhairoba. From there, Sajjangad is about 16km.
My daughter paid rapt attention to the history lessons that had begun during the drive. Once known as Ashwalayangarh, Sajjangad was Muni Ashwalayan’s tapobhumi (place of penance). It is believed that many aswals or bears inhabited the area.
The fort was constructed by Bahmani kings who ruled from 1347-1527. Later, it came under the Adil Shahi dynasty and was then captured by Chhatrapati Shivaji, Maharashtra’s famous warrior king. He requested his guru, Samarth Ramdas, to set up an ashram within the fort, which was named Sajjangad, or “fort of good men”. Eventually, the saint was laid to rest here.
Sajjangad was constructed with deep grey igneous rocks. It stands tall, 900m above sea level. A few years ago, visitors had to climb 750 steps from the base village of Parli to the fort. Today, you can drive to the top and climb 185 steps to the entrance. There are two maha-darwazas or entrance gates—the Chhatrapati Shivaji Mahadwar and Shree Samarth Mahadwar.
“Steep steps were constructed to make the climb difficult for enemy armies,” my lecture continued as we climbed the steps. It was hard to match the stamina of a 10-year-old as she skipped ahead easily.
Devotees were climbing all the way from Parli, chanting shlokas (prayers) composed by Ramdas.
Atop the hill, we trailed the devotees, stopped at other temples—Anglai Devi, Vena Swami, Akka Swami and Hanuman Mandir. A short distance from the Anglai temple, an orange flag on a pole fluttered in the breeze. This is Dharmadhwaj. From this point, another hill, Ajinkyatara, is clearly visible. It is said that when Chhatrapati Shivaji would stay at Ajinkyatara, he and Ramdas exchanged secret messages through mashaals (fire torches).
We wandered to the western edge of the hill that offers a sweeping view of table-top hills and the Urmodi reservoir.
Since we had time, we decided on a detour to the Thoseghar waterfalls, about 12km from Sajjangad. A spectacular deep gorge cradles two streams of water cascading from about 1,000ft—a sight even more grand during the monsoon. A misty haze leaves visitors awestruck.
Our tryst with history and nature had been satisfying, and we returned to Satara for the night.
The next morning was reserved for the Chalkewadi Windmill Farm, an hour’s drive from Satara; it’s described as the largest in Asia. Contrary to what my daughter had imagined, a windmill farm is a sprawling area with windmills—and no animals. This one was a large plateau dotted with hundreds of windmills.
We stood and watched the humongous white arms turn with the wind. It gave us some time to assimilate the weekend encounters with a historic fort, zealous devotees, the vagaries of nature, and these graceful white giants.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros.