When referred to hill fort treks many people think of Sahyadri only. But along with western ridge, Maharashtra is dotted by alot of forts on the northern Satpuda range. These forts have played an important role in defending enemies from Maharashtra for a long time.
The Satpuda mountain range not only rich in forts but rich in biodiversity too. Among such hotspots, we have Narnala and Gawilgarh Fort.
How to reach from Mumbai?
To start with we will start from Gawilgarh Fort. The nearest railway station to the Gawilgarh Fort is Badnera Junction which is 100 km from Gawilgarh Fort. Badnera is well-connected with all the major cities in India. The cheapest and convenient way to reach Badnera is by train. Due to excellent train connectivity, it makes sense to either explore it as a weekend trip from Mumbai (Gawailgarh Fort & Chikhaldar and Narnala Fort). By train, it will take 10 hrs to 12 hrs to reach Badnera from Mumbai. To explore both the places you will need more than 2 days, so for a combined trip do it over a long weekend.
From Mumbai, you can take 12101 Junction Aneswari Delx leaves from Lokmanya Tilak Terminal (LTT) at 08:30 PM and will reach Badnera Junction (BCT) the next day around 06:45 AM.
For return journey from Akola Junction, you can take 12152 Samarsata Express leaves from Akola Junction (BCT) at 09:45 PM and will reach Lokmanya Tilak Terminal (LTT) next day around 07:30 AM
Chikhaldara is the name of the near town to the Gawligarh Fort. To reach Chikhaldara from Badnera Railway Station, you can easily hire a cab from right outside the railway station at economical rates. The cab drivers usually quote exorbitant rates, but will quickly bring down their quotes once you start bargaining. For a two day trip, you should not pay more than ₹5000 or alternatively hire a bike on rent for maximum INR 700 per day. (Drop a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to hire a bike on rent).
The nearest airport to the Chikhaldara is Nagpur Airport which is approx 240 km from Chikhaldara and it will take around 6 to 7 hrs to reach Chikhaldara.
Pocket-friendly and for a budget trip way to reach Chikhaldara from Mumbai is by train.
Where To Stay?
If you are on a budget trip and looking for all in one package at a pocket-friendly price do check out Shankarmuni Resort. Best view of Chikhaldara Beauty, Clean and Hygienic ambience & rooms and good food just for ₹2000 per night. This place has to offer minimum facilities nothing comparing to fancy Mumbai Resort but an amazing place to enjoy the experience of being in a place rich in history, beauty, architecture and culture. The cherry on the top an amazing place to capture sunrise timelapse.
And at Narnala Fort you can stay in the forest department’s eco-lodges at Shahanur ( ₹1200 per night for a cottage and ₹300 per night for a dormitory). The place is also known is Shahanur Eco-Tourism Complex and is located at the main entry gate of Melghat Tiger Reserve.
Day One: Gawilgarh Fort
From Badnera railway station it will take you around 2 to 3 hrs to reach Chikhaldara. So just check-in into your hotel and rest for a while before you start with an amazing tour to Gawligad Fort.
This historically significant place Gawilgarh Fort (Gawilghur or Gawilgad ) was the mountain stronghold of the Maratha Empire during the British rule in India. The constant repulsion and war raged against the Britishers by the mighty Marathas led to a situation where the Britishers had to shed away their idea of taking over this place.
Gawilghur fort has two levels, the outer fort being slightly lower than the inner one. This outer fort has a third wall which covers the approach to it from the north. The fort has two main gateways, the Delhi Darwaza, between the inner and outer fort, and the Fateh Darwaza, the south-western gate, built by Fateh-Ullah Imad-ul-Mulk.
The most conspicuous of the remains in the fort is the great mosque which stands upon the highest point towards the south side of the inner fort. Built-in the Pathan style of architecture, the mosque has seven arches in its facade. Of the two minarets, the one at the north-eastern angle of the building still exists. Its square canopy, with very exquisite stone lattice-work, rises little above the domes of the mosque.
There were not less than eight water tanks in the fort, few of them still in good condition. Devtalav and Khantalav, which would have been the main water source in case the fort was besieged.
There still remain in the fort several canons, the one at the southern end is the largest.
Gawilgarh has a long history. The saying was; “One who controls Gawilgarh controls Berar.” After the split of the Bahamani Kingdom, it passed through many hands. It was with the Imadshahi in 1488 AD, the Nizamshahi in 1574 AD, the Mughals in 1599 AD and the Marathas in 1754 AD, before it fell to the British in 1803 AD.
Gawilgarh fort was dismantled in 1858 AD lest it should be seized by Tatya Tope, who in that year attempted to break from the Satpuda hills into the Deccan in order to stir up the country for the independence movement.
Gafur Ahmed, a jaglia (tenant) of the Narnala Fort, tried to determine whether the chambers built into the fort of Narnala Fort had any use by driving 20 sheep into them. One of the sheep turned up at Gawilgarh which is more than 20 miles away. So, probably there is a tunnel connecting the two forts.
Entry Fees: ₹25 per person for Indian and ₹300 per person for Foreigner.
Visiting hours: Sunrise to Sunset.
One of the best point to visit particularly in the morning and or in the evening. Both offer different scenic beauty of the morning sun and evening sun. Mozari viewpoint is next to MTDC Resort. One can see Satpura Mountain ranges from this point. Local people have to say during monsoon the deep valley view gets covered all around with clouds it's a must-visit see the place the rainy season.
Chikhaldara been a small town, there is nothing much to do post sunset and the main market will close before it gets dark.
Day Two: Lets Explore Chikhaldara
You don't have to go anywhere to enjoy the sunrise in this beautiful misty valley. You can do it right from the balcony of the Resort Sankarmuni while enjoying morning tea. Yes! you can also go to Mozari Point to enjoy the sunrise.
Breakfast @ Tarri Poha
For breakfast, you must try Tarri Poha at Tiwari Hotel in the main market.
(Tarri Poha - popular across all parts of Maharashtra especially in Nagpur. Many vendors sell poha in the wee hours of the morning. They serve it along with a tarri which has thin gravy.)
Devi Point - Holy place with a scenic location
One of the main reason to visit here is the main source of Chandrabhaga River which meet Purna river on the downside. There is a temple of Ma goddess in the small cave where the water continuously trickles. Locals often visit here either for pray or for sightseeing and to enjoy some personal time with friends and family. The location offers an excellent view of the surrounding valley.
Standing in front of a real farm though and it was much better than the feeling of virtual farmland of course. The taste here was no different than what I experienced in the strawberry farms of Mahabaleshwar. The temperature here does not dip as low as Mahabaleshwar, and
the water table is also low, forcing the region to develop rain-water harvesting methods on the arid and hard soils. Despite this, human willpower can create magic what no one else can
The strawberries sell in packets starting from 100 gms to 250 gms and sell for about ₹300 per kg. One tour of the farms is enough for you to understand the effort that has been put to make an otherwise impossible dream a reality.
Bhimkund-Kichakdara holds a mythological significance that attracts tourists. According to the Hindu mythological Mahabharata, Queen Sudeshna's brother Keechak often harassed Draupadi. One day, seeing Draupadi alone, Keechak misbehaved with her. Draupadi complained to Bhima. Angry at this, Bhima asked Draupadi to bring Keechak to the dance hall at night. At the behest of Draupadi, as soon as Keechaka reached the dance hall at night, Bhima attacked Keechaka with mace and killed him. After this, Bhima cleaned the blood-soaked body by bathing in a falling waterfall from the middle of the mountains. After which this kund was named as Bhima Kund.
Bhimkund has several deep furrows in the south direction ranging from 155 feet to 1500 feet deep. Tigers also live in the thick forests here. In winter water stream is thin, but this would be the best place to see during monsoon. The deep valley covered with mountain from all the sides
Goodbye - Chikhaldara
It a universe law at all good things will come to an end, so do our trip also. But I am sure you will leave Chikhaldara with lots and lots of memories, fresh and fully charged mind and lots of photo for your Instagram. But the story is not complete yet. We still have to explore another historical fort Narnala.
It advisable to move towards Narnala in daylight, because it approx 3-4 hrs drive from Chikhaldara to Narnala fairly smooth ride via MH SH 212, but if you want to enjoy a long drive and can spare extra an hours would advise riding via MH SH 212 (Chikhaldara - Khatkali - Akot - Akola). It's an amazing ghat stretch passing from the backside of Narnala Fort.
Day Three: Melghat Tiger Reserve
Shahanur Jungle Safari
Morning Time of Jungle Safari is from 06:00 AM to 08:00 AM, so be ready at the entry gate by 05:45 AM. Safari Fees for adult Indians are ₹ 30 per person and Yes! they do have an evening slot also which is from 03:00 PM to 05:00 PM.
Big cat spotting is rare in Melghat, but they are certainly there; 40-odd at last count in 2018, according to data from the forest department, Melghat Tiger Reserve. The folds and valleys of the undulating mountains hide their treasures well. On my trip, I met the forest owlet. This small, nondescript bird was believed to have been extinct for 113 years until it was rediscovered in 1997. Melghat remains the safest habitat for the endangered owlet and the best place to spot it.
Some of the animals spotted in this region are Royal Bengal Tiger, Leopard, Bear, Wolf, Bison, Sambar, Spotted Deer & Blackbuck.
Narnala Fort Tour
Narnala Fort also knows as Shahnur Fort is one of the huge forts in Akola district covering an area of 362 hectares and consists of 3 forts fused together namely Narnala, Jafarabad and Teliagarh. The fort has 360 watchtowers, 6 large gates and 20 small gates. The numbers could differ as you read different sources. A motorable road leads to the top of the fort giving access easily.
Resting tall and strong on an unaccompanied hill of the Satpura mountain range, the Narnala Fort stands as a testimony to the Mughals' rich history and their remarkable architecture. This magnanimous fort was one of the thirteen 'sarkars' of Berar Subah and houses intriguing pieces of evidence of the majesty of the Mughal Dynasty, including the famous Nau-Gazi Tope. Perched upon a secluded hill at a height of 973 meters, the Narnala Fort offers a panoramic view of the Satpura ranges. Surrounded by a blanket of green and with a backdrop of the bright blue sky, the mesmerizing glory of the fort is truly iconic.
It was originally built by the Gond Dynasty in 10 A.D. and was named after the prestige Rajput King, Narnal Singh but was taken over by the Mughals in the 15th century. Ever since it was named Shahnoor Fort and has been the point of interest of many Mughal emperors. Not just that, it was also the birthplace of Emperor Aurangzeb's very own great-grandson. The renowned Muslim saint, Hazrat Burhanuddin Bagh Sawar Wali, used to set up camp at the fort quite often and claimed to have spotted many white tigers roaming about in the fort!
You start from the checkpoint at the gates of the Melghat Tiger Reserve where the customary entry formalities are done and charges paid for the car and guide. This part of the reserve is called Narnala Wildlife Sanctuary. On the left of the entry gate a small well–done museum shows the life of tribals and the flora & fauna of the national park and the small scale model of the fort.
A bouncy road takes you up the hill. As the road twists and turns, bastions and walls of the fort peep every once in a while from behind the thick veil of vegetation. And then suddenly
on the right, you see the first gate rising over the road. The gate is called Shahanur Gate. From the road, it just seems like an intimidating tall fortification about 40 feet high. The gate is built on the hillside perpendicular to the road. You go down to check. The foliage is dense
and the grass is tall. The gate is not very high; there are several arches that disappear into the vegetation on both sides. Below the hill falls sharply. The enemy definitely would not have found the climb easy.
Driving further up you come to the second gate called Mahakali Darvaza. Walking a few steps through you will see gateway built of white sandstone, with lovely lotus adornments, Persian inscriptions, galleries, rooms and flanked with overhanging balconies embellished with stone lattices is something you can relate to the beautiful architecture of Bidar. The gate was built in 1486 by the Imad Shahi dynasty founder Fath-ullah Imad-ul-Mulk.
Driving further up to the top so that walking down you can explore remaining places. On the top at the height to 3000 feet, you will see Nau-Gazi Tope which literally means Nine Yard Gun and was commissioned by Aurangzeb during the Mughal rule on this fort. It is said, a
shell fired from the gun once landed 20 km away. This canon is said to be built by Abu Beg one of the Mughal slaves, not one but two another gun was known as Kadak Bijli, the gun has now fallen down into the valley.
Retracing your path walking down you will see the water body called Shakkar Talao or Sweet Lake on your left. The lake stretches into the distance. On the other end, you can see a surviving arch and a structure beyond. It is said that Kamdhenu, the cow that grants all wishes, comes down at midnight, goes into the water and offers her milk to a shivling below.
Bathing in the waters is supposed to cure you of diseases. Another legend has it that there is a Philosopher’s Stone or Paras underneath the waters that turn everything it touches into gold. The famine of 1899-1900 dried the lake but nothing was found. These are the stories that enliven the proceedings!
Tomb Of Hazrat Burhanuddin Bagh Sawar Wali
On the opposite edge of the lake, you can see a tomb with gravestones and chadars. You start walking. The grave belongs to Hazrat Burhanuddin Bagh Sawar Wali. It is said that the saint used to ride a white tiger. The Akola Gazetteer notes that a small white tiger can still be seen coming to the tomb at night. People who were bitten by dogs, jackals and rats would come to the dargah for the cure. People would offer gur, channa, incense and flowers and walk around the platform five times.
Ambar Mahal a.ka. Durbar Hall and Jama Masjid
Next to the tomb are the two most complete structures in the fort. The first is the Jama Masjid which was built in 1509 by Mahabat Khan. The mosque is quite substantial and in good shape. The front has ornamentation in the form of lotuses. Three arched openings lead to the three niches on the western wall. The central mihrab is decorated but has been painted over. On the top rises a single dome.
Next to the Jama Masjid is the second substantial structure with a courtyard in the front. This is called the Ambar Bangala or Rani Mahal. The structure was possibly used as a Kacheri or a Darbar Hall in the past. The rectangular building is tall and imposing. It has huge triple-arched gateways leading into three apartments. The gateways have been filled up later with smaller entrances created. The front of the building is quite plain. It is possible there could have been slight ornamentation of blue tiles running along the top. The interiors are in poor shape. The dome again is ornamented with traces of blue paint. The rooftop terrace has parapet built around punctuated with small niches. Narrow steep steps take you up. In the courtyard in front is a cistern probably for a fountain.
Down ahead on the right you see a baradari kind of structure. The middle arch looks beautiful with brackets that probably held a sunshade. On the left are three tiny apartments while the right has five surviving arches and apartments. The actual grounds probably stretched behind. The tall grass is making things difficult to see and walk around.
On the way back, it is time to ponder over the history.
In all the time spent here in the Narnala Fort, you will hardly encounter any person.
Even the entire route is motorable it will take at least 3-4 hours to explore it to the fullest. So by the time you come back, it would be dark and there is anything to do around. Until you plan to drive back to Akola for dinner.
Best Time To Visit?
The period between October and January is the best time to visit the Narnala Fort. This is the period of winters when the weather is delightful and truly enjoyable. The temperature ranges between a low of 11 degrees Celsius and a high of 20 degrees Celsius, making it the perfect weather for outdoor picnics and outings. Winter is also an excellent time for birding (Melghat has 280-odd bird species), especially since there are opportunities to walk trails.
Summers here are sweltering, but chances of animal sightings are high. Temperatures ranging from a low of 28 degrees Celsius and a high of 41 degrees Celsius. Such high temperatures make summers an offseason for the city.
Listen to Me
The basic tenet of wildlife tourism is to remember that we are guests of the wild, and must respect our hosts.
Go with family and friends otherwise feels lonely at night.
Take your sweaters and muffler along as open jeeps safari are cold.
Carry some ready to eat food, atleast 3-4 litres of water something to eat incase you run out of energy because to explore this place you need to walk alot and you won't find any stall inside the fort.
But remember the golden rule, we are not here to dump waste, so don't just throw empty water bottle or packet. Carry them back to the entry gate where you can find a dustbin.
Carry an Id proof.