• Ajaz Shaikh

Narnala & Gawilgarh Fort - Exploring the Lost Forts

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

Badnera-Chikhaldara

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 thetravelblueprint@gmail.com 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.

Shankarmuni Resort, Chikhaldara
Shankarmuni Resort, Chikhaldara
Eco-Tourism Complex, Shahanur
Eco-Tourism Complex, Shahanur

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.


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.

Gawligad Fort
Gawligad Fort

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 Fateh Darwaza - the south-western gate, built by Fateh-Ullah Imad-ul-Mulk.
The Fateh Darwaza - the south-western gate, built by Fateh-Ullah Imad-ul-Mulk.
The Delhi Darwaza - between the inner and outer fort
The Delhi Darwaza - between the inner and outer fort

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.

Pathan style of architecture, the mosque has seven arches in its facade at Gawilgarh Fort
Pathan style of architecture, the mosque has seven arches in its facade at Gawilgarh Fort

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.

The largest canon at the southern end of Gawilgarh Fort
The largest canon at the southern end of Gawilgarh Fort

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.


Mozari Point

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

Sunrise View

Sunrise View From Shankarmuni Resort, Chikhaldara
Sunrise View From Shankarmuni Resort, 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 at Tiwari Hotel, Chikhaldara
Tarri Poha at Tiwari Hotel, Chikhaldara

(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.


Strawberry Farmville

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

At the Strawberry Farm in Chikhaldara
At the Strawberry Farm in Chikhaldara

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

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.

On the way to Chikhaldara Via Akot
On the way to Chikhaldara Via Akot

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.


Shahanur Darvaza

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

Shahanur Darwaza - Narnala Fort
Shahanur Darwaza, Narnala Fort

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.


Mahakali Darvaza

Mahakali Darwaza, Narnala Fort