The picturesque village of Mahabaleshwar, nestled in the Sahyadri range of Maharashtra’s lush Satara region, is various things to many people.
Set on a beautiful plateau surrounded by valleys, the summer capital of British India’s erstwhile Bombay Province offers a diverse hideaway. To the avid trekker, it is a maze of paths crisscrossing rugged hills and emerald forests; to the spiritualist, it is a destination with divine provenance; to the nature lover and photographer, it is home to some of the country’s most magnificent vistas; and to children, both real and imaginary, it is the source of nearly 85 percent of India’s strawberry production.
SIGHTS AND ACTIVITIES
This fort was constructed in 1656, just in time for the epic Battle of Pratapgad in 1659 between Shivaji and Afzal Khan, the formidable general of the Adilshah of Bijapur. It was commissioned by the legendary Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. According to legend, Shivaji was summoned to Afzal Khan’s tent for negotiations but was attacked by the commander. Anticipating Khan’s treachery, Shivaji defeated him and murdered him with a hidden tiger claw dagger, which has become a Maratha folklore icon.
This fight, which resulted in a resounding victory, became one of the nascent ruler’s defining milestones, precipitating the development of the formidable Maratha Empire. The fort’s construction is spectacular, with two levels built on a hill overlooking a deep gorge. The fort, which is privately held by Udyanraje Bhonsale, the present Satara Chhatrapati, is exceptionally well-preserved. It also has two well-known temples devoted to Mahadev and Bhawani Mata, the latter of whom is Shivaji’s family goddess.
Elephant’s Head Point
Though there are more than 20 observation points in and around Mahabaleshwar, Arthur’s Seat is undoubtedly the most popular and is known as the “Queen of the Points” by locals. The vantage point, located at a height of 1,340m, highlights the geological contrast between the Konkan and Deccan landscapes, with the deep Savitri canyon on one side and a verdurous plateau on the other.
Pointing an Elephant’s Head. This vantage point, about 7 kilometres from the main city, provides spectacular views of the Sahyadris. The explanation for this unusual name is the natural rock formation at this spot, which resembles an elephant’s head and trunk.