We are in Thoptewadi, India. Here stands a fort that for centuries was called Kondhana, named after the monk Kaundinya. The nearby temple and cave carvings indicate that the building is around 2,000 years old, despite it changed hands several times over the years as different factions controlled the region during the middle ages.
The fort was important because of its strategic location, perched on an isolated cliff in the Bhuleswar range of the Sahyadri Mountains, 1,312 meters above sea level, and it is ‘naturally’ protected due to its very steep slopes.
The most well known tale of war surrounding the fortress is the Battle of Sinhagad on February 4th, 1670. The battle was fought between Maratha commander Tanaji Malusare, from the Koli community, and Udaybhan Rathore, a Rajput fort keeper under Jai Singh I, in order to recapture the fort.
It’s said that Malusare scaled the walls in the dead of the night using a monitor lizard named Yashwanti, colloquially known as a ghorpad, who climbed the wall with a rope and pulled it around the bastion. After scaling the wall, they were met by guards and a fierce battle ensued between Tanaji and his men versus the Mughal army headed by Udaybhan Singh Rathod. Both Malusare and Rathore died in the conflict, but the Maratha forces eventually prevailed.
Then the fort was renamed and a bust of Malusare was erected in his honor, in memory of his fierce resistance of the Mughal forces in the battle.
Sinhagad literally translates to “Lion’s Fort,” and the lion was Malusare’s nickname. There is an anecdote that upon hearing of Malusare’s death, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj expressed his remorse with the words, “Gad aala, pan Sinha gela” or “The Fort is conquered, but the Lion was lost.”
It was also an important site during India’s fight for independence. Bal Gangadhar Tilak, also known as ‘The Father of Indian Unrest,” used the fort as a summer home, and it was here that he had a historic meeting with Mahatma Gandhi after his return from South Africa.
Today, the fort only exists as ruins and is a popular tourist attraction. It’s possible to trek to the top, around 2.5 kilometers from the village, about 30 kilometres southwest of Pune.
Apart from the excellent views of the city and the Sahaydri Mountains, the fort is also a popular hangout because of the vendors who sell a local delicacy called “pithlabhakari” and curds.