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Sunday, Aug 25, 2019

Shivaji’s birthplace far from becoming a tourist hotspot

The Maharashtra Government will need to undertake massive infrastructure development if it wants to develop Junnar as a tourism destination. Merely declaring it as a “tourism destination” will not result in any magical results, even though this is the birthplace of the Maratha king, Shivaji

pune Updated: May 07, 2018 15:15 IST
Ashish Phadnis
Ashish Phadnis
Hindustan Times, Pune
Shivneri Fort, the birthplace of Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
Shivneri Fort, the birthplace of Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.(HT FILE PHOTO)

On March 21, the Maharashtra government’s tourism and cultural affair department accorded “tourism status” to Junnar taluka, located 70 km from Pune. Famous as the birthplace of Shivaji, Junnar, with its seven forts, including Shivneri where Shivaji was born, is a popular destination among adventure enthusiasts.

The forts of Junnar, the trekking routes, pinnacles and caves are an attraction for adventure enthusiasts, while pilgrims are drawn to several ancient temples and important pilgrim places. Junnar also has several stone-carved monuments and inscriptions, while beautiful ghats, like Malshej, make a popular tourist spot during the monsoon.

‘Junnar’ means ‘Old City’. Rock-cut temples, rest-chambers and inscriptions date to 1 AD.
Junnar and Paithan were major trading centres linked to ancient ports, like Kalyan, Shurparak, Dahanu, Bhayindar and Thane.
Ghats, like Nane and Darya, were the main trading routes and the rulers provided ample protection to the traders by constructing a chain of forts adjacent to the route.
Human settlement in Junnar dates back to the stone age, 1.7 million years ago, as revealed by an excavation site at Bori village (Kukadi river basin), 25 kms from Junnar.
The existence of stone-age tools and other remnants, pressed and hidden under volcanic ashes, have been found by archaeologists.
Junnar taluka is famous for its seven forts – Shivneri, Narayangad, Hadsar, Nimgiri, Chavand, Sindola and Jeevdhan.
Barring Shivneri and Jeevdhan, these forts were mainly used as watch towers and the first line of defence.
They were not engaged in major battles or siege warfare and provided protection to ancient trade routes, like Nane ghat, Daryacha ghat and Bhoryandache Daar.
Shivneri fort served as a strong base for the rulers, right from Satvahanas to Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas and Yadavs.
During the Adilshahi regime, Shahaji Maharaj decided to keep his pregnant wife Jijau on this fort, under the protection of Vijayrao Sidhoji Vishwarao.
On February 19, 1630, she gave birth to Shivaji.
Barring Shivneri, all the forts stand in ruins, but are favourites with the trekking community for the thrills they provide.
Camping and overnight stays are allowed at all the forts, except Shivneri.
Along with trekking routes, this region offers several challenges for rock climbers.
Pinnacles, like Varhadacha Navara, Varhadyachi Navari, Nanacha Angtha and Vanarlingi, and cliffs, like Kadelot on Shivneri fort, are some of the top favourites for adventure enthusiasts.
The weekly bazaars at villages Belhe and Bori, held every Sunday are an unbroken tradition of three-and-half centuries, say the villagers.
The villagers say they have heard stories from their elders that the market was functioning on the barter system in the past and farmers would exchange grains, vegetables, fruits for clothes, pots and other necessities.
Later, this market saw the use of silver, brass and copper coins, and coins of lesser value, like Bhokacha paisa, Ghoda Chhap paisa and even tin coins (Kathal).
Belhe village eventually gained reputation as the biggest bull market in Maharashtra.
An inscription found in a cave at Nane ghat
Nane ghat is a mountain pass near Jeevdhan fort. Literally, the name Nane means coin and ghat means pass.
This name derives from the fact that this path was used for toll collection from traders crossing the hills.
An inscription found in a cave at the entrance of Nane ghat is believed to be the earliest historical record in the Deccan and is the oldest known Brahmanical inscription in the subcontinent.

Junnar taluka was once a prominent place during the Satavahana dynasties and Junnar and Paithan were major trading centres linked to ancient ports like, Kalyan, Shurparak, Dahanu, Bhayindar and Thane. Nane ghat and Darya ghat were the main trading routes and the rulers provided ample protection to the traders by constructing a chain of forts adjacent to the route.

While this is the history of Junnar, the taluka clearly lacks basic amenities for tourists. As per the 2011 census, Junnar taluka had 85,864 households and a population of 3,99,302. To develop it as a tourism destination, the town will require good road connectivity and a number of hotels for a comfortable stay.

However, apart from announcing the town as a tourist destination, no work plan or project proposal has been published by the state tourism department.

“This is a half-done job. Now, the real work will begin. To develop the taluka as a tourist destination, we need a proper road network. No tourist place will get popular unless the connecting roads are in good condition. Secondly, at several places, we need to provide guides and facilities to the tourists,” says ex-army officer Ramesh Kharmale, who devoted his time and efforts for the promotion of Junnar taluka as a tourist destination. His attempt on social media was well received after which the Government took notice and decided to act upon it.

The GR (Government Resolution) issued by the tourism department in 2006, clearly says that to develop a tourist destination, certain norms should be followed. Therefore, it is expected that priority be given to creating adequate accommodation facilities, eateries, toilets and information centres.

Most importantly, Junnar taluka lacks approach roads and networks connecting all the tourists’ spots. Not just roads, but the wayside amenities also need to be planned while developing roads.

Strengthening the ‘Bed and Breakfast’ scheme will help create facilities for travellers at remote destinations, where hotel accommodation is not available, and will provide income source to the local people.

Creating information booths at nearby airports, railway stations, bus stations and important public places is also important to promote tourism. These booths should be on an interactive basis with links to the tourism portal and online booking.

First Published: May 06, 2018 14:54 IST

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