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|Lok Sabha constituency||Lonavala|
Rajmachi Fort (Killa) is one of the many historical forts in the rugged hills of Sahyadri mountains (Western Ghats). It consists of two twin fortresses Shriwardhan Ballekilla and Manaranjan Balekilla, with a wide machi (plateau) surrounding the two Balekillas. Udhewadi is a small village of about 22 houses situated on the machi, at the southern foot of Manaranjan Balekilla of Rajmachi Fort.
Rajmachi Fort is a popular destination for nature lovers, trekkers and for outdoor campers. In the rainy season from mid-June to mid-October, this region is all the more beautiful with clouds, silvery water falls, streams, lush green forests and meadows.
Local families at Udhewadi on Fort Rajmachi welcome trekkers and nature lovers. The local families provide food and camping accommodation to the tourists. The tourism has enabled the local community to give up traditional occupations like agriculture and cattle rearing.
Historically, Rajmachi Fort was a strategic fort to control Borghat (the Ghat between Khopoli and Khandala on Mumbai-Pune route) which was a historical trade route. It was in the possession of Angre family, the head of the Maratha navy in the 18th century.
There are historical water reservoirs and ruins of fortifications, ramparts, and gateways on both the Ballekillas. A view from the top of the forts of the surrounding hills and valleys is quite mesmerizing. A Shiv Mandir built in the Hemdapanti style of architecture, approximately in the 8th century, on the west end of a big historical water reservoir is worth visiting. The water reservoir was constructed in 1780, by Ramrao Narayanrao Desmukh, Mamalatdar of Danda Rajpuri.
Rajmachi Fort can be reached by two approach routes from Karjat Taluka of Raigad District, one from the right bank of Ulhas river (from villages Kondivde, Kondhane or Mundhyachi Thakurwadi) and the second from Salpe village. Both the routes involve a steep climb up on foot, of about 500 metres. It is not possible to drive a vehicle on these two routes. The first route (from villages Kondivde, Kondhane or Mundhyachi Thakurwadi) reaches Rajmachi at Jambhul Met on the west side of Manaranjan Balekilla. The other route from Salpe village reaches Rajmachi at Hijadkhana, on the north west of Manaranjan Balekilla.
The other routes to Rajmachi are from Lonavla or Khandala in Mawal Taluka of Pune District. Lonavala is 15 km from Rajmachi and it is almost a plain walk, though there are a few ups and downs on this path. This route passes through Tungarli (an area in Lonavla town), Tungarli Dam, Pangoli Thakurwadi, Patel Dam, Phanasarai and Jambhali phata. It takes about three and a half hours to cover the distance on foot. The route from Khandala passes though Summer Hill, Kune village, Della Adventure Resort, Patel Dam, Phanasarai and Jambhali phata. The section of this route from Khandala to Della Adventure Resort is a good road fit for ordinary passenger cars. The further section of this route is a very rough track and therefore not fit for ordinary passenger cars. A sturdy utility vehicle can, however, be taken right up to Rajmachi, on this route. Dduring the rainy season from June to mid-October a 4-wheeler cannot be taken right up to Udhewadi (Rajmachi). A sturdy utility vehicle can be taken only up to Jambhali phata, on this route.
Rajmachi Fort has been declared as a protected monument.
Rajmachi Rural Aid and Development Program
Rajmachi is unique in the way that the NGO Rajmachi Rural Aid and Development Program has done work in Udhewadi village on the plateau of Fort Rajmachi.
Many poor communities have lived in the vicinity of various historical forts on the Sahydri mountain. Their ancestors in the 17th century were organized by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj into a strong fighting force for guerrilla warfare. These warriors liberated Western Maharshtra from tyrannical alien rulers and established the independent Marathi kingdom. They recaptured many historical forts and built a few new ones. They held the forts until the advent of British rule in the early 19th century.
Despite this glorious historical past, these communities have been living a neglected backward life in the hills of Sahyadri. Their economic condition is poor. They do not have dependable health care service nor do they have schools for their children.
A group of friends interested in trekking in the Sahyadri hills noticed the poor conditions of people in the hills and felt the need to help them. The group also felt that historical monuments on forts in the Sahyadri should be preserved. With these objectives in mind the group initiated voluntary development work at Fort Rajmachi in 1976, and established the not-for-profit organization Rajmachi Rural Aid and Development Programme.
Growing nagli (a coarse millet) in the rainy season and rearing cattle were the traditional sources of livelihood for the community at Udhewadi. Now, most families earn their income through tourism, i.e., providing food and shelter to trekkers and tourists. A few local youths work as assistants in outdoor adventure activity camps organized by outside professionals.
Initially, the NGO worked for the development of Udhewadi for about 20 years. Most of the water reservoirs on the fort were cleaned and safe drinking water was made available to the local community, through a pipeline. Free medical service was provided to the local community. Doctors associated with the NGO visited Udhewadi weekly. Patients requiring special treatment were brought to city hospitals. A primary school was built at Udhewadi (Rajmachi) and children were also helped for further education in other villages or cities. The NGO helped the community to obtain benefits under the government's poverty alleviation programmes for the rural poor, and arranged training in carpentry for a couple of young men. The NGO created employment opportunities in various activities like planting trees, and clearing historical monuments and water reservoirs.
The NGO encouraged the local community of Udhewadi to provide catering and camping facilities to tourists.
The NGO made sincere efforts to wean the people away from addiction to alcohol. It also tried to remove various harmful superstitions prevalent in the community.
The continuous voluntary work done since 1976 has brought about perceptible results and changed the appearance of Udhewadi. Adequate clean drinking water is available and health conditions have improved. Dwelling houses have improved. With availability of supplementary incomes their economic conditions have also improved.
Taking into consideration the results achieved in Udhewadi, Rajmachi Rural Aid and Development Programme changed its focus. The NGO is now concentrating on the development of a botanical park on a plot of land adjacent to Udhewadi on Rajmachi Fort. The NGO is also making efforts to improve facilities available for tourists and to develop Rajmachi as a center for ecotourism and adventure tourism.
The NGO has developed a camping site, Rajmachi Camping, on the plot of land, for providing camping and catering facilities to groups of trekkers and tourists. The site is also suitable for holding outdoor management programmes and training programmes in various nature-related outdoor activities like rock climbing, bird watching, karate, and yoga.
The availability of water on the camping site is limited at present. Udhewadi Rajmachi Rural Aid and Development Programme is building water storage tanks to harvest rainwater to meet the growing need for water.
The families at Udhewadi have recently built better dwelling houses with sanitation facilities.
The local community at Udhewadi uses solar energy only for lighting purposes. Conventional electricity has not yet reached this remote place.
- Naravane, M.S. (2014). Battles of the Honorourable East India Company. A.P.H. Publishing Corporation. p. 60. ISBN 9788131300343.
- "List of the protected monuments of Mumbai Circle district-wise" (PDF).