With every pool, puddle, railway station, airport named after the gent, it was but natural that we went to see the place where the man was born. Shivaji was a childhood hero for me. Many thousand kilometers away, down in the deep south, goose bumps used to show up like mushrooms in the monsoon, with the mere mention of his name.
These days however, especially since the time we have been in Mumbai, while all what he has done still stand tall, there is a mental fatigue at the mention of his name. For, sporting his name, is every other building, bridge, bench, pool and puddle (not to mention of airports, railway stations, ports, mountains, apartments and so on), ranging from the superlative to the sub optimal.
Given all of this, It was only apt that we would want to see where it all started.
Besides with his elevated cult status, who knows, tomorrow politically vacuous minds could come up with a wise idea and a consequent agitation : Only those who have visited Shivneri will be allowed to buy Pizza in Maharashtra. Or something like that. Possible. No ?
So we went. We were told by fellow travelers with a rather straight face and straighter voice that ‘its not a tough walk up’. We trusted those folks. Such trust sometimes has disastrous consequences. Like what we discovered.
Shivneri is close to Junnar. It’s a winding road up a hill. The car takes you a fair distance. So we thought. Then a trudge begins. A flight of steps. A steady stream of entrances. A temple. Our ears should have perked hearing the huffs and puffs of all those sweaty figures on their way down. But we were blinded by confidence in our physical strength which soon began to recede like a middle aged man’s hairline. A married middle aged man’s hairline. That sounds more real.
We climbed. Walked. And climbed. Finally getting to what remains of a yesteryear residential quarter, dating back to the 16th century. Slightly ahead there is a rather pedestrian hall, with a grill gate enclosing a statue of Shivaji and his mother built in 1970s. Which was closed to visitors.
The 16th century one was open and the 1970’s one was closed to the public. Scratch scratch. Well. No reasons come to the mind. Scratch. Scratch. No result yet. Suggest you try.
There is a cradle with light streaming in. If only they had a lullaby coming in, the orchestration would be 100 %. They are getting there folks! People respectfully leave their footwear outside the place and every now and then, somebody rents out a cry of ‘Shivaji Maharaj Ki Jai’! Its surreal.
A narrow flight of stairs lead to a small hall, fantastic windows and some breathtaking sights.
For many, this seemed to be a ‘pilgrimage’. I cant think of a single king who has stayed on in the imagination of people for this long, inviting such passion and looking upto.
The fort has other stuff. If patience and persistence outbeats the huff and puff. There are caves. There are tanks filled with greenish water and empty plastic bottles. But the most important element is the Khadelok point.
While it could look like any other part that gives a breathtaking view, it is said that criminals were, hold your breath, ‘tossed down from this point’.
‘Tossed down ?’ asked the kid standing next to me to his mother who was half exhausted from the climb and whatever was left in her was gone in answering the kid. Two more questions and she would have jumped from Khadelok point. She looked it.
“Like this lollipop wrapper” said the kid, tossing down a lollipop wrapper, which until then held a lollipop in tight embrace. I watched as the lollipop wrapper wafted about in air perpetually, blown in different directions by a persistent wind.
This ‘Khadelok toss’ strategy was slightly befuddling. For instance, the missus would tell you that the climb itself was a punishment of sorts for her. Which was well accentuated by seeing some of those that seemed to climb as though it was a walk in the park.
But then, looking at a body come hurtling down this hill would be some spectacle of sorts. Enough to inject integrity into a crooked spine.
We huff-puffed back, stopping to have ice-cream, sold by an elderly gent, sitting there and solving a crossword puzzle. The name of the ice-cream company…you guessed it right…Shivaji Ice Cream !
It was worth it all.