Here’s another fort that is significant in Maratha history. Pratapgadh is where Shivaji killed Afzal Khan with his tiger claws after his concealed armour saved him from getting stabbed by Afzal Khan’s dagger during one of most vicious embraces that history has witnessed. The mausoleum of Afzal Khan lies at the foothills of Pratapgadh and the saffron flag symbolizing Maratha rule still flutters atop Pratapgadh.
Located in Satara district,
Maharashtra, Pratapgadh is best combined with a visit to Mahabaleshwar, a hill station located about 25 kms away. The fort can be reached by road and there are plenty of private vans and buses that carry tourists to both these destinations. The fort has only one main entrance that is not easily visible from the approach road. As one has to climb several uneven stone steps in order to reach the top of the fort, it is best to go equipped with good walking shoes and a cap.
The fort is said to have been built in 1656 by Shivaji with the help of his minister Moropant Pingle. It has two levels, the lower and upper and this makes the fort look not only spread out by also very steep. The famous Battle of Pratapgadh which established Maratha stronghold in the region by defeating Afzal Khan was fought in 1659. The fort is an example of clever design and architecture like most of the forts built by the Marathas. The small openings left in the walls to spot enemies and to place the canons; lakes that were meant to supply water and also serve as hiding places; different levels of walls for providing bolstered security are just a few examples. Inside the fort, there are temples dedicated to Bhavani Devi, Shivaji’s family goddess and Lord Shiva.
Post independence, a bronze statute of Shivaji wielding his sword and riding atop his horse was erected at Pratapgadh and Pandit Nehru is said to have inaugurated the same. Below the statute is a quote signed by the Portuguese Governor of Goa in 1666 stating that the bravery and achievements of Shivaji can be compared only with that of Alexander, the Great.
The fort is a big tourist attraction and is very popular among children who study Maratha history at school. Large number of tourists from within the state, for whom this fort is an icon of Shivaji’s valour, are also drawn towards this fort. Apart from enjoying the historical significance of the place, tourists can be spotted purchasing the usual touristy trivia and eating everything from Gobi Manchurian to Masala Dosas that are available at the food stalls located inside the fort on the way to the upper fort. Although such commercial enterprise inside the fort spoils the ambience, there are still several untouched spots where one can sit overlooking the hills and imagine the historical battle of wits and cunning between Shivaji and Afzal Khan.