India is a country well known for its historical monuments built centuries ago. Many of these have been restored; a few have been demolished and now the new trend is of converting forts into hotels. In Maharashtra there are 350 forts and fort Jadhavgadh is one of them.
Maharashtra’s first and currently only heritage fort hotel – Fort Jadhavgadh Hotel is situated on the hill of Saswad 22km away from Pune, on the old Pune-Satara road and spread over 25 acres of land. Built in 1710 by Pillaji Jadhavrao a prominent commander in Shahu Maharaj’s (the first Maharaja of Kolhapur) army, Fort Jadhavgadh has been restored and turned into a hotel by hotelier Dr. Vithal Kamat.
Fort Jadhavgadh is a 70ft high gadhi (small fort). The basic structure of the gadhi is kept intact by the Kamats. Although the restorers have given the old fort a plush, modern look, it does not clash with the original appearance of the structure. At a height of 2511ft above sea level, the hotel offers an extraordinary view of the Dive ghat. The ambience of this hotel is unique and transports one into a different world. It is like a drama unfolding in different parts; starting with the traditional beating of the drums welcome with a Mawla blowing the Tutari with all his might at the reception area. Fort Jadhavgadh showcases traditional Maratha culture. It has quite a few architectural similarities with other Maratha forts and is a fine example of Maratha craftsmanship. Built on a quaint hill top, all that is visible of the fort are the gigantic walls of brown black stones.
The steps going up the main entrance are huge stone blocks making it easier for animals like horses and elephants going up the fort in the historical days. The parking area is at the base of the gadhi next to the Aai museum which houses the personal collection of Vithal Kamat collected by him in 50 years.
The restoration of the fort was a very massive and challenging task and took around three years from January 2005 to December 2007. It was primarily started from the interior parts of the fort and later moved to landscaping, water treatment and gardening. Landscaping was designed keeping in mind both the aesthetics and functional aspects. While working on restoration process, many dungeons and secret small rooms were discovered due to which many a time the master plan had to be altered. One of the dungeons is converted into a wine-cellar, another one as an office and two are retained in the original form. The fort also has a 300 year old rain water harvesting system that has still been retained by the Kamats. It is on the extreme top of the fort next to the maharaja Suite overlooking the swimming pool.
Every stone of the fort is so interwoven that there is not even a slightest error in alignment. Artisans were called from Rajasthan to make a specific kind of white filling (chuna work); made by adding different kinds of organic elements. This brought down the use of cement and concrete and retained the original style of building. Cement or concrete was used only for certain modern structure.
The Fort was the first settlement the enemies would have to take into custody before they could move into the city and the main fort of Sinhgad. Hence the hotel’s inimitable tag line Ladh, Jhagad, Aage Badh (‘fight and charge ahead’). The General Manager of this heritage hotel is also known as the ‘killedar’ (fort caretaker) of the fort. During the restoration, a long secret tunnel was also discovered, which is speculated to be the same one that was used to go to the Jejuri Fort in its time. Currently its been filled in by the original rulers and the Vishal Kamat hopes to resort it someday.
The fort has 52 rooms with all modern amenities, divided as 12 royal tents, 22 deluxe rooms, 6 premium rooms with rain shower, 6 premium rooms with balcony, 4 corner suites, 1 maharaja suite and 1 museum room. Only 10% of land has been used for hotel rooms, out of the entire 25 acres. To minimize the impact of restoration, the ‘Kholi’ or rooms have been laid out in such a way that they seem to fit in naturally on the side walls of the fortress. In certain area, one can even find the original stoned wall as a part of the modern room. All the rooms are environmentally sensitive though equipped with all the modern facilities. No part of the fort walls were demolished or destroyed. In some cases the walls are 2.5 meters wide tapering up to 1 meter.
The major highlight of the project is the ‘Aai’ museum, dedicated to all Mothers across time. Built on a horse stable, the museum has around more than 12,000 artifacts comprising of household items. The entire design concept has been done by Vithal Kamat along with Architect Shete, Uday Kalyanpurkar and Dr. Digvijay Arnalkar. All the pieces in the museums are centuries old collected from around India. Some of the unique pieces in this museum include the world’s biggest lock with seven keys without a keyhole.
A 300 year old pond used for storage of water has been deepened and cleaned and is used throughout the year for landscaping and gardening. Great care has also been taken to encourage the growth of birds and animals such as Deer, Hares, Foxes, and so many more. Sitting at the Jharoka of the fort one can easily spot more than 35 various different variety of birds ranging from small sparrows and parrots to exotic king fishers to various kinds of owls who stare back at you jealously while you enjoy your drinks.