As part of our ‘Backpacking through History’ series – an initiative to encourage young students to travel, research and write about India’s lesser known monuments, here is an article by Utkarsha Thakur from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai.
The historic and scenic forts of Maharashtra, hugging the west coast, are well known tourist haunts that see a fair share of trekkers each year. But far away, across center of the state, in the Vidarbha region , is the not so famous fort of Mailgad. Situated in Jamod, in the Jalgaon Taluka of Buldhana district, this fort is unique also because it has a model of the fort carved in stone, within it.
This model was probably used as a blueprint for the builders to plan the sprawling fortification. Built by the Nawabs of Achalpur, who hailed from present-day Amravati district of Maharashtra, the fort acted as a strategic stronghold as it helped control the nearby trading town of Jamod as well as the surrounding cotton-rich regions.
As Mughal rule started to unravel at the start of the 18th century, Asaf Jah I, the Nizam of Hyderabad, seized the southern provinces of the empire, from Narmada river right down to Tanjore, in 1724, forming an independent state of Hyderabad. Asaf Jah I, appointed Ismail Khan, a horse trader from Jaipur, as a local governor. His descendants would be known as Nawabs of Achalpur, before the region was annexed by the British in 1853.
But who exactly built Mailgad?
According to the Gazetteers of Buldhana district, published in 1910, the fort was built by the Nawabs of Achalpur – probably, the first Nawab, Ismail Khan – around 1757. The Gazetteer mentions that in 1841, a person named Mugut Rav raised a revolt against the Nizam in the Fort of Jamod and hoisted the flag of the Maratha ruler of Nagpur Raghoji Bhosale III, in the premises. He was subsequently defeated and the Nizam’s rule was restored.
Where exactly is Mailgad?
Where exactly is Mailgad? Along a ridge in the Satpura range, Mailgad fort is spread across an area of one-mile square. It is surrounded by a deep valley and forests. At the base of the fort you will find broken pieces of pillars with carvings on them, and the site where the pieces lie abandoned appears to be the remains of a temple.
As we start climbing, the first thing we see is a cellar filled with hay. There are many more cellars, similarly packed with straw, making it difficult to explore. Some of the walls in these cellars have been plastered over, suggesting a recent attempt at restoration. Alternatively, this could have been the handiwork of encroachers, who appear to have made the cellars their home. Some of the cellars have been partitioned as if to create separate living spaces.
There is also a water quantum or tank in the fort, which contains water even today; only, it is also polluted with plastic bottles and other waste. Next to the water quantum is a small idol of a goddess, who is worshipped by the people of Raipur village at the base of the fort.
The unique feature of the fort of Mailgad is that the model of the fort is been carved in a stone and is still present inside the fort. This is probably the first fort which was pre designed and engraved on a stone. This model serves as a map, which introduces to the grandeur of the fort. However, the fort is not in a good condition now as it is not been preserved and has become too old. The model is getting damaged due to lack of conservation, but the locals of the area there say that it was in a good condition before.
Theories on why was a stone model of the fort made?
There are many theories to explain the model of the fort carved in a stone inside its entrance. Some believe it was a map that spoke to the grandeur of the fortification. Others say the Nawab of Achalpur merely wanted to show off his creation. But there is another, more pragmatic theory. Jamod village, 10-15 km from Mailgad, was a marketplace for jewels, pearls, diamonds and also a place where coins were minted. It is assumed that the model was meant as a ‘guide’ for tradesmen who used to camp inside the fort.
Although under the protection of Maharashtra state government today, Mailgad fort is in a shambles. Whereas there is only one wall standing, there is evidence that the fort was enclosed by walls on all four sides. Time and neglect have taken a heavy toll on this little-known gem and it seems this is one battle the fort is not likely to win.
LHI TRAVEL GUIDE
The best way to reach Mailgad is to drive to Nandura along the NH6 Mumbai–Nagpur expressway. From Nandura, drive 34 km north-east to reach Dhanora Mahasiddha. Further, drive 7.3 km north-west to reach Mailgad. Travelling by train, alight at Nandura railway station and then take a bus to Raipur village, which is at the base of the fort. You can also take a bus to Nandura from Buldhana and further to Raipur village.
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