Once considered impregnable, the hilltop Raigad Fort from where Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj laid the foundations of 'Hindavi Swaraj', is poised for a major revamp to make it a global tourist hotspot, a top official said here on Tuesday.
The 350-year-old majestic fort, which stands on a hill of 820 metres, rises upto 1,356 metres above sea level, and is presently looked after by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Nestled in the picturesque Sahyradri Range of the Western Ghats, the fort was once accessible only by climbing 1,737 steep steps for several hours, but since the past few years a cable car -- the Raigad Ropeway -- has made the ascent to the fort an easy 10-minute effort.
Overseeing the mega revamp project is Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati of the Kolhapur royal family and the 13th direct descendent of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, who is now the Raigad Development Authority Chairman and a President-nominated Rajya Sabha Member.
"The RDA has sanctioned Rs 606.08 crore of which Rs 114 crore will be for the Raigad Fort redevelopment. Besides, another Rs 237 crore will be spent on major roadworks between Mahad on the Mumbai-Goa Highway to Raigad Fort which will be developed as a heritage highway," Chhatrapati said.
Recently, Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati was appointed the Brand Ambassador of Forts by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, and took the media on a special visit to the fort on Monday.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was coronated as the King in this fort on June 6, 1674 from where he founded the Maratha Empire, with Raigad as its capital.
Conservation Architect for Raigad Fort Varun S. Bhamre said that another Rs 100 crore is expected from the Centre, based on the recommendations of the 15th Finance Commission, for the revamp of 10 forts in the country.
"There are at least 84 big and small natural bodies which were converted into tanks during Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj's rule to provide drinking water for the residents here. We shall clean them up in a scientific manner to ensure that any artefacts there are retained without damage," Mr Bhamre told IANS.
Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati said the highlights would be a heritage walk encompassing a 14 km and four-hour-long tour of the fort and more than 350 historic sites within it which need to be explored archaeologically.
"Our aim is that tourists should live here at least two or three nights to properly explore and appreciate its beauty and imposing character. Locals shall be trained as guides and NGOs would be encouraged to bring groups of heritage and fort lovers here," he said.
There are plans to launch 'facade lighting' and a 'sound-and-light show' to attract tourists at night.
Some 21 villages in the fort's vicinity, including Pachad and Raigadwadi at the base of the hill, will be developed in a big way. The locals will be deployed in tourism-related activities under various schemes to ensure their participation for the self-sustainable and 'Model Fort' plans.
An amount of Rs 50 crore has been set aside for the revamp of the Raigad Ropeway. Nature trails shall be developed as the fort and its surroundings are rich in biodiversity, said Sambhajiraje Chhatrapati.
Raigad Fort is spread across 1,300 acres on the hilltop, making it one of the largest fort complexes in India, besides having a unique topography on an almost vertical, stony, hill slope affording a magnificent view of the surrounding hills and valleys.
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