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Akola Forts Expedition
Balapur, Narnala, Jafarabad, Teliyagad, Gavilgad

Region : Akola-Amravati
Expedition Date : 25th to 27th March'05

This was one of the most alluring treks that I have done to till date. Diverting from the usual Sahyadri forts trekking, a visit to Balapur, Narnala & Gavilgad forts gave an insight to some very beautiful architecture from the Gond & Mughal dynasty.

Many would say and I totally agree that hiking in the regions of Akola & Amravati during March is a foolish proposition due to intense summer heat. Nevertheless, as these regions are located at around 1000km away from Mumbai, one needs atleast 3-4 days to visit the forts in this region. As for me, Good Friday - Holi - Easter holidays were the best time and therefore I planned the trek during in those days.

We were three of us (myself, Harshad Lad & Narayan Iyer). We left for Akola on the evening of 24th March by a private bus (Mahalaxmi Travels) Dep from Dadar at 5:30pm. (note : there are very few Private buses from Mumbai to Akola maybe 2-3 daily. There are no State Transport. buses from Bombay …Most of the services are from Pune)

1). Balapur Fort - Balapur, Akola

2). Narnala, Jaffrabad & Teliyagad - Shahanur-Akot, Akola

3). Gavilgad Fort - Chikaldhara, Amravati














Balapur Fort - Balapur, Akola
We reached Balapur after a long gruelling 13hr bus journey and alighted at Balapur Phatta around 8am. From the phatta the main state highway goes to Akola and a diversion road on the right takes one into Balapur town. We took a rickshaw and proceeded to the fort. The fort lies about 1km from Balapur town main square.

The Balapur fort has been constructed over a hill near the confluence of the two rivers Balapur FortMana and Mhais and the road takes you right upto the fort. Fairly in good shape, the fort is constructed with bricks which add to its glory and beauty. Except for theBalapur Darwaza forts in Melghat, nowhere else in Vidarbha one gets to see such magnificently constructed fort. There are two huge outer gates (darwaza's) to the fort. The first darwaza is on the banks of the Mana river (this may have been the actual entrance). The second darwaza is quite huge and situated outside the fort but is not connected to the same. The main fort starts from where the road ends. Huge walls and parapets are visible from outside adding to the grandeur of the fort. The fort has two walls. The outer wall is much lower and has four bastions while the inner wall is quite high and has 5 bastions. The walls are in good shape except for the lower bastion walls which has been damaged at a few spots. Most of the tehsil offices are situated inside the fort. There is a small dargah also inside the fort. Balapur has a significant Muslim population. The fort and Fortwalls & Bastioncanopy of Raja Jai Singh in Balapur explains its historical significance The actual two entrances of the main fort have wooden doors with iron spikes and chains on them. There is a huge semi-circular shaped well inside the fort premises. Part of this well is attached to a house. 50-60ft deep, the beauty of this well is that it is entirely made of bricks and the brick work can be seen inside the entire inner wall of the well. Very beautiful. However, there is no water for quite sometime now.

The view from the northern wall of the fort is very good. Balapur fort, Mana & MhaisRaja's Canopy rivers flowing on either side, and further down a huge canopy (25ft) built by Raja Jai Singh (about 2km from the fort across the town, on the banks of Mana River) adds grandeur & beauty to Balapur.The carvings on the fort are too good.

It took us about 1hr to visit both the fort and canopy and we return back to Balapur town from where we boarded a bus to Akola (27kms) and further to Akot (43kms) reaching there at 2pm.

About Balapur : Named after the goddess Baladevi, Balapur in Akola District has over the years turned into a seat of pilgrimage and a tourist spot is located between the two rivers Mana and Mhais. The temple Baladevi , gave the place its name - Balapur. The fact that even Bal Krishnabua, the disciple of Samarth Ramdas Swamy, the 17th century saint was a native if this place adds to the importance of this town.The place was known even before the Moughals had established their empire in India . According to the historians, Azim Shah, son of Moughal emperor Aurangzeb is known to have stayed there. Also a commercial centre of some significance, the place was known in the earlier times for its people who manufactured paper and produced good quality "satranjis". It is a different story that these things have no takers today. That also explains why the people here live a neglected life. The place is roughly divided in two Balapur peth and Balapur city. Despite the historical importance, the natural scenic beauty, the magnificent fort and canopy and the religious importance of the place, the place has been neglected from time to time reflecting on the apathy of the state government.














Narnala, Jafarabad & Teliyagad Forts - Shahanur-Akot, Akola

About Narnala :
Narnala (3161ft) is situated in Melghat region at Lattitude 21º 10´ North and 77° 00´ East. The Narnala Narnala Wildlife SanctuaryWildlife Sanctuary has an historical significance consisting of three distinct forts stretching in a line from East to West. Jafarabad Fort on the East, Narnala the principal fort in the center and Teliyagad Fort on the West. The circumference of all three forts is about 24kms. The Forts were built scientifically considering natural interferences like rain & wind. Narnala is historically very famous fort which is very deep and with dense forest land situated on the hills of Satpuda i.e. at the hilly side of the Melghat.

History : There is confusion and vague explanations provided about the construction of Narnala fort. Some historians claim that the Nineth Badshah Shahbudeen Ahmadhaha Wali.(1422 AD to 1436 AD) constructed Gawilgarh fort and made renovation in Narnala fort when he stayed at Elichpur. It means that Narnala fort was constructed before Bahamani rule. Still it is not confirmed exactly when it is constructed as concrete information not available anywhere. Some historians have said that the Gond rulers ruling over Melghat region constructed this fort (original owner). But this is not supported by all the historians. After the Ahmadshah II ( 1436 to1458) become the ruler, he got maried to the daughter of Nashirkhan (Subhedar of Khandesh).Nashirkhan made affable of Berar Region in 1453 AD. he first defeated to the Gonds living in Chorda and started his rule over Chorda fort. Then by motivating some Sardar of Berar region he strengthened his provision of attack over Narnala fort. Nashirkhan achieved many expectations. He had motivated the Elakhandipari of Berar and leader of army. With this Nashirkhan easily took change over Narnala fort in 1453 AD. The fort history is not uptodate, hence no correct information can be obtained on the same.

From Akot town we proceeded to the Forest Office (Narnala Division) situated about 3kms away. As it was a holiday there were very few forest officials on duty. I had spoken to one of the officials couple of days before intimating our trip to Narnala Fort. However, upon enquiry we were informed that Narnala Sanctuary & Melghat Tiger Reserve, both were shut down for public for 3 days (25th to 27th ). We were not aware of this and pleaded with the officials to allow us into the park. They suggested that we should meet their superior officer – Ms.Imtienlao Aao, Dy. Conservator of Forests, Akot Division. A native of Nagaland, Ms Imtienlao is very vibrant officer, from the 1992 IFS batch. She has completed a few Himalayan treks and has a passion for snorkeling and scuba diving. She has served at most of the wildlife parks and sanctuaries all over India and had taken over the helm of Narnala Wildlife Sanctuary, Akot Division just a few months back. Its quite a feat for a female forest officer to handle such a huge area comprising of difficult melghat terrain, wild animals, encroachers etc. She is also assisted by a team of able forest officers who are well versed with the area.

Inspite of the Park being closed, she allowed us to enter the park, visit the Forts, stay on the fort (an exception as no one is allowed to stay there overnight), gave us 2 guards who assisted us all the time. Narnala Wildlife Sanctuary is in continuity to the area of famous Melghat Tiger Reserve. The area is rich habitat of Leopard, Sambar, Bear, Barking deer, Wildboar, Serpents, Porcupines and Birds. It is quite unsafe to venture inside the park at any time due to the fear of being attacked by wild animals especially Sloth Bears who have been known to terrorize and kill if encountered. We left the forest office, Akot in their van and proceeded towards PopatKhed (18kms) from where we took a left diversion to Shahanur village (5.8kms). The entrance to Narnala is from Shahanur. (Note : There are only 2 buses in a day from Akot to Shahanur. Morning 8.00am / Evening - 5.30pm and return the same day. Incase if one misses the bus then will have to walk all the way from Shahanur to Popatkhed. Popatkhed is well connected to Akot.)

We reached Shahanur at 5:30pm and after being allotted 2 tribal guides we started ourAkot Darwaza Mahakali Gate Architectureadvent to Narnala Fort. There is a road which goes right inside the fort from Shahanur, but this is only used by forest dept. The road is steep hence only a 4WD Jeep can be used for traverse this stretch. We took the shorter route and after about an hour's climbing reached the first entrance of the fort called Akot Darwaza. Passing which we reached Shirpur Darwaza. After which we reach a huge gate called Mahakali gate which is the best place of work of art on the fort. The gates show evidence of Gond and  Sierra Designs 3man 3seasons tent Mohammaden rule. After which we crossed Shahapur Darwaza and finally reached the fort top by 6:30pm. We were then introduced to the guards on the fort and the tribal guides returned back to Shahanur. We then pitched our tent for stay overnight on the fort. This is first time I got a chance to use my recently acquired Macpac Zambezi Backpack & Sierra Designs Orion 3season/3man tent. Very comfortable for 3 people to sleep including our haversacks.

In the night we had dinner with the guards and then went for a night walk to the nearby watch tower (1km) to spend some time. Quite an eerie feeling one gets on top of the watch tower….

Lake view and ruinsThe fort has many old structures such as the Raj Darbar with a huge open courtyard, the king's seat of throne, about 7 huge wadas and innumerable other diaplated buildings & structures. There is a huge lake in the vicinity of the wada. The water is quite potable.

The next morning (26th), we took off to see the fortsExterior of Delhi Darwaza. Two guards came along with us. We moved to the west side of the fort, and after passing a huge lake (waterhole) reached Delhi Darwaza. Very beautiful architecture, it overlooks Dhularghat valley of Melghat region. The view of the hills are also mesmerizing. In summer the vegetation gives a stark brown look. We circumnavigated the fort Jafarabad - Bastion within the fort wallswalking past the fort walls. At most of the places the walls are still visible and in somewhat good shape. Enroute we spotted a Deer and its cub. After about ½ hr we reached the entrance of Jafarabad fort. Jafarabad is kind of a garrison fort but also has many huge bastions and broken structuresNarnala as seen from Jafarabad. After about 45mins walk we reached the end of the fortifications (Eastern side of the hill) where there is small waterhole. We were lucky enough to sight two peacocks, however too late to click photos as our footsteps shood them away. We then returned back to Narnala walking past the western periphery of the fort. Just before where the watch tower is situated we found a very huge huge cannon, placed facing Akot region. There are two more cannons placed outside the walls of the western Teliyagad Fort Ruinsperiphery of Jafrabad. We returned back to Narnala and crossed over to the western side of the fort to Teliyagad. After about 10mins walk we got to see some very beautiful ruins. Walking past them we reached a huge bastion. Teliyagad starts from here. We descended from the left side of the bastion find some more ruins and move right to reach a ridge. The ridge walk is quite tiring and we reached the end point of Teliyagad. Here there are some 52 steps (now broken) which people used in earlier days to descend to the village below.

We returned back to Narnala & descended to Shahanur reaching there by 11am. After thanking the forest officers for all the assistance provided we walked all the way back to Popatkhed (5.8kms) as we had missed the 9am bus. Quite a tiring walk in the afternoon heat. We reached Popatkhed by 12:30pm. At Popatkhed we found some locals in their holi revelry, drunk upto the brim. They tried to paint our faces too but with the timely intervention of some good locals we were spared. We immediately fled the place and reached Akot by 1am. As buses were running quite scantily due to the holidays we took a bus upto Anjangaon, from where we hired a rickshaw to Paratwada. Enroute, we visited several Orange wholesale dealers for purchasing good quality oranges, but didn't get any. However, we got plenty of small oranges free as samples to taste. We reached Paratwada at 4pm .

Paratwada is a major junction for buses coming from Nagpur, Amravati, Chikaldhara and a few border towns of Madhya Pradesh.

Our next destination was Gavilgad fort at Chikaldhara.


















Gavilgad Fort - Chikaldhara, Amravati
We took the 7pm Yeotmal – Amravati – Chikaldhara bus and reached Chikaldhara at 8:30pm after a long winding drive thru the steep ghats. We stayed at the MTDC lodge since most of the other lodges and hotels were packed due to the holiday season.

Following day (27th Mar) we took off for Gavilgad fort in the morning. From the MTDC resort we walked for about 1.5kms to reach Chikaldhara town square from where we took a right, passing Gavilgad restaurant,walking further 2kms on a recently constructed tar road reached Gavilgad fort entrance by 11am.

About Gavilgad : Gavilgad or Gawilgrah is located on a Chikhaldara Plateau is said to be built Fort view in a distancein the 12th century by a Gawli ing, a descendent of Yadavas of Devgiri. However, this fort built in mud was fortified by the Bahamani king Ahmad Shah Wali. The fort further underwent severe modifications around the year 1471. The fort stand onGoing to the inner gate a lofty mountain & consists of a inner fort.. The walls are strongly built and fortified by ramparts and towers. The inner fort has three large gates. The Fatheh Darwaza, Kichakdara Darwaza and Delhi Darwaza. The Delhi Darwaza consists of three gateways. The outer most gateway has a symbol with a palm tree with carvings on both sides of a tiger , a mouse five elephants. Above each tiger there is a double headed eagle. These seem to be Gond emblems, while some say that they represent a emblems of other emperors. The fort has eight tanks out of which only a few retain water during summer. The most interesting object upon Gavilgad is a gateway called the Bara Darwaza. This is the principle entry to the Main Fort.

Jama Masjid built on the highest part of the fort at the Fatheh Darwaza,was repaired in 1486 A.D. by Fathefulla. The fact of repairs is recorded in an encryption on the Masjid. He also putRuins atop fort Inner Darwazaa adorning symbol on the Shardul Gateway of the Delhi Darwaza. The Gawilgarh Fort is regarded as superior fort in strength. In 1577, Behram Khan build a fine bastion on the south-west face on the fort. After Mughal rule Gawilgarh fort was passed to Hyderabad state and later was acquired by Marathas in 1751. In 1803, in the Second Maharatta War, Colonel Arthur Wellesley, who later became the Duke of Wellington , captured the Gawilgarh fort from the Marathas. However the fort was returned to Raghugi Bhosale as per tiger sign at Daigaurn. Gawilgarh fort remain in possession of the Marathas till 1822. It finally passed into the hands of the East India Company and dismantled in 1858 with the fear of threat it would be seized by Tatya Tope.

Close view f Jama MasjidWe spend about 3hrs on the fort checking out most of theA minaret atop Jama Masjid ruins and passed thru many gates (as mentioned in the history section). The fort is very huge and encompasses the entire plateau. Jama Masjid on the topmost point of the fort is very beautiful. It has 14 small domes and 18 pillars. The open courtyard of the the masjid is also in quite good shape. Just after the Masjid is the end of the fort walls at the edge of the Chikaldhara plateau and the valley drops straight onto the plains.

An extremely beautiful, enormous and clean fort, I guess not many people venture deep into the fort area due to the fear of wild animals who are frequent visitors to the fort. The fort also is a part of the Melghat Tiger Project.

We walked back to Chikaldhara, checked out of MTDC and took a sharing jeep upto Paratwada reaching there at 5pm. From Paratwada we boarded a bus to Amravati (approx 45kms) from where we took a rickshaw to Badnera (10kms) which is the nearest railhead in the region. We then boarded the 1052 Up LTT-Howrah Samarasta Express and reached Mumbai by 7:30am on following day (28th Mar).

A great fort-hike indeed!

To check out the photos of Akola Expedition click here......

Keep Re-discovering.....

Dinesh Nair

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