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By Kiran Patil,
There are more than 500 forts in Maharashtra out of which approximately 350 forts can be located or are on records. Some of the forts were built 2200 years ago way back in history during the times of “Satavahana” or before that. Forts were the best way to keep an empire protected from the invaders or enemy attacks. Ancient forts were mainly built for the safety & security purpose to protect the surrounding areas & to keep a close watch on the trespassers. The forts can be mainly categorised as residence fort or Gadhi, Bhuikot Fort, Mountain Forts, Seaforts etc. Some forts were only used as the “chowki” means jakat or toll points to collect the taxes from the traders & also to keep an eye on the local movements. Forts of Maharashtra were war forts which witnessed many battles and the fort walls had to face the cannon attacks several times. This is the main reason why the forts in Maharashtra are not in good condition now. Today, these forts are under the control of various authorities for repair & maintenance. Visiting these forts should be on every traveller’s itinerary, for they are the true reflection of the culture of the State. . Silent and stunning reminders of a rich past, these forts are replete with sagas of romance, chivalry and valour.
Maharashtra is known for business travel to Mumbai & Pune, and luxury or leisure travel to Mahabaleshwar, Konkan, Kolhapur, Aurangabad, Nasik etc. Sadly, the Forts are visited mostly by the trekkers & youngsters only. Families, luxury and leisure travellers tend to show limited interest in Forts. If the popular destinations are promoted along with forts and heritage sites in the vicinity, they can attract greater number of tourist visits. It is easy to divert the flow of tourists to heritage sites as they are already traveling to the popular destinations and we only have to include the forts & heritage sites in their itinerary. We need to collaborate and work closely with various industry stakeholders & tourism bodies to conduct heritage tours to forts & ancient monuments across Maharashtra including Marathwada & Vidarbha, as it will create equal opportunities in the State. We need to curate itineraries that include forts, caves, heritage sites & historic monuments along with beaches, wildlife and hill stations. Combination of different destinations will attract all kind of travellers with varied interests, which in turn will create a balanced tourism industry in the State.
Our key agenda should be to promote our heritage sites on both national as well as global platforms and showcase our monuments as ‘Undiscovered Jewels’. This is only possible if we tell the stories of our heroes in an effective manner. People are increasingly looking for experiences that bring history to life in an engaging way. We need to offer a hands-on experience that will inspire and entertain people of all age groups. Activities such as highlighting local cuisine via food trailing, local folk dance, local martial art, storytelling sessions about the wars fought on each fort & war heroes etc. can be conducted. The heritage promotions through fort tourism can be achieved by imbibing values of authenticity, quality, imagination, responsibility and fun. Furthermore, we should improve basic tourism amenities around these forts such as parking, access route, steps, cleanliness, toilets, drinking water, guides, security, sign boards, information boards etc. Forts like Raigad, Janjira, Shivneri, Sindhudurga, Sinhagad etc. are witnessing huge number of tourist visits. Some of the reasons attributed to high visits are accessibility, tourist facilities, guides, safety etc.
Through a focussed approach on Heritage Tourism, we can look at attracting a huge number of travellers visiting our forts & Heritage Sites. This will further motivate authorities & private sector enthusiasts to invest in tourism facilities, infrastructure and amenities which would eventually lead to sustainability & continuity to the conservation work to tackle the defacement.
Each fort or heritage site can enable the economic and social development of local communities, and create sustainable income opportunities. Each traveller’s visit to these isolated sites through our efforts can generate revenue for the locals in the form of Community Based Tourism; be it local guides, security guards, local purchase, accommodation, food, transfers, etc.
We estimate a minimum of 20 direct & 50 indirect sources of employment from each fort and heritage site. For direct employment, local villagers in the form of local labour, local guide, security guard, food trailing activity, home stay etc. and for indirect employment, taxi service operators, travel agents, tour operators, parking lots operators, souvenir shops, cafeterias, activities like folk dance, cultural programs, martial arts, Social media experts, graphic designers, event planners, etc. can be aligned.
Combination of Various Interests
We need to create awareness in the travel industry through engagement with related stakeholders such as inbound travel agents, tour operators, travel promoters, itinerary builders, vloggers etc. We should make a cluster of heritage itineraries where popular destinations are combined with forts in the vicinity such as Antur Fort with Ajanta Caves, Lohagad Fort with Lonavala, Tikona Fort with Pavana Lake, Pratapgad Fort with Mahabaleshwar, Janjira fort with Kashid Beach, Jawahar Palace with Sula Wines, Ajinkyatara Fort with Wai etc.
Effective use of:
Warrior Families, Their Residence Forts & Wada’s
Most of the descendants of the sardar (warrior) families live in Maharashtra. Some old residences, normally known as “Wada’’ are in a dilapidated state, making their way to be soon swallowed by the ravages of time. Few are in satisfactory condition but are not maintained. The history of these great families is lost after centuries of Swarajya and the British rule. Apart from Royal families and few sardar families, rest of the families that played a pivotal role in swarajya, lack recognition today. Attaching their residence forts and old wada’s to tourism can help bring back dignity and due acknowledgment to such families. The existence of ancient spears, swords, artefacts, letters, coins, costumes, artilleries etc. found in these houses can be used to create awareness as well as restore old legacies.
Maharashtra has several museums, a few under the control of Maharashtra’s State Archaeology Department and a few under the private ownership. Museum such as Gargoti Museum in Sinnar, Museum of Aundh, Bhor, Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum in Mumbai etc. are well maintained by the authorities, which can also generate tourism. Many royal & warrior families have a collection of ancient artilleries which could be made effective use of. A Few of these include Dhamale Wada in Mulshi, Amatya Wada in Gaganbawda, Ghorpade Gadhi of Bahadurwadi, Jadhav Wada of Chikhali, The New Palace of Kolhapur, Dabhade Gadhi of Talegaon etc.
Jungles, Temples & Sahyadri
Jungle Safari, Pilgrimage, Holy Places & Hills of Sahyadri can also be incorporated in all type of travel itineraries in the State.
Communities, Local Art, Culture, Cuisine, Traditional Dance & Festivals etc.
The communities spread across the State can also be included in the travel itineraries. Each community has their unique lifestyle, costumes, culinary, art & lifestyle. Some examples of these communities include Varhadi community of Vidarbh, Warli Community of Palghar, Kokana community of Nadurbar, Khandeshi of Jalgaon, Korku’s of Melghat, Gond of Gadchiroli, Agri – Koli of Mumbai & Konkan etc. Travel agents & tour operators can recommend visits to these communities in the travel itineraries to promote Maharashtra’s cultural heritage. Their homes can be marketed as rural accommodation and their cuisine and cooking methods can be promoted in the form of ‘’Food Trails’’…….!!
The scope of heritage tourism in Maharashtra is immense. The State’s flourishing history can still be witnessed in various majestic monuments & forts, and other historic destinations. We need to develop our heritage and tourist sites and make them tourist friendly to enhance their tourism potential and cultural importance.
(The author is Managing Director at Marathi Heritage and Founder of Bharati Vidyapeeth’s Institute Of Management and Entrepreneurship Development. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)