Dhodap [Mr. J. A. Baines, C. S.] Fort, (4741) about fifteen miles north-west of Chandor, is the highest and most prominent hill in the Ajanta or Chandor range. It stands out from the rest, distinguished by its deeply-cleft level top and lofty tower-like peak at the eastern corner. It has also this peculiarity that its shape is the same whether viewed from the north or the south side, and it forms a conspicuous feature in the distant landscape both from Nasik or Sinnar on the one side, and from Kalvan or Satana on the other.
It is approached by two paths, one from the south leading straight from the Chandor sub-division to the Machi, a little village below the defensible works of the fort, and the other from Otur, a large village on the north or Kalvan side, at the foot of one of the lower spurs of the system which culminates in Dhodap peak. The latter is the easier, but has the disadvantage of being considerably the longer. Leaving Otur to the west, the path winds up a long and gentle grassy slope covered with cactus and sparse brushwood. After a short distance the first scarp is reached, at the edge of which there is a considerable number of the commoner trees, jambhul Eugenia jambolana, sadada Terminalia arjuna, and wild mango. To the right of the path, at a distance of about half a mile, there are the ruins of a small collection of mud-built houses which were deserted after a bad outbreak of cholera some years ago. To the west of this hamlet, and a little nearer the second scarp, is a forest in which a well known cattle-slaying tigress and several panthers have been shot. Continuing the path along the north slope of the hill, the bed of a small torrent is reached, across which there seems once to have been thrown a rough outwork, the first trace of fortifications. At the top of the scarp, which is ill-defined towards the north and north-east, is a large level space of rocky ground covered with a thin coating of soil, the result of the, disintegration of the trap above. Here a few patches’ of nagli are to be found, and a pool or two to which the cattle of the Machi hamlet resort when grazing on this side of the hill. Following the path southwards for about half a mile, the outer gate of the lower fortified portion is reached, a strong building flanked by walls running on each side to the upper and lower scarp respectively. Inside the wall is a fine pipal tree and. one or two small wells, containing remarkably offensive water. From this point the upper scarp presents the appearance of a smooth wall of basalt, the south-eastern corner alone being somewhat jagged and broken. The path follows the line of the hill southwards under some very fair mango trees, with an undergrowth of corinda, and after about three quarters of a mile or rather more, the second gate of the outer line of defence is reached, of more solid construction than the first.
Within this is the little village of about 100 inhabitants, which is all that remains of the colony that sprung up round the fort when the latter was in its glory as a military depot. The road from the south meets the other just outside the gate, leaving to the east a few Bhil huts built on level pasture ground similar to that to the north. The village consists of a few houses of Ladsakka Vanis and Shimpis, who do a little business in loans and grain or cloth. The remainder of the population is chiefly of Pardeshi or Bengal origin, with a Brahman or two and a goldsmith. These Pardeshis are chiefly Ahirs, Kachars, or Rajputs, though at Dhodap itself there are few of the last named class. The Kachars employ themselves in making the coloured glass bangles commonly used by the lower class of Marathi, Koli, and Thakur women. Just below Dhodap there is a village almost entirely peopled by families thus employed, who since the forests have been closed and charcoal is no longer to be had gratis, have given up competing with foreign bracelets and taken to cultivation. The Ahirs hold usually a fair amount of land, but do not, round Dhodap at least, show any signs of very careful husbandry. The Bajputs live on a little land, and the largest colony of them, at Saler, enjoy a small pension from the Gaikwar. They have their own Brahman for the rites of their caste, and though resident for three or four generations, or longer, in the Deccan, have seldom learned to speak Marathi correctly. Most of the Pardeshia at Dhodap came originally from near Lucknow in order to obtain service as sentinels, storekeepers, and even soldiers in the fort establishment. Some of those who have not taken to agriculture, and who look upon the profession of arms as the only one for which they are suited, are to be found attached to the households of moneylenders as guards or duns, and have also recently found employment in the forest guard establishment. In one of the houses of the village is a small hedge-school in which a Pardeshi Kachdr boy teaches the third book and Modi writing. His pupils consist partly of Pardeshis and Vanis, partly of Brahmans, to which class belongs the officiating patil and kulkarni, the offices being united. A few large champa and banyan trees and a good deal of cactus seem to be the chief vegetable productions on the ledge which the village occupies.
To ascend to the fort, the entrance to which is imperceptible from the village, a path is followed which zigzags up a steep slope to a bare wall of black rock cut into steps in two places. These being surmounted, a double gate is reached in a series of bastions and walls called the khandari or outworks. The actual fort is still at a considerable height above, and the way re-commences its tortuous course up a second slope, varied with projecting slabs of bare rock. At last the real entrance to the fort is attained. This is a completely hidden passage cut in the living rock with two towers in it, and concealed by an outer wall of solid rock and, in its upper portion, by passing through a tunnel. Two inscriptions in Persian character are cut on the rock near the doorway. One has been defaced by weather, and the letters are very indistinct. The other is much clearer, and in addition to the Musalman creed records the name of the builder of the fort. On emerging, from the passage, the first sight that presents itself is the peak, still towering perpendicularly at a height of three to four hundred feet above the gateway.
To the right of the gateway facing east, is the sadar, or masonry apartment for the captain or killedar from the top of which a fine view of the Chandor range is obtained. Behind this is a pool of filthy water in a small quarry. To the south is a bastion on which was mounted a ten-pound gun, now lying on the ground, with its muzzle pointing over the plain it once commanded. Behind it is a high flagstaff with a small white rag tied to its top. It belongs to the temple of Devi on a higher part of the fort, which receives from the state a small cash allowance which is spent at the Dasara (October-November) in decorations, and amongst others in anointing the ten-pound gun with yellow ochre. Between the court and the foot of the peak lies a grassy slope after crossing which are found chambers formerly used by the residents of the fort for various purposes. These are cut in the living rock of the highest part of the hill. First is the powder magazine, a spacious chamber every crack in which has been carefully built up, leaving only a single entrance. At the side of this is the small cave from which the powder guardian had to keep watch. Beyond, to the west, are the provision chambers, including a huge one for grain and a smaller one at the sides with two rock-hewn sarcophagi, one of which contained clarified butter, and the other molasses. Between these and the next cave, that of Devi, are a few small recesses, walled in with rough stone work, apparently modern, which now serve as rest-houses for mendicants and pilgrims. Immediately to the west of the Devi’s cave is a rock-cut reservoir said to be unfat
homable, containing excellent water, probably filtering through cracks in the rock from above, as there is no appearance of any spring. It is a peculiarity of this south face of the rocky peak that the base of the scarp inclines outwards a little from the point where it springs from the grassy slope, a formation which has been taken advantage of in building up these chambers. On the north side of the peak the strip of grass-covered and slippery ground between the base and the vertical scarp is much narrower than on the south, and the cave chambers on the former side appear to have been for the gunners and soldiers. The path can be followed right round to the court again, and up the peak itself, though the climb is somewhat dangerous except to hard and naked feet. The summit which consists of a huge mass of rock nearly precipitous for half its height and then conical, rises about 400 feet above the level plateau on which the main portion of the fort was situated, and is all but inaccessible. At the very summit of the peak is a Musalman shrine said to have been miraculously built in connection with a tomb below, known by the name of Belpir, and adventurous Muhammadans make occasional excursions to visit it. Leaving the peak, the western side is perhaps the most extraordinary feature of the fort. A wall of basalt, thinly covered with soil and coarse grass, juts for some 300 or 400 yards from the base of the peak. Its top is fairly level, and its sides, some 200 to 300 feet high, appear to be sheer precipices presenting scarcely a crack or inequality. The wall is in no place more than perhaps thirty feet wide and is inaccessible from every 3ide except the fort. As the western abutment was less steep than the rest of the wall, it was apparently thought advisable to cut off communication from that quarter by making a breach in the wall about 100 feet deep and some ninety feet wide, from the sides of which the extreme thinness of the basaltic slab can be well seen. Perhaps, on the other hand, the indenture was no more than a freak of some of the Padshahs who resorted to the fort, who, finding so peculiar a natural feature, considered it a profitable task to show the power of man over it in this very unmistakeable manner. This view is in some degree supported by the fact that at the very brink of the gap on the fort or eastern side, there is a small rectangular mosque, a building intended for worship, over the door of which is a stone carved with an Arabic text from the Kuran. To the left-hand corner of the door, there is, curiously enough, a smaller stone with an inscription in what seem to be Devanagari characters. Wherever the precipice below the peak is a little less perpendicular than usual, or presents irregularities which might be taken advantage of by an escalading force, there are built walls with loopholes and bastions, which extend along a considerable portion of the east, north-east, and north sides of the fort. The height of the peak is 4741 feet above the sea level, whilst the caves and main portions of the fort are 4317 feet high. There is a trigonometrical base-mark just at the starting point of the basaltic wall, from which observations were taken a few years ago connecting this hill with the fort of Ankai-Tankai to the south-east, Ramsej and Anjaneri to the south and southwest, and the huge mass of Saler (5263) to the north.
The earliest known mention of Dhodap is the somewhat doubtful notice of a fort named Dharab which surrendered to the Moghal general Allah-vardi Khan in 1635. [Elliot and Dowson, VII. 53.] From the Musalmans it passed to the Peshwa who made it the chief of the Nasik forts. In 1768 Raghunathrav was defeated at Dhodap by his nephew Madhavrav Peshwa. [Grant Duff’s Marathas, 340.] Under the Peshwas two subhedars Appaji Hari and Bajirav Appaji are said to have once hold the fort with 1600 men. At that time Ajabsing and Sujkum, two Kshatriyas in Holkar’s employ,attackedland took it, and plundered and burnt the village, which never afterwards recovered its prosperity. It seems to have passed back to the Peshwa as it was the Peshwa’s officers who, in 1818, ceded the fort without a struggle. [Lake’s Sieges, 98; Blacker’s Maratha War, 320; Maratha and Pendhari War Summary, 352.] In 1818, immediately after its cession, Dhodap was visited by Captain Briggs. He described it as a large hill of the same basaltic nature as others in the Chandor range, with very strong artificial fortifications. The town, which was tolerably large, stood some hundred feet up the hill and at the bottom of the perpendicular rock where there was much tableland. A road into Khandesh ran under the town and fort wall. There was a very strong gate to the town, and a gate to the pass on each side leading up from Khandesh and Gangthadi. Resides these in the fort there were several guns in the town find on other, parts of the tableland, pointing to the plain below. The roads to the town and over the pass were rough and steep on both sides, but not difficult for horses. The only way to the fort was through the town. The fort had many rock-cut storehouses and a large water-supply. There were thirty-seven militiamen or sibandis in the fort, and of military stores 1590 matchlock balls, two pieces of lead, and a large quantity of gunpowder. [Captain Briggs’ Report, 20th June 1818, in Ahmadnagar Collector’s File, VI Inward Miscellaneous.]
During his days tow fort or ‘gadhi’ were built in Devpur and old Dhulia areas respectively of which a one in Devpur was washed along in 1872 flood of the Panjhava which caused considerable damage. It was controlled by Faruqui’s till 1600 from its nearness to the important fort of laling, Dhulia is probably a very old settlement. During the region of Akbar, Khandesh, of which Dhulia formed a part, came to be dominated by the Moghals, and early in 1629. when Delhi emperors were bringing khandesh into order the village of “Dholia” is mentioned as the place where Khvaja Abul Hasan, Shah Jahan’s general passed the rainy season..
In 1723, Nizams-ul- Mulk Asaf Jah 1 who was the Moghal governer of Malva revolted against that power and became independent. He died in 1798. His son Salabat Jung was Nizam in 1752 when he was defected by the Marathas at Bhalki. As per the term of the treaty of Balki, practically the entire Khandesh came under the control of the Marathas and remained so until 1818. In the famine that befell the country in 1803 Dhulia was completed deserted. In the following years Balaji Balvamt, a dependent of Vittal Narsing Vinchurkar repeople the village and in return received from the Vinchurkar a deed granting his certain land and privilege. At the same time he repaired the ‘gadhi’ in Devpur and built the division known as Ganesh Peth in old Dhulia. Being after words entrusted with the entire management of the district of Songir and Laling, Balaji Balvant fixed his head quarter at Dhulia and continued to exercise has authority till 1818, in which year the country passed to the British. In 1819 captain Briggs, the first political agent, probably for its central position and because it was on the high road between Poona and Hindustan, made Dhulia the district headquarter. The town was then very small, short in by the water channels and the river, and without a workman to make even simple screw. When Captain Briggs took over, the town had only three division, viz old Dhulia , Devpur and Moglai.