On the dusty trail: Ahmednagar
By Aparna Chandra | Published: 19th September 2013 12:04 PM |
Touring small-town India is an adventure of its own kind. It also requires its own kind of traveller, one who rests easy because stay options may be basic and not always modern and one who eats easy because a lot to sample will be from roadside kiosks, highway eateries and home kitchens. There’s no fancy pub to live the night up at but a quaint place that the locals favour to watch the sun go down with some country liquor - always strong.
Ahmednagar is that kind of place. Kind of. You could mistake its dry landscape to be telling of its interests but that’s not quite so. Located 120 km from Pune, and 83 km away from Shirdi, Nagar, as they call it, has much to offer to the intrepid tourist with its history and rustic cuisine.
The area is drought prone and the slightest splash of rain brings it alive. Best time to visit is monsoon and thereafter.
Bangalore is connected well by train - we booked tickets on the Karnataka Express. The evening train was at the destination by the afternoon.
Nagar’s prominence in Maharashtra once came from it being part of the prosperous sugar belt. Today, its mostly a trading hub and agriculture survives on cultivation of soyabean, onion and millet.
The landscape that greets you is dusty rural townside and not the romantic kind. This is what Maharashtra looks like. It is away from the glitz and glamour of Mumbai and Pune, a faded version of Nagpur and Nashik.
But head towards the old town, and Nagar’s story begins to unravel. The town gets its name from Ahmad Nizam Shah who founded it in 1494 as one of the Deccan sultanates. The locality of Bhingar marks that ancient city. In narrow lanes is the busy bazaar where you can buy great textiles and some of the best glass bangles and chomp on hot vada pavs or misal pav as you are pointed out the local lodge where Nathuram Godse rested before he left for New Delhi to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi.
To soothe off from the heat and dust you can settle at a local restaurant. If you are particular, some have family rooms that may be nicer to settle into. Local cuisine is the hearty meal of the man of the soil. Spicy or tikhat (in Marathi), every bit. What you must have, unless you are of delicate constitution are bhakri (jowar rotis), vangi masala (bringal curry), zunka (a chick-pea dish) and the fiery thecha (green chilli relish). The local beer brew Khajuraho goes well with it, a bottle of which the waiter will uncork with a plastic quarter plate. Only possible in small-towns.
History has left its mark on Nagar with it being a British settlement at one time and it being a rest stop for the Sultanates.
The Salabat Khan Tomb is good for a drive and a climb up its three storeys to its highest point to watch sunsets, and, if you can brave its eerie isolated location, sunrises.
It was at Ahmednagar Fort that Jawaharlal Nehru wrote The Discovery of India when he was imprisoned here from 1942 to 1945. The fort that was built by Ahmed Nizam Shah in 1490, today houses a museum dedicated to the freedom struggle.
Nagar is an artillery centre and houses the only Tank Museum in India. Situated at the Armoured Corps Centre and School, among its exhibits is a Nazi tank seized during Worlk War II.
A day or two will let you visit all these and more like the dilapidated and yet arresting Farah Bad, a resting point for the Nizam.
Ralegaon Siddhi, which owes its fame to Anna Hazare is close enough for a visit. So is Shirdi, a popular pilgrimage among believers of Sai Baba. If you think you passed by cricketer Zaheer Khan, don’t second guess yourself. He’s from around here too.