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His mission is to document, protect forts
This is what 43-year-old Amit Samant, who stays in Dombivli in Thane district, feels. A deputy engineer with Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport, Samant is an expert and has visited over 300 forts in Maharashtra and other places.
During most of his weekends, he takes a bus or a train and visits a fort and returns by Sunday evening to be in time for work the next day. "Visiting forts as a picnic is not the right way. Forts, the Sahyadri range have a lot of potential. You can develop interest in a particular field while trekking. There is wide range of subjects to study, explore from geology to nature, birds, butterflies, plants, flowers, insects, animals, forts, history, caves and temples,” said Samant, who regularly writes in newspapers and has co-founded www.trekshitiz.com, which has almost everything on forts.
Back from Kumbhalgad (Rajasthan) and Ratnagad (Maharashtra) recently, he said that conservation of forts is a collective responsibility of the government and people. "The common man too needs to be sensitive enough to this subject,” he said.
Asked how his interest grew in forts, he said: "History of Maharashtra is associated with forts. From Satavahana to Peshwa era forts built in Maharashtra are repository of history and heritage. Legendary Maratha warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s history revolves around forts.”
"Right from our childhood days, we have heard about the bravery and humane nature of Shivaji in the form of stories, tales, history books, plays in schools, movies, fort building activity during Diwali vacation. He is a hero for us and Shivaji cannot be separated from forts,” he said. This is how he got interested in forts and visited Raigad, Rajgad, Janjira, Pratapgad, Sinhgad in his college days.
On the first fort that he visited, he said: "My father used to take us on a holiday every Diwali vacation and we would spend our summer vacation in our native place Malvan. Sindhudurg fort is in Malvan, so my first visit to a sea fort is Sindhudurg and first hill fort is Pratapgad.”
Samant did not stop at visiting forts but went ahead and started researching. Today, his favourite research area is water in forts.
"Water in forts is my favourite subject. I started giving lectures and presentations on various topics related to forts. This information is used in first ever book of maps of forts 'Nakashatun Durgabhramanti' by my friend Mahendra Govekar,” he said.
What makes him attached to forts? "It is my belief that the exploration of fort is never ending process, you will get something new during every visit. I visited Sindhudurg fort 35 times. When people say that there is nothing in that particular fort, they are wrong, small cistern or tank on fort can tell you many things i.e. in which period it was made, when it was modified, how many people live in the fort etc. If small part of a fort can tell you this much information, imagine if there are number of monuments in forts they tell you full story, if you look properly,” he said.
He said: "In my early days I visited forts for trekking and photography. At some point of time, I started reading books on Shivaji, his kingdom, construction of forts, battles etc, and my perspective changed. I started looking at forts seriously. In my journey I have met number of historians, fort lovers, trekkers who taught me new things about forts,” he said.
Samant said that he had read several books and listened to oral history. "Nowadays, I pass on the knowledge by writing articles in Marathi newspapers, writing books and delivering talks,” he says.
Talking about forts in Maharashtra, he said that they are categorised into three types - land forts, hill forts and sea forts. Prominent land forts that he has visited are Paranda, Naladurg, Dharur, Udir, Ausa, Nagardhan. Best hill forts that he has seen are Rajgad, Raigad, Gavilagad, Narnala, Vasota, Prachitgad, Kumbhalgad (Rajasthan), Mandu and the sea forts are Janjira, Sindhudurg, Padmadurg (Kasa), Khanderi-Underi.
One also requires climbing gear for some forts such as Alang, Madan, Malanggad, Lingana, Gadagada.
About changes, he said up to 2000, climbing gear were very costly and there were very few people doing this activity. "Nowadays due to availability of climbing gears and number of experts, this has become an adventure sport and a large number of youth are attracted to hiking and trekking,” he pointed out.
About the website www.trekshitiz.com, he said in 2005 it received the best website award from Marathi Vikas Parishad for its contribution. Trekshitiz provides the information to trekkers, ways to reach the forts, fascinating places of interest in fort, accommodation, water availability, history of fort and photos.
"At present there is information on 304 forts in Marathi and English, around 5,000 photos,” he said. While trekking in Sahyadri one can see birds, butterflies and flowers. There are ancient temples and caves in Sahyadri so a separate section was started for such information.
"All the information has been collected by the Trekshitiz members by visiting forts and places personally. Over the years change in any information is updated on site to make it more authentic. It is still no.1 site used by trekkers in Maharashtra,” he said. Trekshitiz Santha was awarded Girimitra Giryarohan Sanstha Sanman , Purskar in 2014 for its work in the field for 14 years.