Very few places would be able to surpass the majestic combination of a hill fort with an amazing variety of wildlife surrounding it as is the case with Narnala. Here, the fort is considered one of the most imposing and intricate hill forts in the Melghat region, protected by the Archaeological Survey of India. Further, the region encompassing the hill has been declared a wildlife sanctuary and a protected forest, which is what makes it such a delightful tourist destination.
Narnala is located 60 kilometers away from Akola, a district headquarter in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Situated at an altitutde of 940 meters above the sea level, Narnala experiences temperature varying from 35 to 43 degrees celsius and an annual rainfall that varies from 500 to 900 mm. As such, it does become extremely hot during the peak of summer but is otherwise pleasant throughout the year.
According to historical accounts, the fort is believed to have been constructed by the Gonds. When Ahmed Shah Bahamani (1425 CE) constructed Gawilgarh Fort with a view to obstructing invaders from the north frontiers of his kingdom, he also repaired the fort at Narnala. The fort has been under the rule of various dynasties, including Bahamani (1347-1527 CE), Nizamshahi (1490-1636 CE), Mughals (1526-1707 CE), Marathas (1674-1818 CE), and the Nizam of Hyderabad (1724). Eventually it was taken over by the East India Company in 1818 CE.
The fort also played an important role during the upheaval of Pendharies in 1857 CE. Given this almost continuous change of ownership, every ruler of Narnala has left his impression on its architectural design, evident from its classic Bahamani gateways, lofty Mughal arches, Maratha-style gardens and pleasure pavilions, etc. The water management system of the fort is notable in the form of dams, reservoirs, and artificial lakes. Enclosed, except in those places where natural escarpment of rock renders artificial defense unnecessary, it has crenellated stone walls with the fortification wall extending to a length of 38 kilometers.
The triple fortification walls encircling the habitation are widespread over an area of 392 acres and originally had 22 gates and 360 bastions. Some of the gates like Shahanur (Wagh Darwaza), Mehandi, Mahakali (Nakshi Darwaza), Akot and Delhi represent Bahamani-style architecture. On the upper portion of the Mahakali gateway (Nakshi Darwaza) are two large inscriptions belonging to the Bahamani period. The upper one dates the construction of the gate in Hijra year 892 (1487 CE) while the lower blesses Gazi Sultan Shahab-ud-Dunya Wad-din Mahmud Shah.
The notable structures in the fort comprise Gajashala, Ambar Mahal, the royal harem or ‘zananakhana’, Jama Majjid, ‘telache ani tupache take’ (tanks of oil and ghee), ‘nagarkhana’, ‘khuni burj’ and ‘karkhana’ (gun foundry) along with several Muslim tombs and dargahs. Some of the cannons found in the fort, and in particular the Navgaj cannon, are notable for their size and manufacturing technique.
Akot is the nearest city and lies on the Purna-Ajmer meter gauge railway line. The nearest broad gauge railway station is Akola (45 kilometers) which lies on the Mumbai–Nagpur-Howrah main railway line. The proximity to the railhead at Akola makes Narnala accessible to those coming from Mumbai as well as Nagpur and other cities in this region. The nearest airport is at Nagpur, 270 kilometers from Akot. Buses or taxies from Akot and Akola are available. The village of Shahanur is the main gateway to the sanctuary (7 kilometers). A tar road connects Shahanur to Popakoheda (6 kilometers) on the Akot-Harisal state highway. Accommodation in forest bungalow is available on acquiring permission from the Deputy Conservator of Forests Wildlife Division, Akot.
Distance from Mumbai: 610 kms.