Harishchandragad Fort: 4,691 feet above sea-level, with ruined fortifications and Brahmanical caves Harishchandragad lies on the Sahyadris, eighteen miles south-west of Akola. The hill is the apex of the water-shed of the Bhima and the Godavari drainage systems.
About six paths lead up to the hill two of which from Pachnai and Lobali Kotul can be used by loaded cattle. The hill-top, which is about three miles in diameter, is an irregular table-land with deep gorges and at the south-east edge rising rather suddenly to the highest point 4,691 feet above the sea. The caves lie north of and about 600 feet below the summit. On the steep slope between the hill-top and the caves and stretching east and west is a beautiful belt of ever-green forest almost impenetrable from its thick undergrowth and huge boulders. Other wooded patches freshen sheltered nooks, but most of the rest of the plateau is either bare rock or coarse thatching grass with here and there patches of bracken. The descent from the plateau
is unusually steep on all sides. To the north the first drop is a cliff of 200 feet which runs for a great distance along the hill side. The grandest cliff, about 2,000 feet, faces west overlooking the Konkan. Ascent by this cliff was not uncommon. The sockets in which the standards for working the rope and pulley or some similar climbing apparatus were fixed are still seen at the top of the cliff. As they were destroyed by Captain Mackintosh about 1820, little but ruined traces are left of the fortifications of Harishchandragad. The ruins of the gate appear at the top of the Lobali Kotul pathway and a few places where an escalade was possible still show remains of fortifications. On a peak, half a mile east of the summit, is the citadel or bale killa with decaying walls and blown-up cisterns. At the foot of the citadel, at the gate, and at one or two other places are remains of houses but the commandant and part of his establishment are believed to have lived in the caves.
Rainbow: Especially in May the edge of the Konkan cliff often gives an excellent view of the curious phenomenon called the Circular Rainbow. In 1835 Colonel Sykes during periods of fogs and mists several times observed the circular rainbow which from its rareness is spoken of only as a possibility. Sometimes the Konkan fog stratum rose somewhat above the level of the top of the Harishchandragad cliff, without coming over the table-land. Colonel Sykes stood at the edge of the precipice just outside of the limits of the fog, with a low cloudless sun on his back. The circular rainbow appeared perfect and most vividly coloured, one-half above Colonel Sykes' level and the other half below. Distinct outline shadows of Colonel Sykes, his horse and his men appeared in the centre of the circle as a picture to which the bow served as a resplendent frame. [ Colonel Syk s' men could not believe that the figures they saw were their own shadows and assured themselves by tossing about their arms and legs and putting their bodies in various postures] From their nearness to the fog the diameter of the rainbow circle never exceeded fifty or sixty feet. Accompanying the brilliant rainbow circle was the usual outer bow in fainter colours. The Fokiang or Glory of Buddha as seen from mount O in West China tallies more exactly with the phenomenon than Colonel Sykes' description would seem to show. Round the head of the shadow always appears a bright disc or glory, and concentric with this disc, but separated by an interval, is the circular rainbow. The size and brilliancy of the rainbow varies much with the distance of the mist; when the mist is close the diameter may not be more than six feet. Whether the observer sees only his own shadow or the shadow of others with him depends on the size of the rainbow. Each observer always sees the head of his own shadow in the centre of the glory.
Caves: The caves, which are about 500 feet below the level of the fort, are chiefly in a low scarp of rock to the north of the summit. The caves face north-west and consist of eight or nine excavations none of them large or rich in sculpture. The pillars are mostly plain square blocks; the architraves of the doors are carved in plain fronts; and a few images of the Shaiv symbol Ganapati also appear on some of the door lintels. The style of the low door-ways and of the pillars in Cave II, some detached sculptures lying about, the use of Ganapati on the lintels, and some fragments of inscriptions seem to point to about the tenth or the eleventh century as the date of the. caves. Cave I at the east end of the group is about 17' 6" square and has a low bench round three sides. The door is four feet high with a high threshold and a plain moulding round the top. To the west of the cave is a cistern. Cave II, about nine yards west of cave I, is one of the largest in the group. The veranda is 23' 6" long and about 7' 6" wide with an entrance into a large cell from the left end. The whole veranda is not open in front. The space between the left pillar and pilaster is closed and the central and right hand spaces are left open. The two square pillars, only one of which stands free, are 6' 4½" high with a simple base and a number of small mouldings on the neck and capital occupying the upper 2' 7". A door with plain mouldings and a small Ganesh on the lintel, with two square windows one on each side leads to the hall, which measures about twenty-five feet by twenty and varies in height from 8' 1½" to 8' 11". The hall has one cell on the right and two in the back with platforms six inches to a foot high. Outside on the right, another cell leads into a larger cell at the right end of the veranda. Cave III is unfinished though somewhat on the same plan as cave II. Half of the front wall has been cut away and a large image of Ganesh is carved on the remaining half.
In a cell to the right is an altar for a linga. Cave IV is an oblong cell and cave V in the bed of the torrent is apparently unfinished with a structural front. Round three sides runs a high stone bench. The sixth, seventh and eighth caves are similar to cave IV. But a bed of soft clay has destroyed the walls of the sixth and seventh. The shrine of the sixth has a long altar for three images. Near the eighth cave is a deep stone cistern ten feet square.
A little below the row of caves is a large Hemadpanti reservoir with steps, along whose southern side is a row of little niches or shrines, some of them still occupied by images. Round the reservoir are small temples and cenotaphs or thadgis. Below the reservoir is a small temple in a pit, half rock-cut half built, consisting of a cell with a shrine at each side. One of the cells contains the socket or salunka of a removed linga. Below this temple a deep hollow or pit formed by cutting away the rock at the head of a ravine, leaves a small level space
from the middle of which rises a somewhat lofty temple, built on a remarkable plan. The temple has no hall or mandap but consists only of a shrine with a very tall spire in the northern Hindu style of architecture as at Buddha Gaya near Banaras. The linga within is worshipped from any one of four doors with porches. In the southeast corner of the pit is another shrine half built half hewn with an image of a goddess. To the west of the pit two or three irregular caves were probably used as dwellings by yogis attached to the temple. Fifty yards further down the ravine is a cave about fifty-five feet square. In front are four columns each about three feet square with plain bracket capitals nine inches deep and 6' 10" long. In the middle of the hall is a large round socket or salunka containing a linga and surrounded by four slender columns of the same type as in the Elephanta caves. All round the pillars to the walls and front of the cave the floor is cut down four feet and is always full of water, and the linga can be approached only by wading or swimming. On the left end is a relief carved with a linga and worshippers on each side. Above the level of the water is a small chamber. The caves were formerly used as health resorts in the hot season by the district officers. Mr. Harrison, a former Collector (1836-1843), built near the caves a bungalow which was burnt down.
In the last Maratha War, Harishchandragad was taken in the beginning of May 1818 by a detachment under Captain Sykes.