The steep walls of the fort tower over us, and we strain our necks to get a better view. The car winds its way steadily upwards, and we walk into the imposing gates. Our stop at the Kangra Fort is meant to be a short one, tired as we are. As it turns out, the fort and its stories have us enthralled, and we lose track of time!
|The Kangra Fort, as seen from the road, with a temple on the hill behind|
Speaking of stories, this fort has so many to tell! It is said to be among the oldest forts in India (some even insist it is THE oldest fort), and over the centuries, so much has happened within and around its walls, we can go on forever.
|The main entrance.|
So, where do I begin? Which stories do I tell you?
Should I begin with the myth? Of a king born of the Goddess’ sweat? That was Bhumi Chandra, the founder of the Katoch dynasty, born of Ambika’s perspiration after she killed the demon Raktabija. No wonder, then, that Ambika, as Mahisasura Mardini has a temple inside the fort, and is seen on the gates too!
|Ambika... Mahishasura Mardini|
The land features in the epics also. This was once Trigarta, which appears in both, the Ramayana as well as Mahabharata.
So much for mythology. What about the history?
History here surely begins with Parmanand Chandra, more popularly known by the name the Greeks gave him – Porus. Who doesn’t know of the brave king who stood up to Alexander the Great? Incidentally, this region has its own version of the iconic clash between Alexander and Porus….an interesting one, I must add! No, I am not telling you the story… you can go read it for yourself on the Royal Kangra Website.
The Katoch kings came and went; some enlarged and strengthened the fort, some built temples, some lost their land, and others won it back. However, the next historical event that makes it to the audio guide tour is ten centuries after Porus, when the fort was invaded by Mahmud of Ghazni.
Mahmud of Ghazni is said to have been attracted by the famed wealth hidden within the fort. The treasure itself seems to have captured everyone’s imagination. It has been described, rather poetically, as being so huge, that….
“… the backs of camels would not carry it, nor vessels contain it, no writers’ hand record it and nor the imagination of the arithmeticians conceive it.”
The bounty must have been massive, but Mahmud of Ghazni did manage to carry it back home. He is even said to have taken the solid gold idol of Ambika from her shrine within the fort.
Today, the shrine of Ambika is empty, while, in another shrine next to hers, stands an idol of Mahavir. This is believed to be one of the earliest idols of the saint, and the fort is thus an important place of pilgrimage for Jains.
|A peek at the Mahavir idol between the bars of the door|
Interestingly, the audio guide spoke of a ‘religious army’, being funded by contributions to the temple by the citizens. I found it extremely ironical, that while the shrine to the goddess was now empty, the saint who epitomized non-violence was enshrined, and venerated today.
“Enough with the history” I can almost hear you say. So, let me get along, and try to show you the fort itself. No, this isn’t going to be a step-by-step journey along the entire fort. This is a fort you should visit, and explore by yourself. Let me instead show you the fort as I saw it.
In a niche on a wall is this figure of a deer, with a scarf wound around its neck, flying in the wind. This is said to be the emblem of the Katoch dynasty. Why they chose this symbol, what it represents, no one seems to know. I couldn’t even find any reference to this, so if you know anything more, please do leave a comment.
|The symbol or emblem of the Katoch dynasty|
This huge peepul (or Bodhi ) tree stands in the main courtyard, spreading its branches across, providing shade to weary visitors like us. How long has it stood here, no one knows. It has probably seen kings come and go. It has certainly withstood earthquakes that have crumbled the walls and brought down temples all around. On one side stand the ruins of the Lakshmi Narayan temple. It was one of the casualties of the 1905 earthquake, and only the back walls stand almost intact, giving us a glimpse of the grandeur of the original temple.
|The peepul tree in the courtyard. |
On the left of the path is the Ambika temple, and on the right, the ruined Lakshmi Narayan Temple
|The ruined front of the Lakshmi Narayan Temple with stones scatted all around|
|Details from the intact back side of the Lakshmi Narayan Temple|
|A better view of the peepul tree|
Behind the Ambika temple are more ruins… pillars standing abandoned, and stones lying all around. These may have been part of a larger temple which once stood here, or as the audio guide suggested, could this be where the treasure was buried?
|Ruins of an older structure behind the Ambika temple|
The higher we go, the more beautiful is the view. I can imagine the king standing here, surveying his territory, with pride.
|A magnificent view of the Dhauladhar Ranges from the top of the fort|
The deep gorge forms a natural moat around the fort. There are two rivers here, flowing on either side – the Manjhi and the Ban Ganga. I admire the steep, smooth walls of the gorge, and the narrator interrupts my thoughts, with the suggestion that some king had his workers suspended over the gorge, smoothening out the rock, ensuring that the enemy couldn’t ever find a toe hold!
|One side of the deep gorge.... was it naturally so smooth, or was it made so for defense?|
Right at the top, there is a clearing, reinforced now with railings. Could it have once been a lookout point, or would it have been a place for the family to sit in the evening and watch the sun go down over the mountains?
This, to me, is the epitome of luxury, of prestige – having a place like this to call home, to look out at such a view day after day, with the pride and knowledge that this is your legacy.
We walk back down, even more slowly, assimilating the stories we have heard. The audio guide has been a blessing. Without it, Samhith would have lost patience long back. Having the earphones clamped to his head, and managing the controls keeps him occupied, and the narrator’s voice in his ears keeps him interested. He stops now and then to ask questions, for elaboration and explanations, and I couldn’t be happier. This is why we take him along on our travels.
|Deep in thought, listening to the Audio Guide|
At the entrance, as we return the audio guides, I speak to the woman in charge. She tells me that the fort is maintained by the ASI, but it is the royal family which actually keeps it in shape. They are the ones who have arranged for the audio guide, published a book, and have set up the Museum here. The museum is closed, since it is a Saturday, so we have to give it a miss. “Don’t worry” she adds. “The website has all the details you need.” Back home, we check it out, and yes, it does. The website has a detailed catalogue of the artifacts, as well as the entire story, and lineage of the Katoch dynasty.
As we ready to leave, and Shankar goes looking for our car, I remember a structure I had noticed on the side, and run to take a closer look. It is a tank, as I had thought, with a small shrine on the side, and small niches all around. The niches are empty, as is the shrine. As to the tank, the stagnating water is not a pretty sight, and I avoid clicking it.
|A neglected tank at the entrance|
I wonder why, when the fort is so well maintained, this little tank has been left, ignored. A small water spout drips water on the side, and the water flows into a tiny channel cut into the path. Could this have once been a garden, or even another temple? I guess I will never know.
|A gargoyle spouting water|
Such is the story of most of our monuments. No matter how much work is done, there is always more to do, more to preserve. Do we appreciate the work done, or do we bemoan the work left to do?
There is no simple answer. And as we discovered on our next, and final halt in Himachal, there is no end to the discoveries and gems awaiting us, if only we seek!
This post is part of my series on my #summertrip 2015, and I hope to take you along with me as I recount stories from my month long trip, which took me across the country. To get an idea of all the places I visited, and what you can hope to read about, click here.
- The Himachal Series-