Sprawling across a whopping 463 acres, Kangra Fort in Himachal Pradesh has changed many hands and holds many stories.
Standing before a mammoth fortress in ruins in a forgotten part of the world, one realises two things: how humans can go far and wide to build something glorious, something extraordinary, and how easily they can forget about it, moving on to the next in no time. Similar thoughts flocked my mind as I stood alone, facing the decrepit wooden door of Kangra Fort, one nippy November morning a few year back. Massive black-stone walls ran on the huge gateway’s either side, and wild undergrowth covered the land around.
Some 20 km south of Dharamshala, in the outskirts of Kangra in Himachal Pradesh, lies forgotten the eponymous fort that has stood the test of time for almost four millennia! One step inside that door, and you’d feel in your gut that the place might be in shambles but still keeps safe behind its time-worn walls, many stories from different eras. For a truly immersive experience, take along the audio guide, just like I did, only to be lost in those fascinating fables.
Over the years, Kangra Fort has changed many hands. It was first mentioned in the works of Pāṇini, a Sanskri scholar as well as in The Mahabharata. It is believed that a forgettable character in the epic, a maharaja named Susharma Chandra of the Katoch Dynasty, actually built the fort to ward off his enemies.
Back in the day, kings and devotees from across the country would send gold, jewels, and precious stones as offerings to the Brijeshwari Temple inside the fort. Legend has it that an unspeakable amount of wealth was hidden in 21 treasure wells — each 4 meters deep into the ground and about 2 and a half meters in circumference!
Naturally then, right from Alexander The Great to Mughal rulers including the Mahmud of Ghazni and Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, kings made several attempts to capture it, but Kangra Fort stood proudly impeachable. The Sultan of Ghazni is believed to be the first to conquer the fort, and he looted eight wells while at it.
In 1789, Raja Sansar Chand from the Katoch Dynasty won the fort back from the Mughals, following which it was captured by Sikh forces. The British in the 1890s found five more, and continued to use the site as their garrisons, until in 1905, when a major earthquake forced it to come apart at the seams. Locals believe that the fortress still hides somewhere eight more wells full of treasure!
With 11 gates and 23 bastions, Kangra Fort was returned to Maharaja Jai Chandra by the Archaeological Survey of India post independence. Today, the fort stands tall still, with a towering main entrance, palace courtyards, ancient temples, intricate wall carvings, and stairways intact, rising from the ruins like a forlorn dream.