It is stated, “The ruins of time build mansions in eternity.”- Willam Blake. And today I was going to explore the ruins of an ancient fort in the Dhauladar range of the Himalayas- The Kangra Fort. This fortress is one of its kind mentioned in the war records of Alexander the Great, an architectural delight with inscriptions on its doorways and walls that tell of its numerous rulers through the centuries. A 32-kilometre drive down from Mcleodganj to this proud and silent fort that tells loudest stories.
It was a shining day, clear blue sky, chirping birds & floating clouds. The ride was smooth & we reached our destination the Kangra Fort, which traces its origin to the prehistoricTrigarta Kingdom, mentioned in the Mahabharata. This fortress is one of the largest & oldest in the Himalayas, situated 20km from Dharamshala on the outskirts of the Kangra town. It encompasses an area of 463 acres & stands at 8th position among the most massive forts in India. I took the tickets from the counter Rs150 per person and also rented a guide Rs 300 as per the ASI guideline; however, you can also opt for an audio guide at the same cost. Only I prefer human interaction; they have more folklore to share.
While walking down towards the entry gate of the fort, my guide said it is believed that Maharaja Susharma Chandra of Katoch Dynasty built Kangra fort. He fought for Kauravas in the Mahabharta battle, and after defeat in the war he did not turn back to Multan; instead came to Kangra with his army. He took over the Trigarta kingdom under his control, also established a fort to protect his kingdom. Now the first question I asked my guide what the Trigarta Kingdom is? He said there is a legend which says- a Rajput family was supposed to have been founded by Rajanaka Bhim Chand in 4300 B.C who ruled over the Trigarta Kingdom. The saga goes on at the time when Goddess Ambika (another name of Devi Parvati) was battling a fierce demon. The fight was long & vigorous, during this time, a drop of her sweat fell on the earth and from it emerged – Bhumi Chand of Chandravansh. He served the Goddess to defeat the demon, hence in blessing goddess gave him the Trigarta Kingdom situated between Sutlej, Beas & Ravi rivers. And Kangra valley is part of this area. Goddamn! Wish I have been gifted a kingdom as a boon.
As per my guide, Kangra fort had 21 treasure wells – each 4m deep & about 2.5 m in width, though most of them are in ruins as of now. But local believe that eight wells are still hidden inside the fort walls. As per the historical facts, the Sultan of Ghazni looted eight wells, while the British in the 1890s found five more wells.
In its era, the garrison held a bulk of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls, than was ever collected in a Royal treasury. Though the Chief of Kangra was a big devotee of the Brijeshwari Temple, hence used to send the treasures and precious jewels time after time to be presented to the large idol within the temple. But with ages, the stockpile attained such a level that camels could not bear it, and vessels could not contain it, nor writers hand to record it and nor the imagination of arithmeticians conceive it. Hence the fort has been subjected to many approaches. The most ruler wanted to acquire control over the Kangra fort as it’s said- “He who holds the Kangra fort holds the hills.”
The entire fortress is guarded by a high rampart and 15 feet tall, massive walls of black stone. The guide, updated us river Banganga and Patal Ganga embrace each other at the foot of this majestic fort.
He kept saying there are a total of 11 gates & 23 bastions, where the entrance gate is known as the Ranjit Singh Gate, second gate Jahangiri Darwaza followed by Ahni and Amiri Darwaza. The gate passages are 7m in length & wide enough, so a horse or two men(shoulder to shoulder)can pass. It was constructed to hold back/slow down the enemy army. Along the side, the walls are flat grounds that accommodated the Katoch army, which defended these gates from the vantage point.
Later comes the Darsani Darwaza, which is immediately flanked by defaced statues of River Goddesses Ganga and the Yamuna gave access to a courtyard entrance known as Mahlon ka Darwaza.
Our guide confirmed that the fort holds three temples- Ambika Devi Temple, Shitalamata Temple and Lakshmi Narayan Temple. I likewise saw a stone image of Lord Adinath installed in a small temple which was dedicated to Jaina Tirthankaras.
On that point is a staircase between the temples of Shitalamata, and Ambika Devi leads to the Sheesh Mahal. Here small hall-like compartment is designed with a block of stone along with a polygonal watchtower at the border. The temples and some portion of the palace courtyard are still under the control of Katochs family. They even come to extend their prayers to their deity, Goddess Ambika Devi, whose temple remains intact inside the fort.
We climbed to the uppermost part of the fort when the guide said this fort was first attacked by the Raja of Kashmir Shreshta in 470 A.D. However; early records refer Mahmud of Ghazni attack in 1009 AD as foreign invasions on Kangra fort. The Persian ruler was captivated by the immense treasures of the Kangra fort. In 1337 Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, the Turkic Sultan of Delhi, was the next ruler to capture the Kangra fort. He was the first enemy ever to step foot in the fortress. Our guide went on saying the Mugal army took 14 months to conquer the fortress. After Akbar made 52 unsuccessful attempts, in 1620, Jahangir finally captured the fort.
However, in 1789 Maharaja Sansar Chand succeeded in recovering the ancient fort of his ancestors. And successfully established himself as a powerful ruler, and gained control over the fortress. But Amar Singh Thapa, the Gurkha commander, came together against Sansar Chand, invaded Kangra & won the fort. This garrison was finally taken by the British after the Sikh war of 1846. The fort did pass through the hands of many rulers, but it was never destroyed. Over a hundred years what an army could not do, nature did- a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked the foundations of the Kangra fort.
Walking around the fort and enjoying the picturesque surroundings a thought struck me” Few are born to construct a fort, palaces, and halls for emperors & king but not to stay in them”. The Kangra Fort has a rich history, with a mesmerising location and beautiful architecture; I learned of its richness, wins as well as defeats, but no one spoke about the architect who created this marvel. After taking some photos, I started for my next destination Masrur which is a UNESCO heritage site.
It’s about an hour drive from Kangra Fort (40km). The Masrur rock-cut temples are not only spiritually significant but likewise an important archaeological site. These are an early 8th-century complex of rock-cut, facing northeast, towards the Dhauladhar range. Upon arriving at the place, a Himalayan pyramid which it’s popularly known as, I was stupefied with the architectural marvel. They are a group of 15 monolithic rock-cut temples made in Indo-Aryan style. They are a version of North Indian Nagar architecture style, dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, Devi and Saura traditions of Hinduism; and the henotheistic framework inspires the visual images and symbols utilised in a work of art.
As per the archaeological studies, the complex is incomplete. Most of the temple is in ruins or damaged due to the earthquake; also Masrur’s temple sculpture and reliefs have been lost. This temple complex was first described by Henry Shuttleworth in 1913, bringing it to the attention of archaeologists. As per Michael Meister, an art historian and a professor, the Masrur temple are a living example of a temple mountain-style Hindu architecture which embodies the earth and mountains around it. As per the Historian, the temple of Masrur has similarities to the Elephanta Caves, Angkor Wat, and the rock-cut temples of Mahabalipuram. Its influences “Gupta classicism”, carved out of the natural sandstone rock.
The region around the temple complex has caves and ruins which confirm the Masrur region once had a large human settlement. The temple has three entries on its northeast, southeast and northwest side, two of which are incomplete. Evidence indicates that a fourth entrance was planned and started but left mostly undone. The entire complex is symmetrically laid out on a square grid, where smaller temples surround the main temple in a mandala pattern. The temples complex features reliefs of major Vedic and Puranic gods and goddesses, and its friezes narrate legends from the Hindu text. There is a narrow stairway with worn steps leading to the upper part of the temple where stood the shikhara. There is an incomplete staircase which is set up inside the temple too, as per legend Pandavas constructed them to reach heaven.
Walking around the temple complex, I witnessed the central shrine houses idols of Lord Rama, Lakshman, Devi Sita all facing east. There is a local myth associated with the Shrine; Pandavas spent an extended stop here in this temple premise during their exile. Even there was a figure of Lord Shiva, over the doorway to the main entrance to the Shrine. It’s the depiction of the coronation of Shiva upon the lintel is one the preserved carving cut deep out of the rock. It was a pleasure to behold; like the posture with closed eyes resembles the Padmasana of Buddha. The archaeologist suggested the temple was initially devoted to Lord Shiva, because of the idol, but later converted to worship Lord Rama. The temple complex also has a sacred pool in front on the east side. But the sad piece is, there is no information or documentation about these temples or sculpture at the premises. No Local guides are available, nor any booklet at the ticket counter.
It is said the primary cause for the incomplete structure in the complex was large by religious wars and geopolitical instability across the Indian subcontinent in the 12th-19th century. Even the series of plunder raids and attacks of Turko-Afghan sultans has prevented the temple completion. And the 1905 earthquake left Masrur destitute with most of its architectural splendour. Looking at the temple reflected in the green water of the pond, I realised “The ruins proclaim the building was beautiful”- Mohsin Hamid.
How to Reach:
The nearest air is Gaggal airport to Kangra fort, at a distance of 14 km from Kangra valley. From the airport, you can book Cab for Kangra for or Masrur.
Pathankot Cantt(Chakki) the nearest broad gauge railway station, at a distance of 87Km. From Kangra, the nearest narrow gauge railway station is Kangra mandir railway station. From the railway station can hire a cab or direct buses to Kangra. Further can to Masrur you can book a taxi, no direct busses.
Overnight Volvo buses or HPDTC buses can be taken directly to the destination, 471km is the distance from Delhi to Kangra. However, some buses ply from Chandigarh, Dharamshala & Pathankot. You can also fire a cab or drive your vehicle.