Our country boasts a rich and colourful tapestry of history that unfolds every time you visit a city that was once home to royalty–and in India, there are many. With a heritage as glorious as ours, it is no wonder that the well-preserved forts that are scattered around our country are primary tourist attractions amongst history buffs. Here’s a look at some of the most marvellous forts in India that must be added to your travel itinerary.
One of the largest fort complexes in India, the imposing Mehrangarh Fort is truly fit for kings and looms over the city of Jodhpur in Rajasthan. It was built in 1460 by the chief of the Rathore clan, Rao Jodha, when he shifted his capital from Mandore (9km away) to Jodhpur, then called Mewar. Hidden behind the veneer of glory and splendour, however, are stories of violence. According to legend, there was once a hermit who lived at the top of the hill where the fort was supposed to be built. When ousted from the spot by the royals, he cursed that the fort will suffer from scarcity of water. Afraid that it would come true, a man called Raja Ram Meghwal was buried alive in the foundations because it was considered auspicious. Even though he offered his services voluntarily, it doesn’t make the story any less gory. And that’s not all. The innermost gate of the fort, the Loha pol, has 15 handprints left by the wives of the king before they committed sati (self-immolation) in 1843. I’m waiting for the day when the exploits and intrigues of the Mewar family of Jodhpur are turned into a Bollywood classic.
Agra, Uttar Pradesh
The seat of the Mughal Dynasty until 1638, the spectacular Agra Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fort was built by Akbar in 1573, but it was during his grandson Shah Jahan’s reign that the sandstone fort took its present form with his signature white marble additions. Right next door to its more famous neighbour, the Taj Mahal, this fort has many interesting structures inside such as Akbar’s Mahal, Diwan-i-Aam, Diwan-i-Khaas and Moti Masjid, and is a popular tourist spot.
Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh
A fort that has existed since the 6th century, and still stands today in all its glory, deserves to be on every history aficionado’s bucket list. The Gwalior Fort was ruled successively by the Hunas, Gurjara-Pratiharas, Kachchhapaghatas, the Delhi Sultanate, Tomars, Mughals, Marathas, and finally the Scindias. The fort has several fascinating structures inside that are definitely worth a gander–rock-cut Jain temples; the Gujari Mahal (now a museum); and the Chaturbhuj Temple with a 1,500-year-old inscription, which is the second-oldest record of the number zero in the world! You should now have zero excuses to not visit this wonder.
A symbol of sheer opulence, this paragon of architecture is one of the most frequented tourist sights of Jaipur, attracting almost 5,000 visitors every day. Constructed by Raja Man Singh in 1599, the fort (pronounced Amer) was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013 (along with five other hill forts of Rajasthan). One of the most brilliant sections of the fort is the Sheesh Mahal, which boasts stunning mirror mosaics that glitter in the sun. Legend has it that the queen loved stargazing, but wasn’t allowed to sleep under the skies, so the mahal was built to replicate the glittering stars of the night sky. Sections of the fort boast dramatic views of the Moata Lake. If you’re visiting Jaipur, Amber must feature on your itinerary.
The former capital of the Sisodia Rajput Dynasty of Mewar, the city of Chittorgarh (or Chittor) is home to one of the largest forts in India. Constructed by the Mauryans in the 7th century, the Chittor Fort boasts a fusion of Hindu, Jain and Muslim styles of architecture. It was controlled by the Rajputs for more than 800 years, with periodic assaults by the Mughals. It was in 1568 that the Mughal forces led by Akbar finally captured the fort after a year-long skirmish. Though Maharana Udai Singh II had already escaped, choosing instead to move his capital to present-day Udaipur, he left Chittorgarh in the hands of his chieftains. Tens of thousands of Rajput soldiers and civilians were slain and even the women and children inside the forts committed jauhar (mass self-immolation) to avoid capture. The fort complex has seven gates along with many palaces and temples. Rana Kumbha’s Palace, one of the most evocative sections of the fort, houses the once picturesque Zenana Mahal. There is also Gaumukh Kund, where Chittor’s first jauhar allegedly took place in 1303 as Alauddin Khilji lay siege to the fort. When it was clear that the Rajputs would lose the battle, Rani Padmini, along with her companions, self-immolated to protect their honour. You can see her quarters, Padmini’s Palace, from the main building.
Built by king Ganapatideva of the Kakatiya Dynasty and completed by his daughter Rani Rudrama, the exact year of construction of this once glorious fort is unknown, however this structure is believed to have existed at least since the 12th century. The fort was attacked numerous times by various dynasties including the Delhi Sultanate, and you will see many ruins around the fort premises. The structure exemplifies the Thorean style of architecture and flaunted 45 intricately carved pillars during its heyday. The fort also has gateways called Kirti Toranas, which boast beautifully carved sculptures that can be seen even today.
Rajsamand district, Rajasthan
Towering at a height of 3,600ft, the formidable Kumbhalgarh Fort was built by Maharana Kumbha of the Mewar Dynasty in the 15th century and was occupied all the way till the 19th century. Its walls extend for a whopping 36km, making it one of the largest walled complexes in the world. There are 360 temples within the complex, out of which 300 are Jain temples. It has seven majestic gates or pols and some of its front walls are almost 15ft thick! It’s no wonder then that the fort was conquered only once. The legendary king and warrior Maharana Pratap was born inside Badal Mahal, one of the most picturesque palaces inside the fort complex.
Kangra, Himachal Pradesh
The largest fort in the Himalayas is also possibly the oldest fort in India, said to have been built almost 3,500 years ago by the Katoch Dynasty. The Kangra Fort is located 20km from Dharamshala. This imposing fort housed countless treasures, which is why it was sieged and plundered numerous times, including by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1009 BCE, Feroz Shah Tughlaq in 1360 and Sher Shah Suri in 1540. Though it withstood Mughal emperor Akbar’s attacks, his son Jehangir captured the fort in 1620 after a 14-month siege. The Katoch family recovered the fort in 1789. It was finally occupied by the British in 1846, but they were ousted in 1905 after a magnitude 7.8 earthquake heavily damaged the fort. Once strategically important, tourists tend to give this beautiful fort a miss for the more popular attractions of Dharamshala. However, if its torrid history does not intrigue you, perhaps the jaw-dropping views from the ramparts will.
The capital of the Qutb Shahi Dynasty until 1590, this fort is said to have been constructed sometime in the 12th century by the Kakatiyas. Golconda’s market was well-known for the diamond trade since the mines nearby were the only ones at the time known to produce diamonds. So, it is not hard to imagine that the vaults inside once contained unfathomable riches including the Koh-i-Noor and the Hope Diamond. An eight-year-long siege beginning in 1687 by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb finally led to the fort’s ruin. The complex has four distinct forts, and a number of temples, mosques and royal apartments. Its outermost gateway called Fateh Darwaza is known for an fascinating acoustic effect–if you clap at a certain point, it can be heard all the way till the highest point of the fort, the Bala Hissar pavilion, located almost 1km away. This unique warning technique was used when the fort was under attack.
Originally built by Raje Chandraraoji More, the king of Jawli, the Rairi fort was seized by Chatrapati Shivaji in 1656. It was made the capital of the Maratha Empire in 1674 when he was declared king. He consequently expanded it and renamed it. The main entrance of the fort, Maha Darwaza, has 65—70-ft-tall bastions on either sides. Visitors have quite a bit of a walk ahead of them–one has to climb more than 1,700 steps to get to the top of the fort! However, your hard work will definitely pay off–you will be treated to spectacular views of lush valleys.