Forts have played an important role in the medieval history of India and perhaps the world. Just like the medieval kings of Europe who based their kingdoms around highly secure castles, forts built by chieftains, clans and rulers served as a defense mechanism against invaders. Many of these forts fortified households and entities that owed allegiance to the ruler, so it was almost like a small city of its own. The Archaeological Survey Of India has numerous forts listed as heritage monuments some which outdo the others. You may not have heard of these medieval monuments before, but they have played an equally important role in the functioning of what used to be their domain once upon a time.1. Ahilya Fort, Maheswar, Madhya Pradesh
Maheswar is located 91 km from the city of Indore on the northern bank of the Narmada river. It was once the capital of the Malwa region which was ruled by the Holkar Dynasty of the Maratha clan for 4000 years. Queen Ahilyabai Holkar built the fort along the banks of the river Narmada due to her devotion to Shiva as it was a product of his being. Even today you can see ghats leading down from the fort where ceremonial rituals are performed.
The fort houses a temple complex fully devoted to Shiva with distinct Maratha architecture. The queen is remembered for her excellent administrative abilities and patronage towards cottage industries that flourish today. A room in the fort houses her collection of idols of Shiva cast in gold and silver. The most spectacular is the golden swing on which she would seat the idols. Ahilyabai’s court, where she would consult her generals, has been restored and gives an idea of her life in those days.
Currently the Ahilya Fort is run as a heritage hotel which is still owned by the descendants of the family. Richard Holkar, the son of the former Maharaja of Indore, runs the 13 room hotel which offers unique views of Maheswar and the Narmada river flowing alongside.
2. Kumbhalgarh Fort, Rajasthan
Kumbhalgarh fort was built by Rana Kumbha of Mewar in the 15th century and is said to resemble the Great Wall of China due to its 36 km long perimeter of walls. The fort separated Mewar from Marwar and was said to be impenetrable thereby allowing a safe refuge for Mewar rulers who came under threat. The fort fell due to a shortage of water and a joint invasion by the Mughals, Raja Man Singh of Amber, Raja Udai Singh of Marwar and the Mirzas of Gujarat.
The fort complex encloses upon fertile lands of the kingdom as well as 360 temples, 300 of which are Jain. The thick walls of the fort (up to fifteen feet wide) have seven gateways. Today the fort is a museum and some parts of the complex are off limits due to the fear of defense mechanisms and traps that may not have been disabled.
Kumbhalgarh is accessible by road and is 82 km northwest of Udaipur.
3. Daulatabad Fort, Maharashtra
Originally built as the Devgiri Fort by the Yadavas, it was later renamed as Daulatabad Fort when it came under the possession of Muhamed-bin Tughluq in the 14th century. It is 11 km north-west of Aurangabad and is situated on an isolated cone-shaped hill rising abruptly from the plain to the height of about 190 metres. The fortification constitutes three concentric lines of defensive walls with a large number of bastions. The noteworthy features of the fort are the moat, the scarp and the subterranean passage, all made of solid rock. The upper outlet of the passage was filled with an iron grating, on which a large fire could be used to prevent the progress of the enemy. The Chand Minar, the Chini Mahal and the Baradari are the important structures within the fort.
4. Bidar Fort, Karnataka
The city of Bidar on the plateau of northern Karnataka was founded by the Bahmanid Dynasty when they shifted their capital there. Bidar Fort was built by 1428 by Ahmed Shah Bahmani and takes up a high ridge of land which is enclosed by double rings of wall with nearly five Darwazas.
A part of this castle is partly carved out of bedrock. The fort houses the ancient city of the Bahamani dynasty along with its palaces, monuments and structures. Of all, the Rangin Mahal palace is a wonderful monument built in the 16th century by Ali Shah Barid. The main attraction of this Rangin Mahal are the wooden columns displaying ornate brackets and beams. There is also a walled garden, Lal Bagh, close to the Rangin Mahal with a central lobe-fringed pool.
5. Narwar Fort, Madhya Pradesh
Built in Rajput style, this fort is perched atop a hill 500 ft above ground level. It was built by the Kachwaha clan of Rajputs in the 10th century and was later occupied by other clans, the Mughals and finally the Scindias in the 19th century.
Today the Narwar fort stands in a dilapidated state but once stood second in magnificence to the Gwalior fort. The flat ceilings, fluted columns and multifoil arches are typical in construction. The internal walls are adorned with bright paint and glass beads.
Narwar is 122 km from Gwalior.
6. Dhandidhar Fort, Jammu and Kashmir
The Dhandidhar Fort is located 2 km from the district of Rajouri. This fort offer panoramic views of the verdant valley. The Dhandidhar Fort was maintained under the supervision of Mian Hathu. Apart from the commanding view of the entire town, the fort was used to store the food grains that were paid by the farmers as revenues.
This fort had served the purpose of defense to the Dogra rulers who easily hid themselves inside this fort for their safety. The history reveals that the fort was the best place from where the soldiers carried out their war operations. It worked as a haven to provide regular training.
7. Warangal Fort, Telangana
The Warangal fort was built in the 13th century by the Kakatiya Dynasty during the reign of King Ganapatideva. It was destroyed by the invaders and as such only the ruins of the fort can be seen. There is a mud wall of around 20 feet which surrounds the entire fort while the second layer is of granite. The fort consists of impressive stone gateways which have a height of around 30 feet. They are carved out of single rock. The gateways are known as Kirti Torana and consist of beautiful carvings of Lord Vishnu carried by Garuda and surrounded by attendants. 45 towers in the fort and pillars are spread over an area of 19 kms. There is a temple of Mother Earth called ‘Swayambhudevi Alayam’.
Warangal is accessible by road from Hyderabad.
8. Qila Mubarak, Punjab
Qila Mubarak is the oldest fort in India as it is believed to have been built in 90-110 AD by the Kushana emperor Kanishka. Today it stands near the city of Bhatinda in Punjab. It is also one of the highest forts in elevation despite being built with small bricks. Visitors today walk into the same entrance through which historical figures like Razia Sultana, Prithviraj Chauhan, Sultan Mahmud and Guru Gobind Singh had once entered.
The fort houses two Gurudwaras and the prison built for Razia Sultana (the first female Delhi Sultanate ruler) where she was incarcerated by Malik Altunia, the governor of Bhatinda.
9. Chiktan Fort, Jammu and Kashmir
The Chiktan Fort is located in the Kargil district of Ladakh by the river Indus. The fort was built in the 16th century and was 9 storeys high. Unfortunately, today it stands in ruins as just walls and rubble. It gives the image of a castle with the backdrop of snow capped mountains. The view from the fort is equally spectacular.
10. Murud Janjira Fort, Maharashtra
This fort is located in the port town of Murud which is 165 km south of Mumbai on a small island. Originally the fort was a small wooden structure built by a Koli chief in the late 15th century.
It has a small gate towards the open sea for escape. The fort has 19 rounded bastions which are still intact. There are many canons of native and European make rusting on the bastions. Now in ruins, the fort in its heyday had all necessary facilities, e.g., palaces, quarters for officers, mosque, a big fresh water tank, etc. On the outer wall of the main gate, there is a sculpture that depicts a tiger clasping elephants in its claws. This sculpture is difficult to interpret and appears on many fort-gates in Maharashtra.
11. Bekal Fort, Kerala
Bekal fort is near the Pallikkara village in the Kasargod district and is one of the best preserved in the southern state. The fort spreading over forty acres, has massive walls about 12 meters in height and is built of local laterite stones. It is a large fort, the wall and ramparts on the sea side being strong and interspersed by the bastions with openings for guns. The main gate is towards the east and was protected by bastions. A ditch surrounds the fort on the land side. The important features of this fort are the tank with its flight of steps, the opening of the tunnel towards the south, the magazine for keeping ammunition, and a wide ramp leading to the observation tower.
This tower provides a fascinating view of the surrounding area. From there one has ample view of all the important places in the vicinity and also has the strategic significance in ascertaining the safety of the fort. The voids in the massive laterite walls were used for placing guns.