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India: 6 best historical forts to visit

By Manasee Joshi 27 August 2020

Header image courtesy of Kastur Jewels

India is often glorified as the land of distinctive culture and rich heritage that offers a hugely diversified geographical, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious panorama. While that is true, what lacks its due acclaim is the royal lineage of some of the most ostentatious maharajas and kings that existed, their majestic palaces, long-standing traditions, and of course, a long line of imposing forts that allow you to immerse in the royal splendour of India’s bygone era.

India’s magnificent forts are spread all across the country, so a sneak-peek into these grand spectacles is sure to leave you goggle-eyed with the remarkable craftsmanship of those times. We’ve selected the six best forts in India to visit for a glimpse into the country’s colonial past and the history behind them.

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Red Fort

One of the most revered UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Red Fort, unfurls majestically in the capital city of India and served as the royal residence of the fifth Mughal Emperor of India­­—Shah Jahan in the seventeenth century.

Named for its gigantic enclosing of bright red coloured sandstone walls and lofty marquees that tastefully combine Persian, Hindu, and Timurid traditions, Red Fort is truly a testimony to Mughal architecture, the most recognisable one being Taj Mahal, one of the most admired architectural masterpieces in the world.

Delhi’s colossal Red Fort has been home to some of the most formidable emperors of the Mughal dynasty and successfully withstood trials, triumphs, and tribulations of the greatest battles fought in Indian history. It is also India’s most well-preserved treasures from the past that served as an inspiration for various other monuments in the neighbouring states in northern and western India.

The highlight of a tour of the Red Fort is undoubtedly the Naubat Khana, a grand performance hall where the royal musicians would perform in front of the emperors and their royal-studded list of attendees. The grand pillared walkway leads to Diwan-i-Am, a public auditorium, where the emperor would take the throne and make special announcements concerning his people. Going further beyond, the palatial bedrooms, royal baths made from ornate white marble, and extensive common areas will give you an unforgettable taste of India’s imperial past.

Open daily from 6 am to 9 pm, the entrance fee for this fort is priced at ₹600 for foreigners and ₹40 for Indian citizens, while children under 15 years of age gain free admission. One can either choose to just marvel at the architectural brilliance by strolling along its beautifully manicured lawns landscaped with rustic stone fountains and a wide array of exotic plants, or take a guided tour to ensure you don’t miss out on fascinating details of the times it has stood up to.

Chittorgarh Fort

The most massive fort in Asia perched on the top of a hill at an altitude of 180 metres offering sprawling views of the city. Chittorgarh Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a location of three major sieges in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, where Hindu rulers defended their independence against Islamic invaders.

Popularly referred to as Chitrakuta, the Chittorgarh Fort is situated in the historically significant city of Chittorgarh in Rajasthan, a state in the western region of India. The site reverberates with tales of triumphant victories representing the bravery of Maharana Pratap Singh, a Hindu maharaja who successfully contested conquest by Mughal emperor Akbar, and the grand sacrifice of the Rajput clan queens who committed barbarous acts of self-immolation for the sake of preserving the royal lineage and defending territory.

Chittorgarh Fort was also known as “Water Fort” as it housed as many as 84 water bodies inside its premises. One cannot help but appreciate the Rajput gallantry and honour when standing at the proud structure of triumph and power—Vijay Stambh. This nine-floored tower with an annular stairway at the centre is illuminated with bright lights in the evening. The fort complex also accommodates a number of palatial buildings and renowned temples. The most notable of them is the Temple of Meera, dedicated to Meera Bai, a celebrated Hindu poet from the sixteenth century, a Rajput princess, and an impassioned devotee of Lord Krishna.

The visiting hours of this fort are 9 am to 6 pm with a light and sound show conducted daily between 7 am to 8 pm. With an entrance fee priced at ₹50 for adults and ₹25 for kids below 12 years of age, the guided tour of the entire fort complex, spread across 700 acres of land, will take anywhere between three to four hours. A long two-kilometre stretch of road that leads to this fort is a sight to behold in itself with a dangerously steep slope on one side and splendid views of the fort, especially during sunset, on the other. It takes you through a series of arch-shaped gates that were built to stop enemies from entering the main fort area.

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

By Nanda Haensel 26 August 2020
By Amar Grover 6 February 2020

Panhala Fort

Panhala is bestowed with a unique allure and a mystical ambience throughout the year—the lush mountains and terraced farms that are almost constantly rife with an intoxicating mist. Panhala is a scenic hill resort pristinely occupying the lap of the Sahyadri mountain range in western India, and Panhala Fort is one of the prime reasons why visitors flock to this place all year round. Situated at a commanding height of 977 metres, standing at the edge of a cliff, the Panhala Fort brings back the historical memories of one of India’s greatest rulers and founder of Maratha empire—Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

Built by King Bhoja, the renowned poet-king, scholar, and an impeccable architect of his time, sometime in the twelfth century, it was here that Shivaji sought to put an end to the growing atrocities by the forces of the Siddi clan, who were notoriously involved in the trade of slaves and torture of people living along the western coast of India. Guarded by impressive double-walled gates and massive granaries, the hill fort commands an imposing presence.

Although most of Panhala Fort is well-maintained, you will come across ruins scattered over a large area, marking the last vestiges of India’s colonial past. During monsoons, visitors must brace themselves for a dangerously uphill climb, which could prove to be challenging in rough weather. If you do manage to reach the top, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the valley underneath. You could visit the fort’s northernmost point, Pusati Buruj, a watchtower built for soldiers to keep an eye on the enemy, admire the sunset, and behold the vast Masai plateau. This magnificent edifice is free for all ages and nationalities, and remains open on all days.

Gwalior Fort

When you think of forts, you subconsciously associate it with steep scarps, a location that holds sway over the countryside, lavish architecture, and a site that offers an authentic heritage experience. Gwalior fort, located in Madhya Pradesh in central India, delivers on all of that, and much more!

With inscriptions and sculptures found inside the monument dating as far back as the beginning of the sixth century, Gwalior Fort is truly the epitome of architectural grandeur, and yet largely off the beaten track. Don’t let your spirits be dampened by the unkempt rocky roads leading to this place, or that you’ll probably be the only foreigners there. This towering Indian fortress might be isolated, but definitely worth the trek.

The history of this sandstone-walled fortress—its moss-encrusted domes and mammoth-sized entrances—goes back a long way. Legend has it that a local leader, while on a hunting trip, got bit by an animal and fell ill with leprosy. A recluse happened to give the leader medicinal water that cured him of the deadly disease. In the honour of his saviour, the leader built a sweeping three-kilometre long Gwalior Fort which stands to this day.

Over the centuries, the fort has been an imperishable witness to the rise and fall of a number of dynasties—the most momentous ones being the Huns, a fierce war clan from central Asia who invaded northwest India; the Pratiharas, an imperial power that held significant influence over north and central India; and not to forget, Akbar the Great.

Open daily from 6 am to 5.30 pm, the cost of an entrance ticket for foreigners is ₹250, ₹75 for Indians, and free for children below 15 years of age. And while you’re here, don’t miss the dazzling show of lights and sounds, held every evening after sunset, which is an excellent way of experiencing the history of the fort, its long lineage of Maharajas, and the battles won and lost.

Once you enter inside this iconic monument of central India, you will be welcomed by intricately carved sculptures of Jain Tirthankaras—an enlightenment process of life and death according to Jainism. Teli ka Mandir and Sas Bahu Temple are two holy sites for Hindu pilgrims that exhibit a beautiful amalgamation of the north and south Indian architectures.

Keep scrolling for the rest of the list 👇

Golconda Fort

India, with its extensive line-up of luxurious palaces and rugged forts, is a time traveller’s delight. They transport us to a time warp and make us realise how far we have travelled. Golconda Fort, situated in the outskirts of Hyderabad, the capital of southern India’s Telangana state, has withstood the test of a very long time, around 500 years. So, come visit this mini kingdom that promises to take you on an adventure ride far away from the scars bestowed by time and people, for Golconda is rich in both history and mystery.

Golconda Fort, with its time-hallowed tales of myth and fact, will make you question your historical beliefs. The fort was initially constructed as a mud fort in the late twelfth century by the Kakatiyas—a prominent dynasty from south India. Unfortunately, it could not stand firm against the epic battles that shaped India’s history. Thus, with time, it changed ownership many times and underwent several reinforcements before taking the form of the glorious fort we know today.

The fort was later thought to bring prosperity to several rulers of Hyderabad, and if sources are to be believed, it also emerged as the forcing house of diamond mining. It is believed that India’s sand-sifted, gods-revered gem that every historian dreams of—the infamous Koh-i-Noor diamond—was also unearthed from the grounds beneath this very fort. The secret passages that connect the top of the fort to the palatial apartments built underground were believed to be hidden escape routes for the royals. The peculiarly narrow entrance was made to keep away enemy elephants from entering the fort.

Golconda’s carefully constructed arches, tastefully decorated hallways, and majestic domes with impeccable acoustics are a glimpse into its storied past. The fort is open for visiting on all days of the week from 8 am to 5.30 pm with an entrance fee of ₹200 for foreign nationals and ₹15 for Indians.

Mehrangarh Fort

One of the best-preserved forts in India from a tourism standpoint, Mehrangarh Fort towers above the skyline of what is popularly known as “India’s Blue City,” Jodhpur in Rajasthan. Although the fort complex was built in 1459 by King Rao Jodha, one of the first rulers of the Rathore clan and founder of Jodhpur, it still manages to delight people from all walks of life, be it historians, nature lovers, or photo-philes. The illustrious fort was also dubbed “The Best Fortress in Asia” by Time Magazine in 2007.

The fort’s architectural style is remarkably diverse, undergoing periodic changes in its infrastructure right up until the twentieth century. This is because it housed many different rulers, and in those days, it was customary for the victorious ruler to expand the fort’s groundwork or upgrade it to meet their needs. While the fort continued to prosper under the Rajput monarchy, the Mughals managed to capture and refurbish it according to their liking. If these walls could talk, they would have offered scandalous tales of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s years of treacherous deeds, who was referred to as India’s most evil ruler.

After the death of Aurangzeb, the Mughals were driven out of India. The fort was then taken over by Maharaja Ajit Singh of Marwar region, who promptly spearheaded its grand-scale renovation. Today, the Mehrangarh Fort is enclosed by imposing thick walls that accommodate capacious courtyards, lush and shadowy gardens with pristine water bodies, and intricate carvings throughout the fort.

The existing royal family also turned a section of it into a modern-day luxury hotel, Umaid Bhawan. Even though India’s independence from the British monarchy marked the end of their rule, the present-day Maharaja Gaj Singh II decided to breathe new life into this colossal fort by welcoming tourists and embracing heritage tourism.

Mehrangarh Fort is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day with tickets priced at ₹600 for overseas visitors and ₹100 for Indians. The fort also houses two fine-dining restaurants, the Chokelao Mahal Terrace where guests dine in a plush garden space filled with native British plants and some local variety, and Mehran Terrace, a romantic rooftop dining spot with a relaxed outdoor area offering a million-dollar view of the clear blue Jodhpur skies.

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Manasee Joshi

Contributor

Manasee is a Hong Kong-based freelance writer by profession and lover of fascinating cultures, lip-smacking cuisines, and a vibrant social life. Having worked as a travel guide all across APAC, Manasee has dug deep into historical fun facts, architectural styles, and the best places to eat and drink in the places she visited. As a travel writer, Manasee aspires to inspire readers to follow in her footsteps. After a long day of work, you can find her binge-watching Netflix shows with a glass of crisp wine.

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