Kangra Fort is perhaps the oldest Fort in India perched up on the hills between the gushing Manjhi and Ban Ganga Rivers. While the exact date of construction is not known it is assumed to be built by the Katoch Dynasty who were the Royal Rajputs of Kangra State. The Chandravanshi Katoch Dynasty traces its origins to the ancient Trigarta Kingdom who find mention in Mahabharata. Raja Sansar Chand who had taken over the Fort from the Mughals in late 18th century remains one of the most celebrated kings and the name sake museum at the base of the Fort displays a wide collection of memoirs. Everyone had their eyes on the Fort since it was believed that who ever presides over the Kangra Fort will be the ruler of the Hills. After exchanging hands between several parties for nearly a 1000 years, it was devastated during the Kangra Earthquake in 1905 making it unlivable.
Kangra Fort: History on the Wall
The fort is accessed through a series of gates starting with the Ranjit Singh gate. This was dedicated to Maharaja Ranjit Singh who had assisted the Katochs to ward off the Gurkhas and had presided over the fort in early 19th century until 1846.
I climbed the gently ascending stairs towards the Ahini Gate and Jahangiri Gate which were erected during the Mughal period. Jahangir was the only Mughal emperor to have captured the Fort apart from the early invaders Mahmud Ghazni and Muhammad Bin Tughlaq. There is a crest between these gates where the sculpture of the patron Goddess Ambika Devi and the emblem of a deer is inscribed. The aerial view of the winding way to the Fort and the distant view of Jayanti Mata Temple on the hill are simply breathtaking. I guess the splash of rain just before I reached made it all the more beautiful. Finally, I passed through the Andheri Gate which was meant to be a narrow passage allowing only 2 men to pass through at a time to protect undesired intrusion into the Fort. It seemed to be much wider after the restoration work. The passage with a sharp turn led to the actual entry of the Fort through the Darshini Gate. To the right a gentle descent led to the area where arms and ammunition were stocked which was blown away when the British fired a cannon from a point across the hill.
Kangra Fort: Temples and Palace
I walked through the Darshini Gate with Ganga and Yamuna standing guard, witness to the ravages of time. A short flight of stairs led to the Temple courtyard with the giant Peepul standing shade. A small temple to the left is dedicated to Ambika Mata the patron deity of the Katoch Kings and a beautiful statue of Adinath Jain. I found solace in that temple since my mind quietened down effortlessly as I sat cross legged on the floor. Large blocks of stone, pillars, parts of pillars lay around reduced to rubble during the devastating earthquake of 1905 and degenerated over the years. On the right side is the lone surviving wall of the Lakshmi Narayan Temple, exquisitely carved and it does not require much to imagine how beautiful it would have been during its days of glory. The next flight of stairs led to the Palace Courtyard and Terrace. There is nothing much left of this area apart from gorgeous views of the valley. It is believed that the revered Fort and the Katoch kingdom which once lorded over the hills earned the wrath of the patron goddess for building the palace higher than her abode. I was lucky to visit the fort after a splash of rain; it was cool and breezy. I found a gap in the wall to peep out below and wondered how life would have been those days within the walls of the fort for the palace mates with each other and hills for company.
- Kangra Fort is located in old Kangra about 3 kms from the Kangra Bus Stand and 20 kms from Dharamshala. Autos charge about Rs 100/- from Kangra Bus Stand while a city bus would charge Rs 5 to drop off at the bus stop from where it is a down hill walk to the entrance of the Fort
- It is open between 9am and 7pm everyday except Tuesday. The adjoining museum is closed on Friday
- Please take the Audio Guide for Rs 100 since the narration by a member of the Royal Family is complete with History and anecdotes
- It will take about 1 to 2 hours to go around the Fort depending on interest. Better visited in the evening since it may get too hot during the day.
- Combine it with a visit to Bajreshwari Temple on the way.
- Kangra does not have good hotels. There are a few ordinary ones near the bus stand.