District Kangra, Himachal Pradesh
Position - N32 05.268 E76 15.326
Altitude – 662 metres
“Lahore Prapt” (“Victory to thee in Lahore”), said a courtier in Maharaja Sansar Chand's court. Maharaja Sansar Chand was an ambitious Katoch king, ruler of Kangra, who had designs on the kingdom of Punjab. Such was the extent of his ambition that this had become a court greeting. Decades earlier, when a thief who had acquired an artificial nose in Kangra was standing in Akbar's court explaining the new nose with the words “It happens in .....Kangra”, no one would have ever imagined Sansar Chand would be sitting in his ancestral property. Years later, when Ranjit Singh of Punjab had taken the fort and constructed a new door called 'Ranjit Singh Darwaza' to further strengthen the defences, no one even remembered that Sansar Chand had ever retaken the fort from Mughals. Such were the fluctuating fortunes of the Kangra Fort, which now lies in ruins. The ruins tell a story, a story which starts with Alexander's battle with Porus.
Situated on a hill above modern day Kangra town, this fort is said to be the oldest fort in India. 11 gates and 23 bastions strong, it dominates the landscape around. It is built on a narrow piece of land near the confluence of Manjhi and Ban Ganga streams and is renowned for being impregnable. Steep rock walls border it on three sides and the fourth side is a narrow approach from land. Any invading army would have to either scale the insurmountable walls or make an entry from the 11 gates, both of which are equally impossible. The fort houses inside it a temple to Ambika Devi and formerly had two other temples, a Lakshminarayan temple with intricate stone carvings and the Nagarkot temple, which was looted by Mahmud Ghazni.
The earliest loose historical reference to Kangra Fort is found in the chronicles of Alexander's scribe, where he talks about Alexander's victory over Porus, also known by his Greek name Phageus and Indian name, Parmanand Chandra. Apparently, Porus was from the Katoch clan, a line of kings which traces its genealogy back to the Mahabharata. Katoches, named thus for their mastery over the sword, ruled the Trigarta kingdom, the plains of the confluence of 3 rivers, the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej. The territory encompassed the land between these rivers. Kangra, part of the Beas watershed fell within their territories. References from this period up to almost 11th Century AD are limited to just Alexander's scribe.
Come 1099 AD, the year Mahmud Ghazni attacked Kangra fort in the absence of the Katoch ruler, the history of the fort comes alive. Plundered by Ghazni of wealth which his huge army was unable to carry, his scribes unable to describe and none able to find all of it till now, the fort then had a relatively quiet time till the 14th century when the Tughlaqs set their eyes on it. A strategic treaty with the then Katoch king saved any bloodshed. By this time, the Katoch kings had an almost unbroken ownership of the fort.
And then Akbar set his eyes on it. The prospect of a land where noses could be regrown, fertile lands abounded guarded by an old and impregnable fort which had never been conquered led Akbar to first forge a friendship with the Katoches and then confisticate all their property. However, it was not until his son Jahangir's (then Prince Salim) army laid a 14 month siege to the fort that it finally fell under Mughal control.
Much as with India, the fort then saw fluctuating fortunes. As the rulers in Delhi changed, so did the fort change hands. As the Mughal empire declined, it went back to Katoches for a short period under Sansar Chandra. Successively it then was occupied by Ranjit Singh of Punjab and the British, who were the first to garrison it. In between, it saw a Gurkha siege and a bombarding by the British from the hilltop opposite.
I could write on and on about the history of the fort but there are other small snippets as fascinating as the military history. A capture by Jahangir leading all the queens to jump into a well near the river bed, deceit and cunning by Ranjit Singh, Akbar's patronage and betrayal of the Katoches, Todar Mal's famous statement about eating the meat and leaving the bones when he pushed out the Katoches leaving only the jungles as refuge, a Katoch king surviving on boiled bark and grass while fighting back an attack, a romance between a British army captain and a Katoch princess which is said to have inspired the book and the movie 'The Far Pavilions'.
Just outside the main fort premises and within the preserved area are 3 large pieces of rock picked up from places close to Kangra. Each of these bear an inscription. Each of these rocks and the inscriptions is about 2300 years old. To see with your naked eyes inscriptions that old, is a fascinating experience. To know that someone stood over these rocks that many years ago and left a print which we are seeing today is somewhat unbelievable.
2 and a half millennia of history lies buried under the ruins of the fort which was destroyed by the 1905 Kangra earthquake. Quite a lot has been discovered, a lot will never be known. A visit to the fort is like sitting in a time machine and rolling back the years. Go ahead and find it, discover it, revel in it.