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Bayana Fort
Historical Forts Rajasthan
 
Rajasthan's history lies enshrined in its forts, several of which dot the arid landscape. Over the centuries, several forts were abandoned, some captured, some disabused, leaving behind a rich history in their wake. While palaces outside of the forts have been a more recent phenomenon, ranging across the 19th and 20th centuries, the forts are often very old. However, since additions were constantly made to these dwellings, they provide a rich architectural legacy of influences on architecture that begins with the Hindu-Rajput, shows assimilation of the Mughal and, later the British, resulting in a sense of opulence best characterised by what has come to be referred as Indo-Saracenic architecture. Provided here are small capsules of some of the more historic forts of Rajasthan. This is a small list, and completely overlooks others such as the forts at Ranthambhor and Gagron that have had a major role to play in the history of India because they are less frequented by visitors.

Chittaurgarh For, Chittor:
Probably India's greatest medieval fort, and its most chivalrous, it was from here that the Sisodias went to war against the Mughals at the famous battle of Haldighati. Set on a high plateau, Chittaurgarh sprawls supremely above the surrounding countryside. First established in the 7th century, Chittaur became the gaddi for the Sisodia rulers who proved themselves indomitable fighters. Its fortifications meander allong the ridges of the hills, and from these concealed vantage points, they extended their sway over their kindom.

Sacked in 1303 through an act of treachery perpetrated by allauddin Khilji in his attempt to win over Rani Padmini, Chittaur fell twice more in the 16th century, first to the forces of the Sultan of Gujarat, and later the Mughal Akbar. Abandoned then by its rulers who continued to wage guerilla warfare against the Mughals (making valouous legends out of the names of Rana Sangha and Rana Pratap), the Sisodias later established a new capital at Udaipur.

Chittaurgarh's abandonment led to the ruin of its palaces and apartments, and its durbar halls. Little has survived the ravages of the pillaging armies and of time, but there is enough to provide a glimpse of what must have been one of Rajputana's greatest citadels. These include the ruins of Rana Kumbha's palace as well as what is believed to be Rani Padmini's palace. Both are in a state of ruin, and there is little that hints at architectural splendour, because many of the subsidiary buildings and much of the ornamentation no longer exists. Chittaurgarh also houses the palaces, again in ruins, of the brave Sisodia warriors, Jaimal and Patta.

Chittaurgarh is 90 km from Udaipur airport, which is its entry point from several other parts of the state. Basic accommodation is available, and restaurants are rudimentary. Best visited as an excursion from Udaipur.

Junagarh Fort, Bikaner:
Just over five centuries old, Bikaner was founded by a scion of the house of Marwar (Jodhpur). The fort of Bikaner, Junagarh, however, was buil in 1593 by Raja Rai Singh who also served as a general in the army of Emperor Akbar. Made from red sandstone and encircled by a moat around which the modern city of Bikaner has spread in a somewhat erratic fashion, Junagarh consists of several palaces and apartments in a remarkable state of preservation. The art of the mason and sculptor is most obvious in the recreation of delicate stone screens, kiosks, pavilions and series of arched entrances to buildings reached from corridors that have windows over lookings the city beyond.

Some of the palaces are among the most richly decorated in Rajasthan, and include Anup Mahal, Chandra Mahal and Phool Mahal. They give the impressions of rich inlay of pietra dura, though in fact the apartments are merely richly painted. The paintings have been preserved as good as new because of the extremely dry heat conditions of the desert town. Another palace Badal Mahal recreates paintings of clouds on its walls, a reminder of the monsoon that often failed the settlement. The Anup Mahal courtyard has a throne set in a pool of water, bringing alive the sensitivity the rulers showed in their building environment. A formal set of sandstone staircases, and the wooden Durbar Hall are additions made early in this century by Maharaja Ganga Singh.

Bikaner is 334 km from Jaipur, 253 km from Jodhpur and 456 km from Delhi, all of which have air-ports. The city is served by convenient rail and road connections. Accommodation is available at both palace and heritage hotels, as well as in some standard, modern hotels. The choice of restaurants is somew hat more limited, and most visitors dine at their hotels.

Kotah Fort, Kota:
Once a part of the kingdom of Bundi, the principality of Kota was gifted away to a scion, and has since been known for its stirring saga of valour and chivalry. The Fort, a large, sprawling structure, is best known for its Durbar Hall which has paintings and mirrorwork, and has doors of ebony and ivory.

Kota, like Bundi, came to be known for the very high quality of its wall paintings. In particular, it has become known for its hunting scences. Like other kingdoms, the maharajas abandoned the fort to build themselves modern palaces. Umed Bhawan is a sprawling, ungainly structure while the smaller Brijraj Bhawan overlooks the Chambal river in the City, below, and the growing industrialisation that now characterises the town.

Both palaces double as hotels. Connected by air, Kota is 245 km from Jaipur, and lies on the Delhi-Mumbai rail link.

Kumbhalgarh Fort, Udaipur:
If Chittaurgarh was the pride of the Sisodias, Kumbhalgarh is the crown with which they earned themselves merit. Raised by Rana Kumbha, this impregnable fortress perches itself on top of 13mountain peaks in the Aravallis. Battlements 36 km long gird its fierce looking bastions overhung with steep walls from which decorative windows project. A steep climb up a narrow road leads to the entrance. It was here that Prince Uday, smuggled out of Chittaurgarh by his nursemaid Panna Dai, found refuge, and it was from here he ruled before going on to establish the new capital of Udaipur.

Though inhabited briefly, it also afforded refuge to the Mughal prince, Jehangir, from his estranged father, Emperor Shah Jehan. Within the fort, Badal Mahal is particularly noteworthy for its exquisite interiors and its soaring height over other structures. Also found here are ancient Jain temples dating back to the Mauryan period. Medieval Hindu temples with fluted pillars, and a few chhatris or cenotaphs are also memorable. The buildings at Kumbhalgarh, unlike at Chittaurgarh, are mostly intact.

Kumbhalgarh is 105 km from Udaipur, from where it can be reached by a good motorable road. There is a quaint heritage hotel close by, but most other facilities are best at Udaipur.

Lohagarh Fort, Bharatpur:
Underrated by most visitors to Bharatpur who head for its bational park and bird sanctuary, the fort held by the Jat rulers of this state has bastions of sand that were strong enough to absorb the impact of canonshells that simply exbedded themselves within it. Impregnable to most attacks, this 18th century fort was ordered by Maharaja Suraj Mal, the founder of the dynasty at Bharatpur.

Lohagarh is located in the heart of the old city, and its entrance is form a crowded street that leads through the massive entrance gate into what is a living fort with several modern additions. However, the part of the fort that has been preserved consists of a sprawling palace complex since it combines Rajput and Mughal architecture with Jat influences in building style, a few of the eight original towers of which Jawahar Burj and Fateh Burj are of particular interest, and floors laid with tiles.

Visitors are also recommended a visit to deeg, 32 km away, the summer retreat of the Jats, where the palaces take on a languid quality. Since it was a leisure retreat, the buildings are set apart with gardens interspersing in the spaces in between. One complex, the Monsoon Palace, is fronted by coloured fountains and used machinery set into the ceiling that recreated the sound of thunder- a welcome sound in the parched desert country.

Bharatpur is 56 km from Agra, 176 km from Jaipur and 184 km from Delhi. It is well connected by road, and has a network of accommodation choices, including within the sanctuary.

Meharangarh Fort, Jodhpur:
One of the most stunning hill forts of Rajasthan, Mehrangarh appears to rise from the bluff-coloured sandstone hill itself, so well built into the base that it is difficult to tell where the hill ends and the walls begin. Founded in the 15th century by the Rathore Rajputs when they shifted their capital from nearby Mandore to Jodhpur (or the region known as Marwar), it is approached by a series of seven gateways set at an angle so that armies could not charge them with any success. Past the gates, the fort-palace takes one's breath away. Across from huge courtyards are set wings of palatial apartments that have been built over five centuries of bristling history.

Today, managed as a museum by the royal trust that maintains it, only some of the more spectacular palaces of Mehrangarh are open to visitors. These consist of Moti Mahal with its pierced screen windows overlooking the coronation seat where the Rathore rulere have been ritually anointed to rule; Jhanki Mahal, the apartment from where the zenana women would watch ceremonial events; Chandan Mahal, where affairs of state were discussed; the royal Darbar Takhat or throne room with its octagonal throne; and the Rang Mahal where the maharaja would play Holi with his zenana. Also noteworty are Sheesh Mahal, Phool Mahal, Umaid Vilas and Maan Vilas, while a large tent seized from the Mughals in battle is spread for viewing in what has come to be referred to as the Tent Room.

Mehrangarh from the outside is impressive, and certainly forbidding. There is a surprising lightness to it though, once actually within the fort. The builders seemed to want to make up for the stern austerity of its walls with an overwhelming profusion of windows and jharokas at the upper ends. The effect seems to exaggerate its already impressive height.

On the hill of Mehrangarh is Jaswant Thada, the white marble cenotaph built to commemorate the memory of Maharaja Jaswant Singh in 1899. The cenotaphs of the other rulers, in the same neighbouhood, are relatively simpler. From the ramparts of Mehrangarh, one can also see the art-deco Umaid Bhawan Palace located on top of Chatter Hill. One of the largest private residences in the world, it had been designed by Sir Edwin Lancaster, and is now home to the erstwhile royal family as well as luxury hotel.

Jodhpur is 336 km from Jaipur and 249 km from Bikaner, and is connected both by air and rail. Good quality accommodation and restaurants are part of the facilities in this historic town.

Sonar Qila, Jaisalmer:
Life, in the searing heat of the summer months of the dedieval ages, once flourished within the 99 bastions of the fort of Jaisalmer. Rising from sand dunes, resembling from a distance a giant ant hill. Closer, the bastions show up more formidable, vast chunks of honey-coloured stone blocks carved to dovetail together. Within these bastions is a complete township that consists of a palace complex, the havelis of rich Jain merchants carved with an incredibly light touch, and Hindu temples.

Jaisalmer was founded in the 12th century by the Bhatti Rajputs who shifted here from Lodurva. Placed strategically on the trade route along which ancient caravans passed, Jaisalmer soon became rich, so much so that the merchants, who also served as ministers in the royal courts, came to command more power than the rulers themselves. No wonder the large mansions of the merchants, built adjacent to each other in the nature of medieval desert cultures, are so profusely decorated that the palace, in comparison, appears to pale.

While the havelis and the palace, along with the temples, will warrant the mandatory visits, Jaisalmer is incredible for the experience it brings alive of a medieval township caught in a time warp, as you move up its ancient cobbled streets. For most part, its incredible sculptors were Muslim craftsmen who were induced, on their journeys to the patrons in other parts of India, to stay. The result is an archi-tectruaj purity that, because of Jaisalmer's incredible isolation, is seem elsewhere.

Jaisalmer is located deep in the heart of the desert, 285 km from Jodhpur. It can be reached by road and rail from Jodhpur, and is also connected with Barmer and Bikaner. In recent years, a number of good hotels have opened in Jaisalmer, and the township has developed appropriate tourist ifrastructure to cater to most requirements.

Taragarh Fort, Bundi
Girded by the Aravalli hills, Bundi's Taragarh fort and the palace complex at its base are among the most romantic sights of Rajasthan. Set within the horse-shoe shaped fold of the hills, and with lakes and water reservoirs below, the fort stra-ddles the crest and offers invincible battlements that must have proved difficult to scale.

Bundi, ruled by the Hada Chauhans from the 13th century on, was given its fort in the mid-14 century, hewn out of the sandstone and basalt rock of the Aravallis here. It was here, too, that huge water reservoirs were created, since water was one of the most important resources when armies laid siege on a fort. It the Bundi Palace complex, reached from a ramp, are the several apartments part of such complexes in princely Rajasthan. However, Bundi has come to be well known for the very high quality of its wall paintings, and these can be seen in Chandra Mahal, and more particularly at the Chitrashala or picture gallery established by Rao Raja Umed Singh in the 18th century. These depict scences from the life of Krishna, and are unusual for their blue-green tints.

Bundi is 22 km from Kota town, and 206 km from Jaipur. Well linked by road, its most convenient railhead is Kota. Accommodation too is best at Kota.

 
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