Numerous forts, palaces, temples, monasteries and residences of heritage prominence are found all over the state of Himachal. The thousand year old Buddhist Padam Palace monastery of Tabo in Spiti with its fine wall-paintings and stucco statues has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The village of Pragpur with its age-old and well preserved architecture and cobbled streets has been declared a ‘Heritage village’. Many of Himachal’s forts, palaces and residences are privately owned, and naturally, the discretion of their use rests with their owners. Yet, we are proud to have them as a part of our rich heritage. Some remarkable places within or easily accessible from the main holiday stations are – Padam Palace, Rampur, The Palace Sarahan, Jandrighat Dalhousie, The Palace, Jubbal. The Palace, Sunni. The Palace, Nahan. Many traditional farmhouses all over Himachal, are also making accommodation available on their premises. These will provide visitors an insight into local lifestyles, cuisine and culture.
With nostalgia and comfort skilfully interlaced, here is a window that invites you to share a bygone era and hold its enduring charms.
On the top of a hill known as Bahadurpur the highest (1,980 m) point in the district near Tepra Village in Paragana Bahadurpur, about 40 Km from Bilaspur. The range is embellished by a beautiful wood of deodar and ban trees. It is just 6 Km above Namhol. From this high place the Ratanpur Fort, Swarghat, the Fatehpur Fort, the Naina Devi hill, plains near Ropar and the mountains of Shimla can be seen. This Fort was built prior to 1835. The area is now being developed with proper facilities, forest walks and some other adventurous activities.
To the eastern side of the Tiun range, on the lifty range and peak of Sariun like this stronghold at an elevation of about 1500 m above MSL. It is about 58 Km from Bilaspur. Tradition holds that the fort was originally built by Raja of the erstwhile Suket State and was subsequently wrested by the ruler of Bilaspur; the local people entertain a superstition according to which the stones once forming part of the Fort are not used in any residential building.
Fatgarh or Satgarh Fort
The fort is on a flat hill. This fort affords a gorgeous view of the valley below and of other forts in the area. There were some artifacts like idols of five deities, huge vessels for storage etc. which are now kept in the Bilaspur museum.
This fort is near Mailthi village on the Brahmapukhar-Jamli road; trek through Khui village uphill. A good and challenging trek up to the fort. It has a Devi temple nearby, which she villagers maintain well.
Swarghat is a strategically located small town on the Chandigarh-Manali Highway and from Dar Barkha one could climb up to fort Mundkhar. Historically rich, the fort is a small bastion hidden behind the trees. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the top.
Tiun and Sriun Forts
The twin forts of Tiun and Sriun are towards Ghumarwin side. Located on two mountain ranges, facing each other, the forts have strong ramparts and the towers still stand intact. Sriun fort is spread across the knoll and is approachable via Harlog.
The fort is situated at a tactical location with open valleys on all four sides. It is a watch-post from where movement could be seen in the far off plains. Spread in one Bigha and situated on a precipice with a sheer fall on western side the fort affords view of Chandigarh, Nalagarh, Anandpur and faint glimpses of the Naina Devi Dhar.
Taragarh and Lodhargarh Forts
Chamba, it seems, has had very few forts. But two of the forts that claim attention are Taragarh and Lodhargarh. Taragarh fort is on the Kakira-Chowari road above the Bainia village under Taragarh panchayat. The trek is about two to two-and-a-half kilometers through thick growth, boulders and narrow goat path. Lodhargarh was built by Raja Ganesh Varman and its earlier name was Ganeshgarh. The four ramparts are intact and stand as witness to time but the inside is all broken and fallen apart. The fort was probably just a small check post or watchtower able to store provisions and water for a small garrison.
24 Km from Hamirpur town and close to the district border of Kangra is the fort of Sujanpur. This place was the capital of Katoch Dynasty and the old fort is worth visiting. Popularly known alongwith its twin title ‘Tira’, this fort was built by Raja Abhaya Chand of Kangra in 1758. In the early 19th century this was the home of the famous Raja Sansar Chand – renowned patron of the Kangra school of miniature paintings. The fort has a Barahdari Hall’, where Sansar Chand used to hold court, some shrines and excellent wall paintings.
There is a huge ground, where the annual Holi fair is held for 3-4 days, besides being used for sport activities. A Sainik school is also located here. It is also a religious centre. Narbadeshwar, Gauri Shankar and Murli Manohar are the three well known temples in the town. By the waters of the river Beas, the town has a charming setting and the river stretch offers good angling opportunities. This place is suitable for other adventure sports as well, such as angling, rafting and trekking.
The torrential Banganga River deep in the valley forming a formidable sheer and the Kangra fort lurking atop the flat mountain range is a scene that one encounters on nearing Kangra town when you drive from Shimla. A feeling of awe mixed with joy pervades you as you look back in time. The Kangra fort is approximately 3 kilometers from the town and is also known as Nagarkot. The fort is historically significant; its massive size, and the beauty of its structure lend it an added charm. In Shash Fat’h-I-Kangra, it is mentioned as a lofty fort, strong, invincible and with beautiful buildings.
At the entrance is a museum containing some valuable old photographs of the fort prior to the devastating earthquake of 1905 and some exquisite stone sculptures, carvings, idols and other artifacts.
The climb leads through seven gates; en route there are some idols embossed in the walls of the fort; the ramparts open out to the fascinating valleys below and one can recreate the past and glide the corridors of history as one climbs up slowly through cobbled path.
There are three richly carved temples in the vicinity– Lakshmi Narayan temple, the Ambika temple and a Jain temple of Adi Narayan. These have delicately carved patterns and in their decorative and elaborate art they are reminiscent of Meenakshi Madurai complex (Tamil Nadu) or the temples of Orissa.
Guler is a charming little town in Kangra District. Nestling in the lap of the majestic Dhauladhar, it is known for its Haripur fort. Indeed, the massive ramparts of the fort can be seen from Guler railway station. The location of the fort is picturesque and the Banganga giving it protection from three sides looks awe-inspiring from the top. Inside there are some carvings but they have blurred with time. Cunningham and other travelers note in their travel accounts that Haripur was once the cradle of Kangra paintings, and the fort was rich with carvings, sculptures and paintings. The fort was built by Raja Hari Chand of Kangra.
Kotla fort is another heritage monument on the State Highway between Shahpur and Nurpur. Kotla fort stands on an isolated peak, impressively looking around the deep valleys. The fort was built by the Guler Rajas. The road to the fort winds upwards and is not too difficult; the climb going through the dense forest of pine is pleasant. At the main entrance is the Bagulamukhi temple, one of the incarnations of Durga. The idol inside the temple is magnificent. There is also a small temple dedicated to Lord Ganesh with roundish roof resembling Bengal roof architecture. Inside there is a unique Ganesh idol. The temple has wall paintings on the outer walls.
The deep arches have superb worksmanship, paintings and carvings. One particular wall with three arches and niches standing amid ruins displays a kind of grace and originality that is unique to the fort.
The fort is at present with the archaeological department and efforts are afoot to restore its glory at least partially.
Built in the late 16th century by Raja Basu the Nurpur Fort is massive and sprawling. It spreads across a long flat plateau forming the western end of the ridge and bears signs of great architectural designs. The fort overlooks the Jabhar Khud, a tributary of the Chakki rivulet and the vast valley formed by it. Earlier name of Nurpur was Dhameri, later changed to Nurpur after Empress Nur Jahan who took a fancy to the beautiful valley. Inside, the palace walls, though crumbling, have deep niches, decorative arches and the faint signs of some paintings. The northwest walls of the fort have some deeply carved panels showing animals. Particularly graceful are the bulls in their various actions like pulling a cart, or walking in a file; there are also figures of men, women, children, the kings, gods and goddesses and birds. The overall impact of the fort is one of awe and wonder.
The famous Brij Maharaj temple, inside the fort complex, is dedicated to Lord Krishna and it has a beautiful black stone idol of the Lord. It was brought from Rajasthan during Raja Jagat Singh’s reign. The walls are decorated with exquisite paintings from Indian mythology. Location: 66 Km from Dharamsala; 24 Km from Pathankot.
It is in Kamru village in tehsil Sangla. This fort was founded by fig Dev Puran. It is a five storeyed tower-type fort resting on 55 sq feet stone platform and has a commanding situation. It is a lofty square structure built of dressed stone bound at small intervals with wooden rafters. On the top of the tower there are two wooden verandahs beautifully decorated with wooden carvings. There is also a beautiful carved miniature wooden temple having a gabled roof crowned by a ridgepole.
The enthronement ceremony of the rulers of erstwhile Bushahr state used to be performed in this fort. In a room in the second storey is housed an idol of Kamrakh or Kamakhya Devi. This fort has good collection of artifacts, stone sculptures, and many other antiquities.
Situated on a dominating height in village Labrang the Labrang fort is one of the highest forts in Kinnaur. This fort had eight storeys but now only five storeys can be seen and the sixth storey is half broken. The main fort rests on approximately 25 feet stone base. An iron chain is hanging from the upper storey. One end of this chain is fixed with the solid wooden door of the fort. The date of the fort is not known but the local people associate it with the Pandavas.
This fort is very mysterious and attractive because of its location. Is situated on the left bank of the Satluj on a high hillock and very near to the Morang village. The wooden extending beams and wooden pillars of the Verandah of the top floor indicate that there was another floor at the top and now it is totally broken. The entrance door and the doorframes have a few wood carvings.
This fort is situated in the village Sapni, facing the valley. The fort is like a colossal structure comprising of two buildings integrated into one. It has many decorations to show. The main tower is old and it has seven stories and also a Kali temple in the fifth storey. Raja Padam Singh of Rampur built the front portion, which is adjoining the tower, for Rani. This portion has the best woodwork on the main doorframes and on window frames. But rain and cold weather condition of the region have damaged the carvings.
The Naggar castle is a huge timber-bound structure built in the style indigenous to the Western Himalayas, in which huge logs and stones are placed alternately, with the stones bound together by mud. The deodar or spruce beams are placed horizontally and inlaid with stones. The roof is slanting and has icicle-like wooden hangings as decoration. When seen from the valley and the road below it looks like a tall building. But on reaching it, one finds it just at the level of the road. It is built in stages like the step fields of Kullu. At present it is with HP Tourism and is a Heritage Hotel. From the castle one could see the far off snow-covered peaks, the delightful Beas valley below and the lush green hill-sides dotted with orchards. To be in Naggar is to be in a fairy land, so unusual is the entire ambiance of the place.
Lahaul has only one fort, Gondhla. It was built by Raja Ram Singh of Kullu in 1700AD. The Gondhla fort is exclusively built with wood, in the tower type architecture. Just in front is the Chandra River across the valley. The fort is eight storey high with seven storeys having rooms and the eighth storey consisting of a wooden verandah running round the edifice. The staircases in the building are partially notched wooden logs. The building has many apartments which can comfortably accommodate more than 100 people. The Gondla Castle has antique artifacts like bows, arrows, quivers, catapults, guns and canons beside age-old costumes, furniture and idols. Another interesting article to be seen in possession of the Thakur is Sharab Raldi, i.e., “the sword of wisdom” (Sharab means wisdom and Raldi means a sword). In Sanskrit it is known as Pragya Kharga. This sword of wisdom has great relevance here because among the Tibetans it is believed that it is the weapon of Lord Manjushri.
In a pleasant and open valley of Pangna a village in Karsog Tehsil of Mandi District stands the Pangna fort. It is a tower-like structure on a fifty foot stone platform overlooking the little village spread on its either side. The seven storied tower-like fort-palaces have an old-world grandeur. It is just 60 feet high and is built in typical hill architecture in which only wood and stone are used. The woodcarvings are decorative and look new and fresh even after so many centuries of wear and tear. In the open courtyard there is a Mahamaya temple.
This fort stands on formidable terrain but it can be trekkers’ delight. Named after Kamlah Baba, a local saint, the fort stands on jagged ranges of Sikandar Dhar. Kamlahgarh contains six forts: Kamlah, Chawki, Chabara, Padampur, Shamsherpur and Narsinghpur. Raja Hari Sen, gauging the significance of the strategic location of Sikandar Dhar started to build the fort around 1625, which his son Suraj Sen completed and fortified.
The fort stands at a height of 4,772 feet and around it there are some villages – Chamba, Naun, Kamlah, Kathed, Shamsherpur, Jamandhar and others. The main entrance to the fort is almost labyrinthine. The fort remained invincible for centuries; but it fell in 1840, into the hands of Bentura, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s general. It was restored to Mandi kings in 1846.
Location: Sirmaur, Nahan
The hill fortress of Jaitak crowns a steep ridge of slate, which rises above the Kiarda Dun. During the war in 1814, the Gurkhas occupied it with a garrison of 2,200 men. The fort is in ruins now, but its location and the remains speak of its erstwhile grandeur.
Location: Solan Sabathu, known for its Gorkha Training Center has a small fort known as the Gorkha Fort. It is an easy fort to climb as it is on a low hill and has cemented stairs leading to the temple.
The Nauni Fort
The fort at the pinnacle of the hill is simply awe-inspiring. Its massive walls can be seen from a distance. It is not a big fort but it is strong and must have served its purpose as a watch-tower.
Malaun Fort is a Gorkha fort in District Solan but it can best be approached through Bilaspur. Coming from Shimla side, on the Shimla-Bilaspur highway, one could take a diversion one Km. short of Brahmapukhar. This bifurcation is on Deoth-Mailthi-Jamli road. Malaun village is on the Maithi-Lalgarh road and the Malaun Fort is above the village on a high range. Trekking is both exciting and interesting. With huge watch-tower-type structures on two sides, the fort is spread in about 2 Bighas of land. There is a Kali temple in the premises which lends it a kind of soothing touch. Inside the temple a magnificent pedestal in peacock shape adds to the beauty of the simple temple. The idols of Hanuman, Bhairav and other deities and the statue of a tiger are all ancient, of the time of the Raja. Malaun has had a turbulent history. The fort was with the Gorkhas but Sir D. Ochterlony defeated the Gorkhas in a fierce battle at Lohar ghat near Malaun.
The cannons used in the battle were kept at the Malaun fort but have now been brought down to the Gorkha Training Center Museum, Sabathu.
Once, the capital of the princely state of Baghal, Arki has witnessed a good measure of turbulence in this area. Arki became the stronghold of an invading force of Gurkhas during the ‘Gurkha Wars’ that came to an end in 1815-16. About 1850, Raja Kishen Chand had the fort decorated with fine murals executed in the Pahari style. Here is a place packed with history and adorned with fine art.
Within a short driving distance of both Arki and Subathu – and barely an hour away from the Jubbarhatti (Shimla) airport – is the fort of Kuthar. Its oldest sections are 800 years old while the most recent structures are barely eight decades old. This is spread over a large area and fresh-water springs flow within its confines. Close-by is scenic attractions like Kunihar, the Gurkha fort of Subathu and the hill station of Kasauli.
Devri Khaneti Fort-Palace
Khaneti, a small and secluded village, with the landscape replete with apple orchards, has a palace built on a rock. It is about 500 years old and over the centuries has been renovated and added to, that speaks for its different portions looking different. Route: diversion to Devri Khaneti from Kotkhai.