Kangra Fort, also called Nagarkot or Kot Kangra, is at a distance of an hour and a half from Garli and our host Yatish Sud very graciously arranged for our travel to and from the fort.
The fort stands majestically on the top of a hill and from there you can view the entire valley below. Built by a Katoch king around 1500 BC, it is the largest and one of the oldest forts in the country.
The fort stands at the sangam (meeting point) of two rivers Banganga and Manjhi.
In 1615, when it was ruled by Raja Hari Chand Katoch, Akbar tried to annexe it, but failed. Five years later, Akbar’s son Jehangir annexed it. Katoch king Sansar Chand managed to take back the fort under his control in 1789. The fort remained with the Katochs until 1828 when Raja Sansar Chand died and Maharaja Ranjit Singh annexed it. The British took it after the Sikh war of 1846, and the fort remained with them till 1905 when an earthquake damaged it.
Only one intricately carved wall of the Laxmi Narayan temple within the complex escaped destruction that 1905 earthquake brought.
When you are here, you must visit the Maharaja Sansar Chand Katoch Museum that tells the history of Kangra Fort. It is run by the royal family of Kangra and has scores of photos, artifacts and sculptures that tell the story of the times gone by.
The fort is spread over an area of around four km and is guarded by high walls and ramparts. It has seven doors, and many stone-carved temples in the large courtyard. These include Ambika Devi temple, Shitlamata temple, Lakshmi Narayan temple and a temple dedicated to Jain temple (a point of pilgrimage for Jains as it holds the original idol of Mahavir).)
The entry to the fort is through the Ranjit Singh Gate, which leads to Jahangiri, Ahani and Amiri Darwazas.
A staircase in between Shitlamata and Ambika Devi temple leads to the Sheesh Mahal. This side has another darwaza, Andheri Darwaza which opens into the remains of a historical mosque.
A main attraction of the fort are its 21 treasure wells, each 4m deep and 2.5m in circumference. History says Sultan of Ghazni looted eight wells. Locals say the rest of the treasure wells are full of riches, though there is no proof of that. Another attraction is a stepwell called Kapoorsagar.
The entry fee is Rs 150 for Indians and Rs 300 for foreigners. One good thing is audio guides are available, so if you are a history buff like me you must opt for one. The narration, done by actor Roshan Seth (who played J.L.N. Nehru in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi) brings alive the history of the fort and its inhabitants even as you explore these ruins.