Sangla, Kamru Fort
Off the tourist map, but easily found by trekkers and those traveling by car/driver, Kamru Fort is worth the bit of effort to discover. As one of the oldest forts still standing in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, I was a bit surprised that none of my trusty guide books made any reference to this location. Thanks are due to the HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation) for making mention of this historical sight in their “Tribal Circuit” brochure.
Visitors follow the walking path from the heart of Sangla, roughly 1 kilometer, or hop a ride to the base of the village. Kamru is a dense cluster of houses and is surrounded by fields and orchards. Incidentally, some of the finest apples of HP come from here. My driver had to ask several locals for proper directions, agreeing to a helpful soul jumping in and personally navigating the way past tight corners and narrow lanes. The final steep hill leading toward the fort is a real transmission killer. Our trusty vehicle needed 3 solid runs to reach the peak. The entrance to Kamru village is marked by a new gate where hundreds, if not more than a thousand steps, tests the endurance of curious visitors. But the walk really begins sooner. Parking spots are scarce with tourist vehicles lining the narrow road. The back up in front of local homes and merchant stalls creates quite a roadblock.
No signs initially pointed me in the right direction to the fort, and because of the steep incline the village was perched on, the fort was out of eyesight. I continued to walk the mountain of steps meandering past the outskirts of the village. An iron gate stood before me slightly ajar. Still no signs or markers yet this had to be the way. Climbing and climbing, the continuous steps elevated me above Sangla now offering fantastic views of the valley and village. Locals were not to be found but I could hear the activity inside the village. Cows mooed, children screamed and laughed as they played while the local women called back and forth between homes as they completed daily chores.
Finally, I reached the main gate of Kamru where an image of Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu) greeted all who entered. Followers seek his blessings before entering the confines of the village. Local belief has it that this is a safeguard against thieves and to prevent the smuggling in of ghosts and demons. Two shrines adorned with Hindu gods and Tibetan Buddhist figures sit in a small courtyard. This provides an excellent opportunity to catch one’s breath, take a sip of water, and prepare for the rest of the hike.
More steps awaited me as I continued to ascend toward the fort tower. Two local children met exclaiming “fort, fort!”, for which I was grateful. Finally, there had been a sign pointing to the tower but having two guides was a better way to travel. They followed the remaining path ensuring my safe arrival. As I approached the main door, a man above looked out over a short wall. I assumed he was a fellow tourist until he appeared in the doorway to greet me. Not the large, towering doorway mind you; he met me at the smaller double doors for which I had to stoop to enter. With little English exchanged he was able to instruct me to wear a hat and white belt before entering the fort. Both were provided at the door.
This wood and stone structure was the original seat of the rulers of the erstwhile princely state of Bushahr. Placed over a packing of dressed stone that acts as the pedestal for an exalted piece of art, the tower-like fort of Kamrurises five stories high. It serves as an excellent example of an architectural style that is unique to this part of the world. A series of thick sleepers of deodar wood have been horizontally placed to create a mesh that has an infill of finely dressed stone. An elegant wood balcony provides ingress to the tower and the upper two floors expand laterally and are of elaborate woodwork. The stronghold has an image of the Hindu deity, Kamakhya (Kamakshi) Devi installed in the upper story. This is said to have been brought here several centuries ago from Assam.
Several outbuildings are accessed by the walled courtyard, however, none are open except for the shrine. Unfortunately, the tower is closed off as well. Views of the Sangla Valley are breathtaking from the 2680m high altitude. Peaks, forests, villages, and the river below are as spectacular as the fort. No other people were within the courtyard but for the door watchman. After twenty minutes of picture taking it was time to bid this place farewell. The helpful man who fitted me with my Himachali hat and belt also removed it, waving off the Rupees offered in my right hand.
Navigating the steps down was almost as hard as going up. Fortunately, two sets of Bengali tourists stopped me to ask how much further they had to reach the tower. Not only was their English spot on, but they were also the friendliest groups of tourists. Each group was made up of 3 people. All 6 were from Calcutta. And all of them couldn’t have been more convincing on my need to visit their city in the near future. They posed for photos, we shook hands after some pleasant conversation (more like an interrogation from me asking so many questions), and bid each other safe travels.
The best times to visit Sangla and the fort are April/May, or September/October. Roads during the winter can be closed at the last minute due to snowfall and remain closed indefinitely. Multiple guest houses provide accommodations as well as several restaurants and cafes.
Entrance Fee: Rs 0
Open Daily. Required hat and belt provided at no charge at the entrance.
Cameras are allowed for no fee.