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Exploring Kangra Fort of Himachal Pradesh
Strap on your sneakers, grab a bottle of water and prepare for a climb unlike any other fort in Himachal Pradesh. Roughly 20 km from the well-known town of Dharamsala, Kangra Fort lies in the southwest corner of Kangra town, a quiet reminder of a fort that once dominated this region. The impregnable looking fort is perched high atop a steep cliff looking down onto the confluence of the Manjhi and Banganga Rivers, inaccessible from 3 sides. As the oldest fort in the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, its fate was sealed not by the many battles it endured or the series of rulers it housed but ultimately by a massive earthquake in 1905 which leveled most of the building.
Visitors gain access to Kangra Fort through a small courtyard before reaching a gate built during the Sikh ruling era; a period dating from 1809 to 1846 before the British conquered the Kangra Valley fort. This gate sealing the 4 km outer wall encircling KangraFort, is known as Ranjit Singh Gate, aptly named after the conquering Sikh maharaja. A second gate known as Jehangir gate, named in homage to Mughal Emperor Jehangir, who seized Kangra Fort from Muslim rulers in 1621, leads to a long narrow staircase passage ascending to the fort. Hand-carved idols embossed within the stone walls as well as the halfway Anahi and Amiri gates are rich with photo opportunities and provide pause for tourists along the cobbled pathway. The Jehangir Gate coupled with the Amiri gate were repairable after the 1905 earthquake. Moving beyond this point is where the quake’s devastation took its greatest toll.
A path of rocky ground leads to Andheri Darwaza and Darsani Darwaza, the final two gates within the Kangra Fort complex. What exists within the top layer of the fort is a mixture of stone ruins surrounded by natural overgrowth. Every corner appears to be occupied by steps leading somewhere, anywhere. A stone courtyard holds center stage from where curious guests can mark a return to catch their bearings. Former royal residences are nearly indiscernible among the many crumbling walls marked by staircases leading to doorways that no longer hide their inner contents. Fallen stones have been collected by someone, at some point, stacked as if fresh inventory had arrived to rebuild the mighty fortress. Yet they lie among the grassy yard, next to treetops overlooking the river banks below waiting for the next monsoon season, the next winter to slowly erode another year off their life.
Two temples, the Lakshmi Narayan Mandir and ShaitalaMandir are notable sites to view aside from what is considered a hidden mosque located a little distance from the Darshani Gate. Continue higher to the upper levels of Kangra Fort to find the watchtower. Breathtaking views of the surrounding Himachal Pradesh Kangra Valley reward those who climb to the peak.
Maharaja Sansar Chandra Museum, adjoining Kangra Fort, provides audio guide services for tourists who crave a further understanding of the National Monument. Numbered stops scattered throughout the complex give further details into the historical background of this little mentioned property in India guide books. And the museum houses an extensive collection of items helping to give a sense of how regal Kangra Fort was just a few hundred years past.
Plan on 1.5 – 2 hours to properly view the fort and museum.
Kangra Fort has located 5 km from the town of Kangra, 17 km from Dharamsala, and 26 km from Mcleodganj.
How to Reach
Private cars, taxis, and HRTC buses.
What Else to See
Bajreshwari Devi Temple, a popular pilgrimage site and considered one of the most renowned shrines of North India.
Where to Stay
Overnight in Dharamsala or Mcleodganj for the best accommodation options.