It is said to be one of the strongest forts in India. It isn’t a surprise as a fort sitting on a hilltop with deep trenches on three sides, surrounded by many other hills covered by severely dense tiger infested forests could have been nothing else but a very formidable one. Currently the fort is right in the middle of the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and National Park.
It is said that this region was part of the Chahamana Kingdom of Shakambhari. Shakambhari is where present day Sambhar is. Those who have visited Sambhar Lake will know that there is a very famous and revered Shakambhari temple at Sambhar. The kingdom ruled the many parts of the present day Rajasthan for many centuries until the 12th century. Some historical references say that Chauhans were derived from Chahamanas. There were definitely many offshoots of Chahamanas, which continued to govern different parts of the region. Similarly, you also find the mention that Ranthambore was actually known as Ranasthambhapura. The almost 700 feet high hill on which the fort stands is also known as Thambore hill. But they are still few of the many reasons floating around behind the name of this place.
The ASI inscription here says that this fort was built by Maharaja Jayant in 5th century and Yadavas ruled over this region until they were expelled by none other than Prithviraj Chauhan in 12th century. But this fort is more known for its ruler Hammir Deo (1282-1301), who was the most powerful ruler to control this fort. He patronised art and literature but was an equally good fighter and strategist. His fight against a seize of this fort by Sultan of Delhi, Alla-ud-din Khilji is the one which gave him a place in folklores just at a young age of 39. One of the most famous local legend glorifies him (his sticking to his promise at any cost, cost of even harming self)-
सिंह सुवन, सत्पुरुष वचन, कदली फलै इक बार
तिरिया तेल हमीर हठ, चढ़ै न दूजी बार
Well, I won’t go deep in the history. After his unfortunate death despite defeating Sultanate forces, Khilji seized the fort. Since then no single dynasty of Kingdom could keep this in its control for long. Briefly, it also went in control of Rana Sangram Singh (Sanga) of Mewar (1509-1527) but Mughals under Akbar captured it again. Thus it lost its sheen and glory in years to come. It became part of Jaipur state in 18th century and remained so till independence. Rulers of Jaipur also built many hunting lodges in the forest surrounding fort. Many of them can be still seen during the safari in tiger reserve.
Fort had four entrances on the four sides. Three of them are now closed. There was a high wall surrounding the fort in all sides. The main entrance is still used and it was provided massive fortification by various gateways- Navlakha Pol, Hathia Pol, Ganesh Pol, Andheri Pol and Sat pol. Each of them had its own significance. Suraj Pol was towards the east side of the fort and Delhi Pol (Gate) was in the direction of Delhi.
Fort has many water bodies, at least five big talabs or small lakes- Badda Sagar, Sukh Sagar, Jangali Talab, Padmavati Talab and the Rani Talab. One of the lakes near Badal Mahal gets its water turned into red colour naturally during winter because of presence of some algae. A phenomenon very rare in India.
Among the various residences, courts and palaces are- Hammir Palace, Rani Palace, Badi Kachehari (upper court), Choti Kachehari) lower court), Badal Mahal, Battis Khamba Chatri (32 pillars cenotaph), granary, mosque, many Hindu temples, Digambar Jain temple and a Dargah. Surely, Mughals left an imprint as well during their brief reign over the fort. In its glorious days, fort had a whole city inside and you can still see ruins of various structures, pavilions and monuments. In June 2013, it was declared as World Heritage by UNESCO.
Most unique thing about this fort is the presence of a Hindu temple which is claimed to be the only temple in the world of Trinetra (three-eyed) Ganesha. Ganesha is one of the most revered gods in Hindu mythology and often the first invitee to any religious or auspicious ceremony. In many Hindu households first invitation letter to a marriage or any other function is written in the name of Ganesha and then kept in either the puja ghar at home or any nearby temple.
Well, I am mentioning it here because in this entire region around Ranthambore and even unto far-off places in Rajasthan and Haryana, this Trinetra Ganesha is revered the most and first invitation to every marriage happening anywhere is given to the lord. So, either the family will be coming here themselves to present the invitation at the temple or they will send it by post. Thus, every year thousands of invitations land at the temple. Postal department does sends a postman regularly to the temple with all such posts, many of which might just have the address as- Lord Trinetra Ganesha, Ranthambore, Sawai Madhopur. It is also said that temple priest will actually read these invitation to the lord. Actually, most of the tourist activity at Ranthambore fort is because of this temple. There are very few tourists who actually come here to see the fort. Not all the tourists coming for the jungle safari go for a visit to the fort. But there is no authentic historical or mythological reference about how and when this temple came into existence at this place.
Sherpur Gate of the Tiger Reserve leads the road to Ranthambore Fort. Fort entrance is four kilometres from here and this entire stretch of road passes through the tiger reserve. Incidentally, right opposite the entrance of the fort is also the main entrance to the core area of the tiger reserve. Effectively this is the point from where the tiger safari starts.
The road from Sherpur Gate to the fort entrance falls in the buffer zone of the reserve. But there are many tigers in this zone as well.
Incidentally this stretch of road is frequented by locals and villagers as well as pilgrims visiting the Ganesha temple in the fort. Every Wednesday there is big gathering of devotees at the temple and many people will even walk on foot to the temple through that stretch risking an encounter with a big cat or any other wild animal, but than not many locals are deterred by this fact as they have been living with this for ever. Actually, this is the stretch on which many years back I had one of my most thrilling tiger sighting till date near Bhairon Ghati area.
Although you will find gray langurs everywhere inside the fort, specifically the area close to temple has heavy presence of them. Reason might be that because of a large number of devotees coming here regularly, these langurs will get free food. It is good to be careful, but need not to be intimated by them as they generally don’t harm people. Just take care of not walking very close to them with a clearly visible food item in hand. Who knows, they might be interested!
There is one more interesting thing at the fort, a sort of tradition nobody knows actually how it started. When you are walking towards temple, you will notice random small stones arranged one on top of other, or some small structures made of stone at a place just along the walkway, as if some kids have been playing a game. You will see hundreds of such structures scattered around at that particular ground in front of an old goddess temple. When we asked locals about it, then they told that people will come here and make a wish for a home for themselves. While making a wish, they will erect this stone structure.
So, next time you are here at Ranthambore, you know you have to lot to wish for, besides a glorious tiger sighting.
Best time to go: The time is now. From October to April. Tiger reserve is also open for tourists. Keep at least half day, if not more, to see the fort. Besides various monuments to see, this fort also gives some magnificent views of the forest and surrounding hills. Over the years the wall around the fort has become porous, and tigers and leopards occasionally roam inside the deserted areas of the fort as well. You will be lucky to spot any of them specially during the early in the day or close to sunset. A big cat sitting atop a ruin always makes a beautiful frame, isn’t it!
There are a few shops around the Ganesha Temple inside the fort. They sell offerings for the deity, prasad and also some snacks, soft drinks and water as well. But, by the time you reach there and even otherwise, you should carry some drinking water as well as something to eat in your day bag, as it can be hot inside the fort during the noon time specially in the early and later days of winter months. But take care not to loiter around, be a responsible tourist.
How to reach: Same as Tiger Reserve. Sawai Madhopur is the nearest town as well as railway station on the Delhi-Mumbai main route. It takes around four hours to travel from Delhi to Sawai Madhopur by train. From Sawai Madhopur you will need to hire a vehicle to reach to the fort. Alternatively you can travel by road from Delhi, Agra or Jaipur to Sawai Madhopur. You can also fly to Jaipur from any other city and then hit the road to Sawai Madhopur. Jaipur to Sawai Madhopur travel time is two hours in a train and roughly three hours on road. Thus there are multiple options.
Where to stay: Never a big headache as there are accommodations for all types. You can stay at any budget hotel at Sawai Madhopur or any resort among the many located on the way to Ranthambore from Sawai Madhopur. Some of India’s finest and most luxurious forest lodges and resorts are present here. There are many descent government and tourism department properties as well. It all depends on how much are you willing to pay and what are your priorities for the the trip.
Have you ever been to Ranthambore Fort? How was the experience? Share with us in the comments section below.
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