One of the most mysterious forts of India is located in the sleepy village of Tikamgarh about 70kms from Orchha. A curious aspect about this fort is that the entire fort is clearly visible at a distance of 12 kms but completely vanishes as you near the assumed location of the fort! Even if this exercise is repeated two to three times, the result is the same! This is probably one of the reasons why Garh Kundar Fort is considered to be one of the most ingenious forts ever built.
According to historians, the reason that the fort is seen on top of a hill at a distance but disappears out of view when you near it is because it is surrounded by hillocks on all four sides. As one moves forward, the hillocks appear to rise and the fort remains hidden behind them. If one overshoots the location and tries to return on the same path, one is met with the same puzzle. On closer inspection, one will find several paths that lead through these hillocks but it is difficult to guess which path takes you to the fort and one can surmise that many armies faced this conundrum. It would also appear that the fort situated on the hill provided an excellent view of approaching enemy forces and if one were successful in finding the way to the fort, then they would have to run for cover quickly as they would be fully exposed to the army guarding the fort from the ramparts.
There is no record available about the construction of this fort but historians believe that it is about 1500 – 2000 years old. This fort was the headquarters and military base of the Chandelas. During the reign of great Raja Yashovarman of the Chandela dynasty, this fort was strengthened and a killedar was appointed. However, this fort was lost by Raja Paramadi to Prithviraj Chauhan who then appointed his trusted aide Khet Singh Khangar, the founder of the Khangar dynasty as the killedar. This fort was called Jinagarh ka Mahal at that time.
After Prithviraj Chauhan’s execution in the hands of the invader Muhammad Ghori, Khet Singh Khangar claimed his independence and established the state of Khangar. His rule in the Jejakabhukti region (present day Bundelkhand) was very successful and he is credited with making significant changes in the fort. Five generations of his ruled over this area after his death. It was during the reign of his grandson, Raja Khub Singh Khangar, that Jinagarh Palace was fortified and renamed as Kundar Fort. This fort was captured by Muhammad bin Tughluq in 1347 and given to the Bundelas. Nagadev is the last ruler of the Khangar dynasty who was killed along with his generals.
Garh Kundar remained with the Bundelas who were vassals of the Mughals and was their capital from the 13th to the 16th century. Raja Rudra Pratap Singh, who founded the Orchha State moved his capital from Garh Kundar to Orchha in 1531. Raja Bir Singh Deo, the ruler of Orchha State renovated this fort in 1605 and gave it its present form.
Garh Kundar is associated with stories of love, greed and gruesome sabotage and treachery. The tragic love story of Nagadev, son of Raja Hurmat Singh Khangar and Roopkunwar, daughter of Sohanpal Singh is remembered by locals even today. The jauhar of the young princess Kesar and all the maids and children when their honour and chastity was threatened by Muhammad bin Tughluq is a historical event that none can forget.
This fort is most famous for its horror stories. According to the locals, a long time ago, a wedding procession of about 50 – 60 people from Puri came to a nearby village. They paid a visit to the fort and wandered about reaching the basement and probably some part of the fort that no one had ventured into after which they suddenly disappeared. No one was able to find out where those 50 – 60 people went and why they were unable to come back to the ground level of the fort. There are reports of more such incidents that took place after which the authorities sealed all the doors that go to the lower level.
Locals also say that this fort has many secrets and as it is like a bhula bhulaiya (maze) and the rooms are always plunged in darkness, it is very scary to visit this fort even during the daytime! Garh Kundar is situated atop a hillock and is about 150 feet high and about 400 feet wide. There is a massive entrance doorway called Sinhagad gate that is about 20 feet high and about 80 feet wide. There are two terraces or platforms built in the outer part of the Sinhagad.
The fort is spread over an area of one hectare and the outer walls that are about 6 feet thick have watchtowers. The layout of this fort is extremely confusing for visitors and it is advisable to take the help of a guide while visiting this fort.
The fort is built around a huge courtyard in the locally available sandstone. The design of the fort is done in such a unique manner that visitors or outsiders can be easily seen by those seated in the inner chambers but the interiors of these inner chambers cannot be seen by outsiders. There are inscriptions on the rocks and the pillars that are yet to be deciphered.
There is a small barrack on the left of the entrance. The main tower is located in the south-east part of the fort. This fort has five floors of which three are above the ground and two are below. This kind of construction is deemed as very rare by architects and historians. There is great attention to detail with respect to lighting, water supply, storehouses for grass, place where the cannons were kept, toilets and others in each and every floor.
This fort is an interesting example of Chandela, Khangar and Bundela architecture. There are many places of interest within the fort like the Murli Manohar Temple, Rani ki Mahal, Andhakop, storehouse, stables, Raj Mahal, Narasimha Temple, Siddha Baba Sthan, Risaala, Jail Ghar, Moti Sagar, stepwell, Rao Siya House, and others. The Singh Sagar Tank is at close proximity to the fort. The ancient temple of Gajanan Mata revered by the Khangar dynasty is on the main path that leads to the fort.
This fort will appear very different in the morning and in the evening. Towards dusk, this fort appears to be in ruins and desolate and most unwelcoming. As all the dynasties that ruled over Bundelkhand were extremely affluent, locals believe that immense wealth comprising of gold, silver and precious stones has been left behind in the fort. Many treasure seekers have tried to venture into the maze in the basement only to lose their lives. Though many greedy people over the decades have dug up various parts of the fort looking for its inestimable treasure, the grandeur and charm of the fort has not suffered.
This fort holds many secrets of political intrigue, love, lust and macabre and is definitely worth a visit if you have nerves of steel. Though this is a protected monument of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Garh Kundar is slowly crumbling in the harsh weather conditions.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
* Photos are only symbolic (Taken from public domain/internet and any copyright infringement is unintentional and regrettable)