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A Guide to Forts in India

The rich culture and heritage of India have drawn many people across the globe to visit the architectural craftsmanship of their famous forts spread across the country.

The forts resonate the glories of the past with stories of the conquests and defeats of the Maharajas captured in the walls of the monuments. These impressive structures will take you back in time in India.

Quick Facts

  • The Jama Masjid was the first building to be built in Fatehpur Sikri. It displays geometric patterns typical of Islamic architecture with the fine white marble inlay decorations.
  • The walls and ceilings of the Sheesh Mahal in Amber Fort are carved with beautiful flowers and other paintings made with glass. It is said that if two candles are lit in the palace, it would look like thousands of stars are glittering in the ceiling.
  • The museum in Mehrangarh Fort holds royal memorabilia including around 15,000 items from Maharaja Gaj Singh II's personal collection of weapons, arms, paintings, costumes, fine textiles, turbans, thrones, palanquins, and baby cradles.
  • Kumbhalgarh Fort is also known as "The Great Wall of India" due to the mammoth wall along the wall which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the second-longest continuous wall in the world after the Great Wall of China.
  • The Red Fort in Delhi houses the Naubat Khana, the place where the royal musicians played on special occasions and to announce the arrival of royalty.

Forts in India

India is a land known for its ancient forts and monuments. The forts were often built in the mountains, near bodies of water, deserts, and the forest, as a defense to keep away the enemy.

Most of the forts in India are actually castles, fortified palaces or fortresses, however, when the British Government in India was cataloging the defenses in the 17th to 19th century, they used the word ‘forts’ which became the common description across India.

In local languages, the fort names are suffixed by the Sanskrit word ‘durga’, or Hindi word ‘qila’ or the word ‘garh' or ‘gad’ in Rajasthan, Assam, and Maharashtra is common.

Types of forts

There are six main types of ancient Indian forts and they are differentiated by their mode of defense. They are Jala-durga, Giri-durga, Vana-durga, Dhanvana or Maru- durga, Mahi-durga, and Nri-durga.

Jala-durga (Water Fort) is a fortress surrounded by water. There are two types – the Antardvipa-durga (Island Fortress), and the Sthala-durga (Plain Fortress). The Island Fortress is surrounded by natural water bodies like the sea or river, while the Plain Fortress is surrounded by artificial moats or irrigated by a river.

Giri-durga (Hill Fort) There are three varieties, the Prantara-durga, Giri-parshva-durga, and Guha-durga. The most common type is the Prantara-durga, which is located on a flat hill summit.

Vana-durga (Forest Fort) is a fortress surrounded on all sides with a dense, impassable forest. There are two variations, the Khanjana-durga which is built on fen and encircled with thorny forest, while the Sthambha-durga which is built in the A museum among tall trees but lacks sufficient water sources.

Dhanu-durga Dhanvana, or Maru-durga (Desert Fortresses) are found in an arid area bare of trees, grass, or sources of water over a distance of 73 km, hence its other name, Nirudaka-durga (Waterless Fortress).

Mahi-durga (Earthen Fort) There are three types, the Mrid-durga which are encircled with earthen walls, the Panka-durga which are protected by fens or quicksand, and the Parigha-durga which are surrounded by earthen walls made of stone or brick walls.

Nri-durga (Human Fort) is a city fortress defended by a large and loyal army of proven warriors.

Each of these types had its own advantages and disadvantages. For example, according to Manusmrti, the Forest Forts suffers from monkey attacks and the Earthern Forts are swamped with rodents. The Manusmrti considers the Hill Fort to be the best defensive structure, while the Mahabharata describes the Human Fort as the most effective fortification.

Forts constructed in medieval India

The gates of medieval Indian forts were highly decorated with two distinct styles, the Hindu style with a lintel and the Mughal style with an arch.

These gates were often high and wide enough to allow elephants to pass. They also had rows of sharp, stout iron spikes to prevent an attacking army from using elephants to break down the gates.

Stone was the main material for building the fortresses in medieval India. The practice of burying humans either dead or alive in the foundations of fort walls was also common during the period.

Forts constructed by the British

With the arrival of the East India Company, forts were constructed by the British at the trading posts along the coast. They were used as security against local Rajas as well as other European rival nations. However, with the lack of resources, non-availability of trained engineers and use of local materials and artisans resulted in the simple design and construction.

Due to the vulnerability of these earlier forts, hostilities with the French, and the growing might of the Company, the British started to build stronger and more complex designs for the second round of construction.

Best 9 Forts to visit in India

These 9 forts are located all across India. Most of them were built in the 15th to 16th century. The three most recommended forts to visit are the Agra Fort, Amber Fort, and Mehrangarh Fort.

Fort Name Location Date of Construction Attractions
Agra Fort Agra 16th century Khas Mahal - white marble palace, adorned with pure gold and precious gems. Its white marble is covered in intricate etchings and floral inlay work.
Fatehpur Sikri Uttar Pradesh 1569 Jama Masjid and the tomb of Sufi Saint Salim Chishti. Panch Mahal a 5-story building offering a panoramic view of the surrounding area.
Amber Fort Jaipur 1592 Ornamental Mughal garden, Diwan-e-Khas which is a room where the walls are covered in intricate mirror work, using glass imported from Belgium.
Mehrangarh Fort Jodhpur 1459 A museum containing relics and ancient artifacts that come from not only the royal families of Rajasthan but also of the Mughal dynasty culture.
Jaisalmer Fort Jaisalmer 1156 Is one of the largest desert forts in the world. Jain temples, Royal palace, nearby Trikuta Hill, Havelis, and lakes.
Chittaurgarh Fort Chittaur-garh 15th century Reservoirs, chhatris, stambha, palaces and temples, eg Padmini Palace, Kumbha Shyam Temple, Tower of Victory.
Kumbhalgarh Fort Aravalli Range 15th century 360 temples scattered within the fort, 300 ancient Jain and the rest Hindu. Seven fortified gateways. The sand dunes of the Thar Desert can be seen from the fort walls. Also known as the Great Wall of India.
Gwalior Fort Madhya Pradesh 15th century Man Mandir Palace, Teli-ka-Mandir, Man Singh Palace, Saas-Bahu temples.
Red Fort Delhi 1639-1648 The Naubat Khana and the War Memorial Museum.

1. Agra Fort, Agra

Agra Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage site that lies on the banks of the river Yamuna. It was constructed between 1565 to 1573 for Akbar, the third Mughal emperor of India. The red sandstone and white marble fortress are one of the finest Mughal forts in India, surrounded by a 21-meter high wall, covering around 94 acres.

Inside the fort, you can visit the Khas Mahal that reflects Islamic and Persian influences. This place was adorned with pure gold and precious gems, and its white marble is covered in intricate etchings and floral inlay work. It is also decorated with ornamented ceilings, fountains, alcoves, and lattice windows that look out across the river to the Taj Mahal.

The Diwan-I-Khas, or the Hall of Private Audience, is a small hall with white marble inlaid with gemstones shaped with floral motifs. It was used by the Mughal emperor to receive important dignitaries or foreign ambassadors.

Address: Agra Fort, Rakabganj, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282003, India

Opening time: 6 am to 6 pm

2. Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh

Fatehpur Sikri was a magnificent fortified ancient city that is located 40 km west of Agra. It now stands deserted as a well-preserved ghost town. It was abandoned by its occupants after only 15 years due to an insufficient water supply.

Fatehpur is a religious place, with the Jama Masjid (mosque) was the first building to be built in this city. The building displays geometric patterns typical of Islamic architecture with the fine white marble inlay decorations.

The tomb of Sufi saint Salim Chishti is located behind the towering Buland Darwaza (Gate of Magnifence). It is a single-story building constructed around a square chamber in the center. The tomb is also decorated with carved jalis, white marble brackets, and drooping eaves around the parapet.

Address: Uttar Pradesh 283110, India

Opening time: 6 am to 7.30 pm

3. Amber Fort, Jaipur

Amber Fort is perhaps the most well-known fort in India. The fort is part of a group of six hill forts in Rajasthan that were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its architecture is a fusion of Rajput (Hindu) and Mughal (Islamic) styles.

The fort complex consists of a series of courtyards, palaces, halls, and gardens that are made of sandstone and white marble. One of the main attractions in the fort is the third courtyard. This is where the king's private quarters were located. It has two buildings separated by an expansive ornamental Mughal garden.

Here, you can view the Diwan-e-Khas, where the walls are covered in intricate mirror work, using glass imported from Belgium.

Sheesh Mahal or the Mirror Palace is the most beautiful part of the fort. The palace’s walls and ceilings are carved with beautiful flowers and other paintings made with glass. It is said that if two candles are lit in the palace, it would look like thousands of stars glittering the ceiling.

Address: Devisinghpura, Amer, Jaipur, Rajasthan 302001, India

Opening time: 8 am to 5.30 pm

4. Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Mehrangarh Fort was built in 1438 by Rao Jodha, after whom the city of Jodhpur 19th century after. This fort is one of the largest and is perched upon a hill at 400 feet, spread across 5 kilometers in the heart of the city. There are two ancient temples that are situated in the fort, which along with the rest of the building, bear the work of over 500 centuries of different artists.

The museum inside the fort contains relics and ancient artifacts that come from not only the royal families of Rajasthan but also of the Mughal dynasty culture.

The 2012 film from the Batman series, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ had a significant scene shot at the fort.

Address: The Fort, Sodagaran Mohalla, Jodhpur, Rajasthan 342006, India

Opening time: 9 am to 5 pm

5. Jaisalmer Fort, Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer Fort, locally known as Sonar Quila or Golden Fort, was built in 1156 by the Bhati Rajput ruler Rao Jaisal. The fort’s massive yellow sandstone construction provides an amazing look of a golden fort standing atop the Trikuta Hill built in Rajputana and Islamic architecture when the sunsets. It is one of the most prominent tourist attractions of Jaisalmer.

It is believed to be one of the few ‘living forts’ in the world, as nearly one-fourth of the old city’s population still resides within the walls.

You can enter the fort from the northeastern corner via a series of four massive gateways which are the Akhai pol, Ganesh pol, Suraj pol, and Hawa pol.

Maharawal Palace is a popular structure in the fort. The foremost attraction of this place is Maharawal’s marble throne which is placed over a flight of marble steps.

Address: Fort Rd, Near Gopa Chowk, Khejer Para, Manak Chowk, Amar Sagar Pol, Jaisalmer, Rajasthan 345001, India

Opening time: 6 am to 5 pm

6. Chittorgarh (Chittor) Fort, Rajasthan

Chittorgarh Fort was built by King Chitrangad in the 7th century. It is one of the most sizable forts in India and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is located in the southern part of Rajasthan, around half-way between Delhi and Mumbai, and just over two-hour drive from Udaipur.

The Padmini Palace is the main attraction of the fort. This white, three-story building is a 19th century replica of what Queen Padmavati's original abode may have looked like.

Vijay Stambha or the Tower of Victory is also another attraction of the fort. The top of the tower is reached by climbing a circular stairwell with 157 steps. You can get a good view of the fort complex from the top of the tower.

Due to the substantial size of the fort, a three-hour visit to see the important monuments is recommended.

Address: Chittor Fort Road, Chittorgarh, Rajasthan 312001, India

Opening time: 9.30 am to 5 pm

7. Kumbhalgarh Fort, Aravalli Hills

Kumbhalgarh Fort (or Kumbhal Fort) in Rajasthan is one of the popular desert state's lesser-known historical masterpieces built during the course of the 15th century.

It is also known as "The Great Wall of India" due to the mammoth wall along the wall which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the second-longest continuous wall in the world after the Great Wall of China.

There are more than 360 temples scattered within the fort, most of which belong to Jain deities and the rest Hindu. From the palace top, it is possible to kilometers into the Aravalli Range. The sand dunes of the Thar Desert can be seen from the fort walls.

The Neel Kanth Mahadeva Temple is the most significant and revered temple in the fort. It is located on the eastern side of the fort built during 1458 CE. The central shrine of Shiva is approached through a rectangular enclosure and through a structure supported by 24 huge pillars. The idol of Shiva is made of black stone and is depicted with 12 hands.

Address: Kumbhalgarh, Rajasthan 313325, India

Opening time: 9 am to 5 pm

8. Gwalior Fort, Madhya Pradesh

Being one of the best places to visit in Madhya Pradesh, Gwalior Fort is one of the oldest fortresses in India. The fort was built in the 10th century and was controlled by many rulers of various dynasties who also built many palaces and temples inside the fort.

Gwalior fort stands on a steep mass of sandstone, giving a clear view of the east of Gwalior. The fort consists of three temples, six palaces, and numerous water tanks.

The Man Singh Palace is one of the most spectacular palaces in the fort. It is built by Man Singh Tomar during his rule from 1486 to 1516. The palace’s exterior is decorated with blue and yellow tiles on bronze walls.

The Teli Ka Mandir is the tallest and most famous of all the temples of the Gwalior fort. It was built in the Dravidian style shrine, notable for its generously sculpted exterior that resembles a Prathihara Vishnu temple.

Address: Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh 474008, India

Opening time: 9 am to 5 pm

9. Red Fort, Delhi

Red Fort is one of Delhi's top attractions and most famous monument. It is named for the walls of red sandstone that was used for construction by the Mughals in the 17th century. The fort stands as a powerful reminder of the Mughals who ruled India and an icon of independent India.

The Naubat Khana or Drum House is one of the fort’s main attractions. It is where the royal musicians played on special occasions and to announce the arrival of royalty.

The Mumtaz Mahal was the palace of Emperor Shah Jahan's wife. It has been converted into an archaeological museum with artifacts from the Mughal era such as astrolabes, jade objects, daggers, curtains, carpets, swords, inkpots, and miniature paintings.

Address: Netaji Subhash Marg, Lal Qila, Chandni Chowk, New Delhi, Delhi 110006, India

Opening time: 6 am until 9 pm daily, except on Mondays

Tips for visiting forts

Here are some tips if you are coming to visit some of the forts in India:

  • It is recommended to arrive early, preferably in the mornings to avoid the crowds.
  • You may need to go through security clearance before entering into the forts.
  • Bring bottled water to stay hydrated as well as a fan, hat, and umbrella as a shelter for the heat.
  • Wear comfortable footwear as there will be a lot of walking involved.
  • Going with a guide can come in handy, as they will know the fort’s main attractions as well as the history and architecture.
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