India

Narwar Fort

Perched on top of an irregular hill 500 feet above the town, Narwar Fort is 70 km south-west of Gwalior in the Shivpuri district of Madhya Pradesh. I have struggled to find much information regarding this fort, so almost all the information here will come from the Archaeological Survey of India Volume II 1864-65 by Alexander Cunningham. Clearly Narwar Fort is not visited very frequently if I’m having to rely on a document that is 155 years old 🙂

The history of Narwar seems to extend back a very long time, all the way to mythology in fact. Traditionally said to have been the capital of Raja Nala from the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata, the town below the fort was called Nalapura until the 12th century.

Archaeological evidence would seem to suggest that Narwar was ruled by the Naga rulers from 0 AD to 225 AD under a succession of nine Naga kings. Curiously, for the next eight centuries the archaeological record falls silent with no coins or inscriptions found in the area, although an inscription discovered at Eran may suggest that the region was ruled by the Toramana dynasty.

Exactly how long the Toramana dynasty lasted is not known either, but we do know that from the 12th century onwards Narwar was held successively by Kachwaha, Parihar, and Tomar Rajputs (warrior caste) until its capture by the Mughals in the early 16th century. It was subsequently conquered by the Maratha Maharaja Scindia in the 19th century.

Access to Narwar Fort is from the east, you can clearly see the pathway on Google maps leaving the town and heading north before taking a sharp left just by Alamgir Gate, previously known as Pisanhari Gate and rebuilt in the Moghul style by Aurangzeb.

The climb is quite steep, initially just an incline but eventually becoming steps, be sure to have plenty of water with you The original door of the second gate, Saiyidon Ka Darwaza (seen above), is still in situ although now in a state of disrepair.

There are no remains from the Hindu period at Narwar Fort except for a handful of inscriptions, none of which I found or even knew about prior to my visit. All the Hindu structures were obliterated by Sikandar Lodhi in 1508 AD. Ferishta records that Sikandar’s men remained at the fort for six months tearing down temples and building mosques and other structures.

We can still see evidence of that event today. One of the few buildings I was able to identify, the Chhip Mahal, clearly has carved pillars that have been reused from a circa 11th century Hindu temple.

The Chhip Mahal, with reused carved pillars probably from a Hindu temple

It’s fortunate that Gwalior Fort did not see the same fate otherwise we may have lost the likes of Sas Bahu and Teli Ka Mandir. Sikander Lodhi was planning to lay siege to Gwalior Fort, but he died during the initial planning stages in 1517.

So what remains today are Moghul structures, but their number and magnificence would seem to indicate that at its zenith of Mughal occupation, Narwar Fort was second only to Gwalior Fort.

The circumference of the fort is nearly 5 miles, if you want to see everything inside it could take the best part of a day. In all likelihood you will be the only tourist here, on my visit I had the fort completely to myself to explore aside from a few locals who had walked up the hill for some exercise.

In some respects this fort is similar to Gohad Fort that I had visited a few days earlier, although here everything is on a much larger scale and the state of preservation is a significantly better in places.

Some work does seem to have occurred in recent years to make the fort more accessible and safe to visit. The eastern side of the fort which visitors will reach first is very well preserved and maintained.

Here you’re free to explore what can be at times a maze of tracks and alleyways taking you many interesting buildings, with courtyards and colonnaded arcades everywhere you turn. It’s a really enjoyable experience and fun just to follow your nose, satisfy your curiosity, get a little lost in the process.

The western side of the fort is in stark contrast to the east, here the structures have (for now) been left to crumble and access to many of them is almost impossible due to the vegetation (and slight concern about snakes quite honestly!).

I started wondering how the fort had got into this current situation, with half of it very accessible, conserved, safe, and quite well managed but the other half appearing as those nothing has happened for the last 50 years.

Did the authorities run out of funds ? Am I just seeing a project that is on-going and will be completed at some point ? Or is there another explanation ? If anyone can shed any light on this I would be really interested to hear from you.

I was unable to identify most of the buildings inside Narwar Fort, as there was no site map anywhere to be seen. Since returning home I’ve been unable to find anything online either.

The structures that are here are recorded as; Hawa Paur Mahal, Koriyon ki Haveli, Ladau Bangla, Chhip Mahal, Flour Mill or Chakki Mahal, Phulwa Mahal, Rani Damyanti Mahal, Rawa Parewa Mahal, Kachheri Mahal, Sunheri Mahal, Ram Janaki Temple, Catholic Chapel and Sikander Lodhi Mosque.

It would be great if anyone can help associate the building names to the photographs, just so I have Narwar Fort better documented.

Father Monserrate, a Jesuit priest from Portugal who passed through Narwar on his way to meet Akbar in 1580, describes Narwar:

“This district is called after the neighbouring town; its savage inhabitants knowing that they can commit robberies with impunity, are wont to attack travellers from ambush and to carry off their goods as plunder.”

You’ll be glad to hear that Narwar has greatly improved over the intervening centuries. I left Narwar Fort feeling that I had discovered a bit of a secret in Madhya Pradesh, in much the same way as I felt at Gohad Fort a few days previously, and also last year at Datia Palace.

This place seems to be completely off the tourist radar and yet some investment has clearly taken place to make the visiting experience a more memorable one.

I can only hope that in the future efforts are made to promote Narwar Fort a little more, it has immense potential and I can easily see this being a great day excursion from Gwalior for both foreign and local Indian tourists.


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