For over 1200 years, the tread of warriors, pilgrims, wayfarers and mendicants have worn away the stone cobbled pavements of Ranthambhore’s iconic fort. Its walls are witness to century after century of celebration and tragedy laced together. The celebration of heady military triumphs punctuate the petrified traumas of defeat and conquest. In the progression and fall of local chiefdoms, clan warfare, trade relations and imperial ambitions, Ranthambhore has seen it all and preserves the evidence.
The first known foundations of the Fort can be traced back to 944 AD when a branch of the Chauhan Rajputs presided over a fledgling though growing kingdom. Subsequently, its strategic location; Ranthambhore straddled the channels of two crucial trade routes, came to be coveted by the Sultans of Delhi. One of the more famous one’s among them, Alauddin Khilji famously conquered the Fort, but only after a two year long siege, in 1301 AD. The obstinate and proud defender of Ranthambhore in that long drawn struggle, Rao Hamir is one of the regions most celebrated chiefs, his name now synonymous with courage and valour in the verses of Rajasthan’s bardic literature.
Yet, Fate has decreed a longevity for Ranthambhore that is unlikely to be exhausted soon. It’s most famous conqueror by far was the great Mughal emperor, Akbar. Aged 26 and flushed with the fresh victory over Chittorgarh, the young Emperor led the short-lasting siege of Ranthambhore in person before a treaty, the only one of it’s kind ever signed by the Mughals saw an end to the conflict and Ranthambhore’s “iron-clad” fortress was amalgamated into the Empire. Since then the Fort and it environs variously served as Imperial hunting grounds, an imperial prison and treasury.
In the mid 18th century the Jaipur family were given custodianship of the Fort by the later Mughals, in the face of wave after wave of Maratha incursions into Rajputana. The Fort remained with the Jaipurs until the independence of India.
Today Ranthambhore remains famous as the finest habitat in the world to see wild tigers, and though most visitors come here to visit the world famous National Park, few ever enter the wilderness without being struck by the monumental crenallations that sit atop the ridge of Thambore overlooking the lakes and forests around them.
A short and easy ramble up the Fort delivers the visitor into a space that blends the architectural styles of a thousand years woven together in stone and sand, each denoting a new inspiration in its turn. Over the year’s guiding guests from Sher Bagh around this vast and ‘living’ exhibition of India’s history has been one of my favourite occupations personally. The resonance of time and its annals, rendered opun these stones is a palpable and moving experience. One that never tires but always teaches the listener and observer something more anput the vicissitudes of history.
The declaration of Ranthambhore Fort, as a UNESCO World Heritage site is a tribute to a space and legacy that has sat parallel to some of the most significant movements in the history of Rajasthan. The next time you visit Ranthambhore, do visit the Fort. There is something unique, something wholly special and meditative about watching the wilderness from its magical, sun-kissed ramparts.
Written by Yusuf Ansari
Photographs from the Sher Bagh archives.