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the-south-asian.com                            February 2001

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FORT-IFYING A RESPLENDENT PAST

by

Saikat Neogi

 

Sariska_fort_palace.jpg (22930 bytes)
Sariska Fort Palace within the Sariska National Park

Forest forts and havelis, originally used by the Rajput kings, are poised to get a dramatic face lift. The Rajasthan government is converting them into heritage tourist resorts....

 

After successfully converting ancient palaces into resorts, the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation, is now gearing up to restore some of the state's precious forest forts into heritage sites. Forts and small havelis in dense forests of Bharatpur, Sariska, Ranthambhor and other regions of Rajasthan traditionally served as camping sites for the erstwhile maharajas of the state during their shikar 9hunting) outings. Apart from camping sites, these forest forts were used as vigil posts to keep the enemy at bay and were storehouses for arsenal for the small band of army men posted in each of these forts.

With the abolition of privy purses many of the erstwhile kings abandoned these forts and havelis which came under state control. Though some bigger ones kept getting grants for their upkeep many smaller ones were left virtually abandoned at the mercy of the vagaries of nature. Now a few of these forts are poised to get a dramatic face lift.

One of the most famous reserve is the Ranthambhor forest fort popularly known as the Jogi Mahal--14 kilometres from Sawai Madhopur--from which the wildlife reserve park derives its name. Ranthambhor national park, once the shooting reserve of the successive Maharajas of Jaipur is spread over 1,080 square kilometres. Situated at the eastern limits of the Aravali range, this tract of rolling hills, barren rock and dry deciduous forest is interspersed with valleys watered by numerous lakes. An oasis in a desert which is thronged by tourists in the winter months.

" Rajasthan has many such forest forts which need to be restored to their former glory as they have a very rich history and legacy," says G.N. Bhatt, the state information officer.

Another resplendent fort palace, which has been identified, is in the Sariska National Park. The park was built at the close of the 19th century and is now world renowned for migratory birds and other fauna including an occasional tiger. The fort palace stands as a backdrop to the lush green Sariska forest. Though it has been well maintained, it is now being done up and converted into a heritage resort.

Nearby Bharatpur was once a favourite hunting resort for the kings and princes. It has now become famous for the Keoladeo National Park, a world-class bird sanctuary. The park is home to over 400 exotic bird species, which migrate every winter from Afghanistan, Central Asia, Siberia and Tibet. The greylag and barheaded geese are among the important visitors but the major attraction is the rare Siberian Crane. Lohagarh fort is the focal point of Bharatpur. Made of solid iron it took 60 years to build this fort. Also known as the Iron Fort, the pucca mud walls that surround the fort and blend with the townscape are a testimony to the keen eye for architecture possessed by the successive kings of Rajasthan. For years now the fort has been in a dilapidated state as it is being used by the state government to run its offices. Another part of the sprawling fort provides accommodation to those working in these offices. But now the Lohagarh fort is being converted into a heritage resort for upmarket tourists.

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