Best Forts of India – Travelers Choice
Fascinating history, breathtaking views, scenic hiking trails – yes, we are talking about forts again. This time it is about the formidable forts of India. With a thousand years of history of invasion and internal conflicts, it is no wonder that India is home to many formidable fortresses that are both beautiful and intriguing. this article is not just a list, it is a tour of the country from North to the west to south to central and east India, as we hop on from one fort to another.
Thanks to all the amazing travel bloggers who wrote about their favorite Indian fort and the history associated with it. So without further delay, let’s embark on this unique virtual tour of Indian Forts that would help you rediscover India! Use the table of contents to navigate to your area of interest.
Forts of India – North Zone
Kamru Fort – Perched atop the Hills
Contributed by Shivani from The Wandering Core
Thinking about Himachal takes our imagination to the dense forests and snow-capped mountains. But, the state surprised me with an unknown historic fort in the lush green Sangla. The 15th-century wooden fort is dedicated to Lord Badrinath, an avatar of Lord Krishna & is oldest in the state, making it a must-see when in Sangla.
Kamru Fort is located approximately 2 km from the Sangla village and fortunately, cars don’t go till the fort. The hike starts from the parking area, amid the wooden houses of the village. Hike to the fort is quite easy, and anyone with a normal walking schedule can complete in almost 20-30 minutes.
Halfway through the hike, we encountered Shree Badri Vishal Ji temple, a nice place to take a break from the hike. Also, a great place to gel with friendly locals of Sangla as they’re soaking in the sun here even during the summer months. Although the temple is usually closed in the noon so you will have to plan accordingly if you would like to visit.
From the Badri temple, another short 10-minute hike brings us to the wooden ornate Kamru Fort. The Fort is known to be the home of 360 million gods and only the main priests are allowed to go inside the fort. The Fort premises also has a Kamakshi Devi Temple, where we offered our prayers. The pre-requisite to enter the temple is to wear a red belt and the traditional kinauri cap. The Fort presents some of the best views of the valley, which ultimately makes up for the hike.
Agra Fort – The jewel of Agra
Contributed by Jill From Reading The book Travel
Agra, in Uttar Pradesh, has so much more to recommend it than just its most famous landmark, the Taj Mahal. And one of its crowning glories is beautiful Agra Fort. Established in the mid-16th century, the fort was the home of the Mughal emperors for nearly 100 years, including the legendary Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal for the love of his life. In the centuries that followed, the fort changed hands many times; today it is a magnificent museum.
Agra Fort is easy to access, standing in the heart of the city, but that doesn’t make it any less imposing. Entering through a monumental archway, taking the sharp left turn that prevented ancient invaders from charging in on horseback, you enter a fort complex which is a stunning combination of carved red sandstone and marble. The fort is more of a palace, and scattered throughout the grounds are throne rooms and living quarters for the ruling family. The marble rooms are particularly magnificent; the white marble is inlaid with semi-precious stones which are stunning from a distance, but even more incredible close-up. It’s easy to imagine yourself as a Maharajah or Maharani, living a life of luxury within these walls.
The fort has a stunning view over the city towards the Taj Mahal, which appears to get closer and farther away from different perspectives in a clever trick of the light. But Agra Fort is so much more than its view; it is a magical monument which truly shouldn’t be missed on a visit to this part of India.
Read about Jill’s tips on a visit to Agra.
Red Fort – Symbol of Independent India
Contributed by Elizabeth, the Digital Travel Guru
Red Fort is a majestic historical monument located in the capital city of India, Delhi. The monument which holds immense history or pride and heritage was the prime residence of the emperors of the Mughal dynasty up until the year of 1856.
The Red Fort was constructed back in 1639 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The monument derives its name because of the massive red walls that encompass the entire structure. The fort lost all of its precious and expensive artwork and a wide range of jewels during the invasion led by Nadir Shah on the Mughal dynasty during the year of 1747. Following that, the majority of the marble artifacts and architecture were destroyed by the British empire during the Revolt of 1857.
Red for holds its important and historic imprints that date back to the early Mughal era. The intricate caricature and mesmerizing construction hold its own majesty. Visiting this place helps to get a peek into the life the Mughals lived back in the days. Majority of the tourists classify the trek to get to the top of Red fort ranging from low to medium in terms of difficulty. The stairs are steep which can be pretty difficult if you have mobility problems. Wear a good pair of walking shoes as it is a magnificent place to walk around and explore to take in the sights.
Tughlaqabad Fort – Ruins of the erstwhile Delhi Sultanate
Contributed by Anjali from Travel Melodies
Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, the founder of Tughlaq dynasty, built the fortified city of Tughlaqabad (presently, Delhi) in 1320 AD on the rocky altitude so that it can be defended easily. The fort was built in 4 years but was abandoned just after a few years later. The curse of a Sufi saint, Nizam-al-Din forbids the fort from being inhabited.
The fortress is massive. The fort’s colossal ramparts and bastions echo the glory and might of Tughlaq Empire. Out of 52 gates, 13 are left now. We climbed the flight of stairs and then a steep slope to reach the gate of Tughlaqabad Fort. The otherwise deserted, dusty and rugged fort still looks imposing in all its ruins. There are jagged stairs that take you to the different levels of the fort, mostly in ruins. A quiet walk amid the crumbling ruins of history feels like a walk back in time. I loved the quietness and nostalgic aura of the fort.
The views from the top of Tughlaqabad fort are mesmerizing. “It’d be lovely to witness a sunset from here”. I thought to myself but instantly shrugged the idea given the completely haunted and abandoned character of the fort at night. The same nature of the fort has become a boon for lovers who are on a lookout for such secluded places. You will find many in the hush corners of the fort. The entire loop is almost 2 km and can take anywhere around 2 to 3 hours to explore on foot. I’d suggest visiting during winter to immerse in its fascinating historical past.
Forts of India – The West (Read Fort) Zone
Amer Fort – Royal Architecture of Rajasthan
Amer Fort is situated in Jaipur, Rajasthan. It was originally built by Meendas and later governed by Raja Man Singh. The drive up the mountain was filled with monkey encounters and beautiful greenery. With cars attempting to come in and out of the entrance, we decided to line our car on the side of the mountain and walk up the hill towards the palace fort. Since the fort was very well maintained, the trek on the fort was very easy. We ran around the trails and snapped pictures of gorgeous mountain ranges and splendid blue skies. It was an hour well spent.
With ‘artistic Hindu style elements’, the fort was built with red sandstone and marble. Having weathered 5 centuries of rain and sun, the palace remains formidable. It overlooks the Maota Lake and offers a great view of the green space under. Amer Fort is definitely one of my favorite destinations in Jaipur. It is peaceful, beautiful, and a great place to better understand India’s vibrant history.
Jaisalmer Fort – A “Living” Fort of the world
Jaisalmer Fort is the dominant feature on the skyline of the city of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. For most of its 800-year history, the fort was the city and even today several thousand people live within its yellow walls.
Due to this history, the fort is easy to get to from the town. However, you’ll need to be good on your feet once inside the fort, since there are lots of stairs.
If you choose to visit Jaisalmer Fort, you won’t regret it. The fact that it’s still lived in makes it feel very special and alive. As soon as you step through the thick, turreted walls, you realize this is no historic ruin, it’s a living, breathing home. There are hustle and bustle along the twisting, maze-like lanes, colorful shops selling exquisite textiles and restaurants selling delicious food. Moments later you can be admiring ornate Jain temples. There are also panoramic views of the city from the ramparts.
The juxtaposition of the extraordinary splendor of the historical past with every day has to be seen to be believed. Just don’t forget to keep an eye on where you’re walking; there are lots of motorbikes and cows inside the Fort, as well as humans!
Kumbalgarh Fort – The Great Wall of India
Nahargarh Fort – The Abode of Tigers in Jaipur
The forts of Rajasthan are some of the best you’ll see anywhere in the world, but there’s one that we found particularly enchanting. In the heart of the pink city Jaipur, sits a fort that dominates the skyline, with walls that seem to go on for miles: Nahargarh Fort.
When translated to English, Nahargarh Fort means “the abode of tigers”, a name that is fitting for a fort that was designed to intimidate any enemy even thinking of getting close to the fortress.
Nahargarh was built in the 18th Century to protect the ruler (the Raja of Jaipur) from invaders. It was intended to be a refuge or sanctuary alongside the neighboring forts of Amber and Jaigarh, though it never came under attack.
Nowadays much of it is open to the public offering incredible views and a slightly bizarre wax museum. We loved that you could explore the walls for one of the best views in Rajasthan: looking down at the pink city as the sun sets. For the most magical experience, you can sit on the walls themselves, although there is nothing to stop you falling if it was a windy day. For a more sedate experience, you can grab a drink from the restaurant and sit out on the terrace.
If you’re looking for an incredible structure with one of our favorite views in India, then ensure you head to Nahargarh Fort for sunset.
Mehrangarh Fort – the pride of Jodhpur
Bhangarh Fort – The Haunted One!
Bhangarh Fort is one of the popular medieval forts in India not just because it’s a tourist attraction, but also because it is one of the most haunted places in India. This 17th-century fort is located about 90 Km from Alwar, in Rajasthan. You will easily get taxis and buses are available from Alwar. I traveled to Bhangarh fort from Delhi which is at a distance about 242 Km. Since Bhangarh fort is believed to be haunted, the gates of the fort open at 6 am and close at 6 pm. So, we started our journey from Alwar to Bhangarh fort at 7 am and reached at 9 am.
This fort itself is in ruins but the view you experience from the top of the fort is amazing. Along with this, you will see some temples which are adjacent to the fort and nice to spend some time at. You can relax near the temple outside and enjoy the views around and click pictures. The only tip I would like to suggest is to spend 3-4 hours at the fort in the afternoon but yes you will definitely feel something while exploring the fort in the afternoon. Even Archaeological survey of India put up a signboard at the fort advising tourists not to enter the premises of the fort during the dark hours so.
Tikona Fort – Nestled in the Forests
Contributed by Priyadarshini from Glorious Sunrise
Tikona Fort, also called Vitandgad fort is in Maval region of the Indian state of Maharastra. It is close to another majestic fort and a vast water reservoir namely Lohagad fort and Pawna dam. These two forts are linked to the historic reign of Tipu Sultan and are located just 60 km away from Pune, a major city in Maharastra.
Tikona means triangular and the hill is in a pyramid shape making it one of the most unique bases for a fort. You will have to drive to Tikona Peth from Pune. It is the base of the Tikona hill and then takes one of the two trekking paths up the hill to reach Tikona Fort.
One trekking path is for beginners and you would easily trek up this majestic hill and reach the fort in about one and a half hours including the rest time and photo stops. You can trek down in less than 45 minutes. I have seen even small children do this trek. The second path is a bit trickier, but you can do it within an hour and a half if you are an experienced trekker.
Once you reach the top, you will be rewarded with breathtaking scenery all around. If you do this trek in monsoon season, around August and September, you will simply fall in love with this place. I did not want to go back home once I reached the top. It was a magical experience trekking up the path with a slight drizzle and absolutely gorgeous greenery all around you.
Sinhagad Fort – Recording history for 2000 years
What’s known as Sinhagad fort, was Orping-Pongedilt about two thousand years ago. The fort ping-ponged between the Maratha and Mughals or Muslims for centuries. They fought many battles for supremacy over the region by annexing the fort. It has a very strategic location atop mountains with views for miles, hence the historic importance. For the last several decades, the fort is very popular among youth and nature enthusiasts in Pune and Mumbai region. It’s the perfect college or school trip – inexpensive, beautiful and easily reachable. Sinhagad Fort is a paradise for trekkers. Many groups take 2-day trips up the mountains, through the villages and into the fort for its grand views.
Many tour operators offer a full package including transportation, overnight stay, food, and village experience. We were short on time, so didn’t take the tour. But, I’ve heard from friends that it’s not very difficult. The best time to visit is during or just after the monsoon season. With good rains, thousands of waterfalls spring up in the entire region and the mountains offer breathtaking views. In and around Sinhagad fort, villagers cook nutritious, vegetarian Marathi foods to the visitors’ delight. My most memorable part of our trip was the simple and authentic meal a family cooked for as we from scratch as we watched.
Raigad Fort – Testimony to the Maratha empire
Contributed by Kimaya from Homosapien in transit
Raigad fort, located in the district of Raigad, Maharashtra, India, offers an enchanting mountainous view of the Western Ghats peninsula. It is situated at a distance of 166km from Mumbai and 131 Km from Pune, via road. The best time to visit is monsoon (Mid June to September) when the surrounding mountains and valleys are engulfed by the region’s lush green flora.
It was built by Hiroji Indulkar under the reign of King Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. It was made capital of the Maratha Empire in 1674 with the coronation ceremony of Shivaji Maharaj happening at the same place. Because of the steep hill, it was built on, the fort was of strategic importance to the Marathas in defying enemies.
Raigad fort has approximately 1800 steps and with its steep inclination, it takes around 3.5 hours to climb and 1.5 hours to descend depending on individual speed. There is also a Rope-way service at the foot of the hill for those who want to avoid all the hard work. The round trip costs you Rs.300.
Tip: I would recommend a middle option which is to take a one-way trip to the top by ropeway and use steps to come back while enjoying the amazing view the return journey offers, of the surrounding valley, one rocky step at a time.
I visited in Monsoon to watch the fort in its full glory and the part of the fort was covered in mist giving it a bit of a magical appearance. If you take a look from the foothill, half of it and the fort walls are covered in fog, making it more tempting to conquer. Raigad Fort is more than just a tourist spot. It is sacred ground and it had played a crucial role in shaping the history of the Maratha Empire.
Murud Janjira Fort – The Island Fort
Contributed by Anwesha from Going Places with Anwesha
Safely tucked away from the eyes of the mainlanders, there is an oval-shaped fort of Murud Janjira on an island off the coastal village of Murud in the Raigad district of Maharashtra, India. The Murud Janjira fort is the only one of its kind. Janjira Jal-Durg (“sea fort”) was constructed by Malik Ambar, an Abyssinian minister in the service of the Sultan of Ahmednagar, who belonged to the Nizamshahi dynasty. Built at the end of the 17th century, the fort is almost entirely intact today. The fort is now approached by sailboats from the Rajapuri jetty. During its heyday, the island fort boasted having 572 cannons, which has not yet rusted.
The main gate of the fort faces Rajapuri, a small village on the coast and can be seen only when one is about 40 feet (12 m) away from it. This architectural marvel was the strongest point for this fort to remain unconquered by the Marathas until it became part of Indian Territory after independence from the British in 1947. The fort has 2 doors, one for the king and another one for the common people to enter.
Our boat ride from Rajapuri jetty to the fort was exciting as well as a little scary. However, on reaching the fort, we were amazed by the enormous fort which has more than what meets the eye. Some of the boats don’t have enough safety measures, especially while entering the fort at the steps. And if you give Rs 100 per person, then the boat drivers will act as your guide telling you interesting stories about the fort.
Karnala Fort – Nestled in a Bird Sanctuary
Contributed by Khushboo – Munni of All Trades
The Karnala fort has a long and rich history but the most notable mention is the fact that when Shivaji Maharaj conquered this fort, it is widely believed, a goddess gave him a sword to conquer rest of Maharashtra. After Shivaji’s death, the Mughals and eventually the British East India Company took over the Karnala fort.
The fort is in ruins today and is located inside the Karnala bird sanctuary.
The trek is fairly simple for a beginner and will take you about three hours to reach the top. Towards the end, it is a little precarious with a steep climb. The journey up to the Karnala fort takes you through some of the most splendid views of the Western Ghats that one can get in the region. From the Karnala fort, one can see the river Patalganga to the East and a lush cover of greenery enveloping the hill below. My visit to Karnala Fort was the much needed weekend break I was looking for to get away from the noisy urban jungle. I loved that the government officials supported women entrepreneurship by allowing local women to set up a small canteen serving delicious Maharashtrian food.
Shaniwar Wada – Another haunted fort
Contributed by Richa from Light Travel Action
Shaniwar Wada is a small fortress in Pune in the Maharashtra State of India. Established in 1732, by the Peshwas (Prime Ministers) of the Maratha King (Chhatrapati), Shaniwar Wada has been ruined by a combination of military attacks and fires through the centuries. The massive walls and heavy ramparts that remain today tell the tale of tragic love, treachery, rich history, and haunting spirits.
The foundation of this building was laid on a Saturday by Peshwa Bajirao on the banks of River Mutha, in the city of Pune, Maharashtra. Saturday in Marathi (Language Spoken in the Maharashtra state of India) is called “Shaniwar” and “Wada” is a settlement. This is how this Palace cum fortress came to be called “Shaniwar Wada”. It was the place of residence of the Peshwas (Prime Minister in the Maratha Empire) until 1818 when the latter lost its control to East India Company.
What was once a majestic seven-storied structure is mostly in ruins now. The heavy ramparts, majestic entrance gates and the ruins of the foundation stand as evidence of the bygone golden years.
Travel Tip: Try to catch the ‘Light & Sound Show’. The story of Bajirao and Shaniwar Wada is projected through light and sound over water fountains. The light, narration, music, and the ambiance all add to give an enriching experience.
Forts of India – South Zone
Bekal Fort- Standing against the time and tide
Located in Kerala, the scenic abode of God, as they say, Bekal fort is just a shadow of its former glory. It is in a decapitated state although there have been some renovation initiatives in recent times. It was erected by one of the Nayakas of the Keladi after the fall of the great Vijayanagara empire in the 16th century. Located right across the Arabian sea in North Kerala, the fort offers a 180-degree panoramic view of the ocean with waves splashing across its walls. It is easy to realize the strategic importance of the location of the military stronghold to defend the kingdom.
It’s just a flight of steps that lead you into the top of the decapitated fort where you can stroll in the garden and watch the panoramic views. Then you can descend to the other side of the fort which faces the sea, an excellent location for photographers. On a fine weather day, you can take some great photographs of peafowls all around. This also gives you an opportunity to hike around the fortified walls.
Read the full story of our trip from Bangalore to Bekal the beach, fort, and everything around.
Gandikota Fort – at the Grand Canyon of India
Located in Andhra Pradesh, Gandikota fort is named after the huge gorge that is often touted as the Grand Canyon of India. Although smaller in the area, the Gandikota is no less beautiful a landscape than the Grand Canyon of USA and offers a plethora of adventure opportunities- kayaking in the river, trekking, rock climbing, and zip-lining.
The region of Gandikota was first discovered by Kapa Raja in 1123 where he raised a sand fort. The Gandikota fort was formed in14th-century fort by the powerful Pemmasani Nayaks. The fort, in turn, got its name from the peculiar landscape formed by the Pennar river cutting through the Erramala Hills forming a giant gorge.
Although the fort itself is not in a great condition right now the structures inside the fortified village can be a fulfilling experience. You will see two temples with exemplary architecture, a picturesque mosque called Jama Masjid, a pigeon house named Charminar and a prison. There is no entry fee to the fort and apparently no maintenance efforts as well. That is why you’ll be able to see a lot of signatures of people who made sure to leave their footprints across the fort in the form of an eyesore. Yes, a lot of people have vandalized the beautiful historical structure to satisfy their urge to inscribe their names on the stones. Gandikota Fort is so majestic that you can easily see the monumental structure from a long distance away before you have reached and makes you wonder what it could have been with a little bit of maintenance and renovation efforts. Gandikota is an excellent destination for a one-day trip from Bangalore.
Kavaledurga Fort – Remains of the forgotten empire
Gingee Fort – the impregnable fortress
Not many people have heard about Gingee fort. It isn’t something that pops up in conversations too often and I hadn’t heard about it until I was scouring the net for pit stops on a road trip. This fort stuck out and we decided to visit it. Ironically for such a spontaneous decision, we had just one regret: We did not have enough time! For those of you who have never heard of Gingee fort, it is a rather impressive fort that spans across three hills in Tamil Nadu. We had time to climb up just one of the hills and were rewarded with a spectacular view. The steps that lead up to the part of the fort that we climbed were dotted with monkeys that followed us.
At the top of the fort, you will find very little information but a lot to look at. The guardhouses with views, the granary, and the throne room. The fort was once considered impenetrable and you can see why when you survey the land from the top. If you have time, you can also explore the parts of the fort on the other two hills. Since ours was just a pit stop on the way, we didn’t have the opportunity to do so and yet it still part of my fondest memories on a road trip. Whether it is just a pit stop or a day trip, Gingee fort is definitely worth adding to your list.
Forts of India – Central and East Zone
Gwalior Fort – The Architectural Excellence
Gwalior Fort was aptly described by the Mughal emperor Babur as the Pearl of India’s Fortresses. There was a fortification here as early as 525A.D., but this fort is thought to have been built in the 8th century when a local chief on a hunting trip received water that healed leprosy and in thanks founded Gwalior, which means “saint” in Hindi.
The hike to Gwalior is best done from the east gate, as this is the more impressive approach to the fort. It’s not a long hike – if you go straight without stopping it will take you 15 minutes, from the bottom gate – and there are 5 to hike through, no traffic is allowed on this road. You’ll be best taking an auto-rickshaw to the bottom gate.
En-route there are, as I said, the 5 gates to walk through – the first, the Gwalior Gate is stunning and close to that the Badalgarh Gate, where the State Archeological Museum is located. The Ganesh Gate, the Lakshman Gate and finally the Hathi Gate, is a stunning entrance to the fort proper.
You’ll also find if you look carefully, the first-ever recorded ZERO – Indian mathematicians were the first to invent the circle that we know as zero! For the geeks amongst us, this is a wow moment!
There are stunning views as you move closer to the walls of the fort, it becomes more and more impressive, and you’ll be glad it’s just a short, but impressive hike, as the fort itself, is 3 kilometers long and there is no better way to experience it, than to hike all of it!
Orchha Fort- The Hidden Gem of Madhya Pradesh
The Fort Complex is one of the most important places to visit in Orchha and an Indian architecture masterpiece. This complex can be divided into three parts: the Raj Mahal, the Jehangir Mahal and the Rai Parveen Mahal.
Raj Mahal of Orchha
This palace is located to the right of the central patio. Its exteriors are quite flat and are decorated with chhatris – small domed pavilions. On the other hand, its interiors are decorated with exquisite murals that offer scenes of religious themes.
Jehangir Mahal in Orchha
The Jahangir Palace was built by Bir Singh Deo in honor of the Mughal emperor of India Jahangir, who visited the city in 1606. The strong lines of the building contrast with the delicate chhatris and latticework that offer a rich detail effect.
Rai Parveen Mahal in Orchha
This palace is especially attractive to the devotees of Rai Parveen, a very popular poet and lover of Raja Indramani. This third palace was built in 1670.
Two hours should suffice to have a good first impression of the Orchha Fort. However, up to one day can be spent wandering around its premises as this fort complex is huge.
I particularly enjoyed all the photo ops this place offers to its visitors. And how uncrowded it was! Like the rest of Madhya Pradesh, the heart of India, Orchha is a gem still to be discovered by the masses.
Chanderi Fort – Wrapped in Silky Folklore
Buxa Fort – A shadow of Colonial Bengal
Buxa fort is located in the scenic Buxa Tiger Reserve on the border of West Bengal and Bhutan. The date of its foundation is not certain but it is believed to be constructed as early as 7th century AD. It was occupied by Cooch kings for many years before it came under the Bhutanese kings and finally, it came under the East India Company in 1873. The British used it for the purpose of defense as well as deportation. Located at an altitude of 2600 feet in the dense forests, it was considered to be one of the most dreadful prisons of colonial India, second only to the cells of Andamans. It is located in the Dooars region of West Bengal, only 30 km from Alipurduar town. The uphill trek to Buxa fort is approximately 4kms and is categorized as an easy trek. The scenic trails in the forests are as beautiful as the view of the mountain peaks from the fort. Unfortunately, I have not been to this part of my state, so the information I provided here is based on word-of-mouth and research. You can find more information here.
So here ends our journey of some of the most significant forts in India. Which of these have you explored? Which of these you would want to go to? Do tell me in the comments. If you like it, why not pin it using the image below?