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Ramkot Fort: The crumbling giant of Azad Kashmir

Updated Jul 03, 2015 05:15pm

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Muslim rulers of Kashmir built numerous forts, one of which is the Ramkot Fort, now surrounded by the water of the Mangla Lake.

The fort is located on the confluence of Rivers Jhelum and Poonch, on a vertical cliff looking over the shiny blue waters. Due to its peculiar architecture, the Ramkot Fort is distinct amongst fortresses built in the Kashmir region. Identical to the architectural characteristics of the Mangla and Muzaffarabad Forts, Ramkot was very likely built in the same period.

To approach the fort, you have to take a boat from the water sports club at the Mangla Dam, which, after an almost 10-minute ride, would reach the northern extremity of the reservoir. Here, you will find a gigantic fort structure located on the summit of the hill.

A short but steep climb uphill takes you to the fort. This tricky location must have been a strategic plus point for this fort in the past, but these days, it has become the reason for its isolation and wilderness; unlike other spots at the Mangla Lake, few tourists choose to head over this way, quite possibly due to its distance and tough terrain.

A short, rough climb leads to the fort.
A short, rough climb leads to the fort.
Due to its peculiar architecture, Ramkot Fort is distinct in fortresses built in Kashmir region.
Due to its peculiar architecture, Ramkot Fort is distinct in fortresses built in Kashmir region.

Even the governments, neither the Azad Jammu Kashmir government or the federal government (which operates the Mangla Dam) seem to be taking any interest in the restoration and development of this heritage.

Although most of the fort lies in ruins, signs pointing to its past life and grandeur are still alive.

For example, the gateway, which is strategically designed with firing sits on every angle. It is the only entry/exit point into the fortified area. Ramps run from the ground floor to the parapet, which were obviously used to bring artillery in position.

About the water tanks, historians are not sure why such a relatively small fortress used such large tanks.

Although the fort is ruined, there are marks of its past grandeur, for example, the gateway which is strategically designed with firing sits on every angle.
Although the fort is ruined, there are marks of its past grandeur, for example, the gateway which is strategically designed with firing sits on every angle.
The ramps and crenellations for cannons are alterations of the time when Dogra of Kashmir held this fort in 19th century.
The ramps and crenellations for cannons are alterations of the time when Dogra of Kashmir held this fort in 19th century.
The ramps from the ground floor to the parapet were used to bring artillery in position.
The ramps from the ground floor to the parapet were used to bring artillery in position.
The 1841 Arrow Smith map of Kashmir makes no mention of Ramkot Fort.
The 1841 Arrow Smith map of Kashmir makes no mention of Ramkot Fort.

The fort had lain neglected till the late '90s, when Dr Anis ur Rehman, head of the Islamabad-based NGO Himalayan Wildlife Foundation, first came across Ramkot on a fishing trip to Mangla. Dr Anis ur Rehman told me that the day he first entered this fort, it was entirely ruined and inaccessible, and piles of mud and thick vegetation had taken over every inch of the fort.

Being identical to the architectural characteristics of Mangla and Muzaffarabad Forts, Ramkot was very likely built in the second half of 16th century.
Being identical to the architectural characteristics of Mangla and Muzaffarabad Forts, Ramkot was very likely built in the second half of 16th century.
Narrow loopholes for musketry are alterations of the time when Dogra Maharaja of Kashmir held this fort in 19th century.
Narrow loopholes for musketry are alterations of the time when Dogra Maharaja of Kashmir held this fort in 19th century.
Historians are not sure what to make of water tanks this big in a relatively small fortress.
Historians are not sure what to make of water tanks this big in a relatively small fortress.
The fort had remained relatively unknown till the late 90s, due to its inaccessible location.
The fort had remained relatively unknown till the late 90s, due to its inaccessible location.

Dr Rehman contacted the Federal Ministry of Archaeology and was surprised to find that the ministry had no record of this fort. He succeeded in obtaining official permission to voluntarily work on its restoration.

In this mission, Professor Abdul Rehman of the Archaeology Department of Peshawar University and architects Sohail Akbar Khan and Raja Khalid joined the efforts and after one year of continuous work, they brought up an impressive fort out of the ruins.

Dr Anis ur Rehman, who later devoted his effort for the restoration work of this fort, says the day he entered the fort for the first time, in the summer of 1999 it lay in complete ruin.
Dr Anis ur Rehman, who later devoted his effort for the restoration work of this fort, says the day he entered the fort for the first time, in the summer of 1999 it lay in complete ruin.

A roof and door were installed at the main entrance, water tanks were cleared of soil, wild vegetation which had bred a host of snakes, was cleared, and old canons were arranged in place on the artillery crenellations.

Dr Anis ur Rehman said that he contacted the army, which provided two old model canons brought in specially from Quetta for the Ramkot Fort.

The Pakistan Army provided old model canons for the fort, but due to lack of care, they are now broken.
The Pakistan Army provided old model canons for the fort, but due to lack of care, they are now broken.

Like many other heritage sites, Ramkot has its own share of myths surrounding its establishment. It is said that the fort was built over the site of an old Hindu Shiva temple, but looking at the present structure of the fort, no one can doubt that its is a construction of the 16th century.

According to archaeologist Dr Saif ur Rehman Dar, this fort, being similar to the Muzaffarabad Fort, was very likely built in the second half of 16th century, whereas the ramps, the crenellations for cannons and narrow loopholes for musketry are alterations of the time when Dogra Maharaja of Kashmir held this fort in the 19th century.

Like other fortresses in Azad Kashmir (such as Mangla, Muzaffarabad, Barjhan and Throtchi), the Ramkot Fort could not make much of a place in historical records. The 1841 Arrow Smith map of Kashmir makes no mention of it. But according to eminent travel writer, Salman Rashid, Frederic Drew, the appointed geologist to the Maharaja of Kashmir, casts some light on Ramkot in his work The Jummoo and Kashmir Territories: A Geographical Account, published in 1875. It was built, he records, by a Gakkhar named Toglu. After the Gakkhars, the fort was ceded to the Dogras.

Frederic Drew casts some light on it in his work his book published in 1875.
Frederic Drew casts some light on it in his work his book published in 1875.
Frederic Drew states that it was built by a Gakkhar named Toglu. After the Gakkhars, the fort ceded to the Dogras.
Frederic Drew states that it was built by a Gakkhar named Toglu. After the Gakkhars, the fort ceded to the Dogras.
High turrets nearly made the fort invincible.
High turrets nearly made the fort invincible.

In the last decade, the Ramkot Fort has been fast-forwarded on the path of its destruction. The restoration work which Dr Anis ur Rehman had done has lost a lot of its impact due to the lack of day-to-day supervision and maintenance. The earthquake of October 2005 also seriously damaged the fort, and the dire neglect on the part of the AJK authorities is not helping either.

Dr Rehman told me that few years ago, a UK-based Kashmiri expatriate had shown interest in developing this fort as tourist spot, but he has been unable to execute the project in all this time.

Once fully restored and provided with necessary facilities, the Ramkot Fort is sure to attract many visitors and generate handsome revenues for the AJK government. It would also add to the history, heritage and culture of the land and the people of Kashmir.

The heavy earthquake in October 2005 damaged the fort seriously.
The heavy earthquake in October 2005 damaged the fort seriously.
It is said that the fort was built over the site of an old Hindu Shiva temple, but present structure is construction of no later than 16th century.
It is said that the fort was built over the site of an old Hindu Shiva temple, but present structure is construction of no later than 16th century.
Looking over Mangla Lake, Ramkot Fort has the potential of becoming a great tourists attraction once it is fully restored.
Looking over Mangla Lake, Ramkot Fort has the potential of becoming a great tourists attraction once it is fully restored.
Once fully restored, the Ramkot fort could generate handsome revenues for the AJK government through tourism, besides add to beauty and culture of the area.
Once fully restored, the Ramkot fort could generate handsome revenues for the AJK government through tourism, besides add to beauty and culture of the area.
Narrow loopholes for musketry are alterations of the time when Dogra Maharaja of Kashmir held this fort in 19th century.
Narrow loopholes for musketry are alterations of the time when Dogra Maharaja of Kashmir held this fort in 19th century.

However, if the example of Fort Barjhan is to be taken into account, there is not much reason to hope for preservation.

The AJK Prime Minister C. H. Abdulmajid could not safeguard the Fort of Barjhan which was located at some distance from Ramkot. According to media reports, relatives and voters of the prime minister demolished this fort and sold out its brick stones. The government took no action of any kind against the culprits; rather, the centuries old stone bricks of the fort were used in the houses of senior minister and even the prime minister of Azad Jammu Kashmir.

A facade of the fortress looking over the reservoir.
A facade of the fortress looking over the reservoir.

Aown Ali is a Lahore based photojournalist, particularly interested in documenting architecture worth historic significant.

You can find his work here and on Facebook.