The Jhangar Valley in the scenic Salt Range is an amalgam of scenic mountains and fields. Though the whole valley is mystic, a signboard installed at Mughal Chowk near Lehr Sultanpur village (some 10km to the east of Choa Syedan Shah) has these words to proclaim: “Highway to Heaven.” The highway here should not send a perception of any vast road rather this narrow-rundown way has been tagged as “Highway to Heaven” because it leads to one of the most haunting spot of Jhangar Valley and that is Kusak village. The sleepy village of Kusak lies at the base of a mountain and at the peak of the mountain there lies the remains of Kusak Fort which are crying for preservation.
To reach the fort is a nerve-testing journey and the guide from the villagers is also inevitable to step at the fort. As one accomplishes the task of mountaineering, the remains of the fort greet the visitors.
The fort was built in the 11th century by Raja Jodh, who was one of the sons of legendary Janjua Sultan, Raja Mall Khan Janjua who built the Malot Fort in 10th century. This fort stands at a mound in Kahoon Valley (the picturesque hilly terrain of Salt Range located between Kallar Kahar and Choa Syedan Shah) some 48km away to the south of Chakwal city and 25km to the southern-east of Kallar Kahar.
Keeping in view the constant threats of invasions, Raja Jodh used the best of his mind while constructing the Kusak Fort. The fort was built on 13 acres at the peak of the mountain which is also named as “Jodh Mountain”. All the construction was done by local red stone and soil. A palace for the king was constructed in a traditional way on the premises of the fort while 70 houses were also built for the troops. The fort had two large gates at its northern site. Two ponds to store water were also built while as the majority of troops belonged to Hinduism, the king had also constructed temples for them. Warehouses were also built in the fort to store grains. A large wall measuring 370 feet in height was constructed around the fort.
As the Salt Range served as an ideal pass for invading kings from Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan, the Kusak State was attacked regularly with its rulers trying their best to save their motherland sometimes by responding the foreign invaders with the same coin and sometimes by making alliance with them to help them in establishing their domain in India. According to historians, the Kusak State suffered a brutal blow when Jalaluddin Firoz Shah Khilji, the first king of Khilji Dynasty in India, attacked it in 1290 AD. After receiving a crushing defeat by Khilji, the Janjua Rajputs reestablished their hold in the area by the passage of time. The Kusak State was about to be destroyed again in 1398 AD when Amir Taimur started marching towards it but the then ruler of the state along with Janjua Sardars assured the invader that they would provide him logistic support in conquering Delhi. Thus he spared the fort from the attack.
The year 1810 proved worst for Janjua Rajputs as in the first month of this year the founder of Sikh Empire in Punjab, Mahraja Ranjit Singh, besieged the fort. The then king of Kusak State Sultan Fateh Mohammad Khan gave a tough time to Ranjit Singh.
The Sultan kept on fighting for six months and kept Ranjit Singh at bay. Finding no other option, Ranjit Singh had to strike a truce with Sultan Mohammad. However, the long siege of six months cast heavily on the lives of the inhabitants of Kusak Fort as they ran short of drinking water and food. Having left with no other option, the Sultan along with all other members of his tribe relocated to Haranpur and stayed there for 40 years. The Sultan died in Haranpur in 1830 and his family returned to their motherland in 1850 where they laid the foundation of Lehr Sultanpur village which is adjacent to Kusak village. The lost Kusak State remained in the possession of Sultan Fateh Mohammad Khan’s siblings and is still owned by his successors.
Sultan Mohammad Hayat became a member of District Council Jhelum and was also elected as the chairman of Union Council Choa Syedan Shah during the British Raj. After his death, his son Sultan Azmat Hayat was crowned as the Sultan of the state. He was also elected as an MPA from the platform of the PML-N in 1997. After his death in 2003, his son Sultan Mohammad Azamul Ameer became the owner of the Kusak State.Currently, Sultan Ameer is in United Kingdom for his study while the state is being looked after by his sister Mehwish Azmat Hayat who is an active leader of the PML-N and also one of the inspirers for the ticket of MPA from PP-21 (Chakwal-II) in the upcoming elections.
She may be taking care of the people of her area but the present plight of the historic Kusak Fort has yet to get her attention. The ponds at Kusak Fort have been filled with grass and their walls crumbled. The palace, the 70 houses for soldiers, the two gates and warehouses are no more their but their remains. Only a temple built for Hindus stands there but it is also crumbling. The stones from the wall of the fort are also falling down. The whole area of the fort is covered with thick grass and bushes.
As the fort still is in the active possession of Mehwish Azmat Hayat and her brother, the Punjab archaeology department seems quite hapless to preserve it. When approached, Ms Mehwish claimed: “I would try my best to preserve it as it is our own property.”
When contacted, Deputy Director of Punjab Archaeology Department Afzal Khan told Dawn that since the fort was in private possession his department could do nothing to preserve it unless its owners give a non-objection certificate.