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Top 13 Historical Forts in Azad Kashmir

Updated: May 9, 2023

The mountainous and beautiful region of Azad Kashmir is home to several impressive fortresses that have played a significant role in the region's history. These imposing structures, which were once built to defend against invaders, and to assert control over the local populace, now stand as monuments to a chaotic period of history. The surviving fortresses in Azad Kashmir, and their architecture, is a fascinating exploration.

top 13 historical forts in azad kashmir

Ramkot Fort, Mirpur

1. Baghsar Fort, Bhimber

Like most Mughal roads connecting their provincial capitals, the road between Lahore in Panjab and Srinagar in Kashmir was dotted with Serai (inns), wells, and forts. Bhaghsar was the largest of these forts, located halfway between these two important cities, most likely built during the reign of Akbar in the 16th Century. Not only was it a resting point for Mughal royalty travelling to Kashmir, but it also helped protect the Samahni valley.

It is one of the few concentric forts in Pakistan, with an outer and inner wall offering multiple layers of defence. Yet being a Serai, it has many chambers built into it to accommodate the royal entourage of the Mughals emperors during their tours of Kashmir. On one such expedition, Emperor Jehangir fell sick and died and had to be embalmed so his body could reach Lahore. His entrails were buried outside the fort, and a tomb marked the burial spot. Later the fort was used as an administrative centre by the Dogra government. Accessing the fort can be difficult because of its proximity to the Line of Control (LOC).


2. Mangla Fort, Mirpur

Named after a local Hindu deity, Mangla Devi, this historic fort was built on an isolated hill on a meander of the Jhelum river, protecting the point where the river enters the plains of Punjab. It was well-defended, with cliffs on all four sides. It was one of the last strongholds of the small state of Chibhal before the Sikh empire defeated them in 1822.

Its northern wall was partly destroyed during the construction of the Mangla Dam in the 1960s. Currently, it hosts a small museum about the construction of the Mangla dam and offers excellent views of the surrounding area.


4. Ramkot Fort, Dadyal, Mirpur

Ramkot Fort, Mirpur

Like Mangla Fort, Ramkot was built on the Jhelum River, with the meandering of the river and the cliffs naturally reinforcing its defences. It defended the strategic location where Jhelum left the narrow upstream gorges and entered the flatter basin where Mangla Dam is now. The fortress was extremely well-defended, with an outer walled courtyard and an inner courtyard. These features and two large water tanks to store rainwater helped the fort survive the toughest of sieges. It also contained a small temple and separate rooms for military officials.

The fort was most likely constructed by the Gakhar clan sometime in the 16th or 17th century, although some people believe the original construction was by the Ghaznavids in the 12th Century. The fort's architecture also points towards later Sikh or Dogra-era renovations. While it was used by the Dogras initially, it seemed to have been abandoned due to its remote location.

Since the construction of the Mangla Dam, the fort has been surrounded by water on three sides and has only been accessible by boat. The location offers excellent views of Mangla Dam during summer.


3. Burjun Fort, Mirpur

Located an hour from Islamgrah, Mirpur, this small Dogra-era historic site was used for administrative purposes such as tax collection. It was situated on a cliff and provided a good vantage point over the surrounding area. Very little of the fort survives today.


5. Throtchi Fort, Gulpur, Kotli

Another Dogra fort, built near the Poonch River, protects the road connecting Mirpur and the plains with the mountainous town of Kotli and Poonch. It was famously captured from the Dogras by Colonel Mahmood Mangral following a lengthy siege during the first Kashmir war.


6. Bhrand Fort, Sehnsa, Kotli

Located near Sensa, Kotli is part of a chain of Dogra forts on the east bank of river Jhelum. Built on a narrow rocky outcrop, it is one of the most miniature forts in Pakistan, with a near tower-like shape.


7. Karjai Fort, Khui Ratta, Kotli

Karjai Fort, Kotli

Karjai is believed to be a Mughal-era fort built by Akbar to help administer the newly conquered regions. Once one of the largest forts in the region, it is mostly in ruins. The fort offers impressive views of the area around Khuiratta.

8. Baral Fort, Pallandari

A for defending the road between Rawalpindi and Kotli, it was constructed by the Dogras for administrative purposes. This national historic site was a simple square-shaped fort with four bastions.


9. Red Fort, Muzafarabad

Red Fort, Muzafarabad

Red Fort, Muzafarabad 1951

Ratta Qila (Red Fort) is located in Muzaffarabad city, on a meander of the Neelum River. It was built for the city's defence by its founder in 1646, Sultan Muzafar Khan of the Bomba clan. Later it would be used by the Sikhs and Dogras as a garrison until 1926, when a new military cantonment was built in the city. The Neelum River heavily damaged the fort and the 2005 earthquake, and the government of AJK has initiated a project to renovate it.


10. Ain Pana Fort

This small square fort was built on a hill near the villages of Ain and Pana by Dogras, defending the east bank of Jhelum, which marked the boundary between British territories and the Dogra Kingdom. It is mostly intact.


11. Qila Phaddar, Bhimber

Located in the plains near Barnallah, almost nothing is known about the history of this fort. The construction style resembles many other 17th and 18th-century forts in the region. While the Dogra records mention dozens of forts used for administration purposes, this fort is absent. This suggests that the fort was no longer being used sometime in the 1900s. It was likely square, surrounded by a small ditch and a pond. Much of the fort has been cannibalized by houses in the nearby village, although some walls and gate remains.


12. Mirpur Fort, Bhimber

Much of the history of Mirpur was lost when the construction of the Mangla Dam in 1967 destroyed the old city. However, we know from accounts mostly from 1947 that the town had a wall and a small Sikh-era fort in the city's northeastern corner.


13. Bhimber Fort, Bhimber

Another Mughal fort on the Lahore-Sringar road was also used as a serai. In its original state, it must have been 70 meters across and of a square shape, with chambers housing soldiers and travellers built into its walls. Even after hundreds of years, many forts in Pakistan have continued to be used for administrative purposes. Likewise, the Mughal serai and fort of Bhimber became a thana of the Dogras and are still the site of many government offices.

General Features

Forts were always built near rivers or on mountaintops when possible to use these geographical features to enhance their defence. In the case of mountaintop fortresses like Ramkot or Burjun, this often meant that accessing water using wells would be impossible, so rainwater storage tanks were used instead. Top forts in Azad Kashmir were built near strategic roads at the ends of valleys or on isolated hills looking over the plains. Not only would this make it easier to defend the fort, but also make it easier to monitor enemy movements in the areas below.

A 3-slit loophole at Padharr Fort

Many forts in AJK were built or renovated after the 17th century when gunpowder weapons had become common. This is probably why their architecture differs from older forts in nearby regions like the Rohtas Fort. Unlike the older fortresses, crenelations were only decorative, and instead, the inner wall would be full of rows of loopholes to attack the enemy. Many of these loopholes would have 3-slits instead of older designs which only had one. This would mean the defender could shoot at a wider angle.

During the tumultuous period that preceded British colonization and the establishment of the British-backed Dogra Kingdom, the fortress served a functional defence purpose. However, during the peaceful 19th Century, these forts became local administration centres through which Dogras used to collect taxes, maintain law and order and carry out other governmental duties. Since these were also used as garrisons by local Dogra troops, they played an essential role in the Kashmir War (1947-1948). The pro-Pakistani rebels would easily capture most of the countryside, and Dogra troops often found themselves surrounded in places like aThrotchi or Mirpur, with these forts their only defence.

These imposing structures not only provide a glimpse into the region's rich history but also serve as a reminder of the historical importance of this area. The fortresses of Azad Kashmir have played a significant role in the region's history, defending the local population and existing as symbols of power and control. Today, they continue to attract visitors drawn to their unique architectural features and fascinating history. As such, the fortresses of Azad Kashmir are an essential part of the region's cultural heritage and should be preserved for future generations to appreciate.

 

Map:


This blog has been penned by Muhammad Saad Asad.

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