Razia Sultana Fort
India's Oldest Surviving Fort at Bhatinda
I had started my corporate career in 1996 with CEAT tyres. During the course of my induction and orientation, I got to visit Nashik, Bhatinda and Dehradun. After those visits, the life got on to a fast track and there were never any opportunity to visit these cities over last two decades or to be precise exactly 20 years. Last October, in connection with our quarterly accounts conference, I had to visit Dehradun. Later, this January another assignment took me to Nashik for a Day.
It was time for another quarterly finance conference in February and the venue chosen was our Bhatinda unit. With this, the life seems to have come a full circle after 20 years. Off course, there was no question of missing out on this opportunity.
As the plans were being made, I googled around to find out the places that can be visited on our morning sortie. I stumbled on a jewel in the form of Bhatinda Fort that is popularly known as Quila Mubarak and also as Razia Sultana Fort. This fort has rich history and happens to be the India's longest surviving fort. The fort was built in year 90-110 AD by emperor Kanishka and Raja Dab. Over a period, this fort has seen many battles during which it was captured and recaptured by various kings and emperors that include Mahmud Ghazni (1004 AD), Mohammed Ghori (1189 AD) and Prithvi Raj Chauhan (1191 AD).
The first ever woman ruler from India Razia Sultana was imprisoned in this fort for 4 months from April 1240 till August 1240. She was the princess and later the ruler of Delhi which she ruled for 5 years before being killed in October 1240. Babur came to this fort in 15th century with his canons and four of they can still be seen here. Guru Nanak Dev visited this fort in 1515, Guru Teg Bahadur in 1665 and Guru Gobind Singh in 1705.
We were three who had to travel from Delhi to Bhatinda and we preferred to hire a cab as we felt this will give us a flexibility considering the itinerary of the conference. We started early on Friday and reached by 1.00pm at Bhatinda after couple of brief stopovers on the way. Overall, the road is good except for a small stretch where it is without dividers due to which one tends to slow down. On the way, we crossed Bahadurgarh, Hissar, Fatehabad and the town of Talwandi Sabo which is one of the sacred takhts of Sikh religion which is just about 30 kms before Bhatinda.
Our staying arrangements were at Country Inn & Suites. I must say that we were not expecting such a nice hotel. This indeed was a pleasant surprise for all of us. Indeed, the hotel owners have done a futuristic investment at Bhatinda and I am confident that considering the rich history and big business potential this city carries, it is just a matter of time when it hits big time on tourism and business circuit.
We planned an early morning sortie to the Fort on Saturday, our second day at Bhatinda. The fort opens around 5.00am. We were seven of us who went. We reached the fort around 7.00am and it was reasonable bright by then. The place was already bustling with devotees as well as morning walkers. There is a Gurudwara inside the fort campus that was built in 1835 by Maharaja Karam Singh. Till sometime back, the Gurudwara used to be on the top of the Fort Minaret but after one of the burj fell down, it was shifted to the ground area of the fort campus.
It is a small but beautiful and well maintained fort to a large extent. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is carrying maintenance & restoration work in the campus. I must say that they have done a great job in preserving this monument. The fort walls are very wide and offer a good walking space to the morning walkers especially considering that it is on a height, one gets morning fresh air to inhale. In fact, I also liked the place and the morning breeze there. Just wished of we had such a place in Delhi. I enjoyed an hour walking on the fort wall and taking pictures before starting back to the hotel as the conference sessions were to begin at 10.00am.
During my walk, I noticed many sections of the fort wall that were crumbling or at some places had already fallen down. Though we could see that ASI is working on restoration but I feel the pace has to be faster and especially on the external facade as well before we start losing more sections of the wall. May be authorities can join hands with public by way of crowd-funding initiatives so as to preserve the India's oldest surviving fort that has seen the history pass through its doorway.
To the uninitiated ones and those who may be thinking of planning a trip after reading this travelogue, Bhatinda is one of the oldest cities in Punjab and is located near India-Pakistan border. It is about 350 kms away from Delhi and 230 kms from Chandigarh. The city is well connected with Indian Railways Shatabdi Express apart from various other trains. Recently, Air India has connected Bhatinda with direct flights from Delhi though with a limited service of three flights in a week.