The Chittorgarh Fort in northwest India is the largest in India and one of the largest in the world. It is also one of the oldest surviving fortifications in Asia, and has a colorful if violent history. Aside from its impressive dimensions, Chittorgarh is famous for its gravity-defying cliff-top battlements and a water-storage system that is itself an engineering marvel. According to legend, at its height the fort could garrison an army of as many as fifty thousand soldiers for up to four years. Although the Chittorgarh Fort has not been immune to the passage of time, especially considering the many battles and sieges which took place here, the Chittorgarh Fort is in remarkably good shape. After being abandoned in the late 16th century, Chittorgarh is currently making a major comeback and has become one of India’s most popular tourist destinations.
There are records of fortifications on the spot where Chittorgarh now stands going back as far as the 6th century AD. The first fort was likely founded by descendants of the Mauryas. From that time until the end of the 13th century the Chittorgarh Fort passed through the control of a number of dynasties, and was frequently expanded, until it was believed by military experts to be the most impregnable citadel in India. Throughout this entire period, Chittorgarh served as the capital from which the Mewar region was ruled.
In 1303, the Chittorgarh Fort witnessed the most famous siege fought for love since the Trojan War. In that year the Sultan of Delhi marched on Chittorgarh out of desire to capture the wife of the King of Mewar. The siege did not last long, and was fought primarily through treachery and intrigue. After being briefly captured, the King of Mewar was rescued by his men. These in turn were caught and surrounded before the gates of the fort and subsequently massacred. Rather than be captured, the queen and her retinue burned themselves to death.
After its fall, the Chittorgarh Fort passed into the control of Muslim rulers. The mighty citadel became a key an incredibly strategic prize among the warring factions seeking to dominate Northern India. In one noted incident, the great ruler Rana Kumbha was assassinated by his own son who sought control of the fort and the kingdom. But the bloodiest era arrived with the Mughals in the 16th century.
In 1527 the Mughals conquered Gujarat, exposing Mewar to the threat of attack. Less than a decade later, Chittorgarh was besieged by an overwhelming force and sacked. According to legend more than ten thousand women committed suicide rather than face the wrath of the Mughal soldiers. After this disaster, the Chittorgarh Fort had a brief resurgence. But the Mughals came again in 1567, this time to conquer the fortress permanently. The subsequent siege was the largest in Chittorgarh’s history. Some figures estimate that thirty thousand men from both sides died in the battle before the fortress finally fell. In the wake of this disaster Chittorgarh became neglected, and by the end of the 16th century was abandoned altogether.
Chittorgarh Fort is an absolutely massive collection of fortifications and buildings in various states of repair. Because of its history, size and condition, Chittorgarh draws parallels to Rhinefels Castle in Germany. Almost ten miles of walls enclose the site. From below, the surviving outer walls arise breathtakingly from jaw-dropping cliffs. The most prominent features of the fort are the Victory and Fame Towers, which arise like minarets from the highest points of the mountain and offer stunning views of the fort and the surrounding landscape.
Entrance to the fort is through a series of gates. Designed to withstand assault by both artillery and elephants, most of the gates are still in excellent shape. The interior of Chittorgarh is a labyrinth of palaces and temples. The Rana Kumbha Palace now houses an archaeological museum. Of particular interest from an engineering standpoint are the man-made reservoirs which can be found throughout the site. In some places these reservoirs are prevented from spilling over the cliffs only by ancient, precariously built parapets.
Chittorgarh Fort crowns a massive mountain overlooking the city of Chittorgarh in the modern state of Rajasthan, approximately 130 miles southwest of Jaipur and 250 miles southwest of Delhi. The road to the top of the mountain is steep and often difficult, and many visitors reach the top by motor rickshaw. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.chittorgarh.com (official website).
Thanks to its location on the frontier between the Subcontinent and Central Asia, Rajasthan boasts some of the best forts in India, if not all of Asia. Just a short list includes the Amber Fort and Kumbhalgarh Fort. Even more amazing are the absolutely jaw-dropping Jaisalmer Fort and Mehrangarh Fort, both of which would be included if there was more room.