Dhar Fort

The Indore highway runs close to Dhar’s fort. We parked next to the road and walked in past a recent wall. I was to read later that the government is trying to prevent encroachments on the fort, somewhat half-heartedly according to reports. One of the measures is to forbid construction 300 meters from the fort walls. As a result we had a clear view of the red sandstone ramparts and bastions (photo below) as we walked up to the entrance gate. It was interesting to see a part of an abandoned cannon still pointed at the ramparts.

A rather wonky web page by the state tourism department claims that the fort was built in 1344 CE. This fits with the known history of the era. The town of Dhar and the kingdom of Malwa had been annexed by the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century CE, and passed on to the Tughlaq dynasty in the 14th century CE. Muhammad bin Tughlaq, the infamous 2nd sultan of the dynasty, spent the years from 1327 CE fighting breakaway generals and kingdoms. In 1338 CE he put down a revolt in Malwa, and nine years later lost the region south of it to a rebellion by his own general Bahman Shah. The putative year of the construction of this fort agrees with the period when this region would have been in the thick of war.

We walked in through a gate which stuck out of the line of the rampart and looked quite different (photo above). I guess this was built to commemorate a visit of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir in 1664 CE (1075 AH). Past this we climbed three or four steps and came on the original door built into the ramparts of the fort (featured photo). The stone looks dark here, but I think it is just algae growing on the original red sandstone. In parts where the growth has been scraped off, you can see the colour of the sandstone. The brick walls abutting the bastion here must be a later construction.

Paths into forts never go straight. A couple of youngsters in school uniforms pushed their bicycles past us through the gate. We followed. Inside was a little vestibule, and then another gate. A description in the East Indian Gazetteer (Volume 1, by Walter Hamilton, 1828 CE) says “The fort is entirely detached from the city, standing on a rising ground about forty feet above the plain. The walls are about thirty feet high, fortified by round and square towers.” We passed through the inner gate (photo above, courtesy The Family) into the keep.

Very little stands inside here. Our first view was of a pasture with cows and a little village beyond (photo above, courtesy The Family). I hadn’t understood the descriptions of the fort when I read them earlier. The palaces which stand inside the fort are small. We found them soon enough, but the village explained why there were schoolchildren with bicycles climbing into the fort. When the governor of Malwa, Dilawar Khan, rebelled against the Delhi Sultanate and declared himself Sultan of Malwa in 1401 CE, the fort must have been an important possession. There must be detailed histories of that time, but I haven’t been able to locate any, so I don’t know whether there was a village here at that time. In any case, during the war of independence in 1857, troops garrisoned here rebelled. The fort was taken back by British troops less than a month later, and the village inside was burnt down although the rebels managed to flee. The village we saw is clearly a more recent development.

We climbed up the ramparts and saw before us the spreading town of Dhar. A photo of the fort was taken in 1892 by Raja Deen Dayal, and shows empty land all around the fort. Today, the fort is no longer “entirely detached from the city”. The town is still not very large, so you can see the very pleasant rolling contours of a typical Malwa landscape beyond the houses, all the way to the horizon and the looming windmills.

The birthplace of modern India

Of course I am exaggerating a little, because nothing as big as a nation has a single origin. But you could make a case that the British Raj took the First War of Independence of 1857 as an excuse to destroy the old India. Today’s nation, in a sense, is a work of restoration, made up by sticking together recoverable bits of the old with serviceable new pieces from elsewhere. When you stand at the tomb of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, random thoughts like this are inevitable.

After the war was lost, the British Raj was established and Bahadur Shah Zafar was exiled to Yangon to live out the last days of his life. This was a mirror of the exile of Burma’s last king, Thibaw, to Ratnagiri. Bahadur Shah was a poet, and perhaps one of the most famous poems attributed to him starts with the line "Lagta nahi hai dil mera, ujre dayaar mein" (I find no pleasure in this derelict city). The problem with this neat story is that city is more likely to be Delhi than the then-little port of Yangon, apart from the fact that there is a recent dispute about the authorship of this ghazal.

Tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar in YangonWhen Bahadur Shah died in 1862, his body was buried in secrecy. Over the years a tradition grew which said his body was buried in the mosque in Yangon named after him. The photo you see here is a modern tomb constructed next to the jamaatkhana (prayer hall) of the mosque. The grave with the neon crown is supposed to be the emperor’s and the other two are supposed to be of two of his wives.

Strangely, an excavation in the late 1980s revealed a hidden grave one level below this, and studies eventually led to the conclusion that the hidden grave genuinely contained the remains of the last Mughal emperor. In 1994 Myanmar and India together constructed the little underground memorial which you see in the featured photo. It stands directly below the traditional spot in the other photo.

Myanmar has a treasure trove of British documents from these last years of Bahadur Shah’s life, stored as pdf files in its national archives. They were first described in William Dalrymple’s book on Bahadur Shah, but I’m sure there is material enough for many historians in Yangon.

The Lucknow Residency

A palace complex which may have belonged to the sons of the Nawab of Lucknow was given over for the use of the British Resident of Lucknow in 1800. The buildings are made of lakhauri brick and lime mortar, and still show signs of external decoration. In 1856 the last Nawab of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah, was deposed by the British East India Company and exiled to Kolkata. The next year, the residency came under siege during the War of Independence. Although the siege was eventually lifted, Lucknow was abandoned until the end of the War.


The Residency was left as a memorial to the war, and never reoccupied. Even today one can see the marks of cannonball and shot in the brick and plaster. The Archaeological Survey of India has had the complex in its care since 1920. In recent years there have been archaeological digs at one end of the site. Some of the artifacts which have been recovered are on display in the museum on the grounds. The extensive grounds are now well-manicured gardens. There are more lovers than tourists in the gardens: history has a way of forgetting wars.