Pristine Glory of Jammu: Basohli Fort

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Manu Khajuria

The town of Basohli, founded by Raja Bhoopat Pal in 1635 AD, is some 130 kms north east of Jammu was a very important principality amongst the 22 royal principalities of the Jammu Hills. He founded the many Palaces and forts in Basohli and his descendants Sangram Pal, Kirpal Pal, Dheeraj Pal, Medini Pal and Amrit Pal made additions to these structures from time to time. Surrounded by the Shivalik Hills with Ravi River flowing on one side, both Punjab and Himachal are its neighbours. For 400 yrs this principality remained under Dogra Chandravanshi Billowria Rajputs. To its west were the Ramnagar (Bandralta),Bhaderwah, Ramkot(Mankot) Jasrota principalities, Nurpur in the south and Chamba in the east. It was in 1914 that Basohli got the status of Tehsil. According to the census of 1941, Basohli jad 139 villages. Over time new tehsils of Bani, Billawar and Mahanpur were carved out from the Basohli Tehsil of 1914.
The local legend goes that the Raja of Basohli constructed a ropeway connecting the palace which was on one hillock to the Mata Chanchlo Temple situated within a fort on the opposite hillock. The distance between the hillocks and the height of this ropeway were daunting. The ropeway itself was just a tight rope without any suport thrwon across two high hills. Knowing well that this would be impossible to cross the Raja declared that he would give away his Kingdom to anyone who would cross this ropeway.
A dancer in his court accepted this challenge and began walking across the tight rope between the two hills. When the Raja realised that the dancer was going to successfully complete the challenge, he panicked and ordered the ropes to be cut. The ropes were cut and the dancer plunged to a painful death. Before dying she cursed the Raja and said that the fort would lose its glory and all that would remain was ruins.

The Lost Glory of Basohli Fort

Basohli Fort lies in ruins today. What was once a magnificent Palace cum Fort complex perched on a hillock, and even compared to Heidelberg lies in ruins,deserted and desolate. Built over phases the Palace had three main Halls, Durbar Hall, Rang Mahal and Sheesh Mahal. The Durbar Hall was intended for public and official purpose. The beautiful additions Rang Mahal and Sheesh Mahal were made by Raja Mahinder Pal in 1782 AD. These complexes were decorated with frescoes and mural painting of Lord Krishna and Gopis, of Nayaka and Nayikas. The design of the Palace was such that during summers the walls of the palace became cool and the technology used to achieve this was based on the principle of evaporation. A network of pipes ran through the walls of the structure. Water was run through them and the evaporation made the rooms cool. To keep the rooms warm in winters hot water was made to run through the same pipes.
The Basohli Palace cum Fort complex was a specimen of such architectural marvel that it attracted international travelers and the French traveler Vigne who visited Basohli in 1835-39 described the town and the palace as as ” Basohli contains a large and good looking bazaar, and the palace would hardly as far as I could judge, be worth of traveler’s notice, were it not for the baronial appearance of the palace of the old Rajas, which i thought the very finest buildingnof the kind I had seen in the East. And I think the grandeur of the Palace not inferior to that of Heidelberg.” From travelers accounts it is clear that the condition of the Palace complex was good till the first half of the 19th ry. During the reign of Raja Bhupinder Pal 1813-1834 AD, Basohli state was attacked by the Sikhs several times and in these attacks the Basohli fort cum palace was damaged and weakened.
By various accounts some portions of the structure of the fort and palace complex was lost by mid 1930s. There was no Rang Mahal by 1936 and more was lost in the consequent years due to the apathy of the successive state governments towards the history and heritage of the Jammu Region. The ruins of the Basohli Fort also known as Jalakadi meaning heart of the town, still has a magnetic pull. A walk amongst Palace walls which stand proud, refusing to give in to the ravages of time, state apathy, and a woman’s curse seem to be whispering stories of an era gone by. A walk through what is literally a haunting history is unmissable.

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