The Colossal FortRight in the center of the National Park is Ranthambhore fort, a stronghold built in 994AD by Sapaldaksh Chauhana to thwart invasions by Persian invaders. The fort has a nice legend to it. It is said that two princes went on a boar hunt. They found one alright, but as soon as the beast spied the duo he dove into a lake. The princes appealed to Lord Shiva to bring the boar out so they could kill it. Shiva agreed, but on the condition that the princes would have to build him a fort. Out came the boar to be killed, and the two princes went forth and built a fort. The fort is located on a high cliff surrounded by jungles and has a bloody history. In the 14th century, the fort became the site for the first ever jauhar (self immolation by women) in Rajput history. Jauhar, put simply, meant that wives of Rajput warriors immolated themselves in a huge bonfire when confronted with defeat. All this happened during the reign of Raja Hammir Dev who was fighting the Persian forces. The women left behind in the fort came to know of Hammir's death in battle and consequently decided to end their lives. However, Hammir was very much alive. On his return to the fort and learning about the jauhar, he beheaded himself before a statue of Shiva within the fort.
The Great HistoryDuring the 12th century AD the Turks were ruling Delhi and in 1194AD Qutub-ud-Aibak captured Ranthambhore fort from the Rajputs. On Aibak's death in 1210AD Altamush was appointed his successor who realised that in order to gain control over Turkish possessions in India he would be required to make the Sultanate stronger than before. By 1220 Altamush had established the northern frontier along the river Indus. However, with Qutub-ud-din Aibak's death the Rajputs had realigned themselves and had come together as a force to reckon with. Ranthambhore fort which they had lost to the Turks had been regained and Ajmer and its surrounding areas were secure. Delhi saw different rulers in Altamush's successor Raziya Sultan and subsequently Balban, who were unable to make much headway into Rajasthan, and Ranthambhore remained in Rajput hands.
Then came Alauddin Khilji, a ruler of Afghan descent. The Rajputs had mastered the art of guerilla warfare and counted on that to hold out against the Sultanate, but had not contended with Khilji's military tactics. Alauddin Khilji captured Ranthambhore fort in 1303 and destroyed the temples within its walls. Later, the Rajputs reclaimed the fortress and held it till the Mughal emperor Akbar came along in 1569. Akbar laid siege to the fort with an artillery barrage which lasted for 37 days, but ultimately it was a ruse which got him the fort. The emperor disguised himself as a common mace bearer and was accompanied by one of his Rajput generals, also in disguise. Within a few hours the fort had been taken and Akbar acknowledged as its ruler. Being of generous disposition, the emperor gifted away the fort to the Maharaja of Jaipur.
Strongest BastionThe approach to the fort is from the west along a serpentine route which passes through four fortified gateways. The first gateway is armoured with a huge iron chain and elephant spikes to discourage intentions of ramming it with an elephant. Likewise is the second gate. The third gate lies on a sharp bend and is protected by the ancient Ranthambhore monolith head. The final gate is the strongest bastion of defense with huge spiked doors, a turret and a raised platform which leads into a long vaulted tunnel which in turn goes right into the fort. So many defenses and this is the only way to enter the Ranthambhore fort!
An 18th century traveler describes the fort as being famous throughout India, well protected, completely inaccessible, concealed in mountainous regions where the ridges were high and surrounded the entire fort, leaving only the forest gorge below as entrances and exits which could be easily defended. Only cannons could blast through the walls and force entry, and the notorious inaccuracy of cannon fire meant that the fort justified its reputation as unconquerable.
The walls of the fort are equally foreboding, rising upto 200ft (61m). A massive climb without anything to hold on to, or a death-fall, depending on where one is. However, the interior of the fort is now in ruins and the remains of only two temples dedicated to Shiva and Ganesh, a Jain temple and a water tank can still be found. The Badal Mahal in the north section of the fort offers a splendid view below.