An unending battle for preservation of Jaganu Fort

Sunny Dua
Amidst the tranquil landscapes of Jaganu, a small town located on a hillock of district Udhampur, a hidden gem of history in the form of a magnificent fort stands tall, bearing witness to centuries of tales untold. Built in 1928AD, this fort, once a bastion of strength and symbol of cultural heritage, now finds itself ensnared in the clutches of time’s relentless march and the encroachment of modernity. A full-fledged higher secondary school is today functioning from inside the fort that has historic as well as architectural value and if developed could have been the best tourist spot of this district.
Had the authorities nipped the evil in the bud especially when the first brick of the school was laid down, the situation would have been altogether different, today. Contrarily, the entire premises of the fort has been converted into a full-fledged higher secondary school that’s having multiple blocks, principle’s room, washrooms, steel gates, common halls, playgrounds, botanical garden, water tanks, a dried-up pond, few barracks like structures occupied by the school and one huge ground right at the entrance of Jaganu fort known as ‘Chowgan’. A magnificent huge entrance gate and caved-in outer thick walls where weeds and trees are creating crevasses are the only remains left for visitors to see.

Stone carved statues of Mata Vaishno Devi and Lord Hanumana on both sides of main entrance of Jaganu fort wherein fissures on the wall can also be seen.

One wonders whether this is a fort that’s having its own school or a school of the government which is fortified. Strangely all this encroachment happened especially when almost 100 years old Jaganu fort stands declared as state protected monument as per the provisions of ancient monuments preservation act. As per the provision of this act, no new construction is allowed to take place in and around the prohibited areas. The only construction that’s allowed is creation of public facilities and that too when the department feels their necessities for the convenience of public or tourists visiting the spot.
According to the law, the prohibited area around a protected area or monument, whether already declared or proposed for declaration, extends 100 meters in all directions from its boundaries and in contravention to this law the authorities concerned have raised a double-storied school right on ground zero (inside fortified area) and at raised structured at other places adjoining the historic walls of this fort which are caving in from many portions. Strangely, the ever-expanding school also made an attempt to raise construction through J&K Samagra Shiksha in the main ground which is the approach to this magnificent fort.
“Mockery of heritage site”
Though the department of archives, archaeology and museums got the work stopped and is even restoring the walls of this fort, yet the prime task ahead is shifting of school from withing this fort premises to another location. Sources said that this 60 years old school is today having a strength of 500 students and to accommodate them in best premises the department is regularly making alterations to the premises by even fixing vitrified tiles, steel gates and constructing new bathrooms in this protected monument.
Right at the entrance where a huge door built in Mughal style architecture decorated with statues of deities welcomes visitors exists a newly built water tank for the convenience of students and staff. Two huge steel gates have been fixed on the historic walls, thereby damaging the very structure and architecture of this fort which prove to be eyesore and don’t blend with the construction. Work on the new bathroom that was coming up right on the right side of entrance has been stopped by the department of archives, archaeology and museums. As if this was not enough all the internal walls of fort have been defaced with slogans and inaugural stones or writings.
In totality there exists a double-story school building having two blocks, one single story building, another block having tin shed and other facilities for staff and students of this higher secondary school,Jaganu. The school according to authorities was established way back in 1905 within the fort premises which today is having 18 rooms. During the day when school functions, the visitors also walk in the premises to see the remains of fort. A pond built with stones is also housed in the fort which has dried up and serves little no purpose. Way back in 1986 this fort was declared as protected monument but efforts to shift school out of its premises have born no positive results till date.
District administration was informed about violations taking place in the fort and multiple communication were also shot to them by the department of archives, archaeology and museums to even shift the school but nothing has happened till date. Sources said that the school authorities too have written to the revenue authorities to verify the title of land but they too have received no communication from the tehsildar concerned thereby allowing the school to function in contravention to law of the land.
Using their authority and law the department of archives, archaeology and museums have got one such school functional from within the Samba fort shifted and restored the glory of fort. The department intends to do the same with Jaganu fort and restore its glory but an inordinate delay in the shifting of school from within the fort premises is creating hurdles. Despite the department having got ample funds from ministry of culture to restore old historic sites like Jaganu fort, dispute between the department and revenue authorities besides school education department is not allowing it to do justice with the fort.
Located at a distance of about 70 kilometers from Jammu and about 12 Kilometers from Udhampur, the fort is located at such a site that it overlooks river Tawi and from the top of its walls one can have a panoramic view of Udhampur city. In antiquity, this locale flourished as a pivotal hub for trade. Merchants hailing from Jammu, Samba, and Amritsar frequented this area, utilizing it not only as a stopover but also as a bustling marketplace to conduct commerce. Their merchandise traversed far-reaching routes, reaching destinations as diverse as Ramnagar, Doda, Kishtwar, and even the esteemed Valley of Kashmir.
Before the advent of the Jammu & Kashmir highway in 1920, under the reign of Partap Singh, this town reigned supreme as the principal urban center within Tehsil Udhampur. Boasting a plethora of more than a hundred shops, it epitomized economic prosperity. However, with the establishment of the aforementioned highway, a transformative shift occurred. This historic town gradually waned in significance as a multitude of traders redirected their operations towards the burgeoning township of Udhampur.
The fort, according to many writers was having three gates and on one of the main entrances there are ten watch towers. A huge stone idol of Lord Hanuman is also located on the right side of entrance. The main gate is having statues of Mata Durga and Mata Vaishno Devi. The significance of Jaganoofort embodies the essence of our cultural heritage, weaving together the threads of our storied past. Through centuries, this fort has stood as a silent sentinel, bearing witness to the ebb and flow of history, and encapsulating the essence of our collective identity.However, neglect and encroachment have cast a shadow over its once-grand stature, imperiling this invaluable heritage. It is imperative that we rally behind efforts to restore and preserve Jaganu Fort, not merely for its historical importance, but also for its potential to serve as a beacon for tourists, offering them a glimpse into our rich and illustrious past.
A visit to the place indicates that huge thick stones walls built in lime mortar become visible well before reaching Jaganu. Narrow streets of Jaganu lead one to the fort but before reaching the ground zero, one sees a huge ground known as Chowgan which serves the purpose of playground for school children. The site is so magnificently located that rays of rising Sun fall on this fort in the morning and one can have the panoramic view of Udhampur and its adjoining areas right from top of walls of this fort.
(The writer is Senior Journalist)