Qila Gajpat- Ramban: A fort in ruins

Robin Koul
Forts are the living monuments; the symbols; which reveal the past and preserve the pages of history to keep a link between past and present alive. District Ramban is associated with the history of many kingdoms and fiefdoms.
One of the important historical monuments in Ramban district the Gajpat Fort or Qila Gajpat, situated on the opposite side of Chanderkote town, across the river Chenab, is located on the mountain top in the Saraj area at an elevation of 3792 feet and is said to be constructed by local Rajput kings in historical times. It was built to monitor the movement of enemy troops and to provide reinforcement to the local armies against enemy attack, as strategically it can give a 360 degree view of the mountain areas around. Later it was renovated by Maharaja Gulab Singh and transformed into a prison. The word “Saraj” or “Siraj” are the abbreviated form of “Sawraj” having a literal meaning of “own sovereignty” in the Ramban- Doda- Kishtwar belt of mountains.
Historical Relevance and famous Prisoners:
Raja Sultan Khan Chib: In 1825, Gulab Singh imprisoned Raja Sultan Khan Chib of Bimbar in this fort. The story goes like this; Raja Sultan Khan Chib was the last independent ruler of Chib dynasty who ruled Bhimber up to 1825. In the early times of his career, Gulab Singh and his brother Dyan Singh were employed on a salary of three rupees per month and were put in charge of Throchi fort also known as Kotli Fort. Throchi fort is situated in Choroi Tehsil of District Kotli in POK and was under the command of Raja Sultan Khan Chib at that time.
While in service he had some disputes with Raja Sultan Khan and he left the Throchi Fort to join the darbar (court) of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab in 1812. In the course of events in history, on 17 June 1822 Maharaja Ranjit Singh coroneted Gulab Singh as Raja of Jammu.
In 1825 Gulab Singh was returning from an expedition against Sayed Ahmed. With a mind to confine Sultan Khan and Rahmatulla Khan he brought both of them to Jammu on the pretext for discussion about some official matters. Gulab Singh had some personal rivalry against Raja Sultan Khan Chib. Gulab Singh was the commander of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army, during Maharaja’s first attempt to invade Kashmir in 1814. At that time Raja Sultan Khan acted against the Maharaja and revolted when Punjab forces were advancing towards Pir Pass. Also it is said that while in service of Raja Sultan Khan, his wife Khatoon Begum used to mistreat Gulab Singh on petty issues.
He detained both of them for two months in Royal Bahu fort. Rahmatulla Khan understood the plot of Gulab Singh and skipped to Rajouri somehow. Enraged by the news, Raja Gulab Singh arrested Raja Sultan Khan and sent him to the infamous Gajpat prison located on the top of a mountain in Ramban. In the coming few years Raja Sultan Khan died at that very prison. Raja was buried at Chanderkote. Raja Gulab Singh avenged the past vilifications by sending him into the prison and made sure that he cannot rise against the empire in the future.
It is said that a Hindu shopkeeper who was a friend of Raja Sultan Khan tried to construct a tomb on the grave of Raja Sultan Khan. But as the news reached Raja Gulab Singh, he immediately warned him to stop the construction. And the tomb could never be constructed. The grave of Raja Sultan Khan Chib of Bimber can still be seen in the Chanderkote.
Mian Hathu Singh : In 1858 Mian Hathu Singh, the Governor of Rajouri who was himself a builder of the Rajouri Fort at Dhannidhar village was imprisoned in the Gajpat Fort. His story goes like this. On 15th March, 1846, the Amritsar pact was signed between the British Government and Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu and he was designated as Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. After taking the charge of Rajouri from Raja Faqir Ullah in 1846 he appointed Mian Hathu as Governor of Rajouri. Mian Hathu Singh was half brother of Maharaja Ranbir Singh. In 1858 he revolted against the Maharaja regime and made an attempt to kill Maharaja Ranbir Singh. Mian Hathu was arrested and shifted to Gajpat fort and died in this fort.
Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah: Sheikh Abdullah was dismissed as Prime Minister by the Sadr-e-Riyasat on 08 August 1953. It is said that before shifting Sheikh Abdullah to Reasi for imprisonment he was kept imprisoned in Gajpat Quila for 22 days.
Local Legends: Once upon a time it is said, there was a famous thief in Jammu. He was of a huge build and was very powerful. He used to hide stolen things under a heavy stone slab over his roof. When police would come to search his home they neglected that stone slab as they thought that it was not in any human capacity to move that. But once he was caught red handed. He was sentenced to imprisonment in the Gajpat fort by the Maharaja. Gajpat Fort was so ill-famed that it was believed that no prisoner could escape from there alive. But he took it as a personal challenge. The very next day he jumped from the top of the mountain into the Chenab River. And after swimming from there to Akhnoor next day he presented himself in front of the Maharaja at his darbar. Everyone was dumbfounded discovering his presence. The Maharaja got impressed by his bravery and repealed all the charges against him and recruited him in his army.
Speaking to Sh Raghunath Singh Sumbria from Ghanouth area of Ramban, an interesting story about the history of the formation of the mountain of Gajpat fort came to be known. It is said that when the Pandwas were travelling through this area, they once slept near the bank of Chander Bhaga (present day Chenab). Everyone slept peacefully except the mighty Bhima, who was getting disturbed by the sound of the gurgling river. After many futile attempts to sleep, it is said that he threw the boulders and land mass into the river to choke its flow. That land mass is now seen in the form of the mountain on which Gajpat Qila is situated. It is also said that Bhima established the Kali Temple and worshiped there asking forgiveness for obstructing the flow of river. Surprisingly one can still observe that the river flowing through that stretch really doesn’t make any noise.
There is a staircase just adjacent to the temple which leads to the water reservoir. It is believed that the colour of the water in that reservoir changes to the same colour as of the Chenab River flowing below. It is said that there was a Tarkhan (Lumberman/ carpenter) who improvised some mechanical wheel devices to raise water from the level of Chenab to the fort. It is said that once his wife stopped that wheel and from that time water level didn’t increase or decrease.
Religious Significance: There is a temple of Mahakali in Gajpat fort which is the centre of devotion for the natives of Ramban. A decorated idol of Mata Kali is illuminating the divine temple. A number of trishula and sankals are offered by the devotees. This temple has recently been renovated. Before reaching the main temple, a temple dedicated to Hanuman Ji has been constructed in the outer periphery. Also a Shiv temple has been constructed inside the premises.
Dilip Singh Minhas who actively participates in maintenance and construction of the temple informed us that in the month of June, Chaddi from the districts around like Udhmpur, Reasi, Ramban, Jammu halts here for a night while their yatra moves towards Mata Chaund (Chamunda Mata) at Galadhar. The night is celebrated by the performance of bajan and kirtan by the devotees.
Present Picture: Dishearteningly, it would not be wrong to say that in present times it is called a fort for name sake only. Concrete steps are being constructed which connect the Temple to the road head. Construction of a building for the stay of devotees and religious function is under process by the aid of temple administration. Only one bronze cannon among the many has been left behind which narrates the glorious past of this fort. Some inscriptions are engraved in Urdu which says “Gulab Singh Bahadur Sahib 1904”. As per locals many cannons were stolen in the past. People of Ramban and administration may come together to preserve this piece of the history and heritage in its old form of glory.