Wild and Historical Bundelkhand – Ajaigarh Fort, The forbidden Kingdom

Table of contents for Bundelkhand

  1. Wild and Historical Bundelkhand – Panna Tiger Reserve & Khajuraho at Night
  2. Wild and Historical Bundelkhand – Ajaigarh Fort, The forbidden Kingdom
  3. Wild and Historical Bundelkhand – Raneh Fall & Khajuraho

Next morning we wake up with a bad weather again. It rained all night which we could hear pouring on the tarpaulin roof. After breakfast we decided to start for Ajaigarh, a less visited place in Panna. While browsing I read about the hidden jewel and decided to reach there inevitably.

Kalinjar & Ajaigarh are known as twin forts 35 km away, situated on hill tops of the Vindhya Range in UP & MP. Historically, former was constructed during 2nd-3rd century and served for the Gupta Dynasty to the Chandelas until annexed by the British. Later was reportedly built by the Chandelas during their downfall & was unconquered despite many battles hence, the name Ajaigarh.

Forest Check Post

Forest Check Post

Way to Gangau Sanctuary

Way to Gangau Sanctuary

A Lake view on route to Ajaigarh

A Lake view on route to Ajaigarh

The known road to Ajaigarh is via Panna around 65-70 km from Madla. But we decided to go by another route which is through a jungle, for adding little adventure and also to avoid the bad road. From Harsa-More on Panna Road and entering the Gangau Sanctuary leads directly towards Ajaigarh. The serpentine dusty track amid canopy of Sal & Teak forest & occasional rural settlement was a treat to eyes and enjoyable 40 km journey. Half of which is tarred though, still rural and the entire surrounding is photogenic. Jai, our driver informed there is no wildlife in the sanctuary because the villagers either drag them away or inform the forest department to keep them away. This is to avoid harassment and legal actions in cases of poaching or accidental death of the animals, even if the villagers are not involved.

Soon we reached the rural town of Ajaigarh. With high hopes, I was eagerly expecting convenient sign boards of the so important site but in vain. Enquiringly, we entered through the lanes till we saw a small board installed by courtesy of local villagers showing direction to the hill top fort.

None to greet you, except few villagers expecting few bucks, to act as your guide in exploring the hidden treasures at the fort and the very exotic temples inside the forest atop.

We found one such local resident Mr. Hari Ram, who with an axe in his hand was about to go in search for his days job. Greeting us, he willingly joined to act as our guide. Since the place is almost abandoned, forested and ruined, venturing without a local guide is not advisable.

Ajaigarh Fort is situated in Panna District atop a plateau of the Vindhya Hills. The grandeur of the fort and its rich history is evident in its architectural excellence & speaks volumes about the golden past of Chandela dynasty.

Before I proceed, let me confess that despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find much written about the magnificent fort or the exotic ruined temples hidden in the jungle. Appending few of the genuine excerpts that I could compile after browsing as much as possible.

Wikipedia

Ajaigarh fort is situated on a steep hill and contains the ruins of several temples adorned with elaborately carved sculptures.

“ASI Bhopal Circle”

It stands on a lofty flat topped spur of the Vindhyan hill. Originally it had five gates, but now it has two gates and two temples inside. Near the northern gate there are two rock-cut tanks, known as Ganga and Yamuna. Close to it is a ruined Chandella temple, attributed to Raja Parmardi deva three ruined Jain temples built in Khajuraho style have been traced here.

A few sites say the fort has been sold to the Oberoi Group for converting it as a Tiger Resort.

Wikipedia says: “Ajaigarh Fort was sold to Oberoi Group and they plan to develop a tiger resort there. It is considered a pet project of “Bikki” Oberoi, son of Mohan Singh Oberoi”.

To continue my story, we reached in front of the hill on which the fort is situated, by entering through the narrow lane. It was advised to carry some water & snacks for the journey. A flight of 500 plus steep stairs and further venturing inside the ruins take good three to four hour with firm will and strong knees.

Flight of Stairs

Flight of Stairs

Ajaigarh Palace

Ajaigarh Palace

Excitedly we started ascending slowly but steadily. On the way we were informed that the stairs were constructed in 2006 by a keen District Collector, Smt. Deepali Rastogi (IAS). A palace still occupied by the descendants of the kingdom, appears magnificent from the top.

Entry to Ajaigarh Fort

Entry to Ajaigarh Fort

Surviving Gate of Ajaigarh Fort

Surviving Gate of Ajaigarh Fort

Ganga

Ganga

Yamuna

Yamuna

Breathless, we reached at one of the surviving entry of the magnificent reminiscent of the desolate fort. Entering through the gate,we stepped into the incredible history. After walking through the unpaved track our guide took us beneath a cliff of huge rock where two rock cut openings side by side was filled with water. He informed, the rock cut tanks under the large rock is known as Ganga & Yamuna and are the only source of drinking water in the fort. Water drizzle inside the tank in natural course thus keep the tanks full perennially. The water is also considered holy by the locals due to some mythological beliefs.

Sculptures & Inscriptions in Alley

Sculptures & Inscriptions in Alley

Ascending few more steps, we were astonished to see some exquisite rock carvings in rows. Inscriptions in some ancient language were also carved on the walls of the hard sedimentary rocks. Deities, devotees, apsaras and holy animals were few of the figurines engraved since time unknown.

Inside the Fort

Inside the Fort

Pondering the engineering excellence of our skilled ancestors, we entered inside the premise through an opening of an age old crumbled but giant, wooden door. Inside, green hedges and cactus plantation indicated some developments in the abandoned fort. A canon lying inside and a board by the ASI declaring the fort as a protected monument was on display. A panoramic view from the top is also stunning.

Way to the Jungle on Hill Top

Way to the Jungle on Hill Top

The entire hill top is a flat table land with dense forest of Sal & Teak. Walking through the wood following Hari Ram in the immense silence we reached near a lake, known as Ajai Pal Talao. On the way we found many stone heaps balanced in conical formation. This is a way of seeking blessings by the natives, once the sought wish is fulfilled the heap is dismantled.

Ajaipal Talao

Ajaipal Talao

Ajaipal Temple

Ajaipal Temple

Jain Temple

Jain Temple

Miraculous Idols of Jain Tirthankars

Miraculous Idols of Jain Tirthankars

A revered temple dedicated to a local saint Ajay Pal Ji, is at the bank of the lake, still worshiped devotionally by the locals. Our guide apprised that an ancient idol of Ajay Pal was once stolen, later recovered from Khajuraho. Since then the idol is kept in safe custody and is brought in the temple only during special occasion.A mausoleum or a tomb behind the temple, also abandoned, depict religious harmony of our culture. A Jain temple grilled with iron bars is on the other bank of the lake. A mysterious story, believe it or not, is that the monolithic statues of Jain Tirthankars were smaller and grew in size spontaneously during ages. The growth had been restrained by some saints through their celestial powers.

Remains of a Magnificent Temple

Remains of a Magnificent Temple

The landscape around the lake is astounding but heartening simultaneously. Hundreds of very well sculpted rocks, some of which still in better shapes were lying scattered at the lake side and around. A huge round sculpted “Amalaka” (the stone disk/rim fitted atop a temple) is an eye catcher, depicting pathetic demise of its glorious past. The invaluable chiseled rocks and the sculpted remains of a temple were once an integral part of an exotic masterpiece, perhaps as good as the marvels in Khajuraho. Can it be restored now! Sadly, no or not to its original shape.

Age old Banyan & Lingam

Age old Banyan & Lingam

Ruined Existing Gate

Ruined Existing Gate

A view of the Country Side

A view of the Country Side

Gloomily, we continued our hunt & in a few minutes brisk walk we reached one of the other gates of the fort, not in use now. The structure completely ruined, seems hanging at the edge of the hill but offers a wide vibrant view of the vast country side & the Vindhya Range at the backdrop. Hari Ram reminded us of the bloodily battles fought there in the past by the Chandelas with Mahmud Ghazni to the Mughals and the British.

Rock Cut Sculptures

Rock Cut Sculptures

Descending through the broken steps and balancing cautiously we reached at an open balcony. An alley of beautiful rock carvings and finely chiseled rock figures of different deities and symbolic, made the sweating effort worth.

Our next hunt was the hidden gems in the jungle at Ajaigarh. Our prime reason to visit the fort was to see those exclusive Khajuraho style Jain Temples in the forest. After some rest & normalising the respiration, we again started our stroll & soon reached a fenced arena. Our guide gestured to say, here is the Jain Temples. Where! In the woods we could have a glimpse of the structures only on reaching close enough.

Survival in Apathy

Survival in Apathy

Three marvelous structures side by side and a large pond at the backyard, concealed in the forest is a harsh reality of devastation. The grandeur of the ravaged Jain Temples is still splendid. The platform of the shrines and the structure thereupon are still symmetrical and intact. The facets are also more or less in good shape however, the sculpted figures and inscriptions are defaced or razed. The intricate work on the hard rock is still a delight to witness.

A close look speaks voluminously about the apathy of our society and administration upon these age old gems. The intricacies and immaculate job done by the magical hands on the entire rocky construction is a proof of our architectural excellence in the past. An immediate care & attention is required by the concerned authorities in early restoration of such treasures, before they convert in debris. Restoration by the ASI was reportedly started late back and as a proof, few rusted pipes are still fitted in one of the temples. However, no remarkable or significant improvement is visible.

We feel lucky to have witnessed the dying history in the present state and take the responsibility to contribute my bit by informing others through this write-up.I believe more foot falls may compel the authorities expediting developmental & restoration activities in such areas. Collective efforts will not only save our heritages but also improve socio economic condition of the areas. Ajaigarh has the potential to attract attention of both home and foreign tourists, as much as Khajuraho.

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