The magnificent forts that cover the length and breadth of India stand testament to the proud martial history of the country. But, if you were to prepare a list of the many parts of India renowned for their historical military prowess, Odisha is probably not a name that would come to your mind. It might come as a surprise to most people that the many rulers, both local and from distant lands, who ruled over parts of Odisha over the years have left several palaces and forts in the state, which are impressive not just in terms of their numbers, but also in the architecture and grandeur. Odisha’s forts form a particularly interesting element of the region’s history, which many residents of the state also often don’t know much about. This sojourn through 6 of Odisha’s forts, beginning from the north-eastern edge of the state and moving south/south-west, attempts to get some more people familiar with them, and hopefully inspire you to visit them on your next trip to this beautiful state.
Photo Courtesy Travel Blogger
1. Raibania Fort Complex – Located less than 10 km from the West Bengal border in Balasore district, this complex comprises of four forts – Hatigarh, Chudamanipur, Olmara and Garhsahi – three of which are mentioned in the Ain-i-Akbari for their prominence in this part of the country. The Raibania fort complex is believed to have been built by Langula Narasinha Deva I (r. 1238 – 1264 BCE) of the East Ganga Dynasty as protection from the Muslim rulers of North India. The forts survived through the Ganga and Gajapati dynasties till the 16th century invasion of the region by the Mughal general Kalapahad, who was also responsible for the destruction of the Konark temple. None of the forts retain their once famous magnificence, but the ruins spread across the area make it easy to imagine how splendid these laterite-made walls once would have been.
The fort ruins and the surrounding forest area form a popular picnic spot. Raibania is about 75 km from Balasore or Baleshwar, most famous for the Chandipur beach. Balasore is an important station on the Howrah-Chennai railway line, three and a half hours away from Kolkata by train. Bhubaneswar is the nearest major airport, about 200 km away.
Photo by Bikashrd
2. Barabati Fort – The best maintained of Odisha’s forts, this Ganga Dynasty structure was built in the 14th century and is located near Cuttack, which was a historically important city in this part of the country. While the fort bore the brunt of several attacks from Afghan and Mughal governors of Bengal, the greatest vandalism it suffered was in the hands of the British, who took over the complex in 1803 and used it as a prison to house royal families. Chief remnants of this once majestic fort are a magnificent gate and the mound of a nine-storied palace and its stables (featured image). The moat, known as Gadakhai, is being renovated to be used for boating for tourists.
The fort is close to the Barabati international cricket stadium, and is one of the many tourist attractions in Cuttack, the former capital of Odisha.
Photo Courtesy Odisha Tourism
3. Chudangagarh and Bualigarh – Located close to Nandankanan Zoological Park near Bhubaneswar, Chudangagarh is believed to have been originally constructed under the Kesari Dynasty, which ruled between 9th and 12th centuries, and later fortified under the Ganga Dynasty. The site is currently maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India because of its historical importance. Bualigarh, another Ganga Dynasty fort, is situated close by and requires permission from the forest department for a visit. Apart from the remains of the forts themselves, what draws tourists to these sites is the chance to search for relics on their own – many remnants from the daily lives of the people who once lived here are still spread across the vast area these forts cover.
Situated about 14 km from Bhubaneswar and 9 km from Cuttack, either of these cities can be your base for a day trip to these two fort complexes.
Photo Courtesy Sanjay P.K.
4. Sisupalgarh – Starting from between 3rd to 5th century BCE, this ancient fortification in Khurda district was a prominent settlement with an estimated population of over 20,000 residents, lasting well into 4th century CE. It remains a prominent archeological site, with the excavated portions pointing to the existence of a mega-site to rival the largest cities of the time. The most impressive structures standing are the pillars of the Queen’s Palace and portions of the wall that rise as high as 12 m.
The site is about half an hour away from Bhubaneswar city center, not very far from the Lingaraj Temple.
Photo by Sidsahu
5. Potagarh (Ganjam Fort) – Unlike the rest of Odisha’s forts, this one was constructed by a foreigner, the British Resident, Edward Costford, in 1768. Some historians believe that the shape of the fort – it is designed roughly as a five-pointed star – as well as an old mosque nearby point to Muslim presence well before that. The French had also operated from this site for a few years, before it passed to the British who built the present structure. Multiple rulers have left buildings constructed in very different architectural styles, which, owing to the relatively recent vintage of the fort, are fairly well-maintained too. Efforts are on to develop this into a major tourist site.
Potagarh is very close to the Ganjam district headquarters Chatrapur, and just 30 km from the beautiful Gopalpur Beach. NH 16, which passes by the scenic Chilika Lake, connects the site to Bhubaneswar, which is about 150 km away.
Photo Courtesy Incredible Kalahandi
6. Asurgarh – Another proof of the rich ancient culture of this part of India, this is probably the oldest of Odisha’s forts and is located in present day Kalahandi district. It is believed to have been a major urban center from the 5th century BCE to about 6th century CE. An impressive mammoth wall made of brick and earth is the only prominent portion standing now, with a deep moat surrounding the fort on three sides. About 90 km south of Asurgarh is another fort in a ruined stated called Amathaguda, which is difficult to access and hasn’t seen much renovation or exploration.
It might be a good idea to club a trip to Asurgarh with visits to other sites worth visiting in Kalahandi, including Jungarh, the capital of the erstwhile principality of Kalahandi, the Ampani hills and the Phurlijharan falls. The nearest prominent airports are Raipur, Chhattisgarh (285 km) and Bhubaneswar (380 km). The nearest railway station with good connectivity is Kesinga, about 30 km away.
Featured Photo (Elephant Stables at Barabati Fort) by Bikashrd