You’ll hear the word fort a lot in India.
To me it’s bit of a misnomer. When I think of forts I think of games as a kid playing cowboys and Native Americans around a makeshift barricade of dining room chairs and bed sheets – or F-Troop. Now I’m really showing my age. The forts of India’s Golden Triangle are much more like castles – and they’re an absolutely enthralling look back at the intricacies of Indian society and royal life long before the British Empire’s ‘civilising’ tendrils pushed eastward.
Complete with royal residences, battlements, ramparts and soldiers’ barracks, for more than three centuries India’s forts provided sanctuary for the ruling elite. Today they provide sanctuary for the tourists. As we stroll the grounds and explore the grand halls, we’re all too aware of the pernicious souvenir touts waiting just outside the gates. And unlike the Mughal emperors who constructed these architectural masterpieces – the touts know we’ll have to come out in the end!
Three forts of India’s Golden Triangle that you should not miss are the Red Fort in Delhi, the Agra Fort and the Amber Fort (pronounced Amer) outside Jaipur. There are many others but these are the standouts.
Delhi’s Red Fort is really just a shell of its former self, but still a must-see. Established by Mughal emperor Sha Jahan in the mid 1600’s, the Red Fort was later commandeered and essentially gutted by the British for use as military barracks. Today the soaring 18 metre high ochre-coloured parapets and guard towers have lost none of their power to impress, as they continue to stand silent sentinel over the chaos of the medieval Chandi Chowk bazaar below.
On to the Agra Fort – perhaps the best preserved of the three. Here you really begin to appreciate the perfect symmetry the Mughal emperors insisted on. We spend about three hours exploring the expansive red sandstone citadel.
A number of emperors called the Agra Fort home. Each of them left their mark – including the afore-mentioned Sha Jahan – best remembered for the construction of the nearby Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz.
Somewhere along the line Sha Jahan clearly developed a penchant for white marble. It’s not evident in the Red Fort to my knowledge, but it certainly is in the Taj Mahal and in his alterations to the Agra Fort. The white marble courtyards and apartments seem strangely incongruous next the red stone used throughout the rest of the fortress. Sha Jahan was later imprisoned in the Agra Fort by his own son, and could only gaze at his prize creation – the Taj – from afar.
The Mughals were a busy bunch. When they weren’t building magnificent forts they were planning for their immortality by constructing fitting accommodation for their eternal rest. While in Agra we visit Emperor Akbar’s mausoleum on the outskirts of town at Sikandra. Again, perfect balance and symmetry. I’m beginning to wonder if these guys had an early form of OCD.
The Amber Fort was constructed by Jaipur’s warlord Rajputs and served as the capital of the region until the population outgrew the fort and the city was moved to the plains below. The gorgeous honey-coloured stone is exquisite and changes colour depending on the weather and time of day. On a clear day the reflection of the fort in the lake below is absolutely stunning.
Hop aboard an obliging elephant for the trek up to the fort. The sight of these gentle giants entering the Jaleb Chowk square through the Sun Gate in their gorgeous livery and painted faces is a sight I’ll never forget, evoking images of the maharajas of old.
The fort itself is extensive and a guided tour through the maze of courtyards and royal apartments will ensure you get the most from your visit.
Adam travelled as a guest of Wendy Wu Tours and Singapore Airlines.
Have you visited any of the forts of India’s Golden Triangle? We would love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a Melbourne-based travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. Adam has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. He worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. Adam also appears regularly as a travel commentator on Sky News Business Class. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.