The Forgotten Place: Kotla Fort

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Time ticks away

and places are forgotten.

Once an impressive fort, today a ruin reclaimed by the jungle, forgotten even by the locals. That's Kotla Fort in Himachal Pradesh.

It had been raining non stop for 3 months, which meant that every time I went for a ride on my scooter, I got wet, and so understandably, I did not go on many rides. So when one fine day the clouds parted over Mcleodganj and the sun made an appearance, I seized on the opportunity to take my scooter out.

I didn't want to go very far so I googled places of interest nearby and found Kotla Fort about 50km from where I was standing. The ride was fantastic as despite the heavy monsoon, most of the road was in pretty good condition, especially compared to the incredibly low standards set by Indian roads.

I reached Kotla, a small town, or rather a large village on the Mandi Pathankot highway, at around 3 pm. I stopped and asked a shopkeeper where Kotla Fort was. He told me that the airport was in Gaggal. I said, no I mean the Fort, the Fort. He said there's no Fort here, but there's a temple on the hill across the river. He warned me that it was a steep climb and I was better off not going there. I ignored him and tried to find the way across the river.

It turned out that you had to park your vehicle near the school ground, pass through a break in the barbed wires and walk across the school ground to reach the yellow bridge. Across the yellow bridge the stairs to the temple began. At this point, I thought that maybe the temple is the only thing left of the fort and that's why nobody here calls it the fort. The thick stone steps and the remains of arches every few meters seemed to be the only reminder that there once stood a fort here.

The Yellow Bridge and the Steps up the Steep Slope

The Yellow Bridge and the Steps up the Steep Slope

I shouldn't have used filters to make the paint look good.

I shouldn't have used filters to make the paint look good.

Two cows grazing the overgrown shrubbery welcomed me by flicking their tails as I climbed the hill. It's not a big hill but somehow I was out of breath by the time I reached the temple of Bagulamukhi Mata which is kind of old but has been restored badly with a tacky golden yellow paint job. I thought that that was it and was already consoling myself by thinking that at least the ride back would be fun.

Then I noticed more steps going up into the forest from the side of the temple and the priest told me that there is in fact a fort hiding in the jungle, where, he made sure to remind me, all kinds of animals could be found.

Another view of the Bagulamukhi Mata Temple

Another view of the Bagulamukhi Mata Temple

Steps in the Jungle

Steps in the Jungle

That's when the adventure began. It was evening and I was the only one there. The steps were covered in moss and were super slippery. Trees arched over the steps from both sides and monkeys made scary noises jumping from one tree to the next. It was a proper jungle and I expected to run into a leopard at any moment.

That's a real leopard. Seriously! It just smoked some pot and got stoned.

That's a real leopard. Seriously! It just smoked some pot and got stoned.

Pretty soon I was at the fort. It's a remarkable place, completely in ruins, moss, shrubs, trees growing out of every corner. It almost felt like time traveling except if I had gone back in time, it would have been a bustling fort, with ministers and courtiers gossiping more than the queen's maidens as the King ordered the head of the vile robber to be chopped off.

I personally liked the secluded ruins better.

There are two more small temples in the fort, both locked when I was there. There are some jail cells outside the main part of the fort and I was convinced that there were leopards sleeping inside each of them so I didn't dare to approach any one of them.

What is the history of the place? Who built it and when? I have no idea. The only signboard I could find said that the site is a world heritage site and desecrating it could lead to a fine or imprisonment or both, depending on the judge's mood. I couldn't find anything online either, in my 2.7 seconds of research.

The allure of the place, at least for me, is in the fact that it has been forgotten. A lot of people go to Kangra Fort and I don't like visiting it. But I could visit Kotla Fort again and again, preferably not in the evening. Someone who has courage, or is foolish enough, could try camping out there at night. It would also make a good picnic spot for those who like picnics, or people.

When I returned, the priest asked me what I thought about the fort and I told him that I loved it. He said that it should be restored and then a lot more people will come. I disagreed, inside my nodding head.