By Sheikh Usman
Have you ever wanted to see an entire old city or downtown? If yes then the only place which can grant you your wish is the Hari Parbat Fort.
The fort is situated on the hills of the Hari Parbat. Hari Parbat or Koh-e-Maran or Predemna Peet is a hill situated on the outskirts of the old city giving one the panoramic view of the entire down town or Shahr-e-khass. The first fortifications of the site were constructed by the Mughal emperor, Akbar, in 1590. He built an outer wall for the fort, and planned a new capital called Nager Nagor to be built within the wall but the project didn’t see through to completion. The magnificent fort we see standing today was a result of the efforts of Afghan governor Atta Mohammad Khan in the eighteenth century. The fort can be reached via two sides of the city, (a) via Rainawari through the forts Kathi Darwaza Gate and (b) via Hawal through the Sangin Darwaza Gate of the fort. Via the Kathi Darwaza Gate we find Gurudwara Chatti Patshahi, an important Sikh Gurduwara in Kashmir and the Shrine of Sultan-ul-Arifeen. The shrine has beautiful architectural style and lies on the southern part of Koh-e-maran hill. Through the Sangin Darwaza we find the Sharika Temple. The hill is revered by Kashmiri Pandits due to the presence of the Sharika Temple.
According to a legend, the Koh-e-Maran hill was once a huge lake inhabited by the demon Jalobhava. The inhabitants called on the goddess Parvati for help. She took the form of a bird and dropped a pebble on the demon’s head, which grew larger and larger until it crushed the demon. Koh-e-Maran is revered as that pebble, and is said to have become the home for all the gods of the Hindu pantheon. Another version of the myth says that two demons, Tsand and Mond, occupied the fair valley. Tsand hid in the water near the present location of Koh e Maran and Mond somewhere above the present Dal Gate, and both terrorized the people of the valley. The gods invoked Parvati who assumed the form of a Haer (Myna) and flew to Sumer, picked up a pebble in her beak, and threw it on the demon Tsand to crush him. The pebble grew into a mountain. Parvati is worshipped as Sharika in Shri Tsakra (an emblem of cosmic energy pervading the universe) occupying the middle part of the western slope of the hill.
Coming back to the fort, the outer wall of the fort built by Akbar is still the longest most ancient wall in the subcontinent with a stretch of five kms and the interiors to the wall are called Kallai Ander. Kallai is referred to as the wall and Ander means inside. So Kallai Ander means inside the walls. Akbar wanted to dwell in a capital inside this area. Besides this area, there is a park called Waris Khan now better known as Badamvaer or Almond Garden. Since my Matamal or maternal place is in the Hawal area, the place has always been my second home. The park was bought on tourist map due to the efforts of Jammu and Kashmir Bank. The entrance gate of park was built in keeping view the style that it would match the fort overlooking the park and the wall outlining the park. So the park looks like the extended garden of fort downhill.
During my childhood when I used to visit my uncles, I always looked up at the hill and wished to be able to visit the magnificent fort that stood up there looking at the entire city. As a matter of fact, the fort was closed down for the public with the inception of armed resistance in 1989 never to open for a span of eighteen years. The fort was taken over by Indian Security forces and no one was allowed to visit. So my whole childhood yearned for a single visit to this structure until 2007. However, the fort had been opened to the public in the year 2007 and luckily I was at Hawal. With no further hold-up, my cousin and I started to trek the small hill. I was probably in class 9 at that time with no mobile cameras to capture the corners of fort but my eyes were held mesmerised. The fort was undergoing restoration but still it was accessible. My first impression was wow! Beautiful gates, carved windows. There used to be a temple and mosque in the fort some elders said but only the temple was maintained well. The people who were present in good numbers showed anger and offered namaz in courtyard. There were some foreigners with music equipments and the locals enjoyed their tunes. The windows at each corner gave a different view of the city. Jamia Masjid, Islamia College, Makhdoom Sahib, Sharika Temple and many such places were easily spotted. The architecture was splendid. I wondered at the labour that would have taken to build this marvellous structure. The pool in the courtyard, though it was filled with dirt, made me imagine how it would have added to the beauty. Huge walls, staircases, doors, small and big windows all were showcasing the brilliant work done by the Afghan governor. The fort needed a lot of restoration before it could be brought on tourist map. The time required was not much but our government does need a lot of time for obvious reasons. So the fort was closed again in 2007 after staying open for only a few days. Since then, the fort has opened for only a couple of days each year.
Sharing his thoughts, an elderly person Ghulam Rasool Sheikh said, “During old times shots would be fired from old barrel guns (Toaphs) to indicate intervals of time every day.” Abdul Hameed Khan says,” During pre -90’s there used to be immense influx of people to the fort and hill. Pandit community would visit the hill and temple early in the morning at around 4am. They would revolve around the hill and sing Path (special prayers) early in the morning. Besides, the fort would be visited by locals, tourists both Indian and Foreign in huge numbers.” Lamenting the government for failing to bring the fort on the tourist map, Khan says, “The government never took this area under consideration maybe because of our association with certain cause. This area has scope of being developed as a tourist hub with the fort being a major attraction but the government has miserably failed in doing so. “Bringing the fort on the tourist map will create employment not only in this area but the entire old city,” says Haji Abdul Rehman.
The fort needs restoration on war footing basis and be made accessible the entire year. Also the wall or Kallai faces threat of illegal constructions around it. Protection of Kallai should be made imperative. Otherwise the longest wall of the subcontinent will be nowhere to be found. Hope the concerned authorities will look into the matter and the fort once again holds the same charm it did during previous times.