Trip to Kankwari Fort 3: The Payoff



Kankwari Fort, is a great example of how Karma works. It's past contains a message of 'you reap what you sow' in a wonderful story.

Read the Previous Part of this trip here.

'Its right there.' we kept saying as we trudged towards the hill in front of us. The majestic silhouette of the fort was clear and we could even see a few details in the moonlight.

It was time to get paid for all the hard work of the day.

A new energy filled our cramped legs and we picked an unnatural pace for our exhausted bodies. The plans to set our tent inside the fort and enjoying the view were occupying my mind. All of us were discussing the first thing we are going to do after reaching the fort.

However, something else was in my mind. Back in the village, Foolchand Mukhiya had told us to visit Ram Kishore Gujjar, or Kishore Gujjar as he is known locally.

The idea was to talk to him and know about the condition of the fort. And the confidence of Foolchand led us to believe as if we would be welcomed like celebrities at Kishore Gujjar's house. So before going to the Fort, we headed to the first hut we saw with a dim light on. Inside, there was an old man sleeping on his cot. We woke him up and learned that it was the wrong house. We apologised and walked out.

Before we could enter Kishore Gujjar's house (right one this time), a loud voice called out for us, "Re Kaun Hai Re?" (Who Goes There?)

We replied back with the usual greeting of Sariska "Ram Ram Ji" and entered the dwelling which was bigger than the previous one we had entered mistakenly. Inside, we saw two middle aged men sitting on a cot, a woman, a kid and lots of buffalos.

The man who called for us started the interrogation, and we told him the purpose of our visit - to camp inside the fort. We were hoping the man will be impressed on knowing that we hiked all the way from Tehla, but to our surprise, he almost lashed out at us, calling this whole adventure "foolish".

This was our introduction to Atar Kumar Yaadav, the Forest Ranger at Kankwari. Yaadav Ji gave us several reasons why our mere presence in this area in the given time period is very illegal. "The park remains closed for tourists from Aug - Oct. And you need permission to visit this fort from the Forest Office or some kind of local authority.", Yaadav Ji told us in a clear non friendly tone.


Kishore Gujjar's house (in the centre of the frame) from the fort.

Dropping our bagpacks right on the ground, we told Yaadav Ji that we were in no shape to go back and needed a place to spend the night. After pausing for a moment, he stood up, grabbed his small laathi and ordered us to follow him.

"Where are we going?" Abhay asked me. He had been quite paranoid about the village people mugging or even murdering us since we crossed a few shady characters in the villages on our way. Following Yaadav Ji, he even asked me, "Do you know how to wield a knife?" 

Confused at first, I nodded positively. To which he took out his swiss knife (that we usually use to open beer bottles and such), and said, "Keep this."

My body was shutting down, but I laughed so hard, "This is not a knife." I said to Abhay, wishing to have a real knife and quote Crocodile Dundee "THIS is a knife."

Then we learned that since camping in the Fort or anywhere in Sariska is not allowed, the only place for us to spend the night is the Forest Ranger Post. "I have a few cots there. You boys can sleep on them." Yaadav Ji said walking steadily.

When Piyush told him that we had our sleeping bags and could sleep on the ground, he sternly replied, "No you can't. There are cobras here. Sleep on the cots."

I looked at Sahaj who smiled playfully. At that time we thought this old man was trying to scare us. 

We were wrong!


We reached the Forest Ranger Post and Yaadav Ji graciously opened the doors of his abode for us. He then went on to his radio set, and informed the Forest HQ about our presence. We took off our shoes and settled in.


Yaadav Ji's humble abode during the day. The Forest Ranger Post.

Yaadav Ji was not friendly at all in his manner of talking and we could understand why. Cut off from the civilisation, Kankwari is a place that doesnt see many visitors, let alone people to have a casual conversation with. 

"He is not used to be around people." Abhay rightly concurred whispering to me.

After sometime we ate our dinner, spread our sleeping bags on the cots and fell asleep.

Around 2AM my gall bladder woke me up. I was not feeling like wearing my shoes and so I just walked out of the post with my headlamp. I peed behind the building and came back quickly. Before going back to the cot, I grabbed my camera and took some night time shots of the fort and around. 


A long exposure shot of the fort from the Ranger Post. Bad Focus!

Kankwari at 2AM, under the Moon.

Regular Exposure at 2AM.

After a few shots, and taking in the beautiful view of the place, I went back to my cot.

Lying in my bag I closed my eyes when I heard some noise from the floor. I turned the headlamp on and the sight on the floor made every hair on the back of neck stand like a patriot during the national anthem.

There was a dark brown thick snake messing around with my bagpack on the floor. Stupidly, I had left my bag opened after taking my dinner out, and now the Nagraj was trying to find a grub inside it. I wanted to wake Abhay up, but my mind had stopped working. As I focussed the headlamp on the Cobra, it rattled angrily, making me almost shit my pants.

I turned off the lamp and crawled back into my sleeping bag. The idea of that cobra coming on my bed was giving me the shivers but then I realised even Yaadav Ji was sleeping on a cot like us. It must be safe !

I dont remember when I fell asleep.

Yaadav Ji's shrill voice was calling my name. I woke up and found it was 6:30AM. "Get up!" Yaadav Ji yelled near my head and ran out. I got up and found Piyush and Sahaj were already up in the porch. 

I asked Sahaj to check the bag, and he poked it with my monopod. Nagraj had left the building.

Piyush and I went number two in the forest, while Sahaj and Abhay decided to hold it in. After washing our faces and brushing out teeth, we saw the Sun rising from behind the hills. We were ready to go to the fort.


This Peacock kept stating at me while I took a dump in the forest.

If you could shit anywhere here, which spot would have picked?

Yaadav Ji had told us that he could call us a Safari Jeep that could take us back to Tehla. We didnt waste any time and asked him to arrange for it. After that we started our hike to the fort. Without any bags on our shoulders, we were feeling free and light. 


View of the fort from the ranger post (35mm)

Kankwari in the morning.

The lonely tree.

Yaadav Ji's post from the foot of the hill.


Climb to the fort. A shortcut!

After around 15 minutes, we were at the main gate of the fort.


Welcome to Kankwari Fort. Time for the payoff !


The Approach towards the palace door is longer than the length of the palace itself.











The lake by the ramparts of the fort.

Palace Balcony.

Piyush enjoying the view.

The fort is just an enclosure surrounding a small palace. There was no need to build a palace or a fort here, but Sawai Jai Singh did it to provide work for his subjects when the region was hit by a famine.


From the 'Gazzetteer of Ulwar' by Maj Powlette (1878).

The 'Mahadeo Temple' mentioned by Maj Powlette. Just behind the 'Chauburja' on which Ranger post is built.


Maharaj Sawai Jai Singh on the right. A visionary and Braveheart Rajput.

Sawai Jai Singh was a 'Mirza Raja' (Senior General) of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehaan (Taj Mahal waale) and aided him during many raids and battles (especially the ones where Jai Singh fought for him in Afghanistan). Dara Shikoh, the secular crown prince was quite liberal in his views, but was a terrible general and strategist. And when Jai Singh pointed out his flaws in a few battle strategies, he grew bitter towards him.



Dara Shikoh was a Dude. Here he is with his wife.

Dara Shikoh used to taunt and humiliate Jai Singh at any given opportunity, but the Rajput King never said a word back (mostly I think because he was the favourite son of his boss). But the irony bit Dara in the posterior when Aurangzeb imprisoned him in Kankwari Fort; the fort built by Jai Singh for no reason or need.

In a way, Karma had planned to add insult to Dara's injury long ago when Jai Singh started this fort. The fate's plan to pay Dara for his bitterness to a great king worked out beautifully like Clockwork! It was Jai Singh's payoff for silently bearing the humiliation from an inferior general.

But now it was time for our payoff. We remained in the fort for around an hour. The morning was beautiful and the weather was really nice. Strong winds were hitting us from West to East. We were able to see our last night's entry point in the valley.


The Gang.

Abhay.

Royal Courtyard with the water Tank.



The fort is mesmerising, not because of its architecture, but its location. The view from the bastions is simply amazing.


The view from the fort is 'amazeballs'

The fort is quite small, but what it lacks in area, it makes up with its mesmerising view.



A small fort on a little hill.

The palace inside is quit small and symmetrically messed up. The structure had clear signs of renovations, but it was a botched up job. The original paintings were painted upon with lime powder and white paint. Weed as tall as 5 feet was all over the fort, telling us that this fort is seriously lagging in maintenance. 


BAD symmetry.


The fort was almost usurped by the resort mafia a few years ago. They did some repair jobs inside the fort, which completely botched up the fort's original beauty. But a few reports in the local media forced the government to take action and the mafia was kicked out of the fort. 

However the botched up renovations have ruined the fort's interiors now. 


The weed in the fort was almost as tall as us.

There is not much to see or do in the fort, but the place just doesnt let you make you mind to leave. In that moment, I remembered the lowest points of yesterday's hike and realised that the reward was well worth all the troubles. 

I plan to go there again, but this time in a Safari Jeep.


Took this while descending.


In the final part, we get out of Sariska in style!

To be continued ...

Trip to Kankwari Fort 2: The Hike




Our journey for the Kankwari Fort began as we arrived in Tehla, a small village in the Alwar district. Driving through the beautiful roads of Sariska Tiger Reserve, we parked our car in Tehla and started our hike towards the fort.



Read Part 1 of this trip here.


We began our hike around 12:50. After walking through Tehla, we took a narrow road to the right and crossed a village or two until we started hearing a loud gurgling sound at a distance. It was the water from the Mangalsar Dam falling into a river. 


The Mangalsar Dam Current


My shoes ruined Piyush's frame, who shot both the pictures (above) of the dam.

People had gathered there to take pictures and getting their feet wet. Some locals were even swimming. We wanted to stay but decided to come back the next day.





We learned from a local that this was the heaviest rainfall recorded in years, and the river was overflowing after many years. Good news right? NO. I will tell you later why.

On our way we found several spots where the river was overflowing the road. The water was deep enough to submerge our ankles and any hiker can tell you that its not a good thing to have wet feet. We crossed several of these overflowing rivers on our way.


I shot videos of us walking through the overflowing roads,

but I accidentally deleted them.

After we reached Dabkan (the last village on the ground level), the good road had left us behind and now it was a monstrosity of patchworks that was riddled by random holes and rocks all over the place. The climb to the Neelkanth temple was ahead of us. Sahaj decided to climb the rocks instead of walking on the road. Due to my leg injury and ‘a few extra pounds’ I was lagging behind. Abhay was kind enough to keep me company, while Sahaj and Piyush continued their rock climbing. After an hour or so, we were at the top of the mountain. My lungs were on fire, but the view from the top was breathtaking. 

The Mangalsar Dam from the top of the hill
The summit has this imposing gate; Welcome to Sariska Tiger Reserve

We spent some time resting and chit chatted with a few locals. Throughout our hike, the locals were astonished upon knowing that we were hiking to Kankwari, all the way from Tehla. Maybe this was something that was either very bold or ridiculously stupid. I believe it was a little bit of both. 

On our way, Piyush lost his glasses. My prescription sunglasses gave him some relief, but I doubt he was able to clearly see the beauty of the place. Poor guy!

To understand the topography of Sariska, you will have to imagine it as a valley. Surrounded by the Aravali mountains, Sariska is a valley in the middle of a series of hills that act as natural walls. To enter the Sariska Tiger Reserve, you have to climb a hill and then descend. The local authorities provide safari jeeps on rentals, and guest houses to the tourists. 

On our way, we kept asking locals about Kankwari and whether we would be able to camp in the fort for the night. We got different answers from everybody we met. Some told us that the fort has a big lock, some told us the place was haunted and so we should turn back, a few told us it wont be possible to camp inside the fort, while a majority of people told us there would be no problem. 

The local beauties were impressed by our adventurous feat (*bragging rights earned*)

Many a times we were stopped by the locals and got the offer to stay at their place but we politely refused. 


Here we are at the house of Foolchand (aka Fuliya); ex-Mukhiya, Liar !


Sariska Tiger Reserve is a wildlife sanctuary and so there are no utilities available; which means no electricity or even cellphone reception. Our phones were blank with no bars. But since we have dowloaded the Sariska’s map, we were able to track our movement.

Then came the part where our wet feet started creating problems. Since our shoes were soaking wet, they lost their rigidity and our toes and ankle started cramping out. We took a break after 5 or so kilometres and Abhay pointed out that I had a blister on my let foot. That was the first to come. We rested for around 10 minutes and continued.


The first blister, and certainly not the last.

We were in the buffer area of Sariska and it has several small villages adjacent to each other. People here are mostly farmers and shepherds. 

As the sun started setting we grew worried, because the map and locals told us that we were still around 8-9 kilometres away from Kankwari. Our legs were cramping and the weight on our backs was making it even worse. And so we ended up taking small breaks at small distances, which only delayed us. And then, we saw a house with A JEEP parked in its porch. 


Sahaj & I at the Jeep Owner's house

Quickly, we all entered the dwelling and asked for the Jeep Owner. The idea was to hitch a ride to Kankwari Fort, because by that time we were feeling no shame in admitting that our bodies were in quite a bad shape.

The owner was away, but his wife graciously invited us into her home. The woman’s mother in law came first to see us, then the kids and some neighbours. While we were on a display on their cot, they treated us with tea and local berries.


Future Super Food? Some local berries of the region.

After around 15 minutes or so the Jeep Owner arrived and we asked him if he could drop us to Kankwari. But the man told us that there is no road after his village. Though he was ready to take us back to Tehla.

Without any means of transport to Kankwari, we decided to continue on foot. But we asked the man if he would be available to drop us to Tehla the next day. The man agreed and we promised to come back around 10-11 AM the next day.

We continued our hike, and realised why the man refused. The road soon ended after we exited his village and suddenly, even the trail ended. We were standing before a large pond filled with algae and god knows what. 

I checked the map on my phone and found a small trail around the pond. The weed was as tall as us and the mud was quite shallow. Jumping over potholes we finally flanked the pond and got back to the trail that was quite muddy. We were entering another village and the Sun was already down.

At that point, the map seemed to be messing with us. No matter how far we walked, it showed almost the same remaining distance as earlier. It was like those moments in office when you are just waiting for the time to be over, but it crawls at a snail’s pace.

Soon, it was dark and we found another local who graciously invited us to spend the night at his dwelling. We again politely refused and continued. Another gurgling sound was heard at a distance, and soon we were standing at the bank of a raging river in darkness.

That moment, all of us had given up. We took down our bags and sat. Except for Sahaj and Abhay, who found two locals crossing the river from the other side. They observed how they crossed the river and suggested we follow their tracks. It was time to bring out my lights. 

For the trip, I had brought a headlamp and a flashlight with me. Apparently, nobody else in the group had an idea to take any illumination device. We again divided into two teams; this time I was with Sahaj and Piyush was with Abhay. We marked two spots to cross the river. Sahaj and I started from our spot while Piyush and Abhay were still busy taking off their shoes. 



Imagine crossing this water. Only we did in the darkness of the night.

Sahaj was behind me and the raging water made him panic. The water that was ankle deep near the shore, was above our knees in the middle. Besides the riverbed was filled with jagged rocks. It was difficult to find proper footing in the river, and I was using my monopod as a hiking pole. Abhay and Piyush were struggling because their spot was filled with thorny weeds under water. And suddenly Sahaj lost his footing in the strong current and grabbed my shoulder, but in panic, he pushed me. I fell into the river, and noticed my phone and camera going in the water. It was my mistake that I did not secure my devices by putting them in the bagpack.

I quickly got up and yelled at him for freaking out, but then realised he was still in panic mode. I asked him to grab my monopod and follow me. We reached the other side and collapsed. Abhay and Piyush were struggling on their way to our side. As they crossed the river, we come to know that Piyush had hurt his leg and was going to take some time, so Sahaj and I started on our own. Abhay stayed with Piyush.


The river intersecting the Access road to Kankwari.

I checked my camera, and was relieved to see that it was working. However, my phone was gone. I was in a pretty bad mood and was blaming Sahaj (who was walking beside me). But then it hit me, I was in the middle of nowhere after dark with my friends. We had no idea where we were going to spend the night, or what was waiting for us at the end of this hike. And suddenly, I realised that the waterlogged phone was the least of my worries. As we looked around, we were still surrounded by tall hills. 

It was beautiful !



Our view at the night.

Sahaj and I met a local, who told us that a few kilometers ahead of us was a small village called 'Kaaniyawaas'; where a milk carriage arrives every morning and goes back to Tehla. It filled our feet with a new energy and we decided to check the place out.

After around 40 more minutes, Sahaj and I reached Kaaniyawaas and the men there happily agreed to take us back to Tehla. We were asked to be there by 9:30 in the morning, after which they were to leave without us.



We crossed the last village and were standing in the Kankwari valley. But now no trail was visible. A shepherd earlier suggested us to follow the cattle, but the buffalos were only interested in going to small ponds. While Sahaj and I looked around for a trail, Abhay and Piyush joined us. Abhay used his phone to check the GPS and we got back on the route.



After we crossed two more water crossings, we were looking at a big hill with a Fort atop ahead of us. 




We were there !


And there it was, for our taking


In the next part, we meet Yadav Jee (the forest ranger), who deny us the permission to go to the fort, a cobra enters my bagpack, and we get the sweet reward of the trip.