Gwalior Fort is one of the many sites in India that has a wonderfully layered history, which is manifest in architecture from various different periods from that history. The earliest existing examples of architecture on the fort are Jain rock-cut statues that could date back to the 7th c, and a Hindu temple from the 8th c. From this period on, there was continuous construction on the fort’s plateau land till British colonial times, and still the fort is in active use as a residential school. Rock-cut carvings on its sharp escarpment continued to be excavated till the 15th c. The rock outcrop that the fort is built on is almost 3km long north-south, and a maximum of 500m wide in the middle. The table-top plateau land rises about 90m above the surrounding plains with sheer escarpments on all sides except for the Urvahi valley, a small forested valley that rises relatively gently from the plain towards the plateau land from the west, and through which one of the two main approach routes to the fort leads, the other route being from the north-east.
I only had two half-days to explore Gwalior Fort (fog on both days of my visits made early-morning starts to the days impossible, and restricted my views from the fort throughout the day), while the fort is so large and has so much of interest in it that it could easily occupy three to four full days of initial exploration. The architectural examples on the table-top and the two main approaches have been mostly written about in the guide books, but there are other locations on the escarpment and the base of the hill that have not been mentioned even in the architecture-focused guides. These include a set of Jain rock-cut statues on the north-west escarpment of the hill, which I did not visit, and a third entrance (probably not in use any more) to the fort in that area; and a large and beautiful set of Jain rock-cut statues on the south-eastern escarpment which I accidentally happened to find marked on Google Maps. I also noticed what looked like two dargahs on the forested western base of the hill, which I did not visit. Apart from this, taking cues from various guidebooks, I left very little time for the northern palaces on the table top, but what I did see in the few minutes I was there before the area closed for the evening merited much longer visits.
After my first day’s visit to Gwalior Fort, I was comparing it unfavorably to Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, since the latter fort has a more interesting route up to the fort, and the impact of the more compact palace area in Mehrangarh. However, after my second day’s visit, I began to appreciate the extent of architectural remains and history in the Gwalior Fort, despite these being more spread out and less cohesive. The full extent of the fort’s architectural history can only be assessed after multiple visits to take in the different and disparate sites in and around the fort. I have covered my exploration of the fort in five different posts.
North-Eastern Approach Route to Gwalior Fort
One of the two main approach routes to Gwalior Fort is from the north-east. There are various monuments and gates along this cobbled route to the table-top.
The Gujari Mahal was built in the early 16th c at the foot of the hill, near the north0eastern route. It now houses the State Archeological Museum. For me the Central Archeological Museum on the table-top near Man Mandir Palace housed the better sculptures, since they had many excellent ones from the 11th c Kachchhapaghata period.
The climb up begins immediately after Hindola Gate, with the hill’s escarpment to our right. Soon after the climb begins a small group of rock-cut caves can be seen, accessible via a flight of steps, containing Jain Tirthankar statues. I didn’t climb up to these statues, but have written about other, larger Jain statues on the escarpment of Gwalior Fort, both on the south-east side as well as in the Urwahi valley.
Man Mandir Palace
Man Mandir is the main palace of the fort, built in the late-15th/early-16th c by Man Singh Tomar.
The stone facades of the two small main courtyards of Man Mandir are one of the main attractions of the Gwalior Fort. There are two more levels of the palace below the two visible here, which are accessible if you have a flashlight (on your smartphone) and are careful to remember your way around the darkened passages. Below one of the two courtyards, at both “basement” levels is an interesting room with large columns placed in a circular pattern. Both “basement” levels though are actually above ground and only appear dark because of the lack of windows etc.
The architecture and layout of Man Mandir’s two courtyards reminded me a lot of Akbar’s later Jahangiri Mahal in Agra Fort, and I wonder if this was one of the inspirations for that palace.
North of Man Mandir till the edge of the plateau are spread a set of palaces which are not as impressive as Man Mandir, but still warrant much more time to explore than I had. There are structures here from the 16th c to at least the 19th c, including British colonial buildings (which I did not photograph).
Other Buildings Around the Table-Top
There are a lot of other interesting buildings on the table-top that have not been mentioned in the guidebooks.
This is a pillared hallway and water well with steps leading down, situated next to the central archeological museum: