This post tries to unearth the historical and architectural secrets behind the imposing Gwalior Fort.
Since childhood, I have loved visiting cultural and historical places. Be it museums, religious places, forts, caves, the vitality is apparent.
This is why my visit to the city of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh is brimming with winsome energy. What’s better than sharing those positive emotions with the world.
I’m sure you’d want to explore Gwalior and its historical gems after reading my series of posts about this historic city.
THE CITY OF GWALIOR – FIRST IMPRESSIONS
I’d heard a lot during my childhood about Gwalior from my mother and read about it in the history classes. But honestly, my recollections were as dusty as the city of Gwalior in MP.
Unfolding the old city of Gwalior is like walking back in time. The influence of the divergent rulers has spilled an apparent mark on its lanes.
Thrilled to be in the historical city of Gwalior, we started our expedition with Gwalior Fort – the most majestic and impregnable fort in central India.
GWALIOR FORT – A BRIEF HISTORY
Famously known as the Gibraltar of India, majestic Gwalior fort stands tall upon the Gopachala hill. Our guide told us that the explicit era of the fort’s conception is uncertain, but chroniclers claim that its inception time is around the 8th Century.
Folklore suggests that once Raja Suraj Sen who suffered from leprosy, was wandering in search of water to quench excessive thirst when Sage Gwalipa extended his help by offering him sacred water from a pond, which cured him of the disease.
Out of gratitude, Suraj Sen guarded the hilltop to protect saints from forest animals and named the place Gwalior as a tribute to the saint. And that’s how the story of Gwalior Fort emerged.
Having stood the test of time; the fort echoes the stories of its glorious battles and victories.
One such exclusive and an unforgettable battle which took place here around 1858 is a battle fought by a youthful, graceful and impassioned woman on horseback, a woman who ratified the soul and spirit of an Indian woman, Jhansi ki Rani, Lakshmibai.
Rani Lakshmibai, after defeating the then king of Gwalior, Jayajirao Scindia occupied the Gwalior fort which was crucial for her battle against the British.
She chose to end her life in triumph while fighting with the British troops. The British occupied the Gwalior fort three days after her death. She was a warrior who fought until the end.
In its lifetime, the fort has changed hands many times. The palace was ruled by varied monarchs viz. Kachwaha Rajputs, Qutubiddin Aibak, Pratiharas, Suris, Tomars, Mughals, Jats, Marathas, Britishers, and Scindias.
The fort came under Man Singh Tomar’s rule in the around 15th century. He revolutionized the fort into a glorious architectural marvel that everyone would talk about it.
This four floors edifice has two levels above and two below the ground. Gwalior fort was made in a way that it was almost unconquerable.
Mansingh Tomar was threatened by Ibrahim Lodi, who later on detonated his way in. Then the fort came under the rule of Babur. Witnessing the fort for the first time; Babur stood there in astonishment and named it as the “pearl amongst the fortresses of India”.
After confiscation by Mughals, the fort was used as a jail. They ruined valued and precious stuff by the end of their rule. The fort was then ruled by Marathas, the Britishers, and finally the Scindias.
The fort thrived again when conquered by Maharaja Scindia. Scindias are still considered God here by locals.
GWALIOR FORT ENTRANCE
There are two possible entrances to the Gwalior Fort – the western entrance, Urvai Gate and the eastern entrance, Gwalior Gate or Quila Gate. Urvai Gate allows you to drive up all the way to the fort.
The statues of Jain Tirthankaras along the way are worth a stopover.
If you enter through the Gwalior gate (close to the city), hiking up all the way to the fort is the only option as no vehicles are allowed. You can explore the Gujari Mahal located on the Gwalior Gate and then hike up to explore the Gwalior Fort.
The series of gates welcome you as you hike up the winding steep path starting from the Gwalior gate – the Badalgarh Gate, the Ganesh Gate, the Lakshman Gate, and the Hathi Pol. Hathi Pol (elephant gate) marks the dramatic entrance into the fort. Once the king-sized elephant statue graced the gate and thus, the name.
Don’t forget to stop at the world’s oldest temple of Zero on the way up to the fort.
If you are coming from the eastern side, the Archaeological Museum welcomes you first.
The MP tourism cafe greets you first if you are coming from the western side.
GWALIOR FORT MONUMENTS
The fort encompasses many palaces built by the different rulers who ruled the fort over the time.
The fortress embraces six palaces ( Man Singh Palace (Man Mandir), Jahangir Mahal, Vikram Mahal, Karan Palace, Shah Jahan Mahal, and Gujari Mahal), four temples (Teli Ka Mandir, Sas Bahu Temple, Sun Temple and Chaturbhuj Temple), one gurudwara (Data Bandi Chhor), other religious monuments like Garuda and SiddhanchalJain Temple Caves, Dhondapur Gate, Jauhar Kund, Hamamkhana fort Bastion, a British building and several water tanks.
Assi Khamba ki Baori, and Suraj Kund are other notable monuments inside the fort.
The fort area also hosts Scindia School founded by Madho Rao Scindia, specifically for sons of kings and nobles.
MAN SINGH PALACE (MAN MANDIR) IN GWALIOR FORT
Man Mandir Palace in Gwalior Fort, inspired by Hindu and Medieval architecture, is unquestionably stunning, made out of sandstone with lovely patterns on hued tiles. Its historical significance is quite striking. It’s the main palace inside the fort premises.
Our guide narrated the wonderful tales that described the significance of each and every corner, motif, and sculpture inside the palace.
I was captivated by the tales. It was like walking down the lanes of history, a leap into the past and reliving the stories.
Built by King Man Sing Tomar in the 15th century, Man Mandir is also known as Painted Palace or Chit Mandir.
Raja Man Singh was recognized as one of the most celebrated aficionadi of art and music. He would see performances in the music hall with his queens and admire the artists. The palace echoed with soulful music.
He is well-known for his unparalleled contribution to music and is acknowledged for inventing Dhrupad form of Hindustani classical music and establishing Vidyapeeth in Gwalior.
The music hall and the courtyard of the Man Mandir Palace are adorned with beautiful and unparalleled motifs and carvings.
These beautiful intricate brackets in the king’s bedroom were once adorned with stunning precious gems and stones but looted by Mughals. I was washed over by emotions thinking how masterpieces build by Hindu kings were destroyed by Mughals.
Underground floors were used as prisons during the Mughal reign. Akbar’s cousin, Kamran is also believed to be poisoned and killed here. Tales from the past suggests that Aurangzeb’s two nephews Suleiman and Sepher, the sons of Dara Shikoh were also executed here.
I felt overly cramped while moving up and down of the clandestine floors. It was quite dark. We had to use phone flashlight. The way to the secret underground floors is also referred to as Bhool Bhulaiya. It certainly is one!
An agonizing atmosphere of morality and courage of those days still lingers in the hush-hush corners of this imperial palace. Though I found it really beautiful, the sadness that exuded from it didn’t get away the senses.
An impressive ventilation system was in place for the comfort of Queens. Top two floors are designed in a way to allow proper air and light, also means of communication with the outside world is in place.
Admiringly, many of the lavishly ornamented attributes still exist at Man Mandir Palace in Gwalior Fort.
KARAN MAHAL IN GWALIOR FORT
The second king of Tomar Dynasty, Kirti Singh built Karan Mahal in 1480. The palace seems simple among other architectural marvels inside the fort. Why did he name it Karan Mahal? Well, Karan Singh was his another name.
VIKRAM MAHAL IN GWALIOR FORT
Vikram Mahal was built by Raja Man Singh’s elder son and heir Vikramaditya Singh. The architecture is simple with a baradari in the center with room on each side.
He was a Shiva devotee and constructed a Shiva temple inside the palace which was destroyed during the Mughal reign. The palace is named Vikram Mandir because of the Shiva temple.
There’s a small temple now beneath the tree just as you enter the palace premises.
JAHANGIR MAHAL IN GWALIOR FORT
Jahangir Mahal was called Sher Mahal as it was built by Sher Shah. However, the name was changed to Jahangir Mahal after its restoration by Jahangir.
SHAHJAHAN MAHAL IN GWALIOR FORT
Shahjahan Mahal stands right opposite to Jahangir Mahal in the same premises. Built by Shahjahan, the palace is another piece of Mughal architecture in India.
CHHATRI OF BHIM SINGH RANA
Bhim Singh Rana, a ruler of Gohad state, captured Gwalior fort from Mughal Satrap, Ali Khan. He built Bhimtal (a lake) in the fort. His successor, Chhatra Singh built the chhatri (cupola) near the Bhimtal as a memorial to Bhim Singh Rana.
The Gujari Mahal was built by Raja Man Singh for Mrignayani, his favorite wife. Being a Gujar, she didn’t want to stay with other royal queens and asked for a separate palace for herself. She also demanded a regular water supply from a Rai River in her village to the palace.
The palace is now an archaeological museum with a remarkable assortment of sculptures, coins, weapons, and pottery.
Read in detail about Gujari Mahal
TEMPLES IN GWALIOR FORT
Teli-ka-Mandir built in the Dravidian style, Saas-BahuTemple and Sun Temple are the three impressive temples in the fortress.
I have written a separate post in detail about the temples and religious monuments like Siddhanchal Jain Temple Caves and Garuda inside the fort.
GURUDWARA DATA BANDI CHHOR
A gurdwara also exists within the fort as a memorial to the sixth guru of the Sikhs, Guru Hargobind Sahib who had been imprisoned by Mughal Emperor Jahangir at Gwalior fort.
Guru Hargobind Sahib was only 14 years old when imprisoned along with 52 Rajas inside the fort for being anti to Mughal empire. Guru Sahib requested the rajas to be released along with him. Jahangir permitted him to uncage rajas on a condition – he could only free the number of rajas who can hold on to him while leaving the prison.
Guru Hargobind got stitched himself a cloak with 52 hems and freed all the rajas.
ASSI KHAMBA KI BAORI IN GWALIOR FORT
An ancient circular step-well encompassed by 80 stone pillars, Assi Khamba ki Baori was built by Raja Man Singh Tomar.
Past records suggest that Jahangir held Guru Hargobind Singh and 52 other kings captive in the baori.
SURAJ KUND IN GWALIOR FORT
Remember the folklore where Gwalipa directed King Suraj Sen to a pond on top of the hill to quench his thirst? Suraj Kund is believed to be the same pond. The king recovered from leprosy after drinking the water from the pond. Thus, it’s assumed to have the medicinal value that can cure any chronic disease.
The pond was named Suraj Kund after king’s name.
LIGHT AND SOUND SHOW AT GWALIOR FORT
There was still time to catch the Light and Sound show at Man Mandir Palace in Gwalior Fort. Our guide suggested us to see other monuments in the fortress and come back for the Light and Sound show at 6 pm.
We were just in time for the Light and Sound show. Sun went down giving way to a beautiful night that came alive with the dramatic lights and heroic tales of past.
It was a fab show! Cool winter breeze blowing, beneath the naked sky, the palace illuminated in wonderful shades of light, the history of the city and fort executed in Amitabh Bachchan’s profound voice! Beautifully done, History was never so interesting.
Gwalior Fort is located on the top of a hill and is seen from all the parts of the Gwalior city. Located at the northeast of fort is Man Mandir Palace.
Nearest Airport – Lal Rajmata Vijaya Raje Scindia Air Terminal in Gwalior
Nearest Railway Station – Gwalior Junction GWL
Nearest Bus Station – Gwalior Bus Stand
There are two entrance gates to the fort- Gwalior gate and Urwahi Gate. Gwalior gate is located in the busy market area of Gwalior and requires the uphill climb (1 km) to reach the fort.
To avoid the trek, you can take your car or taxi through the Urwahi gate to reach the fort. Public transport isn’t accessible through Urwahi gate though.
Gwalior Fort Timings
Gwalior Fort is open all days of the week from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. Gujari Mahal remains closed on Monday.
Light and Sound Show runs for 45 minutes daily at 7:30 pm (Hindi) and 8:30 pm (English)
Duration of Visit / Time Required
The fort, its temples including the evening light and sound show takes almost half a day to explore Gwalior Fort.
Gwalior Fort Entry Fees
The ticket counter is just opposite to the Man Mandir’s entrance.
Guides are sure to approach you. I’d advise hiring a guide to understand the fascinating history of Gwalior Fort.
Archaeological Musem Entry Tickets
INR 5 per person
Photography is prohibited inside the museum.
Man Mandir Entry Tickets
The ticket for Man Mandir is to be used for Sas Bahu Temple and Teli Ka Mandir too. So, hold onto it. The entrance ticket for other palaces is separate.
Indians – INR 25 per person
Foreigners – INR 100 per person
Children (below 15 years) – Free
Entry Tickets for other Palaces
Indians – INR 10 per person
Foreigners – INR 250 per person
Children (below 15 years) – Free
Camera – INR 25
Gujari Mahal Entry Tickets
INR 10 per person
INR 50 for camera
Light and Sound Show Tickets
Indians – INR 100 per adult; INR 50 per child (5-12 years)
Foreigners – INR 250 per adult; INR 150 per child (5-12 years)
Light and Sound Show tickets can be purchased from MP tourism cafe inside the fort.
Cafe inside the Gwalior Fort
The Madhya Pradesh Tourism Cafe at the western entrance of the Gwalior Fort serves basic snacks, tea, and coffee at a reasonable price. You can also buy bottled water from here.
We tried patties and tea.
Best Time to Visit Gwalior Fort
The best time to visit is between October to March when the temperature is just right.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Gwalior Fort. It was a hectic but remarkable day. We set off for our hotel to get some well-needed rest.
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Featured Image: Painting by Vikram Singh