Ajaygarh Fort, near Khajuraho of Madhya Pradesh is a fascinating hiking destination where archaeology and nature co-exist; more specifically here nature comes in absolute natural form. No artificial garden! No tourist-path! And no tourist! It’s all about climbing a secluded hill with multiple rock-carvings alongside, hiking through forest and looking for centuries’ old ruins spread amidst dense wood.
What is so special about Ajaygarh Fort?
Ajaygarh Fort is built on a steep hill called Kedar Parvat, a part of Vindhyachal mountain range. When you think about a fort upon a hill, what picture comes in your mind? Buildings encircled by high walls erected along the cliff, right? But here in Ajaygarh, buildings are mostly collapsed. High wall is still there, but not much part of it has survived. The fort premises on hilltop is now covered by forest. Therefore, do not expect to comprehend the architectural plan; rather focus on the intricate carvings on the rocks and ruins you would come across. It seems less a fort, more an open air museum of beautiful artistic expressions. Let me discuss in detail:
Ajaygarh Fort is usually accessed by a flight of around 600 rock cut steps, but we took that way later, in time of return. A rough road uphill led us to the hilltop from opposite side of the hill. Because, the ancient temples what we were looking for are close to this backside entry.
Rays of morning sun was filtering through the leaves. Dry leaves of sal and teak were spread under our feet. What a soothing rustle! Engulfed by the pristine surrounding we just kept walking behind our guide Ajay Singh mindlessly. And Suddenly! An ancient stone temple popped up amidst the forest! Deserted, half-broken, but beautifully carved all over the body! And look… there is another one just behind. Bigger than the previous one.
Both the temples are verge of collapse; still lot to see and interpret! Let me explain what we found interesting about these temples:
- Both the temples have no deity on the shrine. Hindu deities like Ganesha, Kartika, Narasimha, Vishnu, Shiva-Parvati, Krishna, Saptamatrika, Kalbhairava, Chamunda and many more were sculpted on other parts of the temples. Like many other Hindu temples, here also Vyala is the most common sculpture; found almost on every part of the temples.
- The most interesting sculptures we found were the figures on column heads. These figures, carrying the load of the ceiling are commonly found in central Indian temple architecture; but nowhere else I got to see such varied and unique ones. See the pictures below:
- According to Wikipedia, these are the temples of Chandela period. Chandela dynasty ruled this area of Bundelkhand in between 9th to 13th The world-famous temples of Khajuraho were also built under their patronage. These temples resemble to the ones located in Khajuraho to some extent. The circular Mandapa of 2nd temple reminds me the Nilkantheswar Temple of Kalinjhar, Uttar Pradesh and Kiradu Temple of Rajasthan.
- Erotic images sculpted on the temple surface are one of the key features of Khajuraho, but no erotica is here in Ajaygarh Fort. The figures are found dancing, playing musical instruments, fighting with each other and so on. Their postures are very much life like; unlike the unnatural bending and twisting of body commonly found sculpted on the temples of Khajuraho.
- Unlike the sculptures of Khajuraho, here the figures, both male and female are medium built; with big eyes, blunt noses, chubby cheeks, round chins and thick leaps; resemble to the tribes of Bundelkhand area.
- The figures are wearing tribal jewelries and headdress.
Four temples were there side by side. The fourth one is a little bit away. The third one is the smallest and most damaged among all. It looked like stone blocks are stacked carelessly to give a shape of a temple. Anyhow, we went close to it and found intricate carving on the door. The later one was apparently in good condition, but when we stepped inside it, we found a loose stone hanging over our head; so after a quick overview and few clicks we left the temple.
Initially there were five gates leading to the fort. But now only two of them are left to exist. Numbers of beautifully carved figures are found near these gates, alongside the stone steps. The carvings near the northern gate are bigger in size. Let us see what these engraved figures are all about:
- Hindu deities – Ganesha, Navadurga, Brahma-Vishnu-Maheswar, Mahishasuramrdini, Navagraha, Nandi and so on.
- 24 Jain Tirthankaras.
- Feeding scenes of mother Goddess, mother cow and mother pig. These images are engraved altogether in one place.
- Men and women worshipping Shiva Linga and holy cow.
- Men and women standing face to face; probably talking to each other.
- Men standing in row with weapons and offerings.
- Warriors with weapons.
- Horse-riders – assumed to be foreign intruders.
The human figures differ from typical Chandela style. Just like the sculptures found in the temples, here also we noticed the lack of royal delicacy; rather their look, posture, attire and jewelry depict tribal life.
There were some inscriptions on rocks. Ajay Singh told us that nobody can found what is written here. Locals believe that treasures are kept buried somewhere in this fort and these inscriptions are all about how to get there. See, the locks and keys – Ajay Singh pointed to some engravings just beside. If somebody can decipher this secret code, one of the locks will open and lead the person to the place where the treasure is hidden. The story of Alibaba came in our mind.
Strewn Remnants of Chandela Period
While hiking on the flat-top hill we came across several remains Chandela architecture like exquisitely carved idols, Shiva Lingas, pillars, temple-head, cornices, pedestals, amalakas, stelae; scattered haphazardly amidst the thick forest.
Though the fort was initially built by Chandela kings, but later it was rebuilt in 18th century by the ruling Rajput clan. We found that during the re-construction of the fort-wall, many of these Chandela remnants were used as stone blocks.
Relatively Modern Architectures
Centuries after the Chandela rule, Ajaygarh again came alive by Guman Singh, a Bundela Rajput in 1765; and later became a native state of British Raj. Therefore ruins of this period are also found here along with the Chandela ones. What we found here:
- Two rock cut tanks, named as Ganga & Jamuna, still filled with water.
- The fort wall.
- A big pond, paved by carved stones of earlier era. The water is considered sacred to locals.
- A big castle, from where the entire town of Ajaygarh is seen. A cannon of by gone era is still preserved there.
- Ruin of a big gate.
- Ruins of several buildings, storehouses and temples. One of the temples is still active; regularly visited by local devotees.
How to Get There
Ajaygarh Fort is around 74 km from Khajuraho and it takes 2 hours to reach by car. If you are planning to visit Panna National Park also, then keep in mind that Madla gate of Panna NP is located mid-way between Khajuraho and Ajaygarh Fort. Therefore, you may stay at any resort near Madla gate on the night before or in time of return.
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Tips for Visiting Ajaygarh Fort
- The entire hike will require 4-5 hours. Start early from Khajuraho, so that you can get down from the hill before sunset.
- There is no fixed path, no signboard inside the fort premises. You must take a local guide.
- The entire area of Ajaygarh Fort is covered only by foot. It is an easy hike. You have to take 600 steps in either way. Not recommended for people with walking difficulty.
- Wear a pair of good hiking shoes.
- Carry plenty of drinking water and packed lunch. There is a place beside the pond, where you can cook by wood fire. In that case, carry all necessary ingredients, apart from wood. You will find local pilgrims taking bath in this sacred pond and cooking thereafter.
- While cooking or taking meal, be aware of monkeys.
- Do not leave anything that is not bio-degradable.
- Do not take anything from the fort area.
- Do not make any damage to the rock carvings and architectures.
- Brihaspati Kund and Kalinjhar are two nearby interesting places which you should not skip if you visit Ajaygarh.