Zorawar Fort of Leh

September 27, 2010

The Zorawar fort is situated in Ladakh a region in the northern most part of India in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. It was built in the 19th century by Gen Zorawar Singh of the Dogra dynasty of J & K. The Zorawar Fort at Leh is a reminder of the legendary Gen Zorawar Singh’s military exploits.

Gen Zorawar Singh was the builder of a number of small forts in the conquered territory of Ladakh. These forts were stratgically important and are known for their local architecture.Zorawar Singh, born in A.D. 1788 at village Khallur in Bilaspur District of Himachal Pradesh was recruited by Gulab Singh in a chance encounter as a soldier. Gen Zorawar’s exploits almost paralleled that of Gulab Singh and in 1820 he was made the Wazir of Jammu.

In July 1834, Zorawar Singh led an expedition with perhaps 5000 men through snow bound Kishtwar route and over the Bhot Khot passes into the Suru valley of Ladakh region and began his conquest of Ladakh. After some initial success, he was forced to stay in the Suru valley during winter. Having settled the question of what tribute and loyalty was due to the Raja of Jammu from the Ladakhi Empire in the future, he departed in July 1835. Before the half of the back journey, he had to face a rebellion in Leh. The rebellion was quelled and the King deposed.

The Zorawar Fort was built on the edge of the capital against the possibility of any further disaffection. He restored Dogra power in Leh and overcame a related rebellion in Purig and Drass. In order to prevent further trouble from the Muslim people of Purig and Drass, he decided to conquer the neighboring Muslim State of Baltistan which he successfully conquered through the winter of 1839-40. In 1841, he once again planned and attempted an invasion of Tibet through Ladakh. Unable to face the winter, the Dogra army could not fight well and was defeated. The great General Zorawar Singh was finally killed near Taklakot on 21st Dec 1841.

The General along with an Army of 5000 soldiers annexed Ladakh by Sep 1835. Maharaja Gulab Singh of Jammu had twin objectives in mind when he ordered the annexation of Ladakh. Firstly, access to the lucrative pashmina wool trade and also to the areas in west Tibet from where the wool came and secondly, to win gold bearing areas of Thok Jalung, Thok Daurakpa in Western Tibet.

The fort is named after Gen Zorawar Singh who built it in April 1836 of local material i.e. marcullak a type of local clay, Sun dried bricks, stone, wood etc. Extended in the area of around 27.17 acres of land, the fort has a natural spring along with one temple and one mosque built by the General himself. The fort is surrounded by a moat with a varying depth of 3 to 5 m. The entrance to the fort is through a modern wooden bridge. The mud brick huge bastion on a left of the entrance gate leads to the well demarcated stable.
The fort was made with the aim of providing a base to sustain his troops in Ladakh. The fort was occupied by 300 soldiers and 30 Artillery men.

The fort is surrounded by app. 15 feet high boundary of sun dried mud bricks wall. Inside the fort there are many stables for the horses of warriors and enough barracks for the soldiers store rooms for artillery and food grains purposes. There is an open space in the centre for army parade ground. Beside, there is a small temple for Mata Kali Devi and Durga and a Mosque. The small fortress is also surrounded by a dry moat. The dry moat is usually filled with water during battle time for the purpose of breaking the attack from opposite sides. The unique clay utilized to plaster the walls of Ladakhi building has been now replaced by cement plaster.

The small fortress is one of the unique structures and heritage sites in the Ladakh region. It needs proper care and maintenance. The fort is now under the occupations of the Army. No avoid addition and alterations should be made within the heritage site to save the cultural heritage and its natural ambience, original in design. The natural environment is safeguarded from unnecessary encroachment, addition & alterations.

The Archaeological Survey of India is trying to take over the fort and to declare the Zorawar Fort as one of the national monuments under the provisions of the Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958 and necessary procedures are being processed with the higher levels in the Ministry of Culture and the Tourism for consideration. The army authorities have also established two galleries as the personal museum of Gen Zorawar Singh in which dresses, mementos etc have been beautifully and elegantly displayed with signage, date etc. The museum really provides the reflection of the Zorawar Singh’s exploits.

Courtesy:- Daily Excelsior

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