An extension trip from Hamirpur, Palampur or even Kangra, Sujanpur Tira is not to be missed if you’re looking for the historical and architectural relics of this area. Yes the buildings are mere facades from the glory period 50-100 years ago, but with some imagination one can see how glorious this fort must have been.
The architecture is opposite from the Rajasthani forts and palaces that sprawl on and on over a large footprint. Like other forts in Himachal Pradesh this is a small group of buildings set in a very organized manner. The buildings are compact and carry a similar theme throughout.
Had it not been for an HP government tourism brochure, I would not have known about this location. Of my two guide books, only one had a passing reference to the town and no mention of the fort. Much like Rajasthan the glimpses of remaining paintings are what have a few tourists coming.
I was dropped off on the roadside with a short walk up a crumbling path of stairs. Just minutes before several school buses dropped off a large group of kids who entered using the same steps. Had I not seen them I would have questioned if I was in the right place. As you reach the first doorway, look to your right for a view of the Mandir Gauri Shankar. Walk through the archways and you enter into a beaten down jungle area, the Mandir to your right and to the left a glimpse of an old fort wall. I was drawn to the fort wall first, such beautiful work still showing in the aging wall.
Enter the Mandir up a flight of steps that leads into a small courtyard. Here I ran into a few workers, one applying a stark white goo to the outside wall, the other monitoring the entrance. She was very quick to remind me I needed to take off my shoes even though I was a good distance from the doorway. Step inside where a floral set of curtains is pulled back just enough to display what’s inside the inner room. Unlike other temples I have seen, with the exception of the Golden Temple, this had a hallway encircling the shrine. More sculptures that were seen outside were resting against the walls. It’s hard to say how old/original they are since they were just laying about.
Inside the shrine you can just make out the paintings that the guide books briefly mention. Yes they are fantastic even if only a few walls still exist. More interesting is the life-size statues of Lord Shiva and Parvati.
Back down the steps of the Mandir you’ll find a large archway to your right. This leads into the main grassy courtyard toward the palace and outdoor theatre. If you turn left you will discover the building attached to the archway you just walked through. A series of rooms lines this long narrow building. Near the middle you see the building being overtaken by the jungle. Walls, ceilings, floors caving in on themselves. Further down a path I found another building altogether. The entrance was quite grand, but that is the most intact part of this building. I poked around the various rooms and walls still left, many times having to walk on top of the walls where the second floor once was. Most parts of the main floor were half buried from dirt and plants growing over what once was. I came to a point where I couldn’t explore anymore without jumping a large area on the second floor or climbing up from the main floor through thick overgrowth. Since I was alone and a good distance from help, I chose to give up my adventures and head back to the more manicured areas.
Back to the main entrance you get a great view of the grassy courtyard and the two buildings laid out in front of you. I chose the residence building first. Much more detailed than the first building I looked at, the walls, archways, doorways were wider and adorned with floral attributes. Most of the plaster was gone along with any paintings that once captured the eye. The rooms were larger, more light flowed in. This was definitely the royal residence. What I saw before was probably the worker residence. The second building I saw back in the jungle also has this kind of detail from what I could see that was left standing. I wondered if there was a separate residence for the ladies or for a princely son?
Inside the large entryway was an intricate stone courtyard still in good condition. The man hours that went into building that part of the structure alone! I had my first glimpse of double deck stairwells that flanked each other. Unfortunately the second levels were blocked with iron doors and large padlocks. Poking the camera through the bars I caught sights of very open large rooms with spectacular views of the outside. Shaded and cool from the heat outside this must have been the place to relax during the day. All the plaster and paintings were gone, along with the ceilings in some rooms.
From the paved courtyard through the last archway I realized I had just walked out the main entrance. Waiting for me were two signs that gave me more information on where I was. Apparently I had come in the back or side entrance which made sense as this was much more impressive. The finishing details on the outer facade, even this old were still brimming with royalty. The main archway is flanked with windows built within an enclosed howdah riding atop a laying elephant. Magnificent!
Next, on to the theatre. I have not seen this type of building before up to this point. The kids I mentioned seeing earlier were all playing inside this building. I could tell there was a large main area but from all the archways and columns it was hard to get a grasp of the layout. Once inside, all I saw were rows of columns lining the walls with caved-in ceilings. That is until I moved to the center of the structure and was blown away by the sight. Here in the middle of this structure was a massive covered ceiling built out of bricks and plaster. A huge section had long caved-in and large cracks spanning the entire remaining surface showed stress and future trouble. Below, school kids ran and jumped and played with giant smiles and no cares. The main room was very large which made me even more in awe of the construction of the roof above.
I climbed a set of stairs to find a rather short wall cap that hid the roof from my eye level. As I had seen from below, the ceilings, now on the second floor the roof, were collapsed leaving me nowhere to walk. The exception was a bamboo bridge with an old door placed over it for added strength. As much as I wanted to cross to grab a different angle and possibly an even better photo, the ledges on the other side seemed very risky. The view from where I was showed the entire landscape below including the River Beas.
Back down the stairs I wanted to grab a quick look at the outer wall facing the cliff I had just looked down upon. To my surprise I found two lovers hiding in an archway relaxing. It’s not uncommon to see at these old sites, but I hadn’t expected it and neither had they of me. I quickly took some snaps and let them be.
After an hour of exploring I decided it was time to leave until I saw one more path I missed on my initial entrance. Near the Mandir was a dirt path leading along the outer fort wall I saw from the road. This lead to a small temple up on the opposite side of the hill the palace/residence lays on. From here I was able to see the other side of the valley below. Looking through the thick jungle ground just off the path I could make out even more structures of this fort. Given how thick and how long I had been here already, I decided it was best to leave this for another visit.
The fort at Sujanpur Tira is so different from what you come to expect from Rajasthani counterparts. This fort was a true find for me and my interest in architecture. Void of any tourists and annoying guides, I roamed uninterrupted for more than an hour. Getting here is a bit off the beaten path so ask a local for directions.
Due to time I missed the other temples in the area which hold even more paintings worth seeing. I will definitely be back to explore them. The fort at Sujanpur Tira ranks high on my list if not near the top.