New Delhi, India
November 21, 2013
On our second day, as soon as the rain stops (at 4 PM), we ask the receptionist at the Grand View for directions, then bundle ourselves into our car and drive off on the Jamta-Renuka Lake road. We’ve been told Jaitak is about 6 km from Jamta, with a sign pointing the way.
The drive’s lovely: pine woods shrouded in clouds and mist; a river deep down in the valley; tiny waterfalls all along the hillside. But no signs of any fort. Finally, after an hour, we stop an old villager to ask for directions. "Oh, dear," he tut-tuts, "you’ve come way past. You’ll need to turn back. It’s about 8 km down that way."
8 km on a narrow Himalayan road that’s slippery with rain and dotted with miniature landslides takes time. 4 km short of Jamta, we notice a narrow lane leading up a hillside. There’s no sign that this is the way to Jaitak, but we take a chance—and hit pay dirt. The fort is up there, and though we end up walking the last 200 mt uphill (there’s a locked gate that won’t let the car through), we do get there.
Jaitak was originally built by the 10th century Sirmour kings of Nahan. It was renovated in the 1800’s by the Gurkha leader Ranzor Thapa and is known as the battlefield for an epic battle in 1814-15 between Ranzor’s army and the British. A memorial below the fort lists the names (only in Hindi) of the Gurkha officers, but doesn’t provide much else in the way of information. Beyond the memorial is an old red colonial house, turreted and guarded by two plaster warriors: very quaint. The place, unfortunately, is locked when we arrive, so we wander around the outside, admiring the warriors and the two small cannons (peeling paint and all) atop the turret.
Facing the memorial, on the summit of the hill, is the fort—or what remains of it. There’s really very little: four low crumbling stone walls with loopholes; a couple of rounded bastions, a small stone idol that sits in a garish new temple the size of a window. Wild strawberries, weeds and lantana grow across it all. We poke about a bit, take a few photos, then head back down.
The Jaitak Fort is open to visitors, and there is no entry fee or any fixed timings. The colonial home—also considered part of the fort—is private property. It’s unoccupied but supposedly has a caretaker who’ll take you around if he’s in, is feeling benevolent, and has been suitably sweetened with baksheesh. Even if you don’t see inside the house—we couldn’t, after all—the trip is rewarding enough. The fort, though small and in ruins, has its own charm. And the view is splendid: on a clear day, you can actually see the hills blending into the plains miles away.