Poonch Fort, situated in the heart of the town, adds glory to the historic Poonch city. It spreads across an area of 7,535 sqm and is located atop a small rising hillock. The fort has witnessed various historically and politically significant phases of the time. The foundation of this fort building in the capital of Poonch was laid by Raja Abdul Razak Khan in 1701 A.D and was built by Raja Rustam Khan in 1779. A very few people know that after his name Poonch was also known as Rustam Nagar. This splendorous architectural edifice is not only a building but also the breathing embodiment of many epochs of Poonch History.
It reminds us of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, who conquered this area in 1819 which remained under the captivation of Khalsa Darbar of Lahore till 1850. It witnessed the Golden Period of Poonch from 1850 to 1947 in which principality of Poonch, (which was earlier set up by Raja Moti Singh-the then Prime Minister of Khalsa Darbar) raised to the status of state during the reign of Raja Baldev Singh in 1901. It also witnessed as token of proud sacrifice of hundreds of martyrs of Poonch in the World Wars. The thick walls of the fort has significant secrets of history and the story of periods under the reign of Muslims Rulers, Dogra Rulers and Sikh Rulers and their cultural entity reflects from outward semblance of Fort speaking the language of different eras.
The fort narrates the pathetic story of tedious line, dividing not only the land but also the hearts. It tells us how the line separated the people and even after six decades the people of both sides are praying if this line of hatred and enmity becomes worthless and they could meet their kiths across the LoC. But the tears roll down the eyes when fort feels helpless in expressing its own pitiable condition. This majestic structure narrates the time saga, how one can remain standstill under the diverse conditions of the time, climate and nature. It consists of a series of buildings arranged around four main irregular courtyards dating back to three distinct eras of Muslim rule, Sikh Rule and Dogra Rule. Before earth quake in 2005, it happened to be the abode of government offices and I won’t feel hesitant to call it the Secretariat of District Poonch. But I hesitate to mention that hardly any office, that not even a single office functioning earlier in the vicinity of this forte did bother even a bit about the health of this historical monument. It has more than 80 rooms manifesting a distinguished architectural designs and get-ups. A small mosque, which has been collapsed during the earthquake in Oct 2005, is also in the dilapidated condition. Apart from the mosque there is a temple and a gurdwara in the fort precinct. The disastrous earthquake without showing a little courtesy towards this historic symbolic superstructure, made it prey to its wraths and the fort lost its original alluring charm. Most of fort building collapsed leaving behind signs of history. Library, a book treasure containing thousands of valuable manuscripts and books, washed away and rendered the booklovers a sudden blow. The different offices vacated the fort without even turning back and thinking what has happened to fort after them. This historical monument is shedding the blood tears over its own pathetic condition. It is situated at the center of the city, but the discouraging aspect is that it is losing its original architectural glory. The structures which have been raised around the fort have cast a dwindling impact on the captivating beauty of this speaking fabric. Many of the structures raised above the level of the Fort have almost super-eagled its view. The total area of the Fort is about 20 Kanals as per the revenue record but the area around the fort have been illegally encroached upon by the people for their personal benefits throwing all legalities and moral scruples into the air. The notice has been issued to the encroachers by the concerned department but the extent of reluctance of the encroachers crosses the limits when notice of eviction of the land does not make any difference to them. What should we infer from this oft-repeated negligence of the encroachers coupled with the dilly-delaying tactics of the concerned authorities? But surprisingly, a shopping complex in the premise of the fort; a school building at its back and a Patwar Khana have been constructed by 93 INF Brigade, Department of Education and revenue department flouting all ethics and the norms enshrined for preservation of old and historical structures. To make the matters worse, some more privately-owned shopping complex shaved been erected around this Fort making a negative difference to the historical and majestic appearance of Poonch Fort. The government, if its intention is clear, must consider it seriously and initiate legal action against them. If it is not done at proper time, than we shall be constrained to assume that encroachers are encouraged with connivance and complicity of the concerned authorities. The renovation project of the historic fort has been taken up by the Poonch Development Authority. The multiphase renovation project cost approximately 50 crores and out of this only 40 lacs (i.e. 0.8 % of the total project cost) have been sanctioned and utilized in the last three years and this shows the pace of work that is highly disgusting. A memorable plaque, installed in the loving memory of our martyrs and brave soldiers of Poonch, who took participation in the World War, is missing from its original place. It was the epitome of bravery and sincerity of Poonch towards nation. But displacing it from the original place dishonors them in one context and shows negligence of the government on the other. Elsewhere in the state, the center and the state government are coming with both hands open to promote tourist destinations but this spot which can attract the tourists and generate the instant revenue for the government is treated on the contrary. The slow pace of work and delayed sanction of money not only stalls the work but also reduces enthusiasm among the people.
• Published in Kashmir Times on 23 Jan 2011 and JK Newspoint 10 April 2011.