Kotaha Fort: Kotaha or Garhi-Kotaha, 20 miles north of Umballa, was the seat of power under the Rule of the Mirs that started with the coming of Hakim General Qasim-ul-Khan in early 17th century. The Mirs ruled the Hills of Morni and the ilaqa of Kotaha and Naraingarh from their formidable fort at Kotaha. Major William Lloyd and Captain Alexander Gerard marched by the fort in July 1821 and described it as ‘the large well built fort of Mahummad Jaffeer, a mile from Raeepoor’ in their ‘Narrative of a journey from Caunpoor to the Boorendo Pass in the Himalaya Mountains’. The fort stood upon an elevated spot with a commanding view of the country around. It was octagonal with each side somewhat more than 100 feet in length and with round towers or bastions at the angles. The fort wall enclosed an area of around 50000 Square Feet – a little over 1 acre.
The fort had a formidable reputation and was reputedly the third strongest in Punjab. Runjeet Singh is said to have come down himself with an army to take it but after marching round it, he had gone back intimidated by the defences.
The walls of the fort were from 26 to 30 feet high, and consisted of an outer facing of boulder masonry, in lime mortar, 6 feet thick at the bottom and 2 1/2 to 4 feet at top; then an earthern rampart about 10 feet thick and 12 feet high, then another masonry wall about 3 feet thick, then a row of mantled casemates about 16 feet wide, making a total thickness from outside to inside of about 35 feet at bottom. The towers were about 22 feet in diameter and 30 feet high. Above the earthern rampart was a line of barracks and store rooms, about 13 feet deep, and their flat roofs formed a platform for musketry, protected by a parapet 3 to 4 feet high. The details were, however, in no two places exactly alike.The gateway was furnished with flanking defences. Upon entering the fort, the two faces to the left were occupied by rows of barracks and storerooms. To the left front were the public rooms and palace of the Meer, arcaded buildings surrounding a courtyard and having an underground series of vaults supported by thick pillars. Upon the face opposite the gateway were offices and servants’ houses; to the right front three faces were occupied by the zenana and a small mosque, and immediately to the right of the entrance was the guard room etc. A small postern gate lead out from the casemates and was the secret entrance to the fort, the door being artfully concealed on the outside by bushes etc. The postern gate was connected with the interior of the zenana. There was an underground dungeon beneath the vaults with its entrance in the passage leading to the postern serving as its sole opening.
The fort finds mention in numerous British sources including the Gazetteers. It was intially damaged under the orders of the British Deputy Commissioner of Ambala, T D Forsyth in 1857 when the Mir of Kotaha Akbar-ul-Khan came under suspicion of sympathizing with the mutineers. The fort was later completely destroyed in 1864 under the orders of the Governor General. A blow by blow account of the destruction of the fort has been given by R.G. Elwes, Executive Engineer in his 1868 paper-‘Demolition of Fort Kotaha’. The destruction was entrusted to him in September 1864 after earlier attempts by the Tehsildar had failed. An open barrel of gunpowder had been exploded under the gateway with virtually no impact. The engineer took two months to destroy the massive fort, bit by bit, with the use of explosives and mines.Deep shafts were dug into the ramparts and bastions to facilitate the destruction. The Meer had encamped opposite the fort of his ancestors as it was ruthlessly and systematically pulled down by the British engineer. The locals are said to have watched the destruction with awe and astonishment as their indomitable fort disappeared before their eyes under the impact of high explosives. Earlier, in 1857, the outer defences of the fort had been destroyed by the British and the debris had filled up the protective ditch around the fort.
The police station building inside the fort was spared and its ruins are still visible today on the mound at the entry to the village Garhi-Kotaha on the Raipur Rani-Naraingarh road. The police station was shifted to the new building at Raipur Rani in 1914 and the police station still functions from this 100 year old building.
The other fort of the Mirs in the foothills of Morni at Masumpur, about five kilometres from Kotaha, also lies in ruins. A small rectangular platform, a tehkhana and a few cells is all that remains of the fort.
17th Century Masjid: An old masjid that is said to have been located inside the Qila was also spared by the British. A stone inscription on the entry reads as follows: ” 786- Yeh masjid darsaal tak hazareesh sadro panchad do isvih 1652 tamir shud Hakim General Qasim Khan, bayainh Garhi-Kotaha, Zila Ambala“. Thus, the masjid seems to have been constructed in 1652 AD in the time of Hakim Qasim Khan. The Jama Masjid of Delhi was completed in 1658 AD.
Royal Cemetry: Across the road behind the shrine of the ‘Peer Baba’ lies the modest ‘Royal Cemetry’ of the Mirs. The main structure enshrines the graves of the Mir Jafar Ali Khan who was granted the Morni Hills and the Kotaha ilaqa in 1816 by the British, his successor Mir Akbar-ul-Khan who incurred the wrath of the British power in the mutiny years and died in exile and one Qasim-ul-Khan Shahid. The tombstone inscriptions read as follows:
Raja Mir Jafar-ul-Khan Awalh, Rais Garhi Kotaha Morni Hills, 1785-1830 AD
Raja Mir Akbar-ul-Khan Awalh, Garhi-Kotaha aur Morni Hills 1830-1864 AD
Tapkah Qasim-ul-Khan Shahid 1849 padr Bakar-ul-Khan Doyam
The cemetry is overgrown with weeds though the main gateway is reasonably well preserved.
- Kothi Gulabi Bagh: A much more contempory structure is the ‘Kothi Gulabi Bagh’, the residence of the later Mirs. The brightly coloured lake-side mansion has today lost most of its splendour. The lake is reduced to a pond and the ‘estate’ is all but gone with most of the surrounding land bearing ugly brick encroachments. The kothi itself is in a state of disrepair and is overgrown with weeds. While parts of the outer structures have collapsed, yet the principal structure with high, decorated ceilings, still stands strong. The ‘Gulabs’ (roses) defy the all pervasive gloom and are a reminder of the faded glory under the Mirs.
- Professional Papers on Indian Engineering- Thomason Civil Engineering College, Roorkee, Volume 5 (1868)
- Narrative of a journey from Caunpoor to the Boorendo Pass in the Himalaya Mountains (1840); Author: William Lloyd and Alexander Gerard
Filed in: History of Morni