If Morena was not scary enough for an average traveler, you are now driving towards the ravines of Chambal in the neighbouring district of Bhind. Of course, Morena was a harmless revelation and it magically surprised you with the triple marvels of Bateshwar, Padhawali and Mitawali temples. You are on a new mission - to see the Ater Fort deep inside Bhind on the banks of Chambal.
|Fields of Bajra - On the way to Ater|
|Ater Fort Rising|
The road from Porsa in Morena to Ater in Bhind was being laid and the ride was painful and slow. Only the green fields all around helped ease the pain. Rivers everywhere with good canal system has turned the Chambal area into a granary. Friendly people on the way ensure that you keep heading the right way. And then as you negotiate another turn on a stream bed with ravines on both sides you see the Ater Fort rising on the horizon.
|Ater Fort - The Towering Ramparts|
|Ater Fort - Entrance Gate|
Just before the Ater town, about 2 kms south of Chambal river, you make a final left turn and arrive at the fence gate of the fort. Except for roadside shop owner across the road there is nobody around. You leave the car in his care and enter the grounds. The entire area is quite and desolate. The fort walls tower over us on the left. They must be about 20 m high. As the ground is relatively plain apart from the mud ravines around, the walls and the intermittent seventeen bastions provide the defense to the fort. The walls have watch posts built on top that turn out to be pavilions later. You walk around the ramparts following the dirt track until you arrive at the entrance gate which could be the north–west gate. First signs of life in the fort are detected here. The caretaker is surprised to see us and gives us some general directions but is considerate enough to depute his colleague to accompany us. This caretaker brandishes a mean lathi. He douses our concern by saying one word – snakes! You are in Bhind and the visit will be incomplete without a fear factor – if not dacoits, snakes will do just fine. You are glad that you are donning tough shoes and jeans.
When you first heard of the Ater Fort, it was a complete blind spot. But if you are within easy striking distance then you have to go see it for yourself. There is not much information available about the fort. At the fort entrance there is the brief introduction to the history of the fort. Inside there are no signs to identify the different buildings. It will be a challenge to piece together some background of the fort.
|Ater - Diwan-i-Aam|
The fort generally is crumbling. ASI seems to be doing some patch work to help the fort hold on to some of its past grandeur. After passing through the red sandstone third gate and then turning left, you enter the gates of possibly the Diwan-i-Aam or Hall of Public Audience. There is not much here with the courtyard in the middle and ruined walls all around. Facing the gate on the east is a jharokha with bangla roof where perhaps the king sat during the proceedings.
|Ater Fort - Diwan-i-Khas|
|Saatmanjila and King's Throne|
|King's Throne with Ornamentation|
|Octagonal Platform in the Diwan-i-Khas|
Moving ahead to the left brings you to the most intact and majestic area. This is the the Diwan-i-Khaas or the Hall of Private Audience. The east side has a raised recess with stucco walls. The balcony with the bangla roof is the throne of the king. The ceiling has some pretty ornamentation which has now faded. You have seen similar bangla roof canopy at the Diwan-i-Aam at Red Fort in Delhi. Apparently the architecture is inspired from the Mughals. Below the balcony on the ground is a ruined octagonal platform that had marble and other colourful stone embellishments. Above the King’s seat, dwarfing the courtyard rises the tower called Saatmanjila. Just opposite the king’s balcony, across the courtyard, on the west side is another balcony where perhaps the nobles sat. The courtyard has a small pool in front of the noble’s balcony. Today the pool is filled with water from the recent rains.
|Diwan-i-Khas - View from South Baradari|
On the north and south sides of the open courtyard are the dilapidated baradaris and rooms. On the first floor on either side you can see graceful pavilions. It is time to explore the tower and the pavilions.
|View from Satmanjila|
|Chambal on the Horizon - Another View from Saatmanjila|
As you gingerly pick your way up the tower, you see colour paintings and panels. Most of the places the original stucco work has fallen off leaving little patches of colour. As you climb higher you can see the fort complex and the grounds beyond in all directions. In the north, beyond the town, you can see the Chambal river. Here in the fort, to the east are the ruins of private quarters or palaces of the king and the queen.
|Ater Fort - North Pavilion|
|The Best Place in Ater Fort|
|Makarmukh on Rood of Pavilion|
|Beautiful Mural in North Pavilion|
You come down to the first level to see the pavilions up close. The pavilions sit at the edge of the platform at the top of the fort ramparts. With projected balconies the pavilions provide a pretty picture. These are the watchposts you saw on the ramparts. On the roof you can see a crocodile face hanging from the edge. This must be the Makarmukh and the face is that of a gharial. Gharials, a family of small crocodiles with narrow snouts are found in the Chambal river. Just below the overhanging snout is a bracket with a hole where perhaps the kingdom’s flag was unfurled. The gharial makarmukh is the ideal image as Ater is gharial country and crocodile is the preferred vehicle of River Ganga and God Varun. The gharial makarmukh doubles up as Somasutra or water run-off point. Inside the pavilion, there are paintings on the walls depicting the royal couples. Cool breeze flows from the Chambal through the jharokhas. Large terrace spreads out in front overlooking the courtyard. This is the best part of the fort to spend some time with yourself.
The pavilions outside have inscriptions dated 1765 and1776 with the names of Scindia Rulers who later ruled Ater - Mahadji, Daulat Rao, Jiwaji Rao and Madhav Rao. One inscription says that the pavilion was built by Sidhi Shri Maharajdhiraj Shri Maharaj Vasat Singh Judev in Samvat 1822 in the Paush month.
|View of the Palace from first level|
|The caving roof of the Palace|
You come down to see the palace area. Like the audience halls, the palaces are also designed around courtyards. Most of the structure is in bad shape and the caretaker does not want you to go in the verandahs. The heavy stone slabs holding the roof have cracked and it is matter of time before the entire structure collapses. There are heaps of debris all around - restoration if done will be time consuming and costly.
This is the tragedy of having plenty. Out here in the badlands, where a tourist is as rare as a dacoit, why would an agency spend funds to restore a fort when it knows it will not get any returns on its investment. A possible solution could be the development of the area into a tourist circuit that could include boat ride over the Chambal, visit to the Gharial Sanctuary in Morena, climbing the Saatmanjila in Ater Fort and then onwards to the three temple marvels of Morena.
The Ater Fort was built by the Bhadoria rulers. The dynasty is believed to have been established in 8th century by Raja Chandrapal Dev and derives its name from his son Raja Bhado Rao. Later Bhadoria kings fought with Delhi Sultan Qutbuddin Aibak and also partnered with the Mughals. This region called Badhwar has a strategic location where five rivers including Chambal and Yamuna meet. King Badan Singh started the construction of Ater Fort in 1644 and King Maha Singh completed it in 1668. Badan Singh also built the Bateshwar Temples on river Yamuna in Agra District. In addition to Ater Fort, the Bhadorias also built forts at Nawgaon, Pinahat and Hatkant. At their peak the Bhadorias had a kingdom extending from Gwalior in South, to Dholpur in West and Mathura and Kanpur in East. The Scindia rulers captured the fort in 18th century.
|Sunset in Bhind|
If you are feeling adventurous, then drive through the town to reach the banks of Chambal river. On the river you can take a boat to cross over to the other side into Agra. The sun is about to hug the horizon. After all this is Chambal. You take one last look at the proud and towering walls of the Ater Fort rising over the mud ravines and leave for Gwalior. You only wished that you had been able to identify the Khooni Darwaza, Badan Singh ka Mahal and Barakhamba Mahal!
Getting There: You can reach Ater by making either Morena or Gwalior as your base. Ater is 90 kms from Morena and 110 kms from Gwalior via Gohad and Bhind. For adventure seekers, Ater Fort can be reached from Bah in Agra district and crossing the Chambal River on a boat!