Kusak fort is a fortified camp built on top of a solid rock 400 meters high and 100 meters wide, right on the border of Chakwal and Jhelum Districts.
Kusak Fort History
This fort was upgraded by Raja Jodh, the son of Raja Mal Khan Janjua to protect the Eastern Flank of the his kingdom from invaders.
The only fort further East on the Salt Range was Nanadana Fort.
Kusak Fort was meant to protect the Jhangar Valley of Salt Range, the home of Watli Janjua Clan.
Forts in the Indus Valley that Protected India
Kusak is just one of the four strings of pearl forts that were established by Janjua rulers in the beginning of this millennium, to protect India.
The fifth one was Rohtas Fort, of Sher Shah Suri, established much later.
- Rohtas Fort Jhelum
- Mirri Fort Quetta
- Throchi Fort Kotli Azad Kashmir
- Ramkot Fort Mangla Dam Kashmir
- Attock Fort
- Sangini Fort Kallar Syedan
- Gakhar Pharwala Fort
- Rawat Fort
- Lahore Fort
- Lal Qila Fort Muzaffarabad
- Altit Fort Hunza
These forts formed a protective arc running south to North-East as the first line of defense against invading Armies.
Salt Range forts were meant to slow down invading armies coming from the West long enough for reinforcements to arrive at the opposite bank of River Jhelum.
All four forts were built on cliff edges of Salt Range, just before the plains of India sprawled out down south.
Each Fort is guarding a crucial invasion route that has been used by Ambitious Afghan and Persian leaders trying to grab the Indian Goose that laid the golden egg.
The remaining three forts are Amb Sharif, Malot, and Nandna Fort.
Guessing from their height of around 800 meters from Sea Level, I am guessing all the four forts must have had some sort of visual signaling mechanism in place.
Amb Sharif Fort in Khushab
Amb Sharif fort being the remotest of the other three, at the Western most end of Salt Range, was the first one to be abandoned because it did not have reserve support to back it up in case of a siege.
Amb Sharif Fort and Temple Complex is so ancient, it has both Hindu and Buddhist temples at its premises.
Amb Sharif Fort was meant to protect the Soon Sakesar Khushab Valley.
Malot Fort near Kallar Kahar
The next in the West to East defense line is Malot Fort guarding the Kallar Kahar ingress point that Babar the Mughal took too.
Malot Fort not only overlooks Peer Da Khara Ridge line that ends up at Bhera, but also the road that leads down towards Choa Saidan Shah in Kahoon Valley, Eastwards.
Malot Fort was used as an observation tower by Sikh Troops.
Kusak Fort Kahoon Valley End
Further eastwards, comes the Kusak Fort that was supposed to be impenetrable and guarded the road that climbs down from the Salt Range at Khewra Salt Mines.
Kusak Fort can only be accessed through a narrow passage that turns south from Wahali Zair Village of Lehr Sultanpur, towards Watli Village.
The fort itself has a 400 meters drop on the reverse side, straight into Jhelum plains
Hindu Temple at Kusak Fort
A commander sitting on top of the highest temple of Kusak Fort, at 800 meters height, can see Jhelum, Chakwal, and Kallar Kahar too on a clear day.
- Hindu Temple Kahuta
- Hindu Temple Nur Singh Powar
- Hindu Temple Tilla Jogian
- Amb Sharif Hindu Temple Soon Sakesar
Kusak Fort, no doubt, has been well sited by military scouts, but they didn’t anticipate their enemy to be as desperate as Jalaluddin Feroz Shah Khilji.
Khilji, in 1290 AD with better resources, more eager and ruthless soldiers, over ran this fort and dispersed Janjua Clan.
The second defeat of this fort almost happened in 1398 AD under Amir Taimur, but Janjua instead preferred giving him a safe passage to India.
The last time this fort was overwhelmed was by Ranjit Singh in 1809 with Sultan Fateh Muhammad Khan Janjua on the opposing camp.
In the end it was lack of water that led to the vanquishing of this magnificent fort by Ranjit Singh on behalf of the British after a six month brutal siege.
Nandna Fort Pind Dadan Khan
The final fort on the Eastern Edge of Salt Range is the Nandna Fort, guarding the Pind Dadan Khan Invasion route that was used by Alexander of Macedon and Mahmood of Ghazni.
Nandna fort was also wiped out once the patron rulers were banished from their lands by the victors.
Remnants of an ancient Hindu Temple are still standing high on the 700 meters cliff.
Kusak Fort Distance from Islamabad
On early Saturday morning, I stocked up with drinking water and drove 3 hours to Kusak Fort, at a 140 km distance from Islamabad.
Trip to Kusak Fort
I planned to complete my trip of the fourth fort of Salt Range, like an itch that had to be scratched.
I took the Mandra- Chakwal- Choa Saidan Shan – Lehr Sultanpur route to reach Kusak fort that lies near Watli Village.
I must admit, I have never been to this Jhangar Valley, which has just one entry and exit points each.
It was a beautiful place, because not many people come here.
Breaking off towards Kusak fort at Wahli Zair Village, you’d have to drive the next half hour on a single gauge, bumpy road.
This road is the only way out of the place too.
That’s how forts are supposed to be, I guess.
The whole valley had rain water harvesting ponds made by intelligent people of olden days.
Now the ponds seemed dilapidated and are being used to play volley ball.
I wonder where the brain went to.
The Rock Quarry that built Kusak Fort
Passing through fields of yellow saffron, I drove over a quarry of rocks that seemed too freshly cut to look like a mountain.
The box shaped stones strewn all around meant that this was the very quarry that provided the stones for Kusak Fort.
The 370 ft. walls of Kusak Fort were however made of red colored stone, the source of which I couldn’t locate.
When I reached the top of the quarry, I could see Kusak fort perched on top of a massive rock about 100 meters in width and 400 meters high.
The highest observation post of the Fort was visible from my position at the rock quarry 10 km away.
Moving further ahead, the road dropped steeply into a ravine and climbed up again on the other side.
Every difficult turn had guard posts meant to force the hostiles to fight for every inch to advance.
Rainwater pond and British Bungalow at Kusak Foothills
When I got to the foot hills of Kusak fort, I saw the infamous water pool that Ranjit Singh had commandeered to parch Fateh Khan’s troops high up in the fort.
Looking left across the water pool, is the run down building of British Raj Bungalow.
Apparently, the valley’s beauty and precarious ledges overlooking Jhelum a few hundred meters away, were attractive to the British as well.
The last Battle at Kusak Fort
Legend says that Ranjit Singh personally lead a charge at the Eastern wall of the fort, to dislodge the defenders, and was in the cross hairs of Fateh Khan – who let him go.
Ranjit Singh, after taking over the fort granted a huge estate to the Raja.
My Climb to Kusak Fort
I asked a local Sheppard boy to point me towards the trail that would take me to the entrance gate of the fort.
The climb to Kusak Fort entrance gate is not difficult at all – even women and kids can do it.
The tricky part is getting into the broken main entrance of the fort.
Fort entrances are always kept tight so that large formations do not gather momentum to strike down the main door.
I climbed into the fort to find reinforced walls raised all around the top deck of this huge granite stone, with Bastions and sentry towers spaced equally apart.
On the left hand side were the soldiers’ quarters, straight ahead was the fort water storage pond that was still holding out and on the right was a 400-meter drop into Jhelum valley.
Water was all rain-fed, as nothing came up from down below.
I am told the moist winds that blow up from Jhelum plains cool down here and it drizzles quite frequently here.
Climbing upwards from the pond I reached the highest observation post, which was also the temple of the fort.
The farther end was also a steep enough cliff so as not to allow any army of the 11th Century to scale it.
Quite understandably, the rear side of the fort that faced Jhelum, was not defended by any wall or sentry towers.
The fort’s external walls had gun positions for muskets, because of which I gather, this fort was probably renovated after the 16th century.
After spending some time dreaming in the shoes of Fateh Khan Janjua, I climbed down Kusak Fort to the village down below.
Things to do at Kusak Fort, Chakwal
As I still had a few hours before I turned back, I came up with a brilliant plan to explore other fun places around Kusak Fort.
Hindu Temple at Wahali Zair Lehr Sultanpur Salt Range
This temple is sited smack in the middle of vast agricultural fields that were once fed through a network of rain water catchment ponds and wells.
The temple still had some of fresco markings intact.
There were signs of another run down temple but I wouldn’t make out which religion it belonged to.
The local Hindu notables left for India in 1947 and one of the two great Mansions or Marhi that they owned locally, collapsed due to disrepair.
The other majestic mansion was reduced to a run-down shanty in the middle of a grimy lane.
Half an hour drive from Wahali Zair is the Ara Basharat mansion which is famous for its breath taking views of Jhelum River.
Sikki Waterfalls, Chakwal Salt Range
I drove on to a water fall called the Sikki Water fall, which is 22 km from Kusak Fort on the road towards Ara Basharat.
Local signboards call it Sikki Lake, but a 20 meters pond does not qualify to be called a lake.
This waterfall grows in volume during the rainy season and slows down to a trickle in winters.
The blue colored pond down below even had tiny fish.
The track that leads to Sikki waterfall is stony and cannot be navigated on a normal car.
It is about 3 km from the main road.
You’d have to drive back the same way you came, so make sure you know how to drive on rocky surfaces.
The last stop before the water fall is an abandoned coal mine shaft.
There is nothing to eat or drink here, so bring your own stuff from the local market before you get here.
The hike from the parking places to the water fall is about 10 minutes and is downhill.
Women and Kids can easily do this hike.
It is safe at Sikki waterfall but I kept a dagger, just in case.
Ara Basharat- Kusak Nature Reserve
Driving back to town center, you’d see a signs of Ara Basharat nature reserve.
This road takes you through un-inhabited territory of this valley which has a beauty of its own.
For the journey back, you’d have to turn back towards Khanpur Chakwal, because of better road condition.
I stopped for a tandoor lunch of Chanay and Kalaijee with tea and then raced back to Islamabad before sunset.
The sunset at Kalabagh Chakwal looks beautiful over the seasonal marsh lands
Even more gorgeous were the views of Chakwal plains while driving down from 1000 meter high vantage points on the salt range.
Heritage visit to Choa Saidan Shah and Kallar Kahar
Choa Saidan Shah is the strategic town that straddles the pass way through Salt Range, no wonder it is loaded with Historical symbols, Temples and Shrines.
Kallar Kahar is the other significant town that comes before Choa Saidan Shah in the West to East invasion route to India.
It’s about time we Pakistanis pay tribute to local warrior kings that tried to keep marauding invaders at bay. Janjuas’, Kiyani and Gakhars’ may not be angels, but some of their forefathers’ have displayed exemplary bravery, against overwhelming odds, that deserve recognition in our history books, whatever their religion was at that time.
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