Networks of fortresses in the medieval Himalaya

Medieval Political and Military Space in Garhwal (Central) Himalaya, India: Studying Changing Network Patterns of Defence Strategy in the Himalayan Landscape

The Garhwal (Central) Himalaya, India, most popularly known as the Abode of Gods, has a rich history, culture and archaeology. There are significant and prominent markers and signatures of History embedded in the natural landscape of the majestic mountains of South Asia , in India in Garhwal Himalaya.  The medieval landscape of Garhwal Himalaya is dotted with the remains of Fortresses and watch towers running into more than hundreds on the high cliffs of ridges overlooking the river valleys, called Garhs and Garhis in local dialect. There are the most noticeable feature of  the polity, power, defence and military strategies of the  different ruling classes, which were raised and  networked strategically in a changing political setup of the Garhwal Himalaya during one thousand years of their existence  (from 800 CE till the British control during the 18th-19th century) over the entire territory of Garhwal Himalayas. 

However these important signatures of medieval landscape have never received any attention for any serious study  in a larger  perspective neither to understand their spatial distribution nor the changing networking pattern built for a defensive strategy  through the long medieval period.  The present paper reports  the distributional  patterns of  the remains of  Fortresses  and watch towers in the Garhwal region of Central Himalaya, India through the application  of  archaeological field work combined with the geo-informatics tools including  GPS, Google earth, satellite imageries (LISS-3 and LISS-4), Arc GIS 9.3 and Global Mapper 16.1 to show  for the first time show how the  rugged landscape of the mountains was strategically exploited, modified to raise the  forts and  watch towers and  configured in such a fashion  so that they may fall in line of sight or were directly visible to one other for  relaying  the messages  through some specially composed  traditional drum beats or sounds  or through smoke  at the time of any  possible aggression or attack by invaders. The pattern of  defence mechanism  was  rearranged and  re-networked  further with the changing nature of polity during the long period of history. The present study also shows that the simple networking between  forts and fortress became  more complex  with the emergence of single power following the consolidation of the petty principalities and afterwards during the  British period.

Text: Vinod Nautiyal and Nagendra Rawat, Department of History and Archaeology, HNB Garhwal University,Srinagar , Garhwal , Uttarakhand, India (Email: