You can witness a remarkable example of French military architecture in the Hassan district of Karnataka. The Manjarabad Fort, constructed by the Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan in 1792, stands majestically along the Bangalore-Mangalore highway, 6 km from the picturesque hill station of Sakleshpur, nestled in the Western Ghats mountain range. This remarkable fort is a testament to the grandeur of Tipu Sultan's reign and is a must-see for anyone visiting Karnataka.
Manzarabad, formerly known as Balam, has a long and storied history. It was originally owned by the Palegars, but was conquered by Shivappa Nayaka (r: 1645-1660) of Keladi [Keladi also called Ikkeri & Bednore] in 1659 and gifted to Sri Ranga III of Vijayanagar (r:1642-1646), who had arrived as a refugee at his court. However, a treaty between the Wodeyars and Bednore in 1694 saw six nads of Balam ceded back to the Palegars. Hyder Ali then conquered Bednore in 1763, allowing Balam to remain in the hands of the Palegars in exchange for an annual tribute. After Hyder's death, the British seized Bednore in February 1783, only for Tipu Sultan to recapture it two months later.
During the Second Anglo-Mysore War (1780-1784), Krishnappa Nayaka, ruler of Balam, threw off his allegiance to Mysore and allied himself with the British. Tipu Sultan subsequently pardoned him and restored Balam to him, on condition of remaining loyal to Mysore and paying the usual tribute. During the Third Anglo-Mysore War (1790-1792), Krishnappa Nayaka once again rebelled and joined the Marathas under Parasuram Bhau, who was marching to join Lord Cornwallis against Tipu in 1792. Upon the conclusion of peace, Krishnappa Nayaka fled to Coorg in fear. However, he was again summoned by Tipu and given a portion of Balam, under the pledge that he would remain loyal to Mysore. The rest of the Balam territory was annexed to Mysore.
During the 1790s the British along with the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Marathas were fighting with Tipu Sultan. So he planned to build a lookout post between Mangalore to Coorg and his capital Srirangapatna to keep an eye on his enemies. French were his allies. He employed French engineers to build a strong fort in the European style at Balam. After the fort was completed, Tipu visited it and, upon seeing the area blanketed in fog, he named it Manjarabad, after the Kannada word "manju," which translates to "fog," "mist," or "snow."
This amazing fort is in the shape of an eight-pointed star. A drone camera is needed to view the actual shape of the fort, however, an engraving of the fort's shape can be found on the ceiling at the main gate.
[Star forts evolved during the age of gunpowder when cannon came to dominate the battlefield. It was first seen in the mid-15th century in Italy. Fort William of Kolkata, Fort of Jhansi, Bihu Loukon of Manipur, Jagtial Fort of Telangana, Potagada Fort of Ganjam are also star-shaped forts.]
The majestic Manjarabad Fort stands atop a small hill, 3,240 feet above sea level. Ascending the 250 steps to the entrance, one is met with granite blocks and mortar walls, which are further protected by a moat. Inside, the fort is constructed of bricks, and contains rooms that served as stables, army barracks, armouries and food stores. It is said that there were underground passages that connected the fort to Tipu Sultan's capital, Srirangapatna. The parapet is equipped with cannon mouths and musket holes at regular intervals, providing a formidable defence.
At the precise geometric center of the fort lies a cross-shaped well, with steps descending from each of its four sides. Just above it, two cool cellars are situated to store gunpowder. Along the northwestern and northern sides, arched cells provide a resting place for the guards.
From the fort's ramparts, one can take in the spectacular view of the lush green paddy fields, palm groves, and coffee and spice plantations that surround it.