A Fort in the Mist: Tipu Sultan's Manjarabad

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.

Manzarabad, formerly known as Balam, was once under the rule of the Palegars. In 1659, Shivappa Nayaka (r: 1645-1660) of Keladi [also called Ikkeri & Bednore] conquered the area and bestowed it upon 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. When Hyder Ali took control of Bednore in 1763, Balam remained in the hands of the Palegars, who paid 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, the 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 the condition of remaining loyal to Mysore and paying the usual tribute. During the Third Anglo-Mysore War (1790-1792), Krishnappa Nayaka once again rebelled against Mysore and joined the Marathas under Parasuram Bhau, who was marching to join Lord Cornwallis against Tipu Sultan in 1792. Upon the conclusion of peace, Krishnappa Nayaka fled to Coorg in fear. However, Tipu Sultan called him back and granted him a portion of Balam, with the stipulation that he remained faithful to Mysore. The remaining territory of Balam was annexed to Mysore.

During the 1790s, the British, along with the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Marathas, were engaged in conflict with Tipu Sultan. Tipu Sultan devised a strategic plan to construct a lookout post between Mangalore and Coorg, as well as between his capital Srirangapatna, to keep an eye on his enemies. He employed French engineers to build a strong fort in the European style at Balam. Upon its completion, Tipu Sultan visited the fort and, upon witnessing the area shrouded in fog, he named it Manjarabad, after the Kannada word "manju," meaning fog, mist, or snow."

The Manjarabad is in the shape of an eight-pointed star. A drone camera is recommended for capturing its actual shape from above. Alternatively, visitors can also admire a detailed engraving of the fort's unique design on the ceiling at the main gate.

Star forts emerged during the age of gunpowder when cannon became the dominant weapon on the battlefield. The first star fort was seen in Italy in the mid-15th century. Fort William in Kolkata, Fort of Jhansi, Bihu Loukon in Manipur, Jagtial Fort in Telangana, Potagada Fort in Ganjam are also star-shaped forts.

The majestic Manjarabad Fort stands atop a small hill at an elevation of 3,240 feet above sea level. As one ascends the 250 steps to the entrance, they are greeted by granite blocks and mortar walls, further fortified by a moat. Inside, the fort is constructed of bricks, and contains rooms that once served as stables, army barracks, armouries and food stores. Legend has it that there were underground passages connecting the fort to Tipu Sultan's capital, Srirangapatna. The parapet of the fort 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 the well are two cool cellars designed for storing gunpowder. Along the northwestern and northern sides, arched cells provided a resting place for the guards.

The fort's ramparts offer a breathtaking view of the lush green paddy fields, palm groves, and coffee and spice plantations that surround it.