Ramnagar Fort and Palace across the Ganga river is one of the sightseeing options for millions of visitors to the holy city of Varanasi. Paying obeyance to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple is the prime purpose of the millions of pilgrims/visitors to Kashi.
Ramnagar is a small town on the other shore of the Ganga. That is bang opposite the Tulsi Ghat and the famous moon-shaped Ghats of Varanasi. It houses a fort called Ramnagar Fort, which is the official residence of Kashi Naresh i.e. the King of Kashi. I had very fond memories of visiting this fort as a kid. Riding on the boat from one of the ghats, crossing the Ganga while feeding the fish, and spending the day in the town.
My most vivid memory of the museum in the fort is that of a Queen’s heavy lehenga. That was supposed to weigh around 20 Kg or so and I secretly wished to try it one day. This time, when I visited I knew that is not a possibility. But I did want to see that lehenga with a more trained eye. But alas it was no longer a part of the display that is open to the public.
Built by Maharaja Balwant Singh, the fort has been constructed using Chunar sandstones on elevated ground/platform beyond the flood levels of the river. Chunar sandstones (GI tagged since 2019, Red sandstones) were used in the construction of the famous Ghats of Varanasi and several other national monuments of India. Chunar is a place 30 KMs away from Varanasi in the Mirzapur district. Located on the banks of the other shore of the Ganga, this 18th CE fort is a representative of the Mughal era with its Jalis and Chhajas.
The entrance gate is not huge but still, stands out in the humble surroundings of Lassi and Ganna Juice stalls that skirt the fort wall. The top part of the gate seems to be recently painted in multi-color. The rest of the palace inside is in yellow color with green windows and doors. One gateway inside the palace really exudes royalty. The rest of the palace seems like overgrown barracks of the early British era. The lawns can definitely be better maintained as can the displays at the museum.
Attractions of Ramnagar Fort Palace
The waterfront steps of the fort offer lovely sunset views. Plan to finish other sight-seeing in Ramnagar by sunset time to watch
Durbar Hall of Fort
What used to be a public audience space has been converted into a museum called Saraswati Bhawan. Spend some time here going through heritage and rare items on display. Notable ones are the Paintings, Vintage cars with Banaras state number plates, Silver brocaded royal Palkhis in lotus shape, bejeweled chairs, the then-era royal costumes, ivory artifacts, jewelry, furniture, the finest silk of Varanasi Kimkhwa costumes, portraits of the rulers of the kingdom, old photographs, grand ornaments of Elephants, hookahs, musical instruments, manuscripts that include a precious handwritten one by Tulsidas, books, and illustrations.
Though some of the displays are in dilapidating conditions due to aging and lack of maintenance. Then there is a generous display of the arms that I usually tend to skip while visiting museums. That includes swords, daggers, guns, cannons, etc
The biggest attraction of the museum is the astrological clock that displays both the lunar and solar calendars. Besides time, it displays the position of the sun and moon. Dates according to both calendars, Zodiac sign, and Navamsha. It ticks every second and strikes every hour, half hour, and fifteen minutes. It is a huge clock that has been set according to the exact latitude, longitude, and height of the city from sea level. Being a mechanical clock it needs to be wound once every 8 days.
We assumed that the clock would have been made somewhere in Europe. But we were delighted to know that it was made by a man called Mulchand in 1872 CE in Varanasi. Since then has only once been repaired by another man called Munnilal in 1923 CE. Think of the guarantees that come with products of the 21st CE. My biggest regret is not being allowed to take a picture of the clock.
Between the back wall of the fort and Ganga lie two small temples – both dedicated to Vyasa the ancient sage. The story of Vyasa goes like this. He was not treated well in Kashi or he took a vow to never enter Kashi and meditated at this shore of Ganga. The place came to be known as Vyasa Kashi. According to some beliefs, Kashi Yatra is not complete without visiting the Vyasa temple. Though the slim numbers at the temple hardly testify to this legend.
There are 3 Lingas dedicated to Kashi Vishwanath, Vyasa Muni, and his son at the temple. One of the temples has some paintings still left on its ceilings in green-blue colors. You do get a hazy but panoramic view of the ghats of Kashi and the bridges across the river.
On the premises of the fort are that of Durga, Dakshin Mukhi Hanuman, and Chinnamastika.
There are two white towers in the fort accessible to visitors. Across them is the private residential part of the Maharaja and his family, who continue to live in the fort palace.
Architecture and heritage building
The arcades of the palace windows, balconies, and pavilions typical of the then era might interest heritage lovers.
Festivals at the Fort
Ramlila – Ramnagar Fort is also the venue for Varanasi’s famous month-long Ramlila. That used to and in some way continues to happen under the patronage of Kashi Naresh. I was told that it is a participatory form of Ramlila, something I wish to see sometime in my life. The costumes and props used are displayed in the Bharat Kala Bhavan museum in Varanasi. There is a Ramlila museum as part of the palace. But it was closed when we visited. The fort is lit up grand during Ramlila festivals including the Dushera festival and is an attractive sight from across the river and boat rides.
The other festivals celebrated at the fort are in the month of Magh at the Veda Vyasa temple and during Phagun (Feb-Mar) Raj Mangal a procession of boats with dance and music performances from the Assi Ghat goes along the river in front of the fort.
Other attractions of Ramnagar
The town is the hometown of the former Prime Minister of India, the much-loved Sri Lal Bahadur Shastri.
How to reach the fort
It took us almost an hour by boat ride from Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi across the river Ganga to the eastern side. It is about 14 km from Varanasi. One can take a 2 km walk on the pontoon bridge near the BHU to reach the fort during non-monsoon seasons only depending upon the water level in the river. By road, it takes about 45 minutes.
Visitor Timings/Fees: 10 AM to 5 PM on all days of the week. A nominal amount is charged to visit the Museum. Fort entry is free. Though it costs much more for the boat ride. It is closed to visitors during the Holi festival.
Ramnagar Fort is famous for
- Month-long grand traditional Ramlila celebrations culminating in Dushera festivals.
- Heritage fort palace has been inhabited continuously by the royals.
- Boat ride across the Ganga river which in itself is a lifetime experience.
- Panoramic view of Varanasi.
- Sunset view over the vast holy Ganga river waterscape.
- Several heritage collections are on display at the Museum.
- Ramnagar is the hometown of former PM Sri Lal Bahadur Shastri and you can visit his ancestral home.
Best time to visit
Indian winter season is the best, although brace for huge crowds, especially around Dushera festivals. The summer season is ok, just take care of the heat. If possible treat the monsoon season as the least preferable.