The Fort: The Morni Fort is a modest stone masonry structure built sometime in the 17th Century atop the Morni hill at a height of about 1200 metres. The fort is strategically located and dominates the road to Badiyal towards Sarahan in Himachal, the road to Trilokpur, the ridge road towards Thapli/ Mandana and the road to the Tals. The fort also overlooks the Morni town or Bhoj Jabial.
The fort has a gate to the East. It has four towers. The accomodation inside the fort was modest and was augmented in 1814 when the Raja of Sirmur sought refuge in the fort following his ouster from Nahan by the Gurkha invaders. There was a well/reservoir in the centre of the fort (now filled up).The air circulates through the wends in the domes to keep the atmosphere cool during summer months.
Historical References: The fort finds a mention in the correspondence of British officers at the time of the Gurkha Wars 1814-1816. The fort was captured by the Gurkhas and was held by the Gurkha commander Gouree Sah until its surrender in 1815. The ‘Secret Letters’ that formed a part of the ‘Papers regarding the Administration of the Marquiz of Hastings in India’ that were tabled at a General Court of the ‘United Company of Merchants of England Trading to the East Indies’ on 3rd March 1824 included the following letters pertaining to the Morni Fort:
- A secret letter by Mr. Rutherford dated 27 Dec 1814 described in detail the information gathered about the strength of the defences at Morni Fort that was under Gurkha occupation.
Mr. Rutherford wrote, ‘ (the fort) is in good repair and occupied. Its gateway is to the east. Its walls are of stone, and rise about fifteen feet high to the east, north and west; but to the south it is raised to a considerable height, in order to form apartments for the accomodation of the Rajah of Sirmoor, who used to reside here and after his expulsion from Nahun defended himself in it for some time. It is provided with one gun. Water is brought from a spring about a coss off, and kept in a reservoir. there are two roads to it from the plains, which wind round to the right and left, and advance along the hills on a level with the fort.’
- Captain Hearsey is dismissive of the fort as he desribes the vulnerability of the hill forts, including the Morni Fort in his letter dated 27th Dec 1814.
Capt. Hearsey writes ‘Mornee … and all the hill forts, are built on summits of the hills: they are built of slabs of stone without any cement, and are not above thity paces square, above twelve feet high and the stockade which surrounds them is easily destroyed. These forts, in general, have no springs or tanks of water within them, but the garrison is obliged to fetch it from some distance below. By cuttoing off this necessary article of life the Goorkas got possession of them. I presume, a shell from a four and a half inch howitzer would cause the immediate evacuation of them. They can easily be approached by infantry under cover within less than musket-shot. The garrison, which seldom exceeds one hundred and fifty men, are ill-supplied with stores or ammunition.’
- A secret letter from Lord Moira dated 1st June 1815 describes the ‘Agreement entered into between Kajee Ummer Sing Thapa and Major-General Ochterlony, on 15th May 1815’. As per the agreement, Morni Fort and all forts between Jamuna and Satluj, that were under Gurkha occupation were to be evacuated and be handed over to the British.
The secret agreement thus read, ‘Kajee Ummer Sing Thapa …agrees to send immediate orders for the evacuation and delivery, to persons properly authorized, of the forts of … Mornee…and all other forts… now held by the Nepaul troops between the Jumna and Sutleje rivers.’
Thus, clearly, Mornee fort could not be taken from the Gurkhas till June 1815 and it was given up as part of a larger agreement with the British.
Letters of Gouree Sah, the Gurkha Commander of Morni: During the Gurkha invasion of the Hill States, Morni was taken by Gouree Sah, a Sah Rajpoot of the royal family of Srinagar, Garhwal. Gouree Sah seems to have been paid 2500 Rupees to take the Morni Fort. He was steadfastly loyal to the Gurkha commander Kajee Runjore Sing and a believer of the Gurkha Empire. The Gurkhas had over run Srinagar, Sirmur and other surrounding hill states. Pradhuman Sah, Raja of Srinagar, had died in battle. His son Sudarshan Sah had escaped to British territory. Lal Sah, nephew of Gouree Sah had sided with the British led by Col. Ochterlony. Kishna Oopurettee soubhadar was another Gurkha defector to Col. Ochterlony’s camp. Gouree Sah was holed up inside the Morni fort in 1815 when the British struggled to oust the Gurkhas from Jaitak Fort after seizing Nahan. The British tried influencing Gouree Sah to surrender the fort by asking Lal Sah and Kishna Ooperettee to write to him and persuade him to surrender. The British intercepted the letters from Runjore Sing to Gouree Sah and replaced them with letters aimed at demoralizing Gouree Sah. Gouree Sah’s steadfast loyalty and will to fight to the last is reflected in his replies to Lal Sah and Kishna and his letters to Runjore Sing that were intercepted by the British. Gouree Sah pleads with Runjore Sing not to lose heart and even suggests ‘tantra’ to decimate the British. He predicts the victory of the Gurkhas and advises Runjore Sing to pray to Bhim, the mighty Pandav.The letters of Gauree Sah have been reproduced in James Baillie Fraser’s account of the Gurkha War in the ‘Journal of a Tour through part of Snowy Range of the Himala Mountains’ (1820). See the seperate post on these letters.
Restoration: The fort was in a state of ruin when the Haryana Forest Department took over its possession in 1977 from the Mirs of Morni. The bastion in the south-west had collapsed. The premises were thereafter used by the Wildlife department for running the Pheasant Breeding Centre until 2006.The fort was thereafter extensively renovated and restored to its original look in 2009. Care was taken during the restoration to use the same materials for the masonry works like lime powder and fly ash as were used in the original construction. A couple of modern rooms were added inside the fort for tourists.The Pheasant Breeding Centre was relocated outside to the make-shift enclosures on the slopes of the hill.
The Green Curtain: The fort is completely obscured from view from the roadside by the thick canopy of tall Eucalyptus trees that have been planted all along the hill top on all sides of the fort.
Shiv Temple: A brightly painted Shiv temple stands outside the Eastern Gate and breaks the gloom presented by the quiet, deserted fort and the shade of the Eucalyptus trees.
Pheasant Breeding Centre: A pheasant breeding centre is run by the Haryana Forest Department adjacent to the fort and seems a rather poor cousin of the state-of-the-art Vulture Conservation and Breeding Centre being run by the department in partnership with the Bombay Natural History Society near Birshikargarh Wildlife Sanctuary.