The Guru then asked him, “Who are you?”
Madho Das, who having tried all his occult powers had by now accepted defeat, said with great humility, “I am your banda (slave)”.
And a slave he remained all his life, serving the cause of Khalsa Panth. Its not for nothing that Banda Singh Bahadur aka Madho Dass Bairagi is known as the greatest Sikh Warrior.
Like they do in the Central and Southern India, retracing the footsteps of Sri Ram, I too wanted to trace the footsteps of Guru Gobind Singh and my journey started last year when we rode to Takht Keshgarh Sahib at Anandpur, Fatehgarh Sahib at Sirhind and Chappar Chiri Memorial at Mohali. Because my knee has aged at a faster pace than I have, I had to take a forced break from cycling and trekking for indefinite time. But driving through foggy roads of Haryana and Punjab is no less fun. Continuing from where we left last year, we started our ‘retrace the footsteps’ yatra from Lohagarh Fort at the Himachal-Haryana Border. Though the 10th Guru did not step foot in the fort but it was his ‘chosen warrior’ guided by the Guru himself in spirit who laid the foundation of political sovereignty of Sikhs in Punjab.
The dusty lanes of Yamunanagar and Sadhaura have many secrets hidden underneath the broken layers of pavement that take the traveler back in time. Misfortune that befell Yamunanagar not once but twice made it a footnote in all the historical accounts that were written about this region.
Throughout the history, Yamunanagar-Sadhaura region has been dogged by bad luck. At least twice there have been attempts to erase it from the pages of History. At first, even the very existence of Ghaghra-Sarawati river was questioned and for many decades it was dismissed as a wild figment of imagination promoted by a handful of Aryan Invasion Theory propagandists. The second was establishment of the first capitol of Khalsa Panth. At fort Lohgarh, Banda Singh Bahadur with a handful of Sikh soldiers fought a fierce battle with tyrant Muslims and laid the foundation of Khalsa empire which stretched from Sirhind to Chhpar Chidi near Kharar-Mohali. But both the times Yamunanagar-Sadhaura were forgotten by Historians.
So much so that Sadhaura finds a 64 word mention in the official website of Haryana Tourism whereas Yamunanagar finds a 151 word mention, most of which is lifted straight from a “Haryana Competitive Exam Book”. So much in the name of promoting tourism.
The persistent streak of bad luck for Lohgarh doesn’t end just here. Today this place happens to be situated at a place of disadvantage lying at the border of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. Now there are very few Sikhs in these border regions of both these states and to promote and preserve this Historic place there is no apparent incentive (read vote-bank) to either of the concerned governments.
Literally perched atop a hill in the heart of Kalesar Wild Life Sanctuary, the fort looks like a ghost image of its magnificent past. It is said that when Banda Singh Bahadur occupied it after the conquest of Sirhind, the fort was in a dilapidated state and Banda Bahadur and his men made into an iron fortress (and hence the name). Some historians even claim that it was one of the largest, if not the largest, fortress of India back in the time. Though there’s no conclusive evidence to support this claim but Sikh historians claim that this fortress was spread all the way till Paonta Sahib.
Banda Singh Bahadur successfully used Lohgarh as a tactical retreat or rearguard action stage, when his forces could not withhold the onslaught of Mughal armies at Sadhaura. When the combined <Mughal forces, along with Rajputs and Jats, heavily outnumbered his forces and further fighting was suicidal, he would suddenly withdray his forces to Lohgarh and afater a day’s rearguard action to stall the enemy forces. This tactics was successfuly utilized in both the battles of Lohgarh in 1710 A.D. and 1713 A.D.
Today the Lohgarh fort is back to its original state in which Banda Bahadur found it. Dilapidated and forgotten. All that remains behind is Nishan Sahib (khanda) installed at three high points of the hill, which probably served as watch towers back in the time. The fortress area comprises of a few acres spread within a radius of 5km and it certainly wasn’t the largest fortress of India as claimed by some historians. Lohgarh at best served as a fortress meant for all the Sikh warriors to gather at one place and it probably served as their base station for launching attacks on territories that Mughals had occupied by ousting the 10th Guru from Sirhind-and Chamkaur Sahib.
In fact, one is inclined to believe that the Sikhs never got sufficient time to set up a state capital and all their time was spent in the attempt to retain their acquired territories.
A wide kuchha road leads to Lohgarh fort site from Sadhaura across the Som River. The road work started last year and they have made good progress as the road takes you right inside the gurdwara premises. Like any other road construction site, this 3km stretch is laden with several trails branching in and out of the main road. And if you happen to be there on a foggy day, things get even more confusing. Though you’ll always find someone illegally mining the river, so you can ask them and they’ll helpfully guide you.
An old sevadar stays at the gurdwara 24X7, who won’t let you leave unless he has served you delicious langar and tea.
A memorial and a magnificent gurdwara is to be built here to commemorate Banda Singh Bahadur’s selfless sacrifices and bravery. There’s a Forest Rest House (of HP Forest Department) adjacent to the gurdwara where one can stay.