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Buxa Fort : A mute witness of the freedom fight of India
Buxa Fort is a mute witness to a long history, some of which are dazzling in the tales of valour of the marching soldiers & the fearless freedom fighters, while some are cruel ones with sadistic prowess of the ruler over the subjects who dared to protest.
Situated at an altitude of 867 metres (2844 feet) on the Sinchula Range of the Eastern Himalayas inside the Buxa Tiger Reserve in the Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal, India, & guarding an important route to the Kingdom of Bhutan, this fort –cum-detention camp is a nice place to visit. For the patriotic Indians, this fort, though in ruins now, is a place of National heritage & an equal to the most holy pilgrimage places, as this was the place where the British detained many freedom fighters including Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in early twentieth century.
History of Buxa Fort
The actual ancient history is shrouded in mystery, though many believe that the first Koch King of Kamtapur (present day Cooch Bihar) Sangaldwip constructed the fort with bamboo & wood in the 7th century CE.
The fort was an object of dispute between the Kings of Bhutan & the Koch Kings, as the military importance of the fort was very high, as it guarded one of the most important routes to Bhutan. The fort was later occupied by the Bhutanese army, & the King of Bhutan used it to guard the famous Silk Route that connected Tibet with India through Bhutan.
The Koch King requested the British to reoccupy the fort by defeating the Bhutanese, which the British did & captured the fort which was formally handed over to the British on November 11, 1865 as part of the Treaty of Sinchula.
The British rebuilt the fort & the old bamboo & wooden structure was replaced by stone.
The fort was later converted into a high security prison to detain the freedom fighters who fought against the British. The fort, almost inaccessible at that time, was only second to the Cellular Jail in the Andaman Island in notoriety. The small cells devoid of the basic facilities, the cruelty of the guards, the dense forest surrounding the fort with wild carnivorous animals like tigers & leopards roaming freely & the inhospitable terrain of the area as a whole made the fort-cum-prison a veritable hell on earth.
After India’s freedom, the fort was abandoned.
The Tibetan crisis at Buxa Fort
In 1959, after the Chinese invasion of Tibet, a number of Tibetan monks fled to India & started to live in the abandoned fort. They set up a monastic study center and a refugee camp here.
In 1966, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs was alerted to the conditions of the Buxa refugee camps, and it became apparent that the Tibetan refugees would have to be relocated to a more hospitable place.
The Tibetan monks were initially reluctant to leave the place. But a message from the Dalai Lama, urging them to settle somewhere else with better provisions convinced the reluctant monks to move & in 1971 they were settled in Bylakuppe & Mungud areas of Karnataka, a southern state of India.
After that, the fort was again left vacant & abandoned, & gradually the forces of Nature took over. Trees began to grow on the structure, the roofs & walls crumbled & the whole structure gradually became a ruin.
Buxa Fort : Present day picture
Though there were several proposals to renovate the fort as a heritage structure, sadly the fort is in ruins now. Except for two stone blocks at the entrance, one with the words of the scroll of honour which the inmates presented to the Nobel Laureate poet Rabindra Nath Tagore on his birthday in 1931, & the other with a heart-touching poem by the poet dedicated to the freedom fighters who were imprisoned there, & a newly constructed monument dedicated to the martyrs, the whole structure is nothing but a collection of ruined buildings.
As one enters the ruined fort through a gate with the inscription “BUXA FORT”, only the roofless rooms & cells greet one with sighs of grief, a grief for the neglect of the present day Indians. The vacant rooms, the small windowless cells, the thick walls, the broken gates, all seem to echo the sighs of the imprisoned freedom fighters : “O lonely visitor, remember that for your tomorrow we gave our today”.
There is nothing to see in particular, except the shadowy memories of the past which haunt the visitor.
As one looks up, there is the beautiful Himalayan scenery everywhere, with a small village called Sadar Bazar just opposite the fort, with a vacant field in between. Beyond the village, the Sinchula mountain range looks down with an inscrutable muteness, with the highest point called Rover’s Point silent like an ancient monk in meditation. On the distant mountains, the beautiful village of Lepchakha can be seen, & occasional villagers move about busy in their daily chores. The Buxa Fort stands alone amidst the nature, the hills, the flora & the fauna, waiting for the occasional visitors who care for the history.
Buxa Fort : How to reach
Buxa fort is about 30 kms from Alipurduar town and about 18 kms from Rajabhatkhawa. From Rajabhatkhawa, one has to enter the forest and drive for about 14 kms to reach Santalabari . The road through the forest is extremely beautiful, with majestic trees lining up the flanks of the road, which is a good metalled one. If one is lucky, one can have a glimpse of the wild animals or birds en route to Santalabari.
From Santalabari one can start trekking for the fort (about 3.5 km), but expert hill drivers can go further up by about 1.5 km along a dirt road, which is quite dangerous in some parts (not suitable for the drivers from the plains). The last 2 km is to be covered by trekking, which is not very tough. Normally, a local guide is essential as per the Forest Department rules. The trek route passes through dense forest-covered mountain, & is very serene & beautiful.