Ranthambor stands on an isolated rocky plateau, its haunted ruins half concealed amongst thick jungles and dead silver trees. The forests that had been some of India's finest Tiger shooting country have become the Sawai Madhopur tiger reserve. Wild animals make their home in the ghostly palaces and empty temples: a temple gives sanctuary to monkeys, a mosque to bats, and the tomb of a Muslim saint is watched over by Kites.

Only Chittorgarh has a more ancient history than Ranthambor. Govinda, son of the Chauhan emperor, took this place, a perfect example of Vana Durg or Forest Fort, from a branch of the Jadon Rajputs in 1192 after the Chauhan capital, Ajmer, had been sacked; and the fort reached its peak of fame during the reign of powerful Rao Hamir Darb, who held it strongly till 1301. The codes of conduct in Rajasthan are 'bound by honour and sealed in blood' - not least in Ranthambhor. In that year of 1301 the Chauhans oncve more defended the Fort against the army of Ala-ud-din Khalji, and successfully beat off the first assault, killing the Sultan's general with a catapult.

Ala-ud-din then marched to take charge of the siege himself. It lasted a year and ended in Johar for the Rajputs, victory for the Muslims. In 1516, the Malwa chiefs seized Ranthambhor but in 1528 the Sisodia Rana Sanga made the fort over to Babur. Babur died in 1530 and amidst the turmoil of Humayun's first reign and that of Sher Shah, Ranthambhor again achieved a measure of Independence. However, in 1569, the Mughals wrested it back. The site which has made Ranthambhor inaccessible in the past now made it vulnerable: from the surrounsing hills, the emperor Akbar artillery devastated the fort, its palaces and temples for 37 days.

Eventually he brought about by bribing the Bundi defender, Surjana Hara. Despite continuing stout resistance by other Rajputs, Ranthambhor fell. The forts mostly 13th century crenellated walls and bastions rise sheer; accessed to them is by the north-east face of Ranthambhor's crag. 700 ft above the plain, the ascent so steep that steps have been hewn from the rock. Overhanging cliffs, jagged rocks, dense forest, form natural obstacles to which Ranthambhor's rulers added their own. Four gates bar the twisting path. Once past the heavily chained, massive, spiked door, the barbican of the first forces three-angled turns, a defensive maneuver repeated in the second gate. The third was placed after a sharp turn to foil the use of a battering ram and the fourth, though so far up, is heavily spiked.

Outside the third gate stands a monolithic head, dating from very ancient times, over six feet high and enigmatic as a sphinx. Ranthambor passed into the hands of the Jaipur rulers towards the end of the 17th century. Gradually they had less need of a martial fortress-palace, preferring the softer splendors of Amber and their new capital at Jaipur. Spirits of the chivalric past were left to rule the ruins and Ranthambor was left to its slow, leafy metaphorsosis.