One of the most interesting tourist attaraction that Kuching has to offer (and sadly very overlooked by the local authorities) is the fort across the river from the city centre. Fort Margherita was constructed by Charles Brooks, that is the second of the three white Rajahs it was named after his wife.
The fort was built in AD 1880, at the time it had a great view of the growing town of Kuching and could protect the town and the shipping. Today it is maintained by the Sarawak Museum, to their credit the fort has been recently repainted and cleaned. There is no entrance fee, the fort however is nearly empty, there used to be a police museum here with many examples of the weapons used during the brooke times, now the buildings stand empty save a few cannons too heavy for anyone to try and spirit away ;).
To get to the fort you have to take a sampan boat from the waterfront. The normal fee is 40 sen, if you look like a tourist they may try to give you a different price, don’t pay it look at what all the other people pay and do the same.
Once you cross the river climb through the village to the fort, the path is not very path like, but it marked quite clearly never the less. On the way to the fort as you get close you will see the new Sarawak state parlament building, it was started about 4 or 5 years ago, this year the outside is finaly finished, wven if the inside still requires some attention. Some people like the new construction, others do not, if someone speaks of “the monstrosity across the river” or “the umbrella building” it is the state parliment building they are talking about.
Personaly I think the building in itself is not so bad looking, but it’s location between the old Brookes Astana and the fort is terrible. It dwarfs the other buildings and looks as out of place as a sky scraper would next to the colloseum.
The fort itself is a simple structure, it draws a little on the ancient design of tower castles, one central tower, with a circle of defensive walls, in this case the circle is moved over to the side so the main structure attaches onto it instead of being in the centre.
It is not as impressive as the forts the Portugese left behind in their colonies, but the Brookes, especialy Charles Brooke did leave a network of interesting Forts across Sarawak, most older towns have a fort somewhere, these are not usualy shown or advertised to the tourists, the reign of the white rajahs being a sensitive topic for the politicians here.
The fort is not entirely empty though, there is one smaller tower which has a skull painted on the door, and sure enough there are also skulls on the inside. Someone reffered to them as the laughing skulls, they didn’t seem to be loughing to me but maybe it’s the angle?
The view of Kuching is not as good as it used to be because a lot of trees had grown around the fort, but even today you can still see the downtown well. When you look towards the city you will also be able to se Mt. Serapi to the right and if you have your back to the city you may be able to see Mt. Santubong on a good day.
Next to the fort there is a small cemetry, it contains some of the graves of the Brook family as well as other people that worked for them, if not the three rajahs themselves who were all burried in England.
Some new construction and cleaning has been recently going on around the foot of the fort, and rumours of a botanical garden were heard, so perhaps by the time you get to the fort the area will look quite different.
As you get back to the boat jetty you will pass some new food places, and again the construction in itself is not bad but they block the view of the entire village behind them and look out of place on the waterfront.
If you are in Kuching it is an easy and short trip to take and the fort is definatelly worth the 2 hours of your time that it’s going to take to see it. Or one hour if you are in a hurry.