Hyderabad, February 04: The Golconda Fort transports you into a time warp. It's not just a fort, but a tiny little kingdom in itself, untouched by the ravages of time. Of course, the only alien giveaways are the plastic covers and litters strewn around everywhere. But learn to ignore them like you would do so anywhere else in the city, and a visit to Golconda is like discovering a time machine.
A trippy experience
Enter the rusted gates and delete the images of the over enthusiastic, click-happy tourists, who capture images of every pebble, "just in case it's historic, you know". Once you learn to wipe them off your radar and shut them out, you are on a historic journey by yourself.
A walk along the colossal stonewalls of the Golconda fort brings back visions of an age gone by. Slowly, the sounds of the nosy hawkers are drowned out and you hear the sound of life, as it was, permeate through the royal palace. The images of a majestic king on his throne with the whole realm at his mercy, the peals of laughter coming from the harem, the tinkling of the anklets of the court dancer, the queen with her maids in her chamber, the visions of the hustle bustle of life as it passed through decades of war and peace.
The Golconda where gems and precious stones were sold in heaps in market places, where art and architecture saw new light of progress. It was a world of beauty, of opulence and riches, of grandeur unknown to today's world. Today, you see it as a shadow of its past glory. But it's still a sight to behold. From the Bala Hissar Darwaza starts the uphill ascent of some 380 uneven stone steps. A sequence of enclosures holds the public and administrative structures. You see the mortuary baths, meant for the deceased royalty and harem ladies who were given the ritualistic bath before burial. Nagina Bagh, now in ruins, lies there too.
The offices of Akanna and Madanna, two important Hindu officials in the Qutub Shahi court, are further up. The large iron weights, half buried in the ground, are curious relics of the past. Story has it that only soldiers who could lift those weights were recruited in the King's army.
Legend has it
The stories surrounding this beautiful fort are many. If you like Bollywood masala in your ancient tales, your best bet are the tourist guides who swarm the entrance. They are full of stories that are intriguing, magical and most probably fanciful and true. But they are stories that will surely keep you entertained throughout your long climb up the fort
Here's the true story. Golconda or "Golla Konda" (sheperd's hill) is a 13th century Fort, built by the Hindu Kakatiya kings.According to a legend, a shepherd boy came across an idol on the hill. This led to the construction of a mud fort by the then Kakatiya dynasty ruler of the kingdom around the site. In the 16th century, Golkonda was the capital and fortress city of the Qutub Shahi kingdom, near Hyderabad. The city was home to one of the most powerful Muslim sultanates in the region and was the center of a flourishing diamond trade.
The city and fortress, built on 400 ft high granite rock has a number of royal apartments and halls, temples, mosques, magazines, stables, etc. inside. Visitors enter through the "Fateh Darwaza" (Victory Gate) studded with giant iron spikes (to prevent elephants from battering them down).
But that's just the facts. Legends and myths have always surrounded this mystical fort. Madhu Votteri, a practicing conservation architect and author of "A Guide To The Heritage of Hyderabad", talks about a holy mad man who was believed to be the actual protector of the Fort. "Legend has it that a guy called Majzoob (holy mad man) stayed next to the Fateh Darwaza and protected it. When Aurangazab was ready to conquer the Fort, the presence of this mad man never allowed them to infiltrate the gateway. It's only when another Yousuf Saab, who was a soldier in the Mughal army, made him move from there, was the fort conquered," says Madhu.
In fact, anyone who has seen happy tourists, clapping away merrily at the Darwaza will know the story behind its brilliant acoustics, one of the many engineering marvels at Golkonda. A hand clap at a certain point at the entrance can be heard clearly at the 'Bala Hissar' pavilion, the highest point almost a kilometre away. This worked as a warning note to the royals in case of an attack. Many walls of the inner buildings literally have ears. Whisper in one corner of the hall, with its great bare stone walls and empty windows, and you can be heard distinctly in another. This once enabled people to petition the king in private without risk to his security but nowadays just provides great amusement to tourists.
The gods are smiling
Madhu reveals that the Golconda Fort was unique because it held a lot of religious value for both the Hindus and Muslims. "The Sri Jagadamba Maha temple atop Golconda is as famous as the fort itself. In fact there was much secularity during those times. Ibrahim Quli Qutub Shah was popular among subjects and was called Malkabhiram by Hindus. The two mosques in Naya Qila are a sight to behold too. The mosque of Mustafa Khan has a unique roof in Mughal style, while the Mullah Khayali mosque has beautiful Persian script engraved on its stones," she says. There is also a Ram mandir on the way up. Story has it that Ram Das, a revenue official jailed by Abul Hasan Tana Shah, for misusing state funds, carved images of Rama, Lakshman and Hanuman on a rock surface in the cell.
According to historians, a number of travellers came in and out of the fort, through the caravan route and not all could enter the fort immediately as it took them a lot of time and money to make their way through the gates of the fortress. "So they would create make-shift settlements outside to live in. Chichlam was one of them. It is said that it is in this community that Bhagmati was born," says Madhu.
Even the Taramati Baradari was a sarai (a caravan station for traders and travelers) as part of Ibrahim Bagh, a Persian style garden built during the reign of Ibrahim Quli Qutub Shah. One story goes that during the reign of Abdullah Qutub Shah, he used to hear a courtesan Taramati's voice as she sung for travelers at the sarai, while he sat kilometers away at Golconda fort. Her melodious voice was carried by the breeze, reaching the prince's ear at the fort.
Of gems and jewels
According to John Zubrzycki's "Last Nizam", "When the French traveller and jeweller Jean-Baptiste Tavernier reached Golconda in 1653, he found a fortress nearly two 'leagues in length' and requiring a large garrison for its defense. It is in reality, a town where the king keeps his treasure. It was also an international jewelery bazaar, where traders from as far away as Arabia, Persia, Central Asia and Europe, converged to barter for precious stones under the shade of its vast banyan trees. The Great Mughal Diamond, said by its owner, the Mughal Emperor Babur, to be "equal in value too one day's food of all the people in the world" came from mines around Golconda, as did the Koh-i-Noor and dozens of other priceless gems." In fact, Marco Polo in his Book of Marvels is said to have spoken wonderingly of the Land of Golconda, identifying it as the mythical Valley of Diamonds in which Sindbad the Sailor, had centuries earlier, been cast by a giant bird in 1001 Arabian Nights. You only need to reach down into the soil and your hand would be filled with diamonds the size of eagle's eggs!
A tree like no other
An African Baobab tree, known to local residents as Hatiyan ka Jhad, located in the Naya Qila premises is more than 400 years old. It is said that Arabian traders gifted this to Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah. This tree has the girth of 27.40 meters (89 feet) and a cave forms in between the branches of this tree. There are various stories centered around this Baobab tree and one of the famous stories is related to its cave which helped some 40 notorious thieves to hide themselves some 400 years ago. In fact, they say the tree is haunted by the troubled ghosts of the thieves.
The if you haven't done so already, check out the sound and light show at Golconda to experience a thrilling tale complete with royalty, espionage and romance packed in the magical medium of lights and sound.
By Priya Ramachandran
Thanks to TOI