‘Open and Shut’ story of Golconda Fort in coronavirus times

Yunus Y. Lasania

Hyderabad: Just when it seemed like Hyderabad’s tourism scenario would finally restart after months of closure, rising coronavirus (COVID-19) cases however prevented that from happening. On Monday, both the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI)-controlled Golconda Fort and Charminar were set to reopen for visitors, but it was deferred as both monuments are situated in Red Zones. 

However, few people who had booked tickers online (this was the only way to purchase one) before bookings had stopped were allowed inside the Golconda Fort, as they had come from far-off places. The writer of his article was also among one of those who had a ticket, and managed to enter the fort, which has remained shut since the lockdown was imposed in Telangana on 22nd of March. 

“We received communication to keep both the Golconda Fort and the Charminar closed since there are COVID-19 cases in the area. As of now, it seems like the monuments may reopen only after 26 July,” said a senior ASI official, who did not want to be identified. However, a few other ASI monuments in other districts (like Warangal), opened up on Monday, he added. 

There was also concern among officials of the Hyderabad district about opening a monument like the Charminar, which has very narrow stair cases, and often leads to crowding. Such a situation could result in visitors getting infected with COVID-19. “We were asked to come for duty on Sunday, but then were asked to keep the Charminar closed today,” said a security personnel at the Charminar. 

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Good upkeep, green all around

Picture of K. Raju (checked blue shirt) with his friends.

In spite of remaining closed, ASI authorities have however managed to keep the Fort neat and clean. On Monday, until 10.40 a.m., six visitors who had purchased tickets online were allowed to enter the monument. And much to their happiness, they had the entire fort to themselves (till noon. A total of 2,000 tickets were to be sold, with 1000 entering post noon and another 1000 before it). 

Right from the staircase to the Bala Hissar, the top most building in the Fort, the upkeep of the monument was noticeable, with the causeway leading up to the citadel’s area also being clean. All of the dozen or so security personnel inside were following government norms and equipped with masks and also face-shields. 

K. Raju, who drives an auto for a living, had come to the Golconda Fort all the way from Jeedimetla with three of his friends. They were comfortably perched near the top of the fort, enjoying the cool breeze and the good weather. “We thought of coming out and enjoying the greenery here since we have not been able to go anywhere since March,” he said. 

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One of his friends Prasad, a daily-wager, decided to join the group as the workshop he is employed at has remained shut (voluntarily) for about two weeks. The fort itself would have been a treat for visitors, as it is usually during the monsoons, due to the pleasant weather. While the hundreds of stairs can make reaching the top a difficult climb, the breezy weather and dark clouds made it easier. 

As of now, it seems as if Hyderabad’s tourism will continue to be hit, as the Qutb Shahi Tombs (where the Golconda kings are buried), the Chowmohalla Palace, and other major sites continue to remain closed.   

History of the fort

The Golconda Fort’s origins are traced back to the 14th century when the Rajah of Warangal Deo Rai (under the Kakatiya Kingdom which ruled from Warangal) built a mud fort, which was later taken over the Bahamani empire between 1358-75). It was later developed into a full-fledged citadel by Sultan Quli Qutb Shah, who founded the Qutb Shahi (or Golconda) kingdom in 1518, when the last sovereign Bahamani emperor Mahmud Shah Bahamani died. 

Earlier, Sultan Quli was a commander and later governor of Tilang (Telangana), under the Bahamani empire (1347-1518), when its second capital was at Bidar. Sultan Quli, who was originally from Hamadan, rose to the level of Governor under the Bahamani empire. At this point of time he was given the fort, which he began developing into a walled-city. It eventually came to called Golconda Fort (name derived from Golla-conda, or shepherds hill). 

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The fort has 87 bastions, and eight gates, of which a few are not accessible to the general public as they are under army control. It is believed to be one of the Deccan’s most impregnable forts, and had kept Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s army at bay for eight months when he laid siege to Hyderabad in 1687. Aurangzeb succeeded and ended the Qutb Shahi reign that year and took Abul Hassan, the last Golconda king, captive.  

The Golconda Fort was however developed between 1518 to 1591, when it was a walled-city which was Qila Mohammad Nagar. Sultan Quli’s grandson and fifth king Mohammed Quli Qutb Shahi moved out of it and built the Charminar as the foundation of Hyderabad in 1591.

(The writer is a Hyderabad-based journalist, who has previously worked for The New Indian ExpressThe Hindu and Mint).

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