So, you have forgotten the number of times you have visited Bangalore. And yet…and yet you have not visited this place? Travesty!
What do you call a fort which has seven concentric ramparts, three on top and four on the slopes of the hill? Additionally, the three ramparts on the top have moat running around each of them. The fort has, to make matters better or worse (that depends upon whether you are the defender or the invader), nineteen main gates, thirty-five smaller entrances, and thirty -five secret passages.
Well, the answer is “Picturesque Fort” or ” Chitradurga.”
As you chug along the Mumbai-Bangalore highway, Chitradurga will stand a mute witness to your vehicle whizzing by. She will not call you out or reach out to you; instead, she is too proud to do that. You will not even realize that a fortress of this gigantic proportions is just 3-4 km off the main Bengaluru-Mumbai highway.
This fort has its beginnings moored right from the time of Satvahanas. But during the period of the Vijayanagara Empire, this fort began to grow in leaps and bounds. The fortress measures 38 km in circumference and occupies 2500 acres of space. One can see a rock painting of a deer on a rock which might throw you towards the direction of Bhimbetka, near Bhopal. I found it exciting since it throws up a possibility of occupation even before kingdoms and dynasties came into existence. The Vijayanagara Empire reign began from the mid-1300s and ended after the famous Tallikota Battle in 1565. The Nayaks, who were vassals to the Vijayanagara Kingdom, broke away and established their kingdoms. Over 14 Nayak Kings ruled Chitradurga over a period of 211 years, which ended in 1779 AD. Later it fell to Hyder Ali of Mysore and then to his son Tipu. The Brits ruled from the beginning of 1799 AD till 1947.
Stones culled from enormous boulders were used to build the fort. The pathways snake through tiny passages between the rocks, which also provide a natural defense against the enemy.
Outside the fort wall- Indicates the route inside the fort is snakelike!
I reached the fort early in the morning. I felt it is the best option. Temperatures rise very quickly as the day melts into the afternoon. The boulder-filled topography accentuates the heat further. The fort opens at 6 A.M. and if you think that you are the only smart cookie around, be ready to get surprised. There were busloads of school children waiting to enter the fort! There is a canteen which used to be a palace kitchen years ago, and they do supply water and other essentials.
View from Hidambeshwara Temple
Where to begin:
I started to explore the fort from the top. The view is beautiful, and if you like to click pictures, the early morning light provides a radiant glow bouncing off the rocks. And more importantly, it feels nice to walk down the fort when the sun is right above your head!
At the very top, a fort bastion will stare down at you. If you peer hard enough, you will find wedges carved on the rockface leading to the bastion. During the good old days, candidates who desired to get into infantry had to climb up the steep slope to the stronghold. He had to negotiate another hurdle in the form of humongous portions of clarified butter or ghee, tumbling out of containers and flowing downhill. Weapons, too, used to be stored in the massive containers containing ghee to avoid corrosion. I spied several boys on all fours trying to climb to the top.
On all fours
Vista of Chitradurga
I then walked through a giant swing. Yes, you read it right, a swing. The path leads up through a small mandapa and finally to Hidimba Temple located on top of a small hillock. There is no deity inside the temple. Instead two huge stone tablets with inscriptions can be seen in the sanctum . But no translations are available.
The Stone Swing with the Hidambeshwara temple in the far background
Towards Hidambeshwara Temple
As you climb down, the treasury of the kingdom will fall on your left. The mint area is still intact, minus the gold coins, of course! The interesting glob of information is that the “Palayegars ” or the treasury staff used to store precious stones and gold coins inside a temple. Underneath the main deity, to be precise. Any invading party will come across a temple and not get even a sniff of the wealth stored right under their feet! You might feel this idea to be very simple and rudimentary, but for those days- excellent idea!
A Secret Hiding Place
When the king died, his two wives committed Sati by jumping into a pond. This pond stands dedicated in memory of the two queens. One can also find a wrestling arena. Soldiers have to be kept fit and in fine fettle. I was astonished to see a very narrow entrance to the arena. I guess the king wanted only welterweight champs!
There are several boulder formations which resemble various animals. One can easily identify elephant shaped rock and ears of a rabbit. You must be wondering as to how they must have kept the communication channels running between such vast tracts of land within the fort. The living quarters were cleverly located between seven hills. Each of these hills used to serve as watchtower and were deliciously named – Janda Battiri, Trumpet Battiri, Ghee Battiri, Hamsa Battiri, Mallikasuvarna Battiri, Ranna Battiri and Jod Battiri.
Sunset in Chitradurga
The legend of Onake Obavva
Just off the waterbody, a tiny path will take to Onake Obavva’s home. The story of Obavva has gained legendary proportions. She was the wife of a soldier who used to operate a watchtower. As soon as her husband’s duty got over, he came down for lunch. Just as he was about to eat, Obavva noticed that she has no water to offer him and stepped out of the house to collect it from a stream nearby. As she approached the stream, she noticed a soldier from Hyder Ali’s army wriggling out of a narrow opening in the fort wall. She took a pestle lying nearby and struck the enemy dead. She adopted this modus operandi and finished off 50 such intruders. The number varies though. Her husband, who came in search of Obavva found her standing amidst the dead bodies. He sounded the danger bugle, and the entire fort became alert. An intruder managed to sneak in through another tunnel and was astounded to see several soldiers lying dead. He killed Obavva, but the sheer number of the Nayak’s army forced him to run away. Hyder Ali ‘s campaign thus was repelled. One can still see the tiny hole in the wall and Obavva’s home. Scores of children listened to this story from their teachers in rapt attention. It was great fun to watch a teacher making history enjoyable to learn.
You will require atleast 3-5 hours to cover this amazing fort. One can cover both Chitradurga and Chandravalli caves in a day.
How to reach:
From Bangalore, it is only 200 kms. Carry water and biscuits with you. Visit early in the morning or late evening.