Friday, June 6, 2008
Golla Konda - (Letters to Parth 5)
May 31, 2008
My Dear Parth, Sultan of my heart,
Hyderabad has two patches of summer, the dry blistery March to May and then the sultry August to October. May ends with a few pre-monsoon showers that brings the temps below 40 for the first time in weeks (it is likely this will change by the time you read this. everything changes!). Occasionally an entire summer will go past with periodic spells of rain that will keep the temperature bearable. But at its peak, Hyderabad summers can be a challenging task. Ants will creep into the tightest sealed kitchen container in search of moisture, vegetables will hardly look at you, lying with their eyes downcast on the store shelves, auto drivers will sling water bottles cloaked in wet jute casing, fights and brawls and road rage will rise, beltlines will itch, roads will float mirages that envelop you like an oven, bedding will stay warm late into the night. And then the monsoon will hit the Kerala coastline and the countdown will begin for the greatest show on earth. The Indian monsoon. Anyway, till then...
Some other features of Hyderabad that are as iconic as its summer includes the Charminar, the pearls, the IT hub that is now referred to as Cyberabad, biryani, and of course, the Golconda Fort. Hyderabad was earlier known as Bhagyanagar in memory of Bhagmati, wife of Quli Qutb Shah. The Qutb Shahi dynasty had come into being as a spin off from the Bahmani Sultanate and ruled the Telengana region from Golconda. Golconda fort, the Charminar, and the bridge over the river Musi are three of his legacies. Thanks to their popularity as tourist sights, whenever anyone visits, they ask to be taken to Golconda. As a result, if I ever am hard pressed for a job, I guess I could moonlight as a tourist guide at the Fort. Five rupees a ticket, unless you are carrying a video camera, and please carry enough drinking water, the climb will drain you out even in the coolest day of winter, 100 bucks and I will tell you tales no one else knows. Or else you will just look at rocks and walls and come back, okay ninety rupees.
Well, jokes apart, a visit to the Fort leaves one awestruck at the innovative technology, architecture, and art of war that was practiced in those ancient times. There are the impressive gates, many of whom you have to drive through to reach the entrance, one of which is the fateh darwaza, the victory gates, that could prevent the hardest of attacks, with spikes on the doors so that elephants could not be used to batter the gate down, and a rolling ball maze style buttressing outside the fateh darwaza so that in event of an attack, ground level defence was in place till the last minute with an exit route in place. As a matter of fact, had it not been for a traitor who opened the fateh darwaza to Aurungzeb's army, the fort would have remained forever unconquered. Three layers of walls protected the inner fort with bastions (burz) at regular intervals with guns mounted on them.
When you enter the fort, before you can say wotsuh the deal, you will find people standing in the inside porch and clapping and looking upwards. It is not some superstition or religious vow being made or kept, but it is a display of the fine architecture and technology that was in use even in those days. If you look up towards the top the hill from here, the highest structure you can see is called the bala hisar pavillion, which you reach at the end of your climb up. The accoustics at the gate are built in such a way that any sound made there can be heard from the top of the hill, a good couple of kilometers away!!
Another amazing display of technology is the use of stepped water tanks at intervals and clay water pipes and water wheels and lifts to lift water to the top of the fort.
As you climb up, and it is quite a steep climb, you get to see the city as it builds up away from the hill. You also pass the prison cell where Ramadas, a revenue collector in the time of Tana Shah (also called Tani Shah, or benevolent ruler, while Tana Shah means child saint, go figure!), was imprisoned for using state funds to repair a rama temple at Bhadrachalam. No, this is not the Ramadas who inspired Shivaji, that was Samarth Ramdas. This is not the Ramdas who planned and built Amritsar (then named Ramdaspur after him) and was known for creating a structure for sikh societal life. This is not the friend of Neem Karoli Baba who got thrown out of his teaching job for being friends with Timothy Leary, that was Richard Alpert, or Bubba Rama Dass. This was Ramadasu of the Keerthanas, the ramdas of bhakti, who wrote songs of devotion to rama that were so overpowering that that it is believed rama sent his two sons to pay the money back and release him from prison, perhaps hoping he would stop writing once he was released, but his luck was not so good. Ramadas continued to write heartwrenching songs of devotion, and good thing he did so, since he later turned out to be the inspiration for Thyagaraj, one of the three pillars of carnatic music.
You better carry enough drinking water, since you will get all thirsty and sweaty by the time you reach the top and rest in the cool breeze and try and identify city landmarks all around. You can see the charminar, and you can see cyber towers, at least at the time of my writing you can. There is also a hindu temple adjacent to the bala hisar which dates to the kakatiya period and has a kali temple which is called the madanna temple. You can choose to come down the same way you came up or you can climb down the other side of the hill which will lead you through the womens quarters or rani mahal. If you stay for the sound and light show, you will need to take your seats before it gets dark, and rub mosquito repellant (which golconda veterans will always carry in their bags when visiting the fort), while you wait for the show to begin. It is a nice show, one that should not be missed, and it gives you a thorough run down of history, geography, politics, poetry, architecture and music associated with the sights you have been seeing up and down the hill.
As you drive away towards the city, you look back and see the fort silhouetted against the night sky, standing testimony to the grandeur and majesty of the days of yore. On the way, we see contractors cutting down trees that look like they would have witness to Aurungzeb's army marching towards the fort, or to the sound of music in the nearby Taramati Baradari. Road widening, we are told.
May your roads not be so wide that you cannot find your way,