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Fortography

Travel

Bhongir : where history meets geology

A pleasant 50km drive from Hyderabad takes one to a small town called Bhongir, where history meets geology. Long before you enter the town, its trademark egg-shaped hillock looms into view. The hillock is actually a giant rock, called a batholith. A batholith is a huge igneous rock that is formed when molten magma cools and solidifies, often running kilometers deep into the earth. The Bhongir batholith is said to be comparable in size to the one in Uluru, Australia, a World Heritage Site.

Bhongir Fort

Bhongir Fort

Bhongir Fort

Bhongir was named Tribhuvanagiri after the Chalukya ruler Tribhuvanamalla Vikramaditya, who is believed to have built a fort on top of the rock in the 12th century. Tribhuvanagiri became Bhuvanagiri, which eventually became Bhongir. Later, the fort passed through the hands of the Kakatiyas, the Bahmanis and the Qutb Shahi Sultans of Golconda. Most of the present structure dates back to the Bahmani and Qutb Shahi era, and you’ll notice similarities with the forts at Golconda, Bidar and others built by the various Deccan Sultanates.

Bhongir Fort

Bhongir Fort

Bhongir FortBhongir Fort

The climb to the top was lovely the day we went – there was a light drizzle throughout, like a gentle spray. On a blazing hot day, I’m not sure how fun it’ll be! There are steps hewn into the rock for the most part, and railings for support when the slope gets steeper. It takes about an hour, plus or minus, maybe longer if you stop frequently to take pictures.

 

At the very top, there is a pavilion that looks strikingly similar to the Balahisar Baradari, the topmost pavilion in the Golconda Fort. When you reach it, you realize it’s a bit larger than it appears from below, dwarfed by the huge hillock. The panoramic views of the countryside are breathtaking, and you can’t help wondering what it must have been like to be a ruler standing up here and surveying your kingdom. In reality though, the Qutb Shahi kings did not actually stay here. They stationed a governor in Bhongir, and used this fort to imprison people who tried to grab the throne.

Bhongir FortBhongir Fort

Since the hillock is almost egg shaped, it has sheer drops all around,  attracting adventure sports enthusiasts. Bhongir even has a rock climbing school that teaches bouldering, rock climbing and rappelling.

Bhongir Fort

You can combine a trip to this fort with a visit to the famous Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Temple in Yadagirigutta, just about 14kms away. Also combinable is Kolanupaka, home to a stunning Jain temple, only 30 kms away.

 

Travel

Chandragiri : A Small Fort With A Rich History

Chandragiri is a village in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh with quite a rich history. It is home to a small fort originally built in the year 1000 AD, by the Yadavaraya rulers who ruled these parts for about 3 centuries. In the 14th century, the fort became a part of the Vijayanagara empire which had its capital in Hampi. In the 16th century, an alliance of Deccan Sultanates defeated the Vijayanagara army in the Battle of Talikota, and killed its ruler Aliya Rama Raya. They then proceeded to plunder and destroy Hampi to ruins. The slain king’s brother survived the battle, and he moved to Penukonda in present day Andhra Pradesh. From there, he ruled the now weakened and diminished kingdom. The last Vijayanagara king made Chandragiri his capital, but the empire disintegrated after his death. Next, Chandragiri passed into the hands of the Golconda Sultanate and finally the Kingdom of Mysore.
The Chandragiri Fort with a granite hillock behind it

This granite hillock forms the backdrop of the Chandragiri Fort

Now the fort – you enter it through two gateways, with carved pillars typical of Vijayanagara architecture. There are two parts in the innermost enclosure – a lower fort and an upper fort. The upper fort was closed to public when we went – I’m not sure if it’s always like that. A granite hill forms the backdrop to the lower fort, which has two important buildings. The first is the King’s Palace, a three storeyed palace with a durbar hall in the middle. Apparently, the greatest Vijayanagara ruler, Krishnadevaraya, lived here until he ascended the throne. If you’ve been to Hampi, you’ll notice the resemblance this building has to the Lotus Palace there. The ASI runs a museum in the King’s Palace now. The other building is the Queen’s Palace, which is smaller, but similar in design. It is believed to date back to the reign of Krishnadevaraya’s successor.
Chandragiri Fort, Chittoor District

The King’s Palace, Chandragiri Fort

The Queen's Palace, Chandragiri Fort

The Queen’s Palace, Chandragiri Fort

There is a reservoir at the base of the hillock, which would collect rain water flowing down the slope, making the fort self-sufficient for its water needs. The moat around the fort was filled by rain water as well.

Chandragiri Fort, Chittoor District

The gate that leads to the innermost part of the fort

The ornate pillars on the inner gate

The ornate pillars on the inner gate

Chandragiri Fort, Chittoor District

Details on the inner gate

Chandragiri Fort, Chittoor District

Details on the inner gate

Chandragiri Fort, Chittoor District

The very ornate entrance gateway in the second fortification

Details in the entrance gateway

Details in the entrance gateway

Chandragiri Fort, Chittoor District

Ornate Vijayanagara style pillars

Chandragiri Fort, Chittoor District

Details in the entrance gateway

Chandragiri is about 145km from Chennai, and 230km from Bangalore, but I really wouldn’t recommend going all the way – for all its rich history, the fort itself is not too remarkable. But if you are in the vicinity, like in Tirupati, which is just 14km away, do check it out. A sound and light show happens at the fort every night, with narration by Amitabh Bachchan. I didn’t watch it, but since the history of Chandragiri is rich, I’m guessing it must be good. Please note that the fort is closed on Fridays.
 
And finally, another interesting bit of trivia about Chandragiri: in the 17th century, the British East India Company purchased from Chandragiri’s king’s general, the piece of land where they built Fort St. George. The regions around the fort grew into present day Chennai, known as Madras earlier. You might have heard of the Madras Day celebrations that now take place each year – they are held on the anniversary of that historic transaction.

Travel

The picturesque ruins of the Sadras Dutch fort

A not-so-well-known fact about Tamil Nadu is that there were three major (and some smaller ones) Dutch settlements along its coast in the 17th-19th centuries. One in Pulicat, straddling the state’s border with Andhra Pradesh, one in Nagapattinam, and one just about 80km south of Chennai, in Sadras, short for Sadurangapattinam.
 
If you are driving to Mahabalipuram from Chennai, Sadurangapattinam, anglicized to Sadras, is just about half an hour further. The erstwhile settlement, adjacent to the Kalpakkam (of nuclear plant fame) township, has the ruins of a picturesque seaside brick fortress built by the Dutch after their arrival in the mid 17th century. Sadras was famous for muslin, that was woven (or spun?) in its looms. During the Carnatic wars, the warring parties would often conduct their negotiations in the fort, because while the British and the French picked sides and got involved, this Dutch settlement was neutral territory. Back then, the Sadras fort was referred to as Fort Orange, because orange is the colour of Dutch royalty. The British captured it from the Dutch in 1781, but returned it to them in about 40 years. Later, in the 19th century, the Dutch once and for all ceded all of their Indian settlements to the British. Greenery In Sadras
The fort is mostly in ruins, but has some intact structures like a granary, stables and a Dutch cemetery. I don’t know if it is always so beautifully lush, but I went right after the colossal rains of December 2015, so maybe that was it.
Sadras Dutch Fortress
Sadras Dutch Fort
Sadras Dutch Fortress
Apparently, this structure was to help people climb onto elephants:
Sadras Dutch Fort
Sadras Dutch Fortress
Sadras Dutch Fort
If you go to the back of the fortress and climb up the steps there, you can see a lovely blue sliver of the sea!
View of the Sea from the Dutch Fortress of Sadras
The next one is a blurry iphone photo, sorry about that, but I had to include it because it shows a part of the roof in one of the structures of the fort, that has caved in, leaving a gaping hole!
Sadras Fortress Caved In Roof
The ornate tombs in the cemetery date back to the 17th century. It is usually kept under lock and key, but the details on the graves are really beautiful, so make sure you find the caretaker and request him to open it for you. The double decker tomb in the following picture, apparently belongs to two brothers.
Sadras Dutch cemetery
Sadras Dutch cemetery Sadras Dutch cemetery
And finally, a little bit of greenery 🙂
Sadras Dutch Fortress
Greenery In Sadras
Greenery In Sadras
Greenery In Sadras
Travel

Gingee – The Fort

Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
The Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji, is believed to have considered the fort of Gingee (also called Senji or Chenji) India’s most impregnable fort. And yet, the fort has apparently been occupied by most dynasties that ruled the region, like the Cholas (who built it), the Nayaks, the Vijayanagara empire, the Marathas, the Mughals, many others in between and finally the British.
 
Located about 160 kms from Chennai, the fort is built on three hillocks – Krishnagiri, Rajagiri and Chandrayandurg. When you drive into the fort area, it is easy to see how hard it must have been for an enemy army to invade while being attacked from 3 hills simultaneously. Since it was raining pretty heavily when we got there, we could only do one hill, Rajagiri, and did not even climb too far up. A friend said he climbed all three on one day and couldn’t even feel his legs by the time he was done!

 

The Archaeological Survey of India keeps the Gingee Fort really clean. The Rajagiri hillock has an assortment of structures like temples, stables, granaries, tanks and pavilions. Let me now show you some pictures from the hill – mostly from around the base. What would have otherwise been just another (very beautiful) fort, was transformed into a mysterious wonderland by the clouds, the rain and the mist.
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
Gingee Fort, Tamil NaduGingee Fort, Tamil NaduGingee Fort, Tamil NaduGingee Fort, Tamil NaduGingee Fort, Tamil NaduGingee Fort, Tamil Nadu

Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu

After spending some time walking about the ruins, we went to a couple of temples at the foot of the Rajagiri hill before beginning the drive back to Chennai. I’ll show you those in the next post 🙂 
 

If you happen to be in Chennai and have a day to spare, definitely visit Gingee. The road is pretty great most of the way, but traffic can get rough – we saw a very gruesome accident on the way back 🙁 Gingee is stunning in the rains, but slippery roads obviously make the drive riskier, so that’s a factor you must consider. You might want to carry snacks and water with you – there are no shops around the fort. There is a lot of vegetation all around the fort, so it is a nice place for birdwatching too.
Gingee Fort, Tamil Nadu
A lily pond on the way to Gingee
Travel

A Drive To Gingee In The Rain

It’s been sooooo long since I posted anything on either of my blogs. When the new year began, I honestly meant to post regularly, but between sheer laziness and other projects that took up my time, I never got around to it.

 

Gingee is a beautiful fort about a hundred miles from Chennai, and I visited it in February. The day before we went, Ashwin, who’s been there many times, kept warning me that it would be really really hot. But when we woke up in the morning, it was drizzling! And then it rained all the way to Gingee and back, right through the day! Such good luck!

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the drive, and we stopped every now and then to take photos – some through the windshield too. So how about I make this post about the drive and the next one about the beautiful fort?
Now that we are well and truly into summer, even looking at these pictures is making me all wistful 🙁
This was how misty the fort looked when we got there!
My first owl spotting on the way back. A Spotted Owlet.
Travel

Lohagarh Fort, Lonavala

The Sahyadri hills around Lonavala are dotted with strategically located fortresses and the imposing Lohagarh Fort (translating to Iron Fort) is one of them. It is said to have been used by pretty much every dynasty that ruled over the Vidarbha and Maratha regions – right from the Satavahanas to the Marathas. It was captured by Chhatrapati Shivaji in the 17th century, and again by the British in the 19th century.
 
The climb begins at the base of the hill, where there are a few very basic shops selling refreshments. If you’ve forgotten to bring something to drink, this is pretty much your last chance to fix that – there’s nothing after this point. There are steps all the way to the top of the fort, so the climb is fairly easy, except in stretches where the steps are no more than slippery moss covered blocks of stone.
 
We were lucky to be there on a sunshiny day with a blue sky and fluffy white clouds, so at many points on the way up, we were treated to spectacular views of the lush green countryside.
 
On the way up the hill, you pass three layers of fortification through four huge gates, all of them very well-preserved. The top of the fort is quite empty – a Shiva temple, a Dargah, a well and a tank are about all you’ll see. This was a fort used purely for military purposes.
 
The place was almost empty, and there was only one more group of tourists, besides us. I read after we got home that we’d missed seeing a scorpion-shaped extension to the fort called the Vinchu-Kata – I wish I’d done my homework before going. No complaints, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the climb and the sensational views 🙂

Lohagarh Fort

This pic, taken about halfway into the climb, shows how the fort blends into the hill!

Lohagarh Fort

The imposing gates of the fort are still intact.

Lohagarh Fort

The barren top of the fort

Views from the fort. The hill you see on the top left of the following image is the neighboring Visapur Fort. Since the Visapur Fort is taller, British troops bombarded the Lohagarh Fort from there, forcing the Marathas out.