Once upon a Fort (Part 1)

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The Architect rose as the King entered the empty tent that was erected for visitors, inside the fort. Though the Architect had constructed special reception centers decorated with frescos, the King had decided against entertaining guests there until he deemed fit.  The Architect’s own camp was almost empty. His men had started leaving the camp some days ago, slowly, one group after the other, looking forward to, and at the same time despising the long journey back to their homes and their wives.

“I am pleased with your design and construction of the fortress, Architect!”

“I am honoured, Majesty”, the Architect murmured, bowing low to the king.

“The Chief Minister and General take care of these things. However, I hear that you insistently requested to speak with me?”

“Yes, Majesty”

“I care very little for such impudence, young man. What is it?”

The Architect lifted his averted eyes, a quiet smile played around his mouth. “I waited many days to meet you. Because what I want to share with you cannot be spoken, only shown. And what I show must be for your eyes only, else it would be futile.”

Intrigued, the King sat himself down on the diwan.

“Go on”

“I have built fortresses for many a Southern King. Their mighty armies do not discount their fears- and those are rightful fears. In most cases, the enemy lies within, not beyond, for the greatest of kings have been murdered, not in the battlefield but in their beds.”

A shadow crossed the King’s impassive face.

“What is your point?”

“The value of a Kingdom is measured by the life that beats in its King’s chest.”

The King gave the briefest of nods, which caused his body guards to exit the tent.

“I have created two escape routes for you from within this fortress, and it is my duty to show these to you, before I leave. They are for your use, should your life be in peril, because of an unfaithful friend or a greater foe, which is very unlikely under your powerful reign” said the Architect.

The King’s eyes gleamed.

“You will show them to me now”img-20160902-wa0011

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“I am delighted with your work, young man!” the King exclaimed, as the Architect showed him the second escape route. He removed a large diamond studded ring from his forefinger and handed it to the Architect, “I want you to keep this, and you will construct every fort that I commission from today!”

“You are very generous, Majesty” the Architect bowed low again.

The Architect and the King were now by the well, within the fort. It was large, empty and deep, with stone steps leading to the bottom.

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“I see you have timed the construction well. The rains approach and the well will fill in a few days”

“Yes, and the well is at considerable distance from the third darwaza and I have given it watch guards, should anybody try to poison the source of water for the fortress.”

The Architect took a step closer to the King. Before the Architect knew it, the King had unsheathed his sword.

The Architect’s passive face betrayed no emotion.

“Lord, here is the last route you should take, should all else fail”

The King was taken aback.

“There is one more?”

“Yes, Lord. My men know the escapes I showed you. They created those. These are not mere escapes. These are two entry points into the castle as well, hidden though they are. My men are trustworthy, but are men after all. But this last one- this one was designed by me. And the man who laboured for this particular route sleeps beneath the floor of the well. I killed him with my own hands and buried him”

The King’s sharp, kohl lined eyes looked at the Architect’s own with appreciation.

“Lead me to it”

The men climbed down the steps to the floor of the well. The Architect felt the blocks of stone with his hands, one at a time, as he walked around the perimeter. He gestured to the King when he found the right rock. When the King touched it, the ingenuity amazed him- it was cold granite, unlike the other warm, sun soaked stones, yet it looked pale brown like the others.

The Architect effortlessly pushed the rock inside a few inches until he heard a click, and then he moved it to the right. There were discreet abrasions that enabled him to claw his fingers and pull or move the rock.

The men lunged themselves up. The King saw steep steps leading into the darkness above.

“There are 162 such steps. They lead into the palace of your concubines, by the river”

“The last place a King would expect to be found during war”

“Where arrangements can be made should there be need for escape” concluded the Architect

“What about the water from the well? Would it not rise?”

“It will rise, but it will not beyond the seventh step.” They had reached the seventh step where the wall had provision to hold a flame-torch, a bowl of oil and some matches.

The men walked through the tunnel, and after a few minutes they could smell and hear the river. The Architect released a trap door and saw the King’s triumphant face in the sliver of sunlight that entered the tunnel.

“We will return now” announced the King, and the Architect shut the trap door enveloping them both in darkness once again.

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(To be Continued)

W-Warangal Fort

*Failed attempt to complete the A-Z Challenge 2016

In the middle of a sweltering state is a treasure trove of history- that is Warangal for you.

At 150 kms away from Hyderabad is this (once) glorious capital. It was later rampaged by Muslim invaders and all that remain now are ruins.

Warangal was first ruled by the Yadavas, and was later by the Kakatiya Dynasty. The kingdom flourished under the latter. To give you an idea about how prosperous the kingdom was, and how advanced these kings were back in the 12 th century, I’m describing the fort for you.

The Warangal fort was built in the centre of three concentric levels of fortifications. The first exterior defence was a wall, this had a diameter of 2.5 kms. There was a deep trench in front of this wall that had to be filled with dirt or mud before it could be surmounted. This surrounded a moat, the width of which was around 150 feet. Invaders would have to swim across this, keeping an eye out for the crocodiles. Finally there was a wall made of stone. This wall was around 1.2 kms in diameter, and the fort, which also served as the capital city was located within this embankment.

Such an impenetrable fort was eyed by the sultanate of Delhi and was laid siege during the rule of King Pratapa Rudra II. After 6 months of constant battle, both parties agreed to a truce.  Pratapa Rudra could retain his kingship and land, and in reparation he had to surrender all the wealth his dynasty had accumulated over all these years. When the Sultanate general left Warangal, it is said that he carried the loot on the backs of 2000 camels, back to Delhi.

2000 camels. Somewhere on the back of one of those camels was the controversial Koh-i-noor diamond, which now glints from the British Queen Mother’s crown.

But our story does not stop there. Pratapa Rudra was asked to pay an annual tribute to the Sultanate which he failed to, twice.. The first time he failed, he was warned with an army on the doors of his capital. The second time he failed- (Reading about him, I am pretty certain it was his insubordination that caused this) a bigger army, led by Mohammed bin Tughlaq, by now well-versed with the workings of the fort and its battlements, forced its way into the capital. Every structure that had any religious symbolism on it (in this case-almost all structures) was destroyed. The four gateways- unique looking and free standing now, were spared because they were adorned with neutral figures. This archway is now the symbol of the Telegana tourism department, and a visitor will see replicas of these in the main streets of Hyderabad. Pratapa Rudra was taken captive, and was being transported to Delhi when he killed himself in the banks of the river Godavari en route.

Enough of History, though.

Warangal, an unsung little town, took my breath away. The fort stands ruined, but the air weighs heavy with pride. If you stood there and listened hard, they would tell you tales of a dynasty that did not need a king at one juncture- Queen Rudramadevi, who ruled before Pratapa Rudra II, could have taught us a thing or two about empowerment. The winds would sing praises about a king who refused to succumb to men of another land, and inevitably lost his life in the process. And if you listen carefully, you might also hear a stifled wail- at how unfair the past and the present have been. It is truly unfortunate that we decided to visit a city so glorious because we had nothing else to do- and not because it was spoken about with reverence, or given the respect it deserves.

 

Harley Davidson

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When the better half is an automobile enthusiast, you have two choices. You could either try to read up, get knowledgeable and have intelligent conversations with him on the subject, or give up and nod yourself to sleep every time he launches into a monologue about the latest bat-mobile-like bikes in the market or why we must definitely purchase a fully automatic car. I have embraced the latter. It saves me trouble and energy, and the man comes off looking wiser and smarter, which is what men want to appear like anyway.

But my tryst with uncomfortable looking two-wheelers is an ongoing saga. Either I am dragged to showrooms to gawk at ridiculously priced vehicles that we cannot afford, or made to stand and watch, gnawing my nails, as N sweet talks showrooms into letting him test drive these automobiles and ‘vroom vroom’ 200 meters on a road teeming with traffic before taking a U. So now, yours truly knows a Harley Davidson from an Indian from a Royal Enfield. She used to refer to all the above as ‘Oh  look at that hot red bike! Oh look at that cool black bike!’ previously, so this is significant improvement in a year.

The other day we got an invite to the unveiling of the latest Harley Davidson at the local showroom. N pointedly rode past the showroom in our ordinary looking Honda Trigger and parked it a hundred meters away, behind a tree. ‘Let us walk’ he coughed, and kept turning back to make sure our faithful bike was well hidden. The showroom was full of tattooed men and women, with too much mascara and too many piercings. The three bikes to be unveiled were covered and the showroom owners waited for the two families that were to take possession of the two new bikes to arrive. N was muttering bike stats under his breath and was looking enraptured. Finally after much fanfare the bikes were unveiled and everybody walked around, touching the vehicles and going ‘oooh ahhh’ over them.

I smiled at the nice store manager who gave me some attention and I managed to have a normal conversation with him. ‘So what is the on road price of these bikes? 16 lakhs, okay.’ I gave him a watery smile and slunk away.

I was too dazed to talk, and N was looking dejected and sad. That was one quiet Sunday.

I nudge N now to ask which Harley Davidson model that bike was.

‘Which bike?’

‘Arre that 16 lakh wala bike’

‘Hello! That was a Triumph not a Harely!’ N cannot keep the sarcasm, disbelief and shock out of his voice.

I don’t think I will get this- EVER. I am not even going to try.

Biking to Bhongir

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N professed undying love for automobiles and his own motorcycle so much that they seemed like competition once. We have completed numerous trips the past year; the destination would usually be a day’s ride or around 300 kms away. We are pushing limits, but now that summer has hit us, we will not be riding much until July.

One of the more recent trips was to Warangal, a city filled with very interesting history. Now Telengana is a state known for its rocks, and it is very common to see huge rocks, some 500- 800 metres high, by the highway. When we were riding to Warangal we noticed one such massive rock, at the head of which we even saw building structures. The town was called Bhongir and we made a note to stop there on our return.

Welcome to Bhongir fort, built in the 10th century AD, on an isolated monolithic rock by a Chalukya king Tribuvana Vikram Aditya (from which was drawn the word Buvanagiri- which then became Bhongir) The fort gained prominence during the reign of the Kakatiya Dynasty. According to legend, there once was an underground corridor connecting Bhongir Fort to the famed Golconda fort. The fort has a unique egg-shaped construction with two entry points protected by huge rocks, so the fort was considered practically impregnable by invading armies.

I would second that because from any spot on the top  of the hill, one can have a good view of the flat lands below. It would have been very foolish to even attempt to take the fort down.

One look from the foot of the hill and we deliberated if we ought to even attempt the trek. We were not exactly our fittest selves at that point, and there were no refreshments available anywhere else but at the entrance.

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Once we started however, there was no stopping us. The ruined fort had steps carved into the rocks for visitors. The otherwise smooth surface made us wonder how it was climbed when it was in use. There were many stone fortresses built on flat surfaces as we gained altitude- Imagine bringing blocks of stone up a massive, smooth rock! Every turn gave me goosebumps as I spun hypothetical tales pointing ruins to a tired, panting N- “This mght have been the granary- this could have been the temple! Look at these ponds hidden from sight- to avoid poisoning, maybe?” My head felt light knowing that the very air we breathed there might have once been filled with the sounds of neighing horses and the clangs of swordsmen practicing their craft. These very walls would have seen celebrations of victory, beheading of enemy spies and royal weddings.

We found canons that might have smoked once. The sun was right above us and we couldn’t see our own shadows. Yet the canons felt cold.

Above is the palace on top of the hill.  The photo with the pond (source quoted) is what it looks like from behind and I am sure it must have housed the ladies- the attached pond might have been where the women swam, humming tunes, basking in the sun.

I later looked up the limited literature about the fort. Its glorious days eventually drew to a close and the fort was used as a prison for some time, after which it fell into disuse. I also read that in the nights locals hear odd sounds from the fort and it is supposed to be haunted by the soldiers who protected it once.

We loved the serenity of the fort- this was a beauty and it was such a shame that we did not get to know more about its history. If you are in Hyderabad and have no plan for a weekend, please visit this!