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)

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!