May 27, 2017

Tribhuvanagiri fort ~ Bhongir Qila

January 22, 2017

Bhongir fort was on my list of places to visit for months, somehow we could not decide on a trip. One Sunday morning we made a plan to leave afternoon so that the when we reached the hill sun should be down. The distance from Madhapur, Hyderabad to Bhongir is about 70 kms, estimated driving time would be 2 hours or so. We should reach by 4-30 pm; we should be able to see the fort in 2 hours and then leave by dusk. We had light brunch and napped until 2 PM.

We left home by 2-30 and took off towards Secunderbad. We had set the destination as Uppal, the route we took was the inner ring road. We managed to reach Warangal road at Uppal. From there the journey was little slow mainly because of narrow road. Once we reached ORR, the road widened and made good speed. About 6 kms before Bhongir we filled petrol at a IOC bunk, washed the windscreen. Soon the hill came into view. We turned off the highway towards the town and found our way to the hill. It was around 4-40 pm. I estimated a 25 minute climb to the summit.

The present day entrance to this fort might have been the original entrance. This is the least steep way up the hill. The entrance is manned by a entry fee booth, Rs.10 for adults. Close to booth is a slightly disfigured stone sculpture of a male god with four arms. This sculpture could be of Kakatiya time. These steps are recently made.

At the end of the new steps starts the ancient stairway, these are steeper than the steps below. One interesting thing in this picture is the wall at the end of the stairway. That's a curtain wall around the gateway. How the builders have maintained uniform height.


This is the gateway with the curtain wall on the right. There's a small opening in the curtain wall, that could be an escape route in emergency situations.

This path goes along rampart wall on the western slope. We reach another gateway with a small tower, large enough for one person to stand at the top.

This is the other side of the gateway. On the left is a short stairway with hairpin bend which leads to the third and final gateway. This entrance too is concealed by a curtain wall.

View from the bend in the stairway.. on the left is the curtain wall and on the right is the gateway. The wall construction technique is slightly different here. Notice the alternating layers of thick and thin blocks. The wall and door frame are of same period but the upper wall and merlons seem to be recent, probably built by Muslim kings. The curtain wall too is recent, mortar has been employed to bind the stones.

The final gateway opens up to a wide open space; there's a shallow pit on the left where rain water accumulates. Beyond the pit, the hill rises up with lot of rock formations. Though a natural barrier, builders have raised rampart walls for better security. Time was a constraint so we had to skip that part of the fort, instead we chose to go straight ahead..

The dirt path ended at this point and we'll walking on the rock.. the monolith. Yes, Bhuvanagiri is a monolith; oval shaped in plan; 1200 meters (3937') long, 626 meters (2053') wide and 160 meters (525) tall from the ground level. At this point we are about 60 meters above ground level. So have another 100 meters to ascend. By now Pushpa had already complained of aching legs two or three times. I told her that we are half way up already, she could relax for few minutes while I explored these ruins.

There's one Mantapa, three buildings and a small sentry platform. These were probably the officers and soldiers quarters. If you notice the wall towards the right, two arches have been filled in to make it a closed structure.

View from the sentry platform. I'm imagining how it would be at night, to be sitting here in a small group huddled around a fire. Surely, soldiers back then would done that.. those days without any glaring electric lights, sky would be dark with glittering stars. We can only imagine such things.. sigh!

We continue with our ascent. To our right a wonderful sight came into view.. a graciously smooth slope. If there was a sand-pit at the bottom and I guess one could slide down safely.. just a thought :) I want come back to Bhongir one day and take a shot up this slope, it would be a great sight.

This one straight steep path. On my left is an almost sheer cliff hence the railing to keep people in safe zone. I chose to walk outside the fence but remained close to it. On the right, there are three curved walls; two are in view here while the last one is behind me. These are dams to retain rain water. In fact beyond the second one, you can see another wall, there are two more such rain water tanks. All in all, we could count nine water tanks however, the only the one at the summit had water in it. From here, the summit is few minutes away, the ruined palace and a cannon platform were already in sight.

The palace-in-ruins. It would have been a grand structure in its heydays. Its architecture is Islamic, so it must have been built during Nizam's time. Perhaps the Nizam or one his commanders must have got it built. As mentioned earlier, the fort was renewed by Muslim rulers but the original fort was established by the Chalukyan emperor Tribhuvanamalla Vikramaditya VI. So the fort was known as Tribhuvanagiri which later shortened to Bhuvanagiri. Later the place got the present name "Bhongir" probably the British or Muslim tongues couldn't pronounce Bhuvanagiri so it might have become Bhongir!

The hill, no doubt gives a commanding view of the surrounding plains, lakes and neighboring hills. From the palace platform, the unexplored part of the fort came into sight. Wish we had reached an hour earlier, I could have explored those rampart walls too. Well, some other day. Pushpa was tired and she was all set to attack her snack and cool drink. So she settled down on the palace platform. I wanted make good of the remaining time, so I went exploring..

Besides the palace, there are three more structures. The tall columned structure is a hydro tower which supplied water to the palace. The foot of the tower is in the pit in which rain water is stored. This is the only tank which contained water. My guess is water was pulled manually using ropes & pails and poured into a tank. Surely pipe lines existed to transport water to the palace. In the palace we did see small tanks in the floor and also a larger pit which seemed like a mini swimming pool. So this palace must have been a resort for occasional visit. The other two structures are very recent creations; one seemed like a guesthouse (in neglected state) and the other one seems like a police transmission center.

This is the northern face, though steep walls have been built for better security. In fact at this point, you can see two parallel walls.

I'm standing on the shoulder, the merlons are 7 to 8 feet tall. In the floor are gun holes. Solid walls indeed.

I went down along the wall. The wall I stood on earlier is seen here.In the foreground is a wall, to the left of the wall is another rain water tank. From the look of the grass in the pit, it seems the tank had dried a month or two ago. At one end of the pit I found an embossed image of Lord Hanuman, the god of strength and valor.

This path went further, around the hill and comes around the palace, on the southern face. Rampart walls starting from the northern side, go around the eastern face until the southern face. I did not bother exploring further mainly because of time and also Pushpa was alone.

Back at the summit. The palace is small but spacious. In the floor level, we could see several water tanks (see inset). This must have been an courtyard. There were two halls with great arches. Up here it was quite windy, so these great archways allowed free airflow keeping the palace cool even on hot summer days.
I found the stairway to the palace terrace. That's Bhuvanagiri town. The royal members must have had a good time here. Nights would be absolutely peaceful with lot of fresh breeze.

The setting sun. That's the gun platform and the gun itself (see inset). There were several other groups of people when we came here, most had left by now. We too decided to leave before it got too dark.

The descent was quite fast, about 10 minutes. Back at the fee booth, we stopped by to shoot this statue of a warrior. I checked out the plaque embedded into the base of the pedestal, all I could read were names of politicians. Whoever this 'warrior with a scribe' is, is an handsome fellow.

Few minutes later, it was dark. We found a snack vendor and bought some bajji. We headed back towards Hyderabad. We were happy that our planning was a success. Back home Pushpa narrated her version of the trip. Here's the link to her article in Kannada- ಭುವನಗಿರಿ ಕೋಟೆ ~ Bhuvanagiri fort.

Mid-March we had been to Warangal. On the way back we got a shot of Bhuvanagiri from the highway. This is view of the hill from the highway, we are looking at the southern face of the hill. The hills reminds me of Savandurga near Bangalore. Of course Savandurga is much bigger and higher and wilder.

A closer view of the southern face and the summit.

One should visit the hill after rainy season, say between September and November, the hill would be cooler and lot of water bodies with freshwater.
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May 20, 2017

What to see in Koppal district?

Koppal District came into being on April 1, 1998, it was carved out of Raichur District. The district consists of 4 Tluqas namely Koppal, Gangavathi, Kushtagi & Yelburga with Koppal city as the district HQ. Koppal city was known as 'Kopana Nagara' as recorded in an ancient inscription called Chandravalli Shasana. Around this histrocial town are spots of great historical importance.. Gavisiddeshwara Matha, Malae Malleshwara Devasthana, Jain tombs near Gavimath, two minor edicts of Emperor Ashoka, prehistoric dolmens on Indrakeela Parvatha, Koppal fort and Bahadhur Banda fort. In fact Koppal district itself is a treasure trove of temples, forts and prehistoric artifacts such as megalithic tombs, rock paintings and inscriptions. Vijayanagara's original capital Anegundi is part of this district. In short, Koppal can easily captivate any tourist with historical interest.

Geographically, Koppal district is mixture of plain land on the eastern side and hilly terrain on the western side. Along its southern and western borders runs river Tungabhadra. Close to Koppal city flows Hirehalla, one of the tributaries of Tungabhadra. The plain lands are of two types- red soil and black soil. Agriculture is the chief source livelihood, farmers produce traditional crops such as jowar, cotton, maize and pulses. With plenty of rocky hills, granite quarrying is quite active though it threatens and destroys places of archaeological importance. Besides agriculture and quarrying, there are handful of factories near Koppal.

Then there's one jewel that has to be mentioned- the standup comedian Pranesh of Gangavati town. Pranesh is popular among the Kannada speaking population for his fun-filled speeches. He popularity is local, national and international.

Here's what Koppal has..

acrobatic rocks of Chikkasoolekere, tombs of Hirebenekal, painted wooden
sculptures at Kanakachala Narasimha Devasthana at Kanakagiri and
prehistoric paintings of Onake Kindi near Anegundi

Kanakachala Narasimha Devasthana at Kanakagiri, Itgi Mahaedva temple,
unknown temple at Itgi and Gavimath

edict of peace near Gavimath, Wakandurga hill and lake, Koppal fort
and Irkalgad fort
Click on the links to see & read more about that place.
  1. Acrobatic Rocks of Chikkasoolekere - a precariously balanced natural rock formation near Kanakagiri. The rock formation is quite huge, probably 50' to 60' high. This isn't a tourist attraction but the formation is amazingly beautiful.
  2. Anegundi - the original capital of Vijayanagara kingdom before Hampi. Anegundi is situated on the left bank of river Tungabhadra, at the village you can see ruins of the ancient fort and palace, Even to this day the descendants of Krishnadevaraya live here. Close by are other places of interest such as Krishnadevaraya's tomb, Rishyamukha Betta, Anjanadri Betta, Onake Kindi. Angegundi fort is not limited around the village but covers a vast area encompassing paddy fields and hillocks. At the village is a handicrafts center which manufactures items made of banana fiber.
  3. Anjanadri Betta - Legend says that Lord Hanuman was born here hence this hill is named after this mother Anjanadri. At the summit is a small temple dedicated to mother and son. Tourists throng here to see sunsets.
  4. Ashokan edict of Gavimath - Being part of the Mauryan empire, Emperor Ashoka after embracing Buddhism, had his message of peace inscribed on rocks through out the empire. Readers were appointed to read out the edict to general public. One such inscription is situated on a rock formation near Gavimath.
  5. Ashokan edict of Palki Gundu - The second inscription is on situated under a rock shelter on Indrakeela Parvatha. The rock covering the edict is umbrella shaped and stands on two edges like a cradle hence the name Palki Gundu. Close to this edict are dolmens which local people call Mouryara Mane which means houses of dwarfs. Also on this hill are few other rock shelters which are said to be used by Jain Monks. In one of the shelters, a sculpture of a pair of human feet enclosed within a circle is found.
  6. Bahadur Banda Fort - About 10 kilometers south of Koppal is a fort situated on a rocky hillock. With its proximity to Koppal, this fort might have been Koppal fort's barracks for additional forces. This fort was renovated by Tipu with the help of French soldiers. Even to this day, the fort is in fairly good condition.
  7. Chandaalingeshwara Devasthana, Bilagi - a temple built during Chalukyan times situated in the woods near Hanamasagar. The place generally has a peaceful ambiance except during occasions like full moon, new moon and annual fairs.
  8. Chilakamukhi fort - a small fort near Koppal and Irkalgad fort.
  9. Chintamani Devasthana - situated on the banks of river Tungabhadra, this place is said to be connected to Ramayana, particularly the story of Vali and Sugreeva. After killing Vali, Rama performs penance to rid himself of the sin of killing. Rama is said to have performed penance in a rock shelter besides the Chintamani temple.
  10. Gavisiddeshwara Matha - This is a Lingayath monastery established in the XII Century. Also known as Gavimath, the monastery is situated on a rocky hillock. Within the Matha are few cave shrines. It is said that monks used to meditate inside these caves. The monastery runs several educational institutions and provides boarding & lodging to hundreds of children from surrounding villages.
  11. Hanamasagar fort and Abhinava Tirupati - Hanamasagar town is situated besides a hill. On the hill are ruins of a small fort and a temple dedicated to Lord Venkateshwara. The temple has at least a 400 year history going back to Adil Shahi times.
  12. Hemagudda - this is a large hill with ruins of a fort at the base. On the hill are also ruins of rampart walls and temples. Within the fort walls are temples built during Vijayanagara time.
  13. Huligi - this place is situated on the left bank of river Tungabhadra near Munirabad which in tun is near Hospete. At Huligi is an ancient shrine dedicated to goddess Huligemma. The annual fair of Huligemma Devasthana is quite popular, it attracts huge crowds.
  14. Shivapura fort near Hosa Harlapur - This is a small fort situated on a granite monolith next to the road connecting NH63 and Anegundi. Right besides the hill is Bhorka reservoir and across the lake is the power plant.
  15. Irakalaghad fort - another small fort situated on a rocky hillock on Koppal-Kanakagiri road. The hillock is situated between two villages namely Yelamgeri and Irkalagada.
  16. Indrakeela Parvatha - on the east of Koppal city are four hills. The largest of it is Indrakeela Parvatha. The hill was highly active in prehistoric times. On the hill are dolmen locally known as Moryara Mane. Then there are rock shelters used by Jain monks. Finally there's a large rock which stands balanced on two edges like a cradle which is aptly called Pali Gundu. Below this cradle rock is the minor edict of Emperor Ashoka. Also, at the eastern base of the hill is an ancient shrine called Malae Malleshwara Devasthana.
  17. Mahadeava temple, Iatagi - This is on of the best temples built during the rule of Western Chaluyan rule. It was built by a dhandanayaka ~ commander of Chalukyan army. The temple plan is said to be similar to Amruteshwara Devathana of Annigeri in Dharwad district. Itagi is a small village situated off NH63 between Gadag an Koppal.
  18. Kukanur - Kukanoor is a village known for its temples of Rastrakuta and Chalukyas times. The notabe temples are MahaMaya Devasthana and Navalinga group of temples. The Mahamaya temple has reference in Mahabharata and said to be built before 8th century BCE. Kukanoor is about 7 kms from Itagi.
  19. Jabbalgudda fort - This is a fort nestled in the hill range running parallel to river Tungabhadra. The fort is said to have been built by Kumara Rama (1290–1320), the exiled son of Devaraaya, the ruler of Kampli. He is said to be the younger brother of Hakka and Bukka. The fort is also called as Gandugali Kumara Ramana Kote.
  20. Shri Kanakachala Lakshminarasimha Devastana, Kanakagiri - a temple dedicated to Lord Narasimha built during Vijayanagara times.
  21. Kinnal - this village is renowned for wooden handicrafts. Artisans if Kinnala produce some of the best wooden toys and idols painted in bright colors.
  22. Koppal Fort - the formidable hill built over a rocky hill. The fort probably existed since Chalukyan times but its history is known from Tipu's time. It is said that Mallasarja Desai of Kittur was imprisoned here by Tipu but he manages to escape. Tipu renovated Koppal fort with the help of French engineers to make it one of the strongest forts. In 1790, Tipu lost Koppal fort to British and Nizam forces.
  23. Krishnadevaraya tomb - Usually one doesn't get to hear about Hindu kings' tombs but Sri Krishnadevaraya's tomb has been identified. Its a simple structure situated on a rock in river Tungabhadra near Anegundi village.
  24. Malae Malleshwara temple - an ancient shrine at the western base of Indrakeela Betta. This is where visitors can park vehicles and start the trek to Indrakeela Betta.
  25. Moreyara Mane, the megalithic tombs of Hirebenakal
  26. Onake Kindi - is the most easily reachable prehistoric site with hundreds of rock paintings. The site is situated near Anegundi village, about 7 kms or so.
  27. Pura - this village is known for its Someshwara Devasthana. Within the temple are thousands of Shivalinga hence the name Koti Linga. Pura is about the 8 kms from Tavargera in Kushtagi taluq.
  28. Sanapur Lake - a lake near Anegundi popular for its ambiance.
  29. Shri Kanakachala Lakshminarasimha Devastana, Kanakagiri
  30. Sri Vijayalaxmi Temple and Pampa Sarovara - This ancient group of shrines is situated on the western side of Rishyamukha Betta. Pampa Sarovara has reference in Ramayana. It is said that Rama and Lakshmana took bath in this pond during their Vanavasa, the 13 year exile.
  31. Ranganatha Swamy shrine - this is a cave shrine situated on the face of a hillock near Anegundi.
  32. Huchchappayana Matha - is an ancient monastery. The temple in the Matha is ancient too. It is said that the entire story of Ramayana is shown in the sculptures in this temple. The Matha is about 6 kms from Anegundi village.
  33. Venkatappa Baavi, Kanakagiri - is a royal well and bath house built by King Venkatappa Nayaka.
  34. Wankandurg fort - a small fort situated on a hillock situated next to a small lake. Wakandurga can be visited if you are in the vicinity of Badami.
Amazing, right? A small district has so much to show its visitors.
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May 13, 2017

The Story of My Life by Meadows Taylor

The Story of My Life by Meadows Taylor is one of my favorite books. The 382 page book divided into 19 chapters covers Taylor's life from 1808 to 1876 - Taylor has spoken of events covering his life time. Of 19 chapters, 16 chapters are about his life in India.

His journeys in India starts in 1824 and ends at Mumbai in 1860. With a two-year break from, Taylor has spent 34 years of his 68 years in India that's half his life time. He arrives in India as a 15 year lad in search of employment with a friend's help he obtains commission in Nizam's army. He goes on a short break to England and returns in 1840 to rejoin service under Nizam. He's appointed as a political agent at Shorapur Kingdom (present day Surpur, Yadgir district, Karnataka). Taylor's objective was to bring in some order in the troubled Shorapur Kingdom. Taylor's efforts brings in order and prosperity to Surpur Samasthan; roads are constructed, water tanks are built and agriculture and trade thrives. Taylor's life at Surpur wasn't easy; his life was in constant danger; he himself designs and builds, a house away from the town, on a hill. The house has a warning system if anyone tried forcing into it. The house has survived till day, and its known as Taylor Manzil.

sketch showing a view of Shorapoor town featured in the book
A good part of this book is dedicated to his stay at Surpur.. kind of proportionate to the number of years he spent there. He was very close to the royal family; lot of details of happenings in the family is detailed, it covers almost the life time of the last king of Surpur. When Taylor is put in charge of Surpur, the throne was vacant and heir prince was a child. Taylor takes control of state administration on behalf of the prince and also takes over the role of a guardian. The prince was under Taylor's care until he attained majority. The prince and his siblings were so close to Taylor that they addressed him as Appa. Taylor was also close to ordinary people who called him Mahadev Baba. People trusted in his ability to maintain law and order.

Taylor was a multi-talented- he was a self-made engineer, an artist, an author, an explorer and had interest in archaeology too. He develops his own method of land survey and accepted by higher authorities. About 15 kms from Surpur is Bohnal lake; Taylor developed the lake and increased its capacity. He designed and built a sail-boat which was used for joy rides for himself and the royal family members.

After successfully placing the prince on the throne and handing over the administration, Taylor is transferred to Nuldurg and then to Berar. Taylor is once again put in charge of Surpur when the king has lost control over his kingdom and held at Hyderabad for trail. The king is sentenced to imprisonment at a fortress near Chennai. During the initial stages of the journey, the prince accidentally shoots himself with a revolver belonging to the military officer who was in charge of his transportation. The prince had not completed 24 years at the time of death. The prince's death had been predicted by a Brahmin astrologer at Surpur; the prediction which finally comes true. If one wishes to know about Surpur Sansthan, this is the book. Personally, I trust the information to be true.

The language is simple, it easily takes the reader to the past; as I read, I could visualize the life in 19th century. Taylor's story goes through several places I'd visited.. I try to imagine the look of the place back then. Some of the places mentioned are.. Vanadurga, Mudgal fort and Mudgal church, Lingsugur, Humnabad, Kulliane (Basava Kalyan), Raichore, Kanakagiri, Kookanoor, Anegundi and Hampi, few others. Taylor has spent few days at Anegundi, he was a guest of the king there, a descendant of Vijayanagara kings. The Raja himself takes him on a tour of Anegundi, a coracle ride in river Tungabhadra and a tour of Hampi.

During his explorations, Taylor had visited several prehistoric sites and documented them in his book titled "Megalithic tombs and other ancient remains in the Deccan." Some of the sites mentioned are-
Yemmigudda
Megalithic tombs of Rajan Kollur
Prehistoric Ash Mounds of Budihal
Prehistoric Stone Alignment of Vibhutihalli

Taylor has referred to different communities such as Hindoos, Lingayaths, Brahmins, Beydurs, Musalmans, Rohillas, and Arabs. I'd read the word Rohilla in 'Sri Sai Satchartitra' and thought it was a name of a person. The book is truly a source of historic information.

Tatylor though married and being a father, hardly tells anything about his family. He mentions about his injuries and health issues due to warm climatic conditions. After his tour of Hampi, he camps for several days at a hill called Ramandurga near Sandur. He chooses the place because of its cool weather where he regains his lost health.

The story also describes the tense moments during the Indian Mutiny; how the British dealt with the situation. During his last year in India, i.e. 1860, while talking about his journey from Hyderabad to Mumbai, Taylor mentions that a railway line connected Solapur to Mumbai.

The little book is hardbound and costed me Rs.765.

Besides Taylor's bungalow at Shorapur, some of his personal belongings have been preserved at the Government Museum at Gulbarga. Though not in great condition, one can get to see his pallakki (palanquin), table, chair, sofa sets and few other smaller items.
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May 6, 2017

Overload

We learn a lot when we indulge in journeys and travel on land. We may be travelling for varied reasons but one always gets to see something interesting. Be it a lovely sunrise, a flowing river, a kilometer long goods train at a level crossing, a cute calf in herd of cows blocking your way, a funny typo in a sign board, a tractor moving on 3 wheels... there's no dearth for variety. Anything and everything can catch your attention and bring a smile to your lips :)

Once while returning from Aihole, somewhere near Pattadkal, on a narrow road, we were following a slow moving goods rickshaw carrying a vending machine - on it was written "ICE CRIME." Another journey, we had stopped at village for tea break. As we relished our evening refreshments, a 'No Smoking' sign on the wall caught my attention. What's interesting in a simple sign? I asked my companions if they something unusual in the sign. No, nothing. Told them what I saw.. the smoking cigarette is over the cross mark. Whoever the painter was, put the X mark first and then painted a cigarette over it :) He must a smoker himself. So I asked the hotel cashier-owner about the sign. He'd not noticed it himself and smiled at us :)

Then we have another variety which necessarily may not always make you smile but definitely grabs attention. Overloaded vehicles are quite common on our roads.. bullock-carts, bicycles, motorbikes, scooters, tractors, mini-trucks. Here're few I managed to capture.

On our way to Gajendraghad, we happened to follow this bike loaded with a stack of 27 chairs. The biker pulled over at the first opportunity to let our cab overtake. This is not safe and definitely illegal but one has to admire his courage. Another time, I've seen a pillion rider holding on to three 4' diameter 20' long PVC pipes. Vertically. What all people do to save money.

Next we have a mini-truck overloaded with some kind of light but voluminous material. This was some where between Malkhed and Gulbarga. The cargo height is easily one and half times the truck height. Its quite common to see such trucks overloaded with all kind of cargo.. barrels, empty tins, plastic pots, hay, sacks with puffed rice and what not. What does the driver do if it gets windy suddenly. Scary thought!

Here's a short video of a mini-truck loaded with plastic pots seen on Dharwad-Navalgund road.



..and a truck with tipping cargo.


Many a times, while traveling in rural areas, tractor trailers loaded with hay or wheat chaff are a wide as the road itself. We'd to follow the tractor at its snail's pace for a kilometer or two until a relatively spot was found.

Well, happy and safe journeys.

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