Merry Christmas and happy holidays! It was this Christmas weekend that I got my “Hippopotamus”. With just a little difference. Gayla Peevey was 10-year old when she recorded this song and yes, got a Hippopotamus – a two year old Hippo named Mathilda, which she gifted over to the Oklahoma zoo. I am 51, and “got” a more than 500year old, sprawling fort over several hills, covering almost 7 dynasties. I am excited to share this gift with you.
Fort story – Why now?
My husband and I have been wanting to visit this fort for a few years now. Since the time we went to visit the UNESCO world heritage site of Hampi, capital of the Vijaynagar empire. Being a fort-fan, I did not want to do it on the way to or back – some place. I wanted to instead spend good time climbing, wondering and wandering about the place, – the biggest one in Karnataka. It is really large! It is built over several hills, through the 17th and 18th century. The rocks with which and on which the fort is built, get hot during the day. It is ideal to go during winters (we picked the Christmas weekend thus) and spend 3-4 hours either early morning (the fort is open 6.00am to 6pm) or late afternoon. We just did both.
Fort way – high way all the way!
It is on the way to Hampi from Bangalore, a distance of 200kms takes about 4 hours, on the Bangalore-Pune 4-lane highway. You can consider exploring it on your way to or way back from Hampi, which is about 120kms from Chitradurga. The drive is smooth, across mostly arid country side. The landscape is made interesting with the windmills lined up atop the Chinmuladri range of hills along the way. The whole district lies in the valley of the Vedavati river. The region boasts of bold rock hills and huge towering boulders perched precariously, in every imaginable shape (we saw crocodile head, ship, a giant’s head etc.)!
Fort history – bite size
- It was built over several years, between the 17th and the 18th centuries by the Rashtrakutas, Chalukyas, Hoysalas and the Nayakas of Chitradurga.
- Nayakas were the feudal lords during the Vijaynagar empire and the Palegar Nayakas of Chitradurga are credited with the expansion of the fort between the 15th and 18th centuries.
- Madakari Nayaka V was the most famous and the last ruler of the Nayaka clan. He was defeated by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan. The dynastic reign of Nayakas lasted for over 200 years and the fort was built, expanded and lived in as a citadel.
- Madakari Nayaka used to align himself sometimes with Hyder Ali of the Mysore kingdom and sometimes with the Marathas. This strategy failed him as he was finally betrayed by the Marathas and some of his own local Muhammadan officers in the battles that were raged over about three decades by Hyder Ali.
- When Tipu was killed by the British in the fourth war of Mysore, Chitradurga became part of Mysore province and came under the Wodeyars.
- The British garrisoned their troops in the fort, this was later handed over to the Government of Mysore.
- The fort is currently under the ASI (Archeological Survey of India). While a lot of the dwellings and storages, granaries etc. that were made of mud have washed away over the years with rain, the fort walls, ramparts, bastions and temples made of granite are quite intact and the premises are very well maintained.
Fort facts – enjoy!
- The fort is known as Kallina Kote – “the stone fortress”. It has boulders all over the place with light streaking in through the crevices and forming silhouettes against the sky. Especially if you can manage a late afternoon visit – the golden light of the setting sun makes the granite almost luminous.
- It was called Chitaldoorg by the British. The original name is Chitrakaladurga – “picturesque fort” in Kannada.
- It is also called Ukkina Kote – “Steel fort” implying metaphorically as being impregnable.
- The fort has seven circles enclosing the hills and thus is also referred as Yelusuttina Kote – “Seven Circles Fort”.
- There are about 18 temples in the upper fort and one in the lower fort. The most famous one being the Hidimbeshwara temple. A masjid was added during Hyder Ali’s rule.
- There are several Hondas – water tanks, which are rain-harvesting structures that were built in a cascade. The reservoirs were interconnected to ensure continuous supply of water in the fort precincts.
- The Maddu Bisuva Kallu –“gunpowder grinding stone” was one structure I found very intriguing. It has 4 massive grinding stones which are said to have been rotated either by elephants or bullocks in a circle in the center of the mills. Each of the grinders have their own collection point for collecting the powdered explosive material.
- Board games of various kinds can be seen etched on the stones laid outside the temples and various gateways. One can imagine guards, priests, inhabitants of the citadel chatting and playing in times of peace.
- Stop and stare at many beautiful engravings of Yali – the mythical animal, lotus, elephants, various gods all along the fort walls. The pillar and swing in the court of the Hidambeshwara and Chamundi have been standing tall and sturdy over the centuries.
- Look out for the many bastions (2000!) and bateris camouflaged within the rocky boulders around the entire range of hills. They can be reached by climbing the fort walls – albeit arduously. All of them have water stores and secret passage ways. Much useful for the current inhabitants – monkeys, squirrels and many kinds of birds including parakeets.
- The total area of the fort is said to be about 1500 acres surrounded by 8 kms of walls. There are many entrances to the fort – about 19 bagilus – gateways, and 38 points of entries besides 35 secret ones.
- Each of the entries are perpendicular to wall, creating bottlenecks for the armies trying to get entry. There are peep holes meant for defenders to fire at the armies at the dead-ends (literally!)
- The walls are lined with small embrasures for the archers to shoot arrows at the enemy.
- The most famous feature of the fort is of course the Onake Obavva Kindi – The secret passage way named after Obavva, a sentry’s wife, in honour of her bravery.
- Most important one, the story which has become part of the folk lore, is the story of a time when Hyder Ali first attacked the fort. It was the job of Obavva’s husband, a sentry at the fort, to keep watch at his post and sound the warning bugle in case of an attack. One night as he had come home for dinner and Obavva had gone to get him water, she heard soldiers getting inside through a crevice in the fort wall. She picked up one Onake – a “pestle” and stood hidden next to the kindi – “crevice”. As each one got through, she smashed their head with the pestle and moved aside the dead body. After a while, her husband came looking for her and found her with a heap of dead enemy soldiers and a bloody pestle! It was then that he sounded the bugle which made the enemy to retreat for that day.
It is quite a small crevice as we saw and the children were the ones who were able to pass through it.
- This other tale has its roots in Mahabharata. This entire area was supposed to be the Hidimbakshetra. One of the pandavas – Bhima, killed the Hidimba rakshasa – “demon” and married his sister. They had a son called Ghatotkacha.
- There’s a steep cliff face that forms the back drop to the Siddeshwara temple, called the Tuppada Kola Bateri watch post. The legend says that this was the recruiting criteria for the Chitradurga army. We could see tourists climbing up and coming down this post on the boulder-face. The challenge during that time was said to be the timing and the fact that oil was poured down from the top!
- Then there’s the living legend – KotiRaj, who climbs the walls unaided and advises the tired climbers to eat lots of bananas!
We reached Chitradurga by lunch time and climbed the fort from 3pm to about 6.30pm. This only whetted our appetite for more – so next morning, we did some more climbing and wandering for a couple of hours before heading back to Bangalore. Completely worth a visit even if you are not a history-buff or a fort-fan. It is great for a day picnic, hanging out, playing a board game and a “selfie-anywhere” place. It gets very hot during the day, even during the winters so take a hat and a water bottle along with your phone-camera. Let your imagination do the rest!