“Why is it that when one man builds a wall, the next man immediately needs to know what’s on the other side?” ( Game of Thrones I guess ?? ).
Curiosity, my friends, will take you to places mysterious and unknown ! Chitradurga came up to me in bits and pieces, at times mentioned by Anand Sir ( my guru from photography class ), and many a times at our exhibition group meet-ups. Each time, it would beckon me like a child from behind those fort walls, working on my excitement to the point that when someone proposed a weekend trip at our last meeting, I knew this was going to be my chance ! It only helped that winter was already in; Summers are just unbearably hot in Chitradurga. To be precise, it was December.
We started off on a warm Friday evening, at around 5 o’clock ( Winters in Bangalore are getting hotter by the year ). 2 cars and 6 people in total, all from our photography club. The benefits of starting on Friday evening, instead of the usual Saturday morning, were two-fold ( Chitradurga is more than a 2-day trip for photographers nevertheless, as we were about to find out ourselves ! ). We could get one extra session of good sunshine on Saturday early morning, and off course the much needed rest after our drive to Chitradurga. All in all, a fresh and lovely start to our photographic sojourn !
Starting off from near Silk Board junction ( south Bangalore ), our car took the NICE road ( it’s really a nice ride ! ) on till Tumkur road, from where one gets on to State Highway 47 all the way till Chitradurga. The road is a breeze to say the least, and our journey was pretty uneventful barring a few chai ( tea ) stops en-route ! Chitradurga falls bang on the highway, and once inside, we could get to our resting place quite easily with some help from the locals, and off course from the GPS ! We were only a bit tired ( thanks to the excellent road ! ), but quite hungry by the time we reached the Karnataka Govt’s Mayura Yatri Nivas ( meaning, a traveler’s lodge ). This place is a very good option to stay in Chitradurga, not only because of it’s location ( just opposite from the fort ), but also because of the very well maintained rooms ( our pretty clean dormitory for 8 cost only Rs. 1500/- per night; a very good bargain by any standard ), and a pretty decent restaurant as well. It was closing time for the restaurant when we reached there ( a little more than 10 pm I believe ). We were, however, offered a decent fare, at a decent price.
We called it a night soon after our dinner, as we had to get up early to catch up with the rising sun ! A view of the fort walls and the ( very ) rocky hillock inside it’s confines, even as we were driving up to our lodge that night, had already played it’s part on my psyche by now, and I was ready to play all along !
Before we do wake up, a bit about some numbers. Statistically, Chitradurga is around 250 kms from Bangalore, and our journey ( up to our place of stay ) took 5 odd hours . I must add, though, that we drove leisurely !
Excitement ( and the alarm clock ! ) woke all of us in time to catch the sunrise. We were ready for the sun with all the photographic gear in our hands, and strolled out of the lodge, trying to find a vantage point from where to try out our tricks. It was easy to find, for we could easily locate a far-away hill from behind which the sun would come up. Icing on the cake: There were quite a few windmills perched up on the hill. People went about setting their stuff ( camera, tripod, positions, etc. ) and trying out a few test shots, before we started to see the sky getting red from where the sun would rise. Click, Click, Click went our shutters, to capture the sun in different positions behind that hill, and we continued our activity well until the light became harsh enough. All in all, we were there for almost 45 minutes.
The fort gates had opened up by now, and we were all ready to go inside. The walls themselves looked like someone had piled up a set of rock-cut stones one above another, but off course, they were more than that. The masonry work would surely be excellent to last these many centuries. Talking about time, this was a 1000 yrs old fort, passed on from one dynasty to another over that period, each one adding to it’s list of structures. The area of the fort can be gauged from the fact that it encloses a series of rocky hills in that region, each building inside made up from cutting up those very rocks ( hence the most popular name ‘Kallina Kote’, meaning a ‘stone fortress’ ).
Bottom-line: This was a very large area for us to cover !
The very first gate gave me a lesson in ‘impregnability’. You couldn’t take a straight path up to it, and would have to traverse a maze like structure ( imagine huge stone walls forcing you to take a right->left->left ). Now imagine you have a huge army which needs to traverse this gate, and what if you’re on your elephant ? Thankfully, we only had our cameras and could easily pass through, clicking up! The gate opened up to a vast rocky expanse, and a singular path which ascended up to another gate. There were smaller paths to our left and to our right, and this is where each of us left on our own, with an implicit word to meet up once we had had our fill of pictures from the session !
I was determined not to miss out on anything and took the first left which pointed towards a temple and a ‘gunpowder’ grinding system. Strolling around and clicking up whatever I liked, I approached the grinders. It was a feeling of awe at the very instant that I saw them, especially since I had never seen anything like that before; surprisingly intact from those times gone by. Having taken pictures from every angle that I could deem possible, I got back to the main path and started climbing up. Gate after gate kept coming up and I kept ascending my way through. There are a total of 7 such concentric gates which need to be crossed, each higher than the other, and hence at a strategic advantage in case of an enemy attack. Also, each gate is flanked by high walls which have ‘barely visible’ openings to fire upon the enemy. Never ever forget mechanisms to pour hot boiling oil over those walls ! ‘Impregnable’ don’t you think 🙂 ? Hence another name for this fort: Ukkina Kote ( ‘Steel’ fort ). An information board near one of the gates read out that the British were highly relieved as they did not have to fight through to win this fort from it’s last ruler, Tipu Sultan. They had slain him at his main fort near Mysore before laying their hands on this one.
The terrain is rocky all through, and I could imagine soldiers using those rocks as cover even as they could easily see and fire upon their enemy down below.
I joined my group somewhere on my way up through those gates, and we spent the rest of the morning clicking up a variety of structures inside the fort ( temples, pillars, tanks etc. ), as also the rocky landscape which was all over the place. The highlight of the fort ( photographically speaking ) is a series of buildings, some of which are temples, while others were structures for entertainment and for the king to relax. We spent the last part of our morning there but soon realized that there’s lots more to cover. Sun was already up quite much, and light was pretty harsh by now. We decided to ‘breakfast’ our exhausted selves and take rest while waiting for the sun to get down. We were to come again in the evening to marvel at the ‘Kote’. The well known ‘Sri Laxmi Bhavan’ was our next stop for those hearty idli and dosas that were to satisfy our palate that morning. It’s very close to and walk-able from the fort. Just ask somebody or follow your GPS !
An uneventful afternoon passed us by, and we were once again geared up for our rendezvous with the fort. We started almost 2.5 to 3 hrs before the sunset time, as we didn’t want to miss out on any part of the fort or it’s lore ! Especially since there were other plans for the next day. We started off with a guide who entertained us with stories from the fort and showed us some of the places that we had missed out on our way up in the morning. There were these oil pits to be used for lamp-heads, guards’ rooms beneath the rocks, rock carvings from prehistoric times, water management systems, a gymnasium, the mint, swings used during special occasions ( some of their hooks still intact ), a small tank to mix up colors during holi, a secret passage behind one of the temples, the army chief’s now-ruined house, and granaries. This much, I can recount, and I’m sure I remember most of what I saw !
It was while we were at the main temple that we could see far-away ruins of the erstwhile palace chambers. They were still under renovation, and as such, there was no easy route to reach there. I took it as an invitation from the fort to come again, and I’m sure I will !
Sun was setting down now, and we were headed back to the main gate after hearing one last famous story from the guide. It is a about a lady called Obavva who was the wife of a guard at one of the secret entrances to the fort ( There are rumored to be many ! ). This guard had been asleep after having his lunch when his wife wanted to fetch some water from a nearby pool ( one from the water management system within the fort, this very small pool is called tanniru doni, and it was shown to us while on our way to see the secret entrance ). On her way to the pool, she saw a soldier from Hyder Ali’s army trying to sneak in through the hole. She hid herself out of his view and clubbed him to death as soon as he got in. Similar fate awaited quite a few other soldiers who tried to sneak in one after another. The hole being a very small one, only one person could enter through it at a time. It thus came through that Hyder Ali’s attack was repulsed on this particular occasion, and so the legend of ‘Onake Obavva’ lives on among people here. ‘Onake’ is the club which is used to pound grains under normal circumstances, and in this case was used to pound many of those enemy soldiers.
We were shown that very secret entrance, and the cave-like room where Obavva and her husband used to put up; a small temple nearby being witness to all that had happened on that fateful day few centuries ago.
Flush with the story and pictures that we had been taking through out the evening, we were now on our way back after seeing a few other structures ( there seemed no end to it ! ). Lights were out now in some portions of the fort. We used them to create a few beautiful night shots and moved on ! We knew we had still missed out on some portions of the fort ( a steep rocky climb would take us to a very high level for a good view of the surroundings, and then there was the jail ), but it was closing time and it was dark anyway.
We made our way out of the fort, content with the day’s proceedings. It was time for a filling dinner, and all of us thought it to be well deserved ! Once again, on to a famous place nearby ( this time, not walk-able ), called Hotel Aishwarya ‘Fort’, where you can bond over pretty decent food and drinks! A good option for family as well as for a bachelor get-together in the city I’m sure. We had a nice time discussing how the entire day had passed by. I wanted to go to the fort again the next day, to cover the remaining part of it. Not many people were in the mood for the same, and so we agreed to explore something else.
Dinner over, we rushed back to our rooms for the much needed rest. Some people ( including myself ) discussed star trails on the way, but all of us knew that we needed to head for the bed early; We wanted to catch the sunrise again next day, this time from a hill just outside the town. I never knew there was a hill so close from this supposedly hot place. And what more, you could drive up all the way to it’s summit !
Morning began early for us as we got ready one by one. It was still dark and having the GPS for assistance, we set out for this place called JogiMatti. It’s a hill station as well as a forest reserve near Chitradurga; and I’m sure would be a welcome break for it’s denizens to escape from the heat during summer months. It may have taken around half hr to reach the foothills and we could see a lot of morning walkers on the road uphill. We were told by some of the walkers that cars are not allowed on that road during early mornings ( don’t really remember the timings ), but that was when we had already reached the forest gates. It was still a bit dark, so a few among us tried to click up the ( full ) moon, while others went to make the usual inquiries with the guards.
After waiting at the gates for sometime and talking to the guards thereafter, we were allowed to take our cars inside the forest. There was already quite some light by now, and I guess it was well past the early morning restrictive timings. All of this contributed to our missing out on the sunrise ( which was not possible anyway given the restrictive timings, so no worries ! ). As soon as you enter the gates, your path continues straight, while another breaks off from it towards your right. We were told that the jogimatti summit lay ahead straight, while there was a temple and trek path towards the right ( There is a mini zoo as well which we found out on our way back ).
We took the path to the summit initially. It narrows down to a single lane road after some distance, and is not of good quality. A car can be driven, however, and it takes around half hr to reach the govt guest house at the summit ( It’s a 10-15 kms ride by conservative estimates ). The stairs to the summit start a little before the guest house gates. It’s not much of a climb and once you reach the top, you feel it’s all worth it. Its a vast expanse in front of you, with one hill after another. Add some mist to the scene and you get what you can call ‘breathtaking’ ! There is a raised platform as well for a better view from the top. All in all, you can spend a good half to one hr at the place taking in the scene and your pictures. There’s no restaurant, so if you want to have breakfast, make sure you carry your own.
On our way back, we took the other road near the gate, and it didn’t take us much time to reach the mini zoo, before which, a path cuts to your left towards a waterfall ( and a temple as well I guess ). You can’t take your vehicle from here, but you can ask inside the zoo and take a guide with you for the trek. Our group wasn’t big on it as the zoo guy was charging hefty, and it is not a famous place anyway. Again, I guess this place will command an hr from you if you’d like to do the (small) trek and wander about in the mini zoo for some time. We, however, drove all the way back to our place of stay from here, ready to get ready and move out ! Our morning session was a pleasing one indeed !
It took us another hour to check-out from the place, and we said our final good bye to the fort as well as to the city, but not before making a brief stop at the Chandravalli caves nearby ( barely 3 kms from the fort ). These man-made caves ( cut out underneath boulders ) are said to date back to the iron age. Of late, they were in use by kings as secret hide-outs for a host of purposes, as well as by sages of the Ankali mutt for meditation ( as well as for secret meetings with the kings, as told by our guide ! ). I guess they were in use for a host of clandestine purposes during the kings’ rule. It’s pitch dark inside and you will need your lights once you get in. Off course, a guide is totally necessary to take you through the cave’s intricate maze of rooms, and to soak in all the interesting tidbits about those days of yore ! It’s very easy to get lost if you’re all by yourself ( There’s an area inside where bats rest. A guide will help you avoid all of it as well. ).
Among the many rooms here, you will find rocky beds, bath chamber, a meditation area, the living room, a room used for teaching secret art forms !, and quite a few more marvels. It’s an entire housing unit inside those caves, and nothing on an ordinary scale ! It’s pretty much in ruins right now, and you can only imagine how it’d have been when fully functional !
It takes about an hour to cover the cave complex, after which, you can stroll in the garden outside, or spend some time near the lake. If you want to explore more, there’s a path which leads further on to a forest, though it was difficult to imagine such dense vegetation in a rocky and seemingly arid location as Chitradurga. We had not read much about any such forest here, and were bound by time constraints to move out. We did !
We were now headed for a hearty lunch at Hotel Aishwarya Fort again. It’s very close to the highway so all the more convenient.
Once on the highway, we were on our way back to Bangalore, but not before a stop at the famous Vani Vilas Sagar dam for a few shots. It’s a good 40kms inside from the highway, but the road is in a very nice condition. This dam is positioned quite naturally between hills on both sides, and the view is pretty decent. We spent a couple of hours taking in the pictures in the evening glow, and finally moved out when the gates closed around 6PM.
Back to Bangalore and ready to share my experience with you ! Do let me know your comments as usual 🙂 !
and, by the way, ( no trivia this ) the fort is how the town got it’s name ( Chitra-durga means ‘a beautiful fort’ ).
More pics: https://www.facebook.com/raj.abhishek/media_set?set=a.10153071984989761.1073741837.667394760&type=1&pnref=story
Flickr view of my photo-stream: https://www.flickr.com/photos/27741849@N03/with/16279483027