Back from Hyderabad, the first thing I am invariably asked is:
“So you saw the Golconda Fort?”
It is almost a precondition to determine the authenticity of one’s journey to the city.
[Note: The other qualifiers are Charminar and Hyderabadi Biryani.]
After spending an entire day at the site, as well as part of the night, I figured it boiled down to 8 things which make the fort the magnum opus of Hyderabad. If you have a 9th, 10th, or 11th, please do share.
But first, some dates to put things in context:
1143 AD—Golconda Fort is first built as a mud fortification by the Kakatiya kings of Warangal.
1364 AD—The fort passes into the hands of the Bahmani Sultanate as part of a treaty.
1518 AD—Sultan Quli Qutb ul Mulk, founder of the Qutb Shahi dynasty makes the fort his capital. He and his descendants build the present stone structure.
1687 AD—Mughal emperor Aurangzeb annexes the kingdom [and fort] to his empire.
1724 AD—Asaf Jah, the first Nizam moves his capital to Hyderabad. The fort is left to the ravages of time.
1. Mind-boggling architectural statistics
Golconda is not one single fort but a fort complex spread over 11 sq. kilometres made of 4 fort districts surrounded by a 10-kilometre-long stone outer wall interspersed with 87 semi-circular bastions, 8 gateways, 52 windows, and 4 draw-bridges, perched atop a hill. Whew! It took me 4 hours to explore just the main fort, Bala Hissar, but then I am also a slow traveller. 🙂
Inside the crenelated walls are palaces, durbar halls, government offices, temples, mosques, stables, granaries, armouries, mortuary baths, and water tanks which once buzzed with life. Forty-eight subterranean tunnels weave below the ground, while emerald green gardens embellish the slopes with remnants of swings the royal young once played on and a “badi baoli” [big well] replete with an artificial waterfall.
2. The Golconda diamonds
Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. They also were the Qutb Shahi Sultans’ best friend.
Four hundred years ago the land around the Golconda Fort was packed with these rocks. The pale pink Daria-i-Noor at 182 carats in Iran’s crown jewels, pure white Koh-i-Noor at 105.6 carats in the Queen Mother’s crown, and dark greyish-blue Hope Diamond at 45.52 carats in the Smithsonian Institute, were all excavated from these plains.
The only known diamond mines in the world during the Qutb Shahi dynasty (1518 – 1687)—were in fact in India—and Golconda, their fortress city, was the diamond trade’s global hub. No surprises then that the word “Golconda” became synonymous with a “rich mine” or “great wealth” in the English language amongst Europeans then and thereafter.
3. Bala Hissar Gate: Beauty and brains
Strutting peacocks, decorative sun dials, and prancing lions gaze down at the visitor from the Bala Hissar Gate leading into the upper fort. It is a picturesque affair with its Hindu-Islamic blend of motifs. It is also the most photographed part of Golconda Fort. With good reason.
But Bala Hissar Gate is not all beauty. The only entrance to the upper fort and the biggest gate in the entire Golconda Fort, it is pretty smart too. Behind the lattice edged roof were once seated hidden garrison forces. And a hole in the middle of the gate was used to pour hot oil or melted lead onto the heads of unsuspecting enemies perchance they were to enter the fortified stronghold.
4. If you are happy and you know it, clap your hands
The first thing one is met with on entering Bala Hissar [the upper fort] is everyone clapping away inside the main gate’s adjoining portico. Clueless travellers, jaded guides, gleeful children et al. I clapped too, for fear of appearing as a non-believer. 😛
It is said the vibrations from the portico can be felt at the Baradari [durbar hall] on the topmost part of the fort. In a time when cell phones did not exist, the Sultans and their populace managed to devise methods to know what was happening around the vast grounds, and be warned of any imminent danger. You could always send part of your entourage up and try and verify this claim. Or you could just clap and feel happy about it!
5. Bonalu, the colourful folk festival at Golconda
Centuries before the Qutb Shahi Sultans took possession of the rocky outcrop of Golconda, it was a “Shepherd’s Hill” or “Golla Konda.”
A temple dedicated to Mahakali stood on the hill and every year during Ashadha [the Hindu month corresponding to June/ July] a colourful folk festival called Bonalu both appeased and celebrated the goddess and her prowess. The first bonam or meal was offered to her. The festival ended at her feet.
Despite being enclosed in an ensuing Muslim fort, the festival lives on. Blood smatterings, shamanic chants, and brightly bedecked bare-foot pilgrims throng the path to the temple. Unhindered by the passage of time, goats are to-date sacrificed to the goddess in thanksgiving accompanied with re-enactments of stories from Hindu scriptures.
6. 360 degree views from Baradari, the two-storeyed crowning glory of Golconda
Let me warn you. It is a steep climb. Three hundred and sixty stone steps wrap around the rocky outcrop from the Bala Hissar Gate to Baradari, the assembly hall of the upper fort.
It is hard put to distinguish boulder from edifice here—the two seem to grow out of each other. The path, carved out of living rock, meanders through gigantic water tanks for storing rain water and barood khanas aka gun powder warehouses.
One is rewarded for the exertion up around 500 feet with 360 degree views of Hyderabad. The royal Qutb Shahi tombs, old city, and the glass and steel Hyderabad of today. In the far distance you can even see Hyderabad’s twin city of Secunderabad. The Baradari, dear reader, is where the Golconda Sultans held their durbars.
7. Palaces named after favoured courtesans
The Rani Mahal Complex at the foot of the hill is an ensemble of poetic palaces evocatively named Pem Mati and Tara Mati. So who were these ladies?
Pem Mati was Sultan Abdullah Qutb Shah, the 7th Sultan’s [1614 – 1672] beloved dancer, whilst Tara Mati was the favourite singer of Sultan Mohammed Qutb Shah, the 5th Sultan [1566 – 1612]. They both are buried close to their Sultans in the royal cemetery.
Rising above the arched rooms filled with niches, fountains and manicured gardens is the elegant Tara Mati mosque, a perfect example of Qutb Shahi architecture. And a perfect conclusion to a walk, at times strenuous, and at others one of sheer joy, through Hyderabad’s most famous attraction.
8: Its Sound and Light show
A dramatic narrative of the story of the Qutb Shahi dynasty and Golconda Fort held in the midst of the palace complex every night. ❤
- Getting to Golconda Fort: The fort is 11 kilometres west of the old city.
- Timings: 9:00 am – 5:30 pm.
- Ticket: Rs. 10 for Indians; Rs. 100 for foreigners; Photography charges: Rs. 30.
- Sound and light show: A feast for the eyes and ears with Amitabh Bachchan doing the voice-over for the Hindi version. Timings: 7:00 pm [English, daily]; 8:15 pm [Hindi/ Telegu, alternate days]. Tel: 040 2351 2401.
- Guide: You don’t really need one. Buy the guidebook instead. It is a brightly coloured A5 printed booklet full of typos and bad grammar, but works wonderfully well in ensuring you find your way through the massive complex punctuated with explanatory signage outside key monuments.