8 reasons why golconda fort tops the hyderabad bucket list

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. ❤

Travel tips:

  • 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.

36 hours in hyderabad old city

My auto rickshaw driver chats away animatedly in impeccable Urdu as he navigates through the narrow by-lanes. We are on our way to the heart and soul of Hyderabad—Charminar and its immediate vicinity. It is 8 am and the old, still drowsy, historical, cultural, and commercial hub lined with shuttered shops is just about yawning itself awake.

Me: Dukaane kitne bajje khulte hai? [When do the shops open?]

Maqsood [the auto rickshaw driver]: Hyderabad nawaabo ka shahar hai. Nawaabi se uthte hai, phursat se kaam pe aate hai. 11 aur 12 ke baad le ke chalo. [Hyderabad is the city of nawaabs (Muslim ruling princes). They wake up at leisure and come to work at leisure. Say post 11 or 12 noon.]

And nope, there was no pun intended.

Despite the decades following its relinquishment of princely status in 1948, the city of Hyderabad, once capital of Hyderabad State and prior to that the Golconda Sultanate, still wears a veil of gentility. Of refined conversations and artistic sensibilities. The people are a little kinder. With all its love for bling and gold, the local lifestyles are a little simpler.

The unusual mix of an imported Islamic culture from Persia and Turkey into a distinctly Deccan geography and indigenous Telegu populace is responsible for Hyderabad’s rather unique identity. Continue reading

the forgotten qutb shahi royal tombs of hyderabad

The first thing I noticed about Hyderabad, a 400-year-old city on the banks of the River Musi in the Deccan, was the colour of its grass. It is a deep shamrock green awash with light. I had not seen such a green elsewhere in my travels.

I wonder if Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, fifth ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty [also known as the Golconda Sultanate], felt the same way when he founded the city of Hyderabad way back in 1591. Did the green charm him as much as it did me?

Avid builders and equally avid poets, the Qutb Shahi dynasty was founded by Sultan Quli Qutb ul Mulk, Governor of Telangana under the Bahamani court. As was the norm back then of setting up sovereign states, once the last Bahamani ruler died followed with the disintegration of his empire, Quli Qutb ul Mulk declared Golconda an independent kingdom and himself its Sultan.

Builders of the gigantic Golconda Fort perched atop a hill, the iconic Charminar in the heart of Hyderabad’s Old City, and the nearby Mecca Masjid said to be built with bricks made of clay all the way from Mecca, the Qutb Shahis were Turkmen from Central Asia. Continue reading

global travel shot: the 6th nizam of hyderabad’s wardrobe

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When you are one of the richest men in the world, a ruler of a princely State where diamonds are measured in kilograms and pearls by acres, and have an obsession for fine clothes, lots of fine clothes—this is what your wardrobe looks like. 🙂 Continue reading

the walking sticks collection at salar jung museum, hyderabad

Have you ever been to a museum gallery dedicated to just walking sticks? Yup, you read me right—walking sticks. In all shapes and sizes, in cane, Malacca cane, wood, sandalwood, ivory, fish-bone, jade, glass, metal, and leather. Walking sticks with snuff boxes, and umbrellas and gupti [blades] inside. Where some handle heads are decorated with semi-precious stones, some lined with silver and gold, and others yet shaped as horse hooves, shoes, classical figurines, and the various inmates of an animal farm.

Bet you have not! 😀 Continue reading

blogging workshops with me: evolve your blogging skills

Four years ago I was forced to re-evaluate my life. My father was in hospital and I ended up spending a lot of time waiting—waiting for visiting hours, counselling meetings with the doctors, test results. Times like these force one to look within and ask questions.

A seemingly simple enough question asked of me by my sister, over a coffee in the hospital cafeteria, triggered it further: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I did not have an answer. And that scared me. Like shit. It made me realize how disconnected I had become with my own self.

On the surface I had a fancy job in a fancy office. I worked from 9 to 9. But I had become so engrossed in the minutiae of deadlines and meetings, wrapped in the trees I had stopped looking at the forest aka myself and my journey.

A series of soul-searching questions later, I left my job, moved to Bombay and set up The Communique. I just knew I had to live out my purpose.

Purpose is a funny thing, wouldn’t you agree? Once we find it, it is hard to let go of it. I was lucky I discovered it—yes, it was in the same hospital. My dad was discharged, declared weak but on the road to recovery. And I walked by his side, with clarity in each footstep.

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while would have surmised I love blogging. It is a deep seated love which goes back 19 years. Building capacity in communication is the purpose which brought me to Bombay in 2014. A commitment to share my learnings in communication acquired over two decades of experience and study. Rather disparate, you will agree. Blogging and capacity building in communication. And for quite a while I accepted them as separate facets of myself where the twain were unlikely to meet.

Till three months ago. Continue reading