27-Jun-2011

Hiking up Daulatabad Fort




My first visit to Ajanta-Ellora was a rushed day trip, fitted in between some demanding schedules to maximize time. A bunch of us arrived by overnight train into Aurangabad and after dragging our half-asleep selves into a car, managed to visit both Ajanta and Ellora in the course of a day. However, there was not enough time to ‘peep into’ Daulatabad Fort. I am glad I did not consign Daulatabad to just a quick dekko.

This time around, with D in tow, we had a proper weekend to explore the region and Daulatabad Fort got its own special place in the itinerary.

We had been warned that the Fort involved some climbing and so we smartly scheduled our visit for the morning. The weather was perfect – rainy weather, without the rains and the humidity. This helped us a lot during the day because despite being tired, we never felt hot, sweaty and bothered.

The Fort has a fairly longish history, with various rulers having used it over the years and adding their own special contribution. The structure as it is now began evolving with the Yadavas in 1180s, was hijacked by Allaudin Khilji, and under Tughlaq was capital city for a brief while in 1320s.

The best way to discover the fort seemed to be to ramble around and explore the small buildings, tanks, passageways et al and slowly meander to the top. We picked up one of the cheap ‘guide’ books that gave a map of the area and named all the structures and sometimes even gave a brief history/description. This turned out to be a useful buy since we could move at our own pace without a guide and still not be lost.

The entrance was quite impressive with a whole range of cannons. From there, we could see a couple of water storage tanks that looked absolutely beautiful. The surrounding greenery was a strange combination of manicured lawns and the general forest. Near one of the tanks, we could hear really loud peacock calls in the wild and managed to spot one jumping onto a tree (I did not realize peacocks could do this).

From the tanks, it was onto the Bharat Mata pavilion. The open courtyard was flanked by beautiful, broken pillars with intricate work and you could hear your voice echo all around the courtyard. In one end was a sincere but amateurish statue of Bharat Mata, erected by the Nizams of Hyderabad (who last owned this place) when Hyderabad became a part of independent India.

The small, well-maintained lawns made an appearance again and would have been a lovely spot for a picnic, but for the few monkeys hanging around.

Next stop was at Chand Minar, built in the Iranian style and looking quite unostentatious.

From here, the actual climbing bit slowly began. Through a series of easy steps, we passed a couple of grand doorways and landed up at ‘Chini Mahal’. The remanants of the China Clay tiles from which this place got its name could still be seen. It was supposedly a jail for royal prisoners, but did not look particularly fancy to me. Slightly further up, mounted on its own special platform was a cannon with a ram head, that could swirl and target for miles around.

At this stage, we reached the moat. The moat was one of the Fort’s many defence mechanisms and had two bridges – a metal one created in the early 1950s to replace a crocodile-leather wrapable bridge and another stone bridge at a lower level that could be immersed by raising the water level when enemies came. Needless to say the moat was once filled with blood thirsty crocodiles but now was a slimy green with an island of mineral water bottles.

Crossing over to the other side and through some passages, the next defence mechanism came into view. A tricky and pitch-dark 50-mtr passage that could lead unknowing travelers to immediate death if they took the wrong turn. Luckily an alternate route had been built in the bright sunlight and we could avoid the ancient traps.

Up and up we went, climbing various steps, entering darks rooms to climb even more steps..this could have been like being in Harry Potter but for the hordes of tourists scurrying their way busily past the sights and sounds with the single goal of reaching the top and ticking the Fort off their ‘to-do’ list for the day.

We did not scurry so much. Unfortunately it was as much on account to pause to take in the greenery and birdcalls and the structures, as it was to catch our poor urban-bred breath. Older people, women in high heels, men carrying babies in their arms, all of them walked past us while we pretended to enjoy the view, huffing and puffing.

Eventually we reached the topmost layer of the fort. The only standing structure here was Baradari, a roomy 12-arched remarkably well-preserved structure built by Shahjehan. The wind was quite nice and brisk and we pressed on. Though this was the top and we could see our car as a tiny white dot somewhere on the ground, we were still not at the very top. After the Baradari, we went past an old cave where some holymen were said to have meditated, past an old cannon and to the pinnacle – where the Indian flag is hoisted on Independence Day.

What was meant to be a 45 minute walk had turned into a 2 hour climb. It is probably one of the best short-hiking experiences I have had. The fort was engaging, the views around pleasing and the walk, tiring in a pleasant manner.

Definitely worth a visit.

3 comments:

hAAthi said...

Iv been there (Ajanta, Ellora, Daulatabad Fort) 13 years ago on a school trip. And this post just brought back a whole lot of lovely memories :)

Makes me want to go back, to see if I can enjoy it in a new light. As a grown up, interested in photography, without hormone-driven boys to distract us ;)

Anita said...

hAAthi - yes, yes. Go back. Bet it will be more interesting now

Rahul said...

beautifully explained... Fort is an incredible place... hiking uphill was awesome...you can get a picturesque view of surroundings from the Top...