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Hyderabad is most famous for its iconic Charminar (‘four minarets’) monument. But the Golconda Fort is where the history of the city first began. From here, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, ruler of the kingdom of Golconda, decided to build a city on the Musi river. And so Hyderabad was born.
The Golconda hill is said to have been fortified as far back as the mid-1100s. But it was the Qutb Shahi rulers who built the impressive fort that one sees today. Until Hyderabad was founded, this fort (and the city within) was the capital of the Golconda kingdom. Most of it is still densely populated to this day. The outer walls of this sprawling fort are approximately eight kilometres long, and enclose an area of about three square kilometres. Though the central citadel of Bala Hissar is the most famous part of the fort, the outer walls and ramparts have some very interesting sights to see, too.
The outer gates
The outer walls have eight ‘darwazas’ or gates to different directions. The three largest gates— Makki (or Makkah) darwaza, fateh darwaza, and banjara darwaza, are definitely worth a closer look. Sadly, you can’t stop while driving through the massive Makki darwaza because it’s part of the military cantonment. But banjara darwaza and the fateh darwaza are open to the public.
Each gate was built at the end of a curved passage, so battering rams or elephants couldn’t build up enough speed to attack the gates. The gates were also studded with knobs and spikes, to discourage elephants even more. The Makki darwaza has two sets of massive iron-bound wooden gates, with a defensible space between. The banjara darwaza and fath darwaza have only one set of gates.
Interestingly, the banjara darwaza has a Hindu shrine built into one of its now-permanently open doors, and a Muslim shrine on top of its battlements. There’s also a little garden at the gate, from where you can watch traffic as it snakes through the gates in alternating directions.
A morning at banjara darwaza
We began our exploration of the outer ramparts with a visit to banjara darwaza at around 9:30 in the morning. They day was cloudy and cool, with great weather for walking (but not so great for photography). We parked a little before the curved approach to the road, and walked up to get some pictures. Though some political billboards spoiled the view a bit, the walls were still impressive. And we were pleasantly surprised to see traffic through the gate being regulated!
It used to be a nightmare, with traffic from both sides getting stuck while trying to squeeze through the narrow gate at the same time. Now, traffic lights and policemen allow traffic through only one side at a time, at 30-second intervals. This had been the case at the army-controlled Makki darwaza for quite some time. But seeing it done at the banjara darwaza as well was a great start to the morning.
Another pleasant sight (in today’s atmosphere of distrust) was the coexistence of the Hindu and Muslim shrines embedded in the gate. The saffron and green colours contrasted nicely with each other.
Admiring the gate
The gate was quite impressive in the morning light. The crenelated walls of the corridor leading up to the gate forced the traffic to snake between them. And the solid gate itself, with its spiked wooden doors, looked both forbidding and beautiful. The gates are now permanently open thanks to the layers of asphalt between them. But one can just imagine what they looked like when they were barred shut, and people were only allowed in through the tiny hatch that now houses the Hindu shrine. It’s a wonder that the wood of the doors has lasted the centuries, even though the spikes on the outer doors haven’t. The inner doors still sport rows upon rows of wicked, six-inch long steel spikes, though.
We spent about half an hour admiring the gate and its surrounding walls, and watching the traffic drive through. Then it was on to our next stop: Naya Qila.
Getting to banjara darwaza
The easiest way to get to banjara darwaza from the old Mumbai highway side is to take the road next to the passport office and keep going for about 2.5 kilometres. You’ll pass the Qutb Shahi tombs on your right after about 1.5 kilometres, and then the entrance to the Hyderabad Golf Club a little later. Once you see the walls of the fort, you’ve arrived. Use this Google Maps location to navigate.
The Naya Qila or ‘new fort’ is an approximately 115-acre extension to the outer fortifications built in the mid-1650s. It was supposedly built as an additional defence against the Mughal army after their first siege weakened the original outer walls of the fort in that location.
Naya Qila is said to have contained a magnificent garden with pavilions, mosques and a series of interlinked pools, and the massive ‘hathiyan ka jhad’ (‘elephant tree’) baobab tree in one corner. Today, nothing remains of the gardens. In the late 1990s, the state government gave over almost all the land in Naya Qila to a private golf club, supposedly to ‘promote tourism’. Since then, the Hyderabad Golf Club has turned this priceless piece of heritage into an 18-hole golf course, knocking down a large section of the outer wall in the process! Luckily, they left the giant baobab standing.
Now, almost the entire area of Naya Qila is now off limits to the public, except for a single rampart and the hathiyan ka jhad. The government, though, has plans of recreating a section of the old gardens near the entrance of Naya Qila. Only time will tell how that shapes up.
We admire the hathiyan ka jhad, and discover a massive cannon
As we drove through the entrance of Naya Qila towards the hathiyan ka jhad, I had mixed feelings. The last time I had been there, more than 20 years ago, the place had been neglected and overgrown. Now, the pristine lawns of the gold club spread out on both sides. The sight was much nicer, but at the cost of everything being out or bounds.
We drove on for a while, until the road suddenly turned a corner and narrowed drastically. Something was wrong; we were inside the golf course. As we were looking around to get our bearings, a frantic security guard came running up. We explained that we were in search of the hathiyan ka jhad. He explained that we had just missed it, and would we please turn around and get off the course. We did, but not before a run-in with a golf cart full of golfers in the middle of their round. One irascible old gentleman, his sense of privilege outraged, ticked us off about being where we weren’t supposed to be. To his credit, he calmed down once we explained that it wasn’t intentional. They really should put up a sign, though.
At the hathiyan ka jhad
The tree turned out to be just a few meters before the turn onto the course, and we had missed it completely. Not only had the surroundings become unrecognizable since I was there last, the tree had more leaves on it that I had ever seen before! So much so that its massive trunk was almost completely obscured. Up close, it began to look more familiar. The huge, segmented trunk (which supposedly takes 24 people to encircle it with arms outstretched) was just the way I remembered. And so were the initials carved into it by visitors over the centuries. No one knows just how old the tree is, but speculations range between 400 and 800 years. The carved initials high up in the branches indicate that the tree might be very old indeed.
The security guard was kind enough to let us through the fence surrounding the tree, so we made the most of it. We even toyed with the idea of climbing up and into the tree’s famous central hollow, but thought better of it. Instead, we explored the derelict mosque next door for a while. From there, a few tall ramparts caught our eye, and we decided to see if we could climb one of them.
Up the ramparts of Naya Qila
It turned out, only one was open to the public, and that was a short walk back down the road. So we walked. It wasn’t a very pleasant walk. An open drain flowed alongside the road, so polluted that the water was foaming! Some of the foam was even being blown across the road by the wind! We later found out that the drain was originally a canal that supplied drinking water when Naya Qila was built, from a lake just outside the walls. Today, the densely populated areas around the lake dump raw sewage into it, from where it flows into Naya Qila and across the pristine golf course…
We managed to run the gauntlet and reach the rampart in question. The security guard there gave us strict instructions not to go anywhere else, and to come straight back down once we were done. We agreed, and made our way up the steep granite steps to the top. We were greeted by a magnificent view. The rampart was one of the highest points around, and we could see the rest of the fort to one side, and to the other, the city beyond the outer walls.
The view and a cannon
The view was so nice that, for a moment, we didn’t see the massive bronze cannon lying at the top. I’d never seen this one before! At least 18 feet long, and green with age, it lay on the ground still pointing in the direction from which Aurangzeb’s army must have attacked. We later learned that the cannon was said to have been left behind by Aurangzeb during his first unsuccessful siege. Whatever its story, the cannon added a lot to the air of history on top of that bastion.
After half an hour of enjoying the view and the breeze, we headed back to the car. Our next objective was the most famous of all cannons in Golconda, the magnificent Fateh Rahbar (‘guide to victory’). This was on the other side of the fort from where we were, so we had to drive out of Naya Qila. On the way, we passed the land earmarked for the new garden, and the ‘interpretation centre’ that showcased the history of Naya Qila. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stop.
Getting to the hathiyan ja jhad
To get to Naya Qila, turn left immediately after entering banjara darwaza. Make your way through the traffic as best you can (the road leads through a colony) for about a kilometre. On the way, you’ll pass the Jamali darwaza (a gate like banjara darwaza, but smaller). That’s not the one you’re looking for. You’ll finally get to a gate in the fort wall on the left, with a security guard. Tell the guard you’re headed for the hathiyan ka jhad and he’ll let you in.
Once you’re in, keep driving up the main path (it gets a bit narrow at times) for about a kilometre. Keep an eye out for a fence enclosing a mosque to your left. The tree is so big, it sometimes registers as a little forest when it has all its leaves, so watch out. Especially because the path beyond is off limits, and no one thought to put up a sign! You can use these directions to get to Naya Qila and the hathiyan ka jhad from banjara darwaza.
Petla Burj and Fateh Rahbar
Petla Burj (‘round-bellied bastion’) is a prominent hilltop battlement in the western side of the outer wall. It probably got its name from the fact that it forms a bulge in a wall that is otherwise relatively round. Petla Burj, though not very well maintained, holds the impressive Fateh Rahbar (‘guide to victory’) cannon. At 16 feet long, weighing 16.5 tons and made of ornately decorated dark green bronze, this cannon is a piece of art.
Like the cannon in Naya Qila, Fateh Rahbar was also used by Aurangzeb to besiege Golconda. But it seems this one was used during the second siege and not the first. After Golconda was conquered (by treachery, after force had failed), the cannon was placed on Petla Burj. It is still there today, facing the general direction of tombs of the vanquished Qutb Shahi kings. One wonders whether Aurangzeb did this deliberately, and what he meant to imply.
Looking out over the city from Petla Burj
I had been to Petla Burj a little more recently than I had been to Naya Qila (maybe 15 years ago), so getting there was quite easy. I was amazed at how built-up the approach to the bastion had become, though. And we were also quite sad to see that the path up to the bastion now led through a garbage dump. We didn’t feel like walking through the dump, so we drove a little way up past the dump, and parked where we couldn’t drive any further. As we walked the rest of the way up the rain-damaged path, we were followed by a few boys from the school below.
The short stone stairway up to the top of the bastion was badly neglected and overgrown. In short, just like I remembered. But the view at the top was different. Where I remembered an unrestricted view of the magnificent tombs, we instead saw that the city had spread in front and behind them. They looked like an oasis of history slowly being engulfed by the urban landscape.
Up close with Fateh Rahbar
The cannon, though, was as impressive as I remembered. With its complex embossed floral patterns and ornate calligraphy, it looked like something out of an Arabian fairy tale. Various stubborn vandals had managed to scratch their initials into the hard metal over the years, but that didn’t lower it in our eyes. We could have done without the constant chatter of those curious schoolboys, though! Thankfully, they pushed off after a while, and we had the place to ourselves.
After another quarter hour or so of soaking in the atmosphere, our stomachs reminded us that it was time for lunch. So off we went, back down the granite steps, down the path to the car, through the garbage dump, past the inner citadel and out through the massive Makki darwaza, in search of lunch. Our morning among the secrets of Golconda’s outer ramparts had come to an end. But there remains so much more to explore and discover!
Getting to Petla Burj
Getting to petal burj from banjara darwaza is relatively easier than getting to Naya Qila. Enter banjara darwaza, and head straight for about a kilometre. After you pass the katora houz open tank on your left, the main road turns left. Turn right instead, and keep going until the end of the road. Use these directions to get here from banjara darwaza. Park wherever you can, and take the path (yes, through the garbage dump) up to the fort wall. Take the path to the right at the fork after the dump. Once you get to the wall, a flight of steps will lead you up to the top of the bastion.
IQ’s top tips for Golconda Fort
- Traffic on Golconda fort’s narrow, winding roads can be a nightmare. Keep your cool and be patient, and you’ll eventually get through.
- Going on a working day might be a good idea. The flow of visitors to the inner citadel on weekends makes the traffic worse.
- Naya Qila is usually open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. But the golf club sometimes restricts entry during tournaments.
- Jamali darwaza is a nice gate at which to take pictures, too. Just ignore the garbage and detritus.
- Be nice to the security guard at the hathiyan ka jhad, and he’ll let you into the enclosure around the tree. He’ll expect a tip, though.
- If you want to see the huge cannon on the bastion in Naya Qila, ask someone to point you in the right direction. You can park near the fenced-off path that leads up to it, if you want to avoid walking through the flying foam from the open drain next to the path.
- For some reason, Google Maps calls the Naya Qila cannon Fateh Rahbar. That’s a mistake. Fateh Rahbar is on Petla Burj, not in Naya Qila. As far as I know, the Naya Qila cannon is just called ‘bada thōp’ (‘big cannon’).
- When parking near Petla Burj, you might want to ask someone before you park. The houses are packed close together, and you don’t want to park in front of someone’s door by mistake. Also, being nice to someone might make them more inclined to keeping an eye on your car while you’re gone.
- On clear days, if you look to the east, you can see the Charminar from Petla Burj, 10 kilometres away. It’ll take a pair of binoculars or a good zoom lens for a clear view, though.
- Wear jeans or trousers while exploring the outer ramparts. Many areas are overgrown, and walking through the bushes in shorts or a skirt might not be pleasant.
- It gets surprisingly windy up on the bastions, both in Naya Qila and on Petla Burj. If you’re going in winter, take a jacket.
- Whichever season you visit in, take some water along. Climbing up the bastions can be quite tiring.
(Click to enlarge)
- ‘Hyderabad, 400 years (1591-1991)’, by Raza Alikhan
- ‘A guide to the heritage of Hyderabad: The natural and the built’, by Madhu Vottery
- ‘Fath Raihbar—The massive bronze cannon at Petla Burj of Golconda fort’, by R. Balasubramaniam, Indian Journal of History of Science 3 (2005) 409-429
- ‘RTI reply holds out hope for heritage buffs’, The Hindu
- Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golkonda