Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Hyderabad - Golconda Fort, Charminar & Chowmahalla Palace

A two night three day weekend visit to Hyderabad was planned and undertaken.

We had an agenda. A visit and meal at the Taj Faluknama [a detailed post on that experience will follow] and some sightseeing – the Charminar, Golconda Fort and Chowmahalla Palace. We were travelling and doing “touristy” things in India after years. This was going to be fun.

One lesson rapidly learnt was that unlike in the West, you simply cannot walk on our Indian roads. We attempted to go to the iconic Necklace Road around Tank Bund but gave up. Second, Concierges simply do not have maps to give out. Third, except in Mumbai, rickshaw drivers, all over, are bastards, without exception. They charge what they like with no sense of proportion, Rs. 100 for a 2 Km ride. Fourth, no one understands what you speak. I do not speak French, German, Swedish or Italian, but that taxi driver will follow what I am saying. He can read the slip of paper on which I have written my destination. In India no driver can follow what you are saying. You may as well be speaking Spanish. Plus, you will get a long diatribe in a mix of Hindi and Telugu with lots of hand gestures, all incomprehensible. The silver lining is the Uber and Ola service. Saved the day. Thank God.

So, bottom line, tourism in India is very difficult unless you spend wads of cash in getting a Hotel car – approx. Rs. 5000/- per day for the usual 80 kms 8 hour package. If we were so bloody frustrated I cannot imagine the plight of normal foreign tourists.

First stop the Golconda Fort. A very pleasant guide latched onto us. I have no idea if what he told us was truth or fiction. Since I know no better, you will get what he told us. Some things are factual. Many of the important diamonds – Kohinoor, Hope, Regent and many others were mined in this area. The Fort was established by the kings of the Kakatiya Dynasty [which is why the ITC Hotel in Hyderabad is called Kakatiya] and finally fell into the hands of the Bahmani Sultanate. The Fort was developed hugely. A particular feature of the Fort is the excellent acoustics and the extremely breezy rooms. A clap of the hands at the main gate or the Fateh Darwaza echoes 24 times on account of the 24 diamond shapes [6 on each of the 4 sides] on the ceiling. Not only is there this echo but the clap can be heard at the Bala Hissar pavilion at the very top of the Fort, probably, a kilometer away. As you would have guessed, this was an early warning system for intruders. This was a self-contained Fort with an elaborate plumbing system.

The Carvings at the Fateh Darwaza

The diamond shapes cut into the Fateh Darwaza 

The sound goes all the way to the top

The queen’s quarters were huge and elaborate. Apparently, they were 3 storey structures, all of which have no collapsed or been destroyed. You can see the stray column clearly indicating the presence of upper floors. 

You can clearly decipher that these structures had upper floors

The Hindu Mystic/Saint Ram Dass, an employee of the ruler, much like our modern day Gurus, pilfered the ruler’s money, and was imprisoned. He wrote a bulk of the bhajans while imprisoned. A temple is made in his cell.

An abandoned Mosque

Tombs of some of the Sultans

The Bahmani Sultanate grew over the years and controlled large swathes of the Deccan Plateau. Aurangzeb started a battle and lay siege to the Fort, which as we have read ad-nauseam in Amar Chitra Kathas, was impregnable. The siege continued for years and ended when a traitor opened the gates and it was all over. Sigh! Aurangzeb promptly had everyone killed and the Fort/Palace destroyed. The Fort was neglected and looted over the following centuries by all and sundry. Today, much has been restored and the Archeological Survey of India [ASI] is in charge. It is a huge task. I must say that the Fort and its environs are quite clean, not as clean as the Victoria Memorial and its Gardens but clean enough. It is very sad that, to repeat a cliché’ we Indians are just wild, uncaring, allegedly Nationalistic but care so little for these monuments. Walls have names graffitied all over them, bottles and food packets are thrown around and not cleaned up. This is very sad.  But again, the Fort was clean by Indian tourism standards.

The Fort is built on a hillside and it takes some 360 steps to reach the top. It was a really glorious day, clear blue skies, a stiff cool breeze and bright and sunny. Great for photography. Frankly, and I say this with all sincerity, the Fort was much better than a lot of what we saw in Portugal. Plus, the visit was certainly not as back breaking and difficult or hot as most monuments in Lisbon. The Golconda Fort is well worth a visit.

From the Fort a convenient Uber ride took us to Charminar. A long serpentine queue of many unwashed masses meant that we were not going to go inside. If you buy a ticket you can climb to the top. We settled for a quick photo amid the cacophony of car horns and whistles of frustrated hapless policemen.

Photo taken, we walked to the Chowmahalla Palace. This is about 500 meters from the Charminar. The Chowmahalla Palace was the seat of the Nizams. This property is still owned by the Nizam, like the Falaknuma Palace, and is fairly well maintained. There are guards whistling and shooing people away from restricted areas. The walls are adorned with elaborate plaster carving and are really quite beautiful. Some of the private chambers were still magnificent.

I do suggest that if you have a day free in Hyderabad, you do certainly visit not only the Golconda Fort but this quite lovely, dignified and understated Chowmahalla Palace. Well worth it.

Enjoy the photos.

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