How often do we come across a place that boasts of cultural and architectural heritage along with undisturbed wilderness? Naya Qila (or New Fort) in Hyderabad, India was one such a place. An extended portion of the famous Golconda Fort built by Sultan Abdullah Qutb Shah as a defence against the Mughal armies, the place has other structures like Bagh-E-Qutb, an African Baobab tree, Mulla Kahyali and Mustafa Khan mosques, and the Naya Qila talab.
Since I stay very near to this place, I would often frequent it. After I have developed interest in birding, the visits only increased. The place was an absolute paradise for birdwatchers. My friend and I have explored a great part of the place and had sighted more than 40 bird species that also include the migratory ones like the Common Sandpiper, Rosy Starling and Ashy Drongo. There were various habitats like open forest, cultivation, marshes and scrubs that provide home to many flora and fauna.
The place never ceased to thrill us and we were always mesmerised by the sightings of various birds like the Blue-faced Malkoha, Indian Thicknee, Indian Roller, Grey-bellied Cuckoo and Purple Heron etc. If Grey Wagtails descended in hundreds, the migratory Rosy Starlings would come down in thousands. The pleasure of seeing and listening to them was supreme.
Blue-faced Malkoha, the shy enigma.
Naya Qila also has the biggest Baobab tree in India. The locals call it, Hathiyan ka Jhad (Elephant Tree). The tree which is around 500 years old is believed to have been planted by kings of the Qutub Shahi Dynasty. The aura around this tree is mystic.
African Baobab Tree ( November 2012)
Interestingly, the government in 2002 wanted to utilise Naya Qila as bird sanctuary. Later it was decided to develop an 18-hole golf course and the license was given to Hyderabad Golf Association (HGA). It was only a matter of time before this wonderful place would be pillaged and destroyed. The contours of the heritage precinct were changed, land was ploughed and the lake began disappearing. Trees were felled indiscriminately. Violations after violations continued to happen.
Land around 50 acres belonging to the local farmers was taken away by thegovernment. The displaced farmers have not been provided proper compensation. Despite protests from various civil society organisations, there has been little change. Hundreds of trucks and earthmovers deployed at the place, continue to ravage and degrade the ecology of Naya Qila. Fire set to the wild growth has charred the birds and animals to death.
The fire spread over hundreds of metres and burnt various life forms.
Today the entrance of the Naya Qila is fiercely guarded by many security personnel. Although visitor entry is still permitted, one is asked to write his/her name and mobile number in the book provided by the security guard. Many â€śinstructionsâ€ť and â€śwarningsâ€ť are given before one enters the site. Cameras will be confiscated. One can only visit the Baobab tree and not the mosques and other beautiful heritage structures. It would be an understatement to term this as abuse of authority.
At a time when heritage preservation is a growing environmental concern, degradation of Naya Qilaâ€™s ecology presents a glaring example of undervaluing our heritage. A place of historical importance has now been reduced to â€śdevelopmentâ€ť, termed here as â€śGolf courseâ€ť. Isnâ€™t it ironic that a haven of birds has now become a place where â€śbirdiesâ€ť are scored by the golfers?
I recently visited the site after a year. The peacocks, the starlings, the orioles, the nightjars, all have disappeared. The open forest is â€śmissingâ€ť and the water resource has been destroyed. Environmental values and ethics have been damned. In totality, a paradise has been lost.
This blog was originally written on September 4, 2014 by Adnan Uddin and has been republished with the author's permission. Read the author's blog here.
All photos: Adnan Uddin