Located just 25 kilometres from Vijayawada, this monument dates back to the 13th century and is rich in history.

Off the tourist grid Kondapalli Fort is the perfect getaway for history and nature loversPhotography: Kush Badhwar
news Heritage Monday, December 18, 2017 - 16:16

Are you craving to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life to the quietude of nature and the majesty of old monuments?

Kondapalli Fort is the perfect place for all this and more.

One morning, we set out to find this famed fort, which lies 25 kilometres from Vijayawada. The easiest way to get there, we learn, is to follow National Highway 65. Just as our eyes adjust to the greens of the fields around us – so different from the greys we are used to seeing in the city – we chance upon the giant ramparts, made entirely of granite, of the fort.

Kondapalli Fort, also called Kondapalli Kota or Kondapalli Killa, dates back to the 13th century and boasts of a rich history.

Kondapalli, in Andhra Pradesh, is famous world over for its exquisite wooden toys – each one carefully created by master craftsmen. The fort that lies just a stone’s throw from Kondapalli village.

Built in 1360 AD by Anna Vemareddy after he captured Kondapalli from Mudigonda Chalakyulu, the fort has been home to several dynasties – from the Reddy rulers to the Nizam Nawabs, and then the East India Company.

This fabulous structure has three main gates: the first, Golconda Darwaza, lies near Jaggiahpeta village, the second, a much smaller gate, lies near Kondapalli village, and the third, the main gate, is called Dargah Darwaza.

It lies near Gulam Shah Dargah, and hence the name. Currently, 60-year-old Syed Naseer acts as the caretaker of the dargah – his family has traditionally been the guardians of the tomb.

When we ask him about the large water tanks that sit above the hill, Syed says that they were constructed in such a way that they sourced spring water and rain water to supply the fort.

“They always used to be full, but since 1980, they have remained empty,” he says.

The air on the hill smells different too. When we ask him why, he says, “There are lots of medicinal trees here. The air over here is much healthier.”

Pointer to the past

In 1434, the Gajapatis from Odisha captured the fort from the ruling Reddy dynasty. Just over 80 years later, in 1516, Krishnadevaraya, emperor of the Vijayanagara kingdom, defeated the Gajapatis to make the fort his.

He decided to allow the Gajapatis to keep the fort, but they had to act as his vassals.

In 1550, after a resounding victory, Kondapalli Fort came under the rule of the Qutub Shahis. Kondapalli Killa hosted Qutub ul Mulk Ibrahim Shah – Ibrahimpatnam, closest to the fort, was named after him.

Confluence of styles

We enter through the Dargah Darwaza that leads us straight to the Khanam Fort and the Royal Palace. The architecture here is a curious hybrid of styles – we can see Persian, Bahamani and Mughal influences.

“The fort passed through so many royal dynasties and each one influenced it their own way. Hence, you see so many styles at play here,” says Deepak Joe, Assistant Director of Archaeology and Museums, Vijayawada region.

There are hardly twenty people in the fort that morning. Most people go straight to Rani Mahal, the royal women’s quarters in the palace. Despite its dilapidated state, it is not hard for us to imagine how opulent the structure might have been once. The run-down walls still boast of intricate stone work and the water pools are still the most tranquil part of the palace.

The fort was built to be as secure as possible with several military outposts and garrisons. Even the slightest sound in the royal prison is grossly magnified and echoes around us.

“The fort was built in view of security ... So everything, from the architecture to the material used, was done to ensure the people within the complex were safe. The Golconda Fort too was constructed in a similar fashion,” says Deepak.

The fort underwent extensive changes during the Qutub Shahi’s time. The Royal Prison was built then, as was the Thopkhana (the weapon house). The market place on the other side too was constructed around this time. What little remains of it is enough to tell us of the former glory of the kingdom.

The Gajsala, where the military elephants were housed, the Nartana Sala, where royal patrons were entertained by dancers, and the darbar, where the king met his ministers and other important people in the kingdom, have been maintained in a slightly better condition, and give us a glimpse of what life may have once been like here.

Changing hands

In 1687, the fort fell under the control of Saheb Singh, a Mughal army commander under Aurangzeb, but only for a short while. The Nizams of Hyderabad were soon the new guardians of Kondapalli Killa. What is now called the Royal Palace was built by the Nizams.

Today, workers swarm the palace and the dull thud of stone hitting stone reverberates around us. The State Government is carrying out extensive renovations to promote and conserve the fort.

Finally, in 1766, the British took control of the fort. They ran a military-training school inside until 1859; two years later, the Archaeological Survey of India recognized the fort as a historical monument.

Post Independence, the site was handed over to the state Archaeology and Museums Department.

Peace and quiet

Tourists to the region usually give the fort a miss to see the more popular places, such as the Kanaka Durga temple, Bhavani Island, Undavalli Caves and Hamsaladeevi.

The fact that not a lot of people are present here, the chirp of birds, the foggy hills and the rolling greenery around us gave us the much-needed break we were looking for. However, the place doesn’t promise to remain untouched for long.

In a bid to attract more people to the fort, the State Government is carrying out repairs inside using special imported material.

“The renovations should be completed in the coming year,” a confident sounding Deepak says. “We are sure hordes of tourists will start coming here soon.”

 

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