Once upon a fort
Its architectural symmetry, intricate in-laid patterns in stones, designed frames and arches invest the Chitradurga fort with a bewitching look
Anand & Madhura Katti

Gaali Gopura, wind palace in Chitradurga fort.
Gaali Gopura, wind palace in Chitradurga fort. Photos by the writers

People travelling by road on National Highway 4 to Bangalore pass through the city of Chitradurga in central Karnataka. If taking the bypass, the city is hardly visible but one canít miss the sight of the magnificent rock fort on the rocky mountains, which runs alongside the tropical city. The tour of the fort and remains of the city within it make for a great sojourn.

There are seven rounds of the fort. The first gate Sante Bagilu (market entrance) and Aane Bagilu (elephant entrance) lie at the city centre. The old city lies within the walls of the first round of the fort. The fort is listed under the National Heritage Monuments and the nominal fee charged at the entrance goes towards the maintenance of the fort.

One wonders what kind of cranes might have been used to place those huge boulders at the high (up to 30 ft) fort walls. Some rock faces have carvings of deities, flowers, animals and geometric designs. Cool corridors in-between the high walls lead to the enormous entrance of the third gate where two small porticos have long stone sofas. The vestiges of the groves at the stone entrance offer a peek into the size of the doors that might have existed. Only elephants could have moved those heavy doors.

A view at the top of the fort
A view at the top of the fort

Gun powder grinding stone in the fort complex
Gun powder grinding stone in the fort complex

One of the gates inside the seven-round fort at Chitradurga
One of the gates inside the seven-round fort at Chitradurga

The fort of Chitradurga is a second century monument of the Palegars (feudatories) of the Vijayanagara dynasty. This sublime beauty has withstood centuries, in spite of numerous aggressions. Its architectural symmetry, intricate in-laid patterns in stones, designed frames and arches invest it with bewitching look. With walls running to a total length of 32 miles, 36 artistic main gates, 68 sub gates, 102 secret entrances, 500 bastions, the fort is considered an engineering marvel. The strength personified Bhima of the Mahabharata is supposed to have courted Hidimba at this historic fort city. Thereís a Hidimbeshawara temple as a tribute.

Chitradurga has a hoary and chequered history dating back to the prehistoric period.

According to information available through excavations and other evidences, the Chitradurga territory was ruled by the Shatavahanas of the second century and Kadambas, Rastrakutas, Chalukyas, Hoysalas and Vijayanagara rulers. Later, it came under the rule of the mighty Hindu dynasty of Vijayanagar and was ruled by their feudatories.

The structure of the massive fort is still a riddle with many of the secret passages and hideouts. Historians describe Chitradurga fort as one of the biggest in India and the durga (fort) layout was built to be impenetrable by the enemies. Lakes and water channels around the fort made it inaccessible. Itís intelligently designed to retain and utilise the natural rock formations of the mountain.

Art, culture, music and dance flourished during latest rulers. Remains of the fort and temples inside it give an insight into this feature.

A massive oxen-driven stone grinder (beeso kallu) at the fourth gate is a marvel that is supposed to have been engineered by a French architect. The machine is designed for two oxen or horses to pull the roller to operate four grinders at a time. Gun powder was made here.

At the top, an imposing uyyale kambha (a huge stone mantle for the swing) that was supposed to have been used by royal ladies leads to Gulmohar clad Ekanatheshwari temple. It makes for a good view point for the panoramic scene of the city below and its surrounding mountains. A further walk under a stone bridge draws visitors to the fragrance of Champaka flowers at Sampige Siddeshvara temples further up.

On the other side are the remains of the Mint, where the rulers minted their own currency. Akka (big sister) and Tangi (small sister) honda (tank) were supposed to be the bathing pools for the two reigning queens. The mountainís numerous huge rocks of different shapes and sizes make for beautiful sights. These natural rock formations are aesthetically incorporated into the fort wall.

If youíre fortunate, you might witness acrobatics of Kothi Raja (monkey king), the self-taught youth, who has mastered the climbs at this mountain fort. The migrant from Tamil Nadu has made the fort his playground for bettering his acrobatics and entertains visitors with finesse. Monkeys, whom he calls as his masters, are always around at the fort.

Schoolchildren on tour of the fort are more fascinated by the legendary story of Onake Obavva, which forms part of their study syllabi in school. The heroic bravery led Obavva, a sentryís wife to fight against the insurgents from the mighty battalion of Hyder Ali with a humble onake (pounding stick) through timely intuition.

Patriotism and bravery shown by an ordinary sentryís wife runs as a legend in Karnataka and its reminiscent evidence can still be witnessed inside the fort.

The fort and its magnificent interiors leave a lasting memory.

Trip Planner

Getting there: Nearest airport is Bangalore International Airport at 3.5 hours away (about 200 km) on National Highway 4. If going by train, one has to get down at Davangere and take a bus (good frequency) or a taxi to Chitradurga. The city is at the intersection of the other highway National Highway 13 that leads to the world heritage site of Hampi.

Where to stay: Chitradurga being a district headquarters, has a fair amount of decent accommodation. Naveen Regency, Amogha International and Aishwarya Fort hotel charge Rs 650 to Rs 3000 for a room. Family rooms are available.

Best time to visit: It's a year round destination. Early morning is best for the climb and the fort makes for a good four-hour visit.

What to avoid: Avoid oily food before going on the mountain hike.

What to wear: Wear comfortable cotton clothes, good walking shoes, glares and a cap. Backpacking a few bottles of drinking water comes-in handy. Picnics are possible inside the fort and water and sanitation facilities are available.

What to buy: Visit to the local market can be interesting. The district grows and exports Mallige(jasmine), Rajnigandha, chrysanthemum flowers. Variety of local beetle nuts are available. Coconut cookies at bakeries are tasty.

What to eat: The aroma of coffee at Laxmi Bhavan Tiffin Room is inviting. Soft khali (oil-less, soft & fluffy) dosa, crispy masala dosa, idli and chou-chou bhath (a combination of sweet and savoury upma) have made this a popular restaurant.