Wednesday, February 27, 2013

More Images from Hyderabad's Golconda Fort

Rene Magritte's "Golconde" courtesy of wikipedia's Shimon Yanowitz.  

Golconda Fort rightfully belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage list, but, along with the Charminar, it’s still in its tentative list (there’s a process to be followed). 

Its beauty has inspired several artists like Belgian surrealist painter Rene Magritte who used “Golconde”. The painting is presently housed at the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas. The art work itself is far from the fort’s likeness, but the word was allegedly used as synonym for “mine of wealth” – a reference to the city’s legendary diamond industry. Elsewhere, John Keats’ poem, “On Receiving A Curious Shell” mentioned the fort: “Hast thou from the caves of Golconda, a gem / pure as the ice-drop that froze on the mountain?

For this post, we felt we had to use the following photos which didn't make our prior entry. This was a curious effort to somehow limit the number of photos in that piece. But we couldn't throw these away so here they are.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

A little Golconda history and travel information

From Mumbai to Hyderabad -

Charminar -

Huge rock formations at the summit.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Golconda Fort - Glorious Reminder of the Qutub Shahi Dynasty

From central Hyderabad, there’s a day out that should be part of any visitor’s itinerary. Its 11 kilometers away and a 25-minute ride heading west of the city. If there was a single place to visit in Hyderabad, it would be Golconda Fort. Though a ruined city these days, Golconda, which literally means “Shepherd’s Hill”, was the capital of an ancient city (1518 to 1687), which once produced some of the country’s finest gems.

Built by Ibrahim Quli Qutb Shah Wali, the 4th king of the Quli Qutb dynasty, a royal family of builders, the fortress rose from a 400-foot granite hill that was designed to withstand and hold back the Mughal invaders from the north. A distinct characteristic of its construction is its acoustic system, i.e. a hand clap from the grand portico (the main gate) is readily transmitted and heard at the top of the hill. 

Durbar Hall at the summit of the hill of Golconda Fort

I booked a taxi ride from the Tourism Center, a must-visit if you want hassle-free tours. The 2-to-3 hour return tour from the city would cost 450 rupees (this includes the driver waiting outside), but you could share the ride with other tourists.

I decided to share. After all, meeting other travelers (not my strongest point) would be interesting. A delightful elderly Indian couple came not long after. We were told that the trip covers a 20 kilometer distance (literature tells me it’s just 11 kilometers), and that the driver would wait outside while we checked out the massive fort.

With an amiable company joining me, I took the front seat beside the driver and listened to the couple’s banter. The gentleman was a retired lawyer who worked with his wife at a branch of the Central Bank in Mumbai. I intently listened to their stories about earlier visits to Arizona (I think) and Greece.

Upon reaching the fort, I realized that the place wasn't designed for elderly patrons. After all, they couldn't - and should not - install escalators on the hill, and it’s an arduous trek to the top if you were in a hurry. The gentleman said he’d rather wait at the ground level, contented to have reached the fortress. The lady felt she had to climb up some distance. Now mind you, there are 380 uneven stone-steps to hurdle (some steeper than others).  I felt it rude to whisk off my way so I patiently waited for the lady. I was of course delighted with the company and was in no hurry. She would wave me away, but I’d just walk slowly, subtly glancing behind me. I was just a few steps ahead just to see she was alright. 

Palace ruins and courtyard

The view of the sprawling expanse of Hyderabad is soon unraveled as you get near the peak – and it’s a delightful landscape of greeneries interspersed with white structures. 

We know what mountaineers say about reaching the top, right? Well, I was wearing a wide grin already, feeling smug for having gone there. And I wasn't even at the peak yet. At some point, the lady felt she’s had enough; that it was time to head back down. She told me I should continue further; and that she’d meet me later. She was breathless, her blue dress billowing in the wind. I smiled and nodded... and went my way.

There were empty caverns, a prison, the Ibrahim and the Taramati Mosques, granaries, reservoirs, armories, a citadel called Baradari, an audience hall, and several other unlabeled structures. The place itself is massive: consider 8 gates (with names like Fateh, Bahmani, Mecca, Naya Qula, etc.), 87 bastions each one mounted with cannons, and three layers of fortification walls which were equipped with spikes to guard against elephant attacks. I did wonder about the height of these spikes. Were there elephants the size of these walls? Kinda like Jurassic-era mammoth creatures? Talk about leaving no stones unturned against invasion. There were also rumors that underground tunnels had been diligently constructed, linking the fort to the city of Hyderabad some 11 kilometers away just in case a siege occured and the royals had to resort to an escape route.


I reunited with my co-travelers later. We both decided not to wait for the lights-and-sound show that was due to start at sundown. It was too long a wait for me, and I was glad they felt the same. Before saying our goodbyes, the adorable couple bashfully asked for a photo with me, and of course it was my pleasure. Before I realized what was happening, several other Indians (the visitors I saw were mostly locals) came out from the crowd and decided to join the photo session. I wasn't acquainted with any of them, but they amusingly took turns having their photos taken with me – and I felt like some Hollywood royalty. I am still baffled as to why, to be honest. If I were Caucasian, there would probably be novelty in it, but not when I am Asian like them. 

Why the inexplicable whim to get their photos with me? Maybe it’s because there’s not a lot of foreign visitor? Maybe I looked like a circus sideshow? Or a movie star from some slasher flick? Who knew? It was discombobulating, but it was nevertheless fun being a celebrity for ten minutes or so.

I couldn't really complain. Far from the comfort of my home, I could only be grateful for their hospitality and kindness.

This is the Eye in the Sky!


Ruins of the barracks area.

View of the courtyard from the barracks.


Hurdling flights of stairs from the Balahisar Darwaza

The magnificent view of the city from the ascending trail.

The city of Hyderabad down below

Notice the two Qutb Shahi Tombs 1 kilometer north from the fort. The tombs are surrounded by gardens, and are open to public. 

Colored relief seen at Ramda's Jail

The Ibrahim Mosque has two halls: a transverse outer hall and an inner hall. 

Qutub Shahi Mosque was built by Sultan Ibrahim Qutb Shah who ruled for 30 years (1550 to 1580).

Colorful - Sri Jagadamba Mahakali Temple and a rock.

Phallic rock outcropping beside the Sri Jagadamba Mahakali Temple

Baradari or Citadel (above and below) - This was a two-story building with an open terrace at the top where the sultan would enjoy the view of the countryside. There was an audience hall as well. Nearby was the mouth leading to an alleged underground tunnel to the Goshamahal at a distance of 8 kilometers used by the Qutb Shahi Kings in case of danger or emergency. So far, this secret passage has never been found. 



The adorable Indian couple I shared my taxi with.

Site map of the massive fortress found at the entrance .

More photos from Golconda

Charminar -

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Charminar: Hyderabad's Crown Jewel

Like Vientiane’s Patuxai, the Charminar has four grand arches supporting the ornate minarets that reach into the heavens. Built in 1592, the Charminar is a monument (this much is obvious) and a mosque (this I didn’t know), the first royal structure built in Hyderabad (founded a year earlier) when the 5th ruler of the Golconda Sultanate, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, decided to shift his capital 8 kilometers from Golconda, near the southwest bank of the Musi River.

During those cantankerous times, the plague had decimated hundreds of people sparing no one, not even royalty. Qutb Shah prayed hard that the mysterious illness would just go away. In that specific place, which had taken on religious significance, he vowed to build a mosque: “Fill this, my city, with people as thou hast filled the Ocean with fish, O Lord,” Qutb Shah prayed. Upon completion, most of the planned layout of the city was based around this structure, underlining the stark relevance of the structure to the city’s history. Indeed, the entire city was designed around the Charminar. 

Structurally, the Charminar has a square structure with four arches that open into four streets. It’s a four-story structure with 149 winding steps to reach the top; the uppermost level is where the mosque is. Its signature style is Islamic, made of granite, mortar, limestone and pulverized marble. Legend has it that an underground tunnel has been constructed between Golconda Fort and the Charminar; an escape route for the former royalties, but this hasn't been proven – just yet. 


My foray to the Charminar wasn't as pleasant as the view it provided. From my hotel, I shook hands with an autorickshaw driver who, upon arrival at the monument, demanded 200 rupees more than the agreed 150 rupees. (Yes, 350 rupees for a ride from my hotel to the Charminar. Do you know how much a taxi ride is from my hotel to Golconda Fort which was outside city limits? 400 rupees!) I was of course, indignant, but at some point, this towering burly man became menacing so I acquiesced and eventually made peace with myself later in the day. India has some of the warmest souls on Earth, but like everywhere else, it has scabrous elements as well. As a traveler, you have to be aware that you’re not there to change the world. When in a foreign land, you have to be pragmatic enough to choose your battles. From frustration, I had to calm myself before roaming the area around the massive edifice. 


The surrounding area wasn't pretty, to be honest. There were makeshift stalls all around the premises, and manual traffic was heavy, with a coterie of ambulant vendors dripping over. Nearby was the Mecca Masjid which was likewise commissioned by Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah. He ordered bricks to be made from the soil brought from Mecca, using them in the construction of the central arch of the mosque, thus its name. 

I didn't try going inside because the gate looked uninviting. I didn't want a repeat of my experience in Delhi where I was embarrassingly escorted out from the Jama Masjid. To add insult to injury, I was asked to pay 250 rupees. It wasn't like I was inside the prayer hall desecrating a holy place; I was at the vast court yard with hundreds of souls gallivanting around. Oh well.

The periphery of the masjid and the Charminar had shops selling lacquer bangles, pearls, beads, braces, necklaces and other ornaments. This was the old city, and the bustle of centuries old was still alive. Imagine how people from 1592 strolled around these old streets. Were there as much peddlers? Or greedy drivers?

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Clocks adorn each side. These clocks were added in the year 1889.

The minarets stand 56 meters ( 184 feet) high. 

This building stands in front of rows of shops along Charminar Road.

Mecca Masjid

Black robed ladies. Though I'm aware of the color's religious implication, I am nevertheless anxious whenever I see this sight. There's something sinister about the black color and the "hiding" demeanor that unnerve me. 

From Mumbai to Hyderabad

Golconda Fort Part 1

With inverted color, the grandiose architecture of the Charminar becomes more apparent.