It had been a very long time since I took my motorcycle for a ride out of town. It always feels good to go to a new place and I had been wanting to see the fort at Chitradurga for some time.
Now the time seemed perfect. Chitradurga is about 230 km from Bangalore. Starting out on a Saturday morning would mean that I would have to cover the whole distance not taking long breaks and wasting any time.
Even so, I would only reach by afternoon. Some how I had the picture of entering the fort a bit early so that I could avoid most of the noisy tourists that arrive much later in the day and the harsh sun.
I made quick arrangements to stay with a friend at Tumkur, on the way to Chitradurga. I started early the next day planning to reach the fort as early as possible.
The high way offers no good sights except for a chain a smaller hills most of them having wind turbines installed on them.
The turbines don’t seem to reveal their real size when on the hills at a good distance, but they are huge. Parts of them were being carried on trucks all along the way to be installed.
A wing alone occupied a whole truck’s back! Apart from that there is very little view from the highway.
But I had cut my morning ride to just 160 km by doing the rest the previous night. With just one stop to loosen up a bit, I hit Chitradurga at around 10 am.
I took a quick spin on the main road there to check out the city and to find some place for breakfast. It is quite a contrast not to find any restaurants after having stumbled across so many wherever I go in Bangalore.
I turned around and head towards the Chitradurga fort anyway. Close to the fort entrance there is a restaurant run by the tourism department.
It was little more than 10 now but there were no visitors to be seen around. I had a couple of dosas followed by a cup of coffee and left to enter the fort.
It sits among a few rock hills and the stone used to build the fort was locally quarried. From the size of bean bags to as big a multi-storey buildings, there are rocks of all sizes and shapes.
According to one legend all these rocks were part of the arsenal used in a mythological war between Bhima and a daemon named Hidimba.
There are rocks that look like an elephant, a ship, a frog ready to leap, it all depends on where you are standing and what you can imagine.
I entered and passed through a couple of doors/arches to find a group of guides waiting to find people to take around. After a little thought I took one and started walking with him.
The fort has seven rounds of walls (eelu suttina kote, a common description in Kannada). Each has a main entrance and a few secret entrances, many long forgotten and covered up.
The guide stopped every few minutes to show and explain something. He started with small things like a tank used to stock up oil for the torches, a gymnasium, and a few rocks that looked like a familiar object or animal.
We passed though a few more doors and he stopped at each one of them and emphasized the fact that the doors are always reached around a corner and a thick wall before it.
The reason for that is to protect the door from any cannon balls and to limit the space needed to gain momentum by an elephant that could be used to ram open the door.
So, in this picture, right behind me was a thick wall and steps lead up the door to make it even more difficult to break open.
My guide counted the doors as we walked talking a bit about the history of the fort. It was held by quite a few dynasties and build over the centuries adding layers of walls.
The Chalukyas, the Hoysala, the Vijayanagara Kingdom and mainly the Nayakas of Chitradurga all held this fort.
Soon we reached the heart of the fort, big courtyard with a temple, a small pool used to store okali or colored water for celebrations, hence called okali honda (tank), and two tall stone pillars with a horizontal beam from which a swing would be hung for the god.
From here there are several paths going in all directions of the fort. The guide told me about all of them and took me on one which led to the ruins of a mud walled office complex that housed a mint within.
In its current state nothing can be made out and everything is left to the imagination. Further down are the twin ponds (called the sisters ponds) and the very famous “Obavvana Kindi“.
My guide told me about what other things I could see in the fort and left after collecting his fees. Now I was on my own to explore all I wanted.
I started walking on another path that took me towards two temples, one is the Hidimbeshwara temple and the other is the Sampige siddeshwara temple. On the right of the second temple there is a path leads to the base of a huge rock hill on top of which is built a wide circular watch tower. But the only way to get to the top is to use the small grooves/foot holdings that have been carved into this mostly steep rock face.
I started climbing without any hesitation but soon realized that it is much harder than it looks. I stepped down and waited for a few minutes on a rock.
I had almost given up but changed my mind when a saw a bunch of younger folks started climbing. It was quite scary until I was used to it. In a few minutes I reached the top.
The view from there is quite nice as you could get a big picture of the layout of the fort to orient yourself. From here I saw the ruins of several mud building on the other side of this rock and was curious to find out more.
I had seen a “Palace complex” on the map as I entered, but the guide never mentioned it.
Here is a 360 panorama from the top (please view full screen and drag around for the best experience):
After a little asking around I found out that the ruins I had seen from the top were the palace complex I was looking for.
But I was warned about going there alone as very few people venture out that far. That didn’t have any effect on me and I started on the path that leads there.
But in a just a few minutes I found myself alone midst the piles of rock with scrub vegetation between. I was not sure how long the trail was and I turned back. Now I spotted an old man looking in all directions as if he was waiting for something. We had a small exchange and decided to explore the trail together.
I was just happy to find some company and gave little thought to the man himself. He told me that two people are much better than someone venturing to a place like this alone.
It seemed very apt for the current situation and many other difficult ones in our lives. After a few turns we introduced ourselves and only then did I find out he was 81 years old, much more than I would have guessed by his appearance.
By now we had reached the ruins I was looking for. But it looked nothing like a (ruined) palace. There were large halls of mud walls without any roofing, they looked like some kind of a storage space. And even the walls seemed to be slowly melting away in the rain each year.
There were another kind of structures, built with mud and small stones. They were circular, around 10-15 ft in diameter at the base and slowly tapering to the top. Again the roof seemed to be missing. I guessed those were granaries, similar to the ones I had seen on television once.
We continued on looking for a way forward and hit a few dead ends, but soon found a way. By now we were very comfortable with each other talking about many things.
He would suddenly start narrating an incident from his life and at the end of it he would have something of value to say. They mostly emphasized the need to be curious and courageous forever.
He was all that and more, curious to look at every single turn and wonder what was ahead. He was traveling alone and without a phone! He wasn’t much tired either.
He also must have had a sharp eye, for he pick up a procupine quill that I had stepped over and moved on but never noticed.
By now I was tired and had seen enough of rocks for a day. But my new friend kept me going and we had almost taken the challenge of climbing up to another watch tower, with proper steps, but turned back due to shortage of time.
We reached back where I had been with the guide earlier that day. Now I was his guide and showing him around. He now started to seem like an annoyance wanting to climb up and look everywhere, but I did my best. He was a lighthearted man, saying one thing or another to the little kids that passed by.
We walked back to the front of the fort. He told me of a place called Chandavalli Thotta that had some caves and we decided to have lunch and go there together on my motorcycle.
We went to the town for lunch and found a place after asking around. We were at ease and could easily pass for a grand-father grand-son duo! He even took the liberty of ordering lunch for me. After lunch we went to Chandavalli Thotta just a few kilometers from there. On the way I spotted and picked up a small snack to eat.
Chandavalli Thotta is an ancient monument with a temple that is in a carved hollow of a big rock and a set of secret rooms underground at multiple levels.
We were taken underground by a guide there with a torch as it is pitch dark inside. It was a place where a few saints lived and meditated. They were the advisers for the kings at the time.
So, they had to be kept safe and the meetings with them secret. We were shown rooms where they would meditate, the bathrooms and the places of worship.
We would be totally lost without the guide as we were climbing up and down narrow passages. I started gasping a bit for air when we were at the lowest point, some 80 ft below ground.
They had ways to get air to flow around these rooms, to get water to trickle down from the ground level and a narrow shaft from where they could gauge the time seeing the sun light.
There is a small room that was used by the kings to have secret meetings with the saints and his ministers to take key decisions on war and other things.
All rooms have spaces in the wall to keep the lamps. Some rooms even have some coloured painting that are in a bad state now. The place seemed a bit spooky and very mystical.
After we came out of there and took some fresh breath, we sat down for a little snack.
By half past six in the evening we were back at the town. He had to pick up his bag from a shop he had left it at and I had some business at a local store. While I was on my phone, he suddenly disappeared.
I waited for a few minutes watching in the direction I last saw him. Ten minutes passed and no sign of the man. I was not sure how long to wait. I checked at the place I had parked my motorcycle and he wasn’t there either.
Not knowing what to do, I wandered a bit on the street. This was getting strange, I was waiting for someone who I had met a few hours ago and worried that he might have lost the way or forgotten where I’d be and that I would never see him again.
I opened up my camera to remember what he looked like! After another ten or fifteen minutes the man showed up with a worrying look searching for me. He had lost the way back and he too was worried about not getting the chance to say a proper good bye.
We then went around the city and found a place for the night, but he suddenly decided to take off to Chikmagalur that night instead of early next morning.
I dropped him off at the bus stand and we said our good byes quickly, thanking each other for the company. I found myself a decent place for dinner and crashed for some much needed rest.
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