Golconda, Prize of Southern India

The great hilltop fort at Golkonda dates back 800 years and plays such an important role in the history of Southern India that I didn’t feel I could miss it, even though by this stage I was having difficulty remembering which country I was in, never mind which state. It may be only 7 miles outside of Hyderabad but I booked a car and driver so that I would at least have a chaperon in my depleted condition. I told myself that if I at least saw the place, I would be able to read up on the history later in a more sanguine frame of mind.

A whole hillside covered in fortified buildings rises above the entrance gate and even the short tour is 2 miles long with a climb of 500 ft so, ill as I was, a guide was essential. That is the last time I will mention my health, I promise.  There must be some sort of racket going on with the “official guides” because I had to pay an absurd amount at the desk and then tip my guide extra around the corner out view because otherwise the “union people” would have taken all of his fee. The Tourist Board of Telagana had better get on and sort this out; it gives a very bad impression.

While the hill has been fortified by various Hindu kings (and Queens) for many centuries it was the under the Bahami Sultanate and the Qtub Shahi Dynasty in the 15th and 16thC that it took on its current magnificent form. Solid and imposing, the fortified walls, garrisons, armouries and immense water tanks give way to pavilions, mosques and harems as you rise up the hill. Every visitor gets a demonstration of the “hand clap gate”, a shielded lower portal whose acoustic properties allow a signal to be heard clearly from the highest watchtower but I was more impressed by the way in which the reservoirs were cunningly placed so as to be impervious to poisoned arrows.

However impregnable such structures may seem there comes a time in the history of almost all of them when they fall to siege or betrayal and this was no exception. One of Shah Jahan’s nastier sons, Augengzeb, sought to expand the Mughul Empire further into the Southern territories of India and, eyes alight with the promise of its fabulous riches, laid siege to Golkonda in 1687. He poured all of his vast resources and military experience into the venture until his great siege towers eventually succeeded in breaching one of the lower gates. It is said that he was then disappointed when Abul Hasan Qutb Shah chose to negotiate a prompt surrender and avoid further loss of life.

Not content with receiving some of the world’s most important diamonds for his personal fortune and adding a great chunk of the Deccan to his territories, Aurangzeb imprisoned this beloved ruler in the dread fort of Daulatabad, where he eventually died far from home. A final ignominy for the last of a dynasty who had each spent a considerable time designing their own mausoleums. In fact so important were these rights to them that Golconda has a special “Death Gate” out of which the Shahs’ bodies were ceremoniously removed to Ibrahim Bagh, a beautifully landscaped burial garden situated less than a mile away.

Seven lovely monuments in a good state of preservation/restoration await the interested visitor. Mind you, that visitor will have to find another entrance fee and guide price. It was turned out to be well worth the expense to be able to enjoy the splendid Persian influenced architecture and fascinating details which seem to be overlooked by the majority of the fort’s visitors. Somehow this garden seemed far more personal and I did at least have the added entertainment of the least competent photographer in India. Full of bluster, my guide had insisted that I hand over the camera as he knew all the best shots and he then directed me exactly where to stand for each photograph. I heard a series of additional clicks as we walked around the site and, sure enough, he has presented me with snap after snap of his trouser pocket, armpit, sneakers, and the underside of his chin.

The tallest of these domed rectangular monuments is more than 120 foot high and each has a small three-arched mosque in attendance (which may have protected them from the marauding army of Aurangzeb). Not all were built for the Shahs, however, here is a favoured doctor and there a beloved sister. I was shown an elaborate water tank and mortuary slab provided for the funerary rights and visited the shaded galleries where poets are said to have sat upon rich carpets and recited verses from the Koran. In one peaceful corner of the garden I met some architecture students busily sketching and one girl told me how proud she was of India’s architectural heritage. There seems to have been more than a touch of Sufi mystic about the Qutb Shahs, no wonder their rule could not last.

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