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Friday, Dec 03, 2004

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Calling on royalty

V. Anasuya

An 11th-century fort near Vijayawada brings alive the grandeur of a kingly past.

Vijayawada is a city endowed with great monuments, beautiful temples tucked away on scenic hillocks, the stunning beauty of the effervescent Krishna meandering through lush green paddy fields and well-maintained lodges serving sumptuous Andhra delicacies. All this makes it a promising destination for tourists.

One such monument we chanced upon was the 11th-century Kondapally fort located on a hill range in the Western ghats near Vijayawada. Spread over 50 acres, the fort is situated at a height of 1,200 metres. There are three routes to reach the fort — Rachabata, a well-laid road, Rallabata, a craggy stone stairway and Kalibata, a steep footway. We chose the safer Rachabata to be able to reach the top in time. After a 30-minute drive, we reached the main entrance of the fort that was flanked by two mounted cannons.

The outer fortification wall is 18 km in circumference and 18 ft high and the fort is surrounded by a huge moat. The outer wall has 18 bastions, 13 doorways and 12 cannon bases with an equal number of sentry posts.

The second or inner wall is built around the royal palace, which at one point descends to 100 ft depth. This wall too has nine bastions and seven sentry posts. The third fortification wall is only a few hundred yards long, starting from the main entrance and circling the heart of the fort. Apparently this was built as an extra layer of security. The amazing aspect is that all three walls are inter-connected at some point. Disappointingly though, a major part of the fort is in a dilapidated condition. The grandeur of the structure and the carved decorations on the sidewalls had us spellbound.

The fort consists mainly of four portions. The first is the thope khana or ammunition storehouse, which is almost completely dilapidated. From here we moved to the durbar hall, which affords a panoramic view of Kondapally and its surroundings. The hall is a spacious two-storeyed structure supported by arched stone pillars. The ground floor, which has many chambers, used to be the gajasala or elephant stables. There are three staircases leading to the first floor.

There is another staircase near the royal seat that leads to the ground floor and this was presumbably used as an emergency exit. The durbar hall overlooks an open space that was used as a gymnasium, adjoined by roofless chambers that were probably the changing rooms. It is believed that the royal clan witnessed the displays and competitions performed there.

To the east of the durbar hall is the maharani stadium or `Ranivasam' — an open courtyard surrounded by a 6 metre high wall for the use of the palace women. There is a Shiva temple close by. To the north of the Ranivasam is the royal treasury, as also the residence of the diwan or prime minister. The small cells in the wall were used to store money, gold, records and other valuables. The walls and pillars of this hall have floral designs and other ornamentation made out of lime and mortar.

The last section of the grand fort contains the jail and an ammunition store. The jail has 18 enclosures and none of them have windows. There are tiny holes in the ceiling to enable the sentry to keep a watch on the inmates and drop food to them. The other notable sections within the fort include the market with small chambers and the horse stables.

A stunning aspect of the fort was its water supply and drainage system. There were two natural tanks in the hill range adjoining the fort and these were inter-connected by laying a long pipe between them. Rainwater flowed first into one tank before flowing into the other. The water was filtered by natural means before being supplied to the fort.

Kondapally fort, due to its strategic location, was subjected to several wars and this magnificent structure changed hands many times. The Chalukya, Kakatiya and Vijayanagara dynasties, the Bahmani Sultanate, the Mughals and local chieftains like the Reddy dynasty vied for possession of the fort. Among foreign invaders, initially the Dutch took over the fort and later the British retained the fort as an army training centre.

The AP tourism Department is attempting to restore the fort to its original grandeur. It enables visitors to revisit the past glory of India, nestled amidst the lush greenery of the surrounding hillside.

Picture by Ch. Vijaya Bhaskar

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