In the Tiger’s lair

Zac O?Yeah | Updated on January 22, 2018
Hyder Ali settled in the oval Devanahalli Fort in 1749. Photo: Zac O' Yeah

Hyder Ali settled in the oval Devanahalli Fort in 1749. Photo: Zac O' Yeah

Hyder Ali's son Tipu was born outside the fort walls two years later. Photo: Zac O' Yeah

Hyder Ali's son Tipu was born outside the fort walls two years later. Photo: Zac O' Yeah

Zac O'Yeah   -  Business Line

A heritage walk through Tipu Sultan’s fort at Devanahalli, on the outskirts of Bengaluru, is incomplete without a discussion on his eating habits

Tipu Sultan’s birthplace on the outskirts of Bengaluru is marked by a most imposing fort. Yet, save for the occasional film crew that makes use of its majestic ramparts, it is hardly visited — while the international airport, a mere four kilometres away, clocks some 15 million travellers annually.

Thankfully, a new heritage walk group, www.bengalurubyfoot.com, has put together visits to Devanahalli Fort and other places associated with Tipu Sultan, tracing the footsteps of the illustrious Tiger of Mysore all the way to the top of Nandi Hills, the popular weekend getaway just outside town. I didn’t hesitate to sign up for the inaugural tour.

A vintage Land Rover, driven by the affable Land Rover-collector Omar Kaiser, picks me up just after dawn at a hectic stretch of the road leading to the airport. En route a handful of fellow heritage-buffs are collected, including our guide Ameen Ahmed, a PR man-turned-wildlife enthusiast and heritage lover. We kickstart the day with some idli-vada at a busy roadside joint and I speculate whether Tipu might have eaten idlis and sambar in his childhood. He may well have, Ahmed says, it is staple food hereabouts.

A short drive takes us to the fort, just off the highway, in the bucolic Devanahalli village. We first stop at a small memorial which marks the place of Tipu’s birth in 1751. Oddly enough he was born outside the fort walls, maybe because the village midwife had a hut here?

The oval fort has huge semicircular bastions, which we climb up for a view of the surrounding countryside — the highway to Hyderabad is within sight, all that traffic passing by without noticing the fort! It was originally built of mud in the early 1500s by a local chieftain, Malla Baire Gowda, from the nearby village of Avati. Subsequently, the fort kept changing hands between the attacking Marathas and the counter-attacking Mysore kings, until in 1749 Hyder Ali, Tipu’s father, settled in it. In 1760, when Tipu was nine, the fort was reinforced with stone and masonry, making it into what we see today. Inside the walls are several older temples and people say that the house in which Hyder and Tipu lived is still standing, somewhere in there. Though if you ask the villagers, they don’t know.

Anyway, Tipu may have spent his early years eating idlis here, before Hyder shifted his capital to the fortified island of Srirangapatnam (to which Ahmed organises tours).

We drive on to Sultanpet village, named after Tipu, to visit the Sri Bhoganandeeswara Swamy temple, which dates to AD 810 and from where one has a great view of Nandi Hills. A local history buff, Siddharth Raja joins us to explain the complexity of the battle during which Lord Cornwallis, eager to redeem himself after having lost the British American colonies to George Washington, conquered Tipu’s stronghold on Nandi Hills in 1791. (Cornwallis also took the Devanahalli Fort at the same time.) Before Tipu lost this village to the British, he would have visited the well-preserved temple, which has hundreds of exquisite carvings. My favourite is of a jolly chap with a huge umbrella who shapes his fingers into an ‘okay’ sign. With an umbrella that big you’re bound to be okay even if it pours.

Up the road is an abandoned early 19th-century British graveyard — before they colonised Bengaluru’s cantonment, the British garrison was at Sultanpet. A little ahead on a dirt track we come to the steps leading to the Nandi Hills’ summit. Here, by the track, we find the small, now-dilapidated mosque Tipu built in the 1780s. Obviously, this area remained close to Tipu’s heart — in fact, his hunting lodge still stands atop the hill, and it turns out to be a surprisingly humble structure. All the while, Ahmed and Raja regale us with stories of man-eating tigers and forgotten goldmines.

Lunch is served at the home of a local couple. A wholesome vegetarian spread — sambar with three types of greens in it, rasam and rice, and two potato dishes. Interestingly, potato, which is so popular in India (a south Indian dosa would be rather thin without it), isn’t native to the country but introduced by the Englishmen once they came and conquered. The first potatoes in Karnataka were actually planted on top of Nandi Hills. So had Tipu not lost the war against the British, the table may have missed some delicious dishes. And of course, this raises the point that Tipu would not have ever eaten potatoes — well, unless his French allies served him French fries (finger chips).

A third heritage guide joins us at lunch, foodie Mansoor Ali, and we discuss Tipu’s eating habits. Ali and Ahmed speculate that Tipu may have eaten pure vegetarian once a year on Muharram day, which is the tradition, but mostly preferred non-veg biryani with horsegram curry.

Towards the end of the day the Land Rover has a minor breakdown. The steep hill road hasn’t been too kind to it; the fuel tanks leak and have emptied. That is the charm with vintage cars, I guess. Kaiser takes it in his stride; he has a canister handy, enough to take us to the next petrol pump. Which is a suitably adventurous finale to a day spent getting to know Tipu Sultan a little better.

Zac O’Yeah is a Bengaluru-based author, travel writer, literary critic. His new novel is titled Hari a Hero for Hire; zacnet@email. com

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Published on September 25, 2015
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