The first sighting of the fort did not make a great impression on me. The remains of the fort looked sparse. The hill was scattered with rocks and boulders. Here and there, the ramparts stood in discontinuity. I could see many levels of ramparts built on the slopes of the hill. It was simply a man-made defence system that augmented the natural fortification of the hill.
As I entered through a high gateway, the experience became much more personal. The initial impression wore off and I began to admire the fort and its substantial remains for what they were worth. I hired a guide for Rs. 150 after some bargaining from an intially unreasonable price of Rs. 250. The tour lasted just about an hour. I had done my research before coming here. I could have seen the fort without a guide. However, he did point out many interesting minor details that I would have missed on my own – the impression of scars left on the wall by one of Hyder Ali’s cannon balls; the prehistoric drawing of a deer faintly seen on a rock; the unknown and only reckoned purposes of some buildings within the fort; the form of animals as seen in some of the rocks at certain angles; the purpose of the Okali Honda where people threw coloured water on each other during festivities and celebrations; the impressions of horse hooves in granite as they travelled countless times the same paths.
There are as many as 12 guides at the fort and they take turns. On a good day each one may get three or more customers. Groups are more common than individual visitors like me. They claim that they have to charge a higher price than guides at Belur or Halebid because they get fewer visitors here. I remember paying Rs. 150 for a guide at Belur. My particular guide was trained as a school teacher with B.A., B.Ed. degrees. To join a private school he did not have four lakhs that they demanded. He didn’t get selected to teach at government schools because his CET score was poor, although initially he claimed to have lost his place to Scheduled Caste reservations. He has since then completed a diploma in tourism and has taken to guiding visitors at the fort. These guides are approved by the government but they are not paid by them.
The fort has as many as seven successive levels of ramparts – three on approach and four built on the hilly slopes. This gives the fort its other name – Yelu Suttina Kote. There are 19 main entrances, 35 smaller ones, 35 secret inlets and 14 temples on the inside. These numbers alone are enough to impress and bring to mind the scale of the construction. On the inside, there are rain water filled tanks (such as Akka Tangiyara Honda) filling the space between the rocky hills. At the palace complex, there are remains of halls, houses and granaries. All these are built in a space surrounded by rocky hills, a natural fortification that gives the fort yet another name – Kallina Kote.
The palace complex is one of the impressive sights within the fort. No palace was ever found but the remains of other buildings are worth study. The walls of granaries are built of mud, gravel and mortar. From a distance these granaries are seen huddled together as a group and make quiet a picture. Funnel-shaped, they stand in clusters with their mud brown walls. These walls bear the sign of erosion with cracks and fissures in an almost free and organic pattern. Where there are niches, plants grow out of these walls, proclaiming the final victory of living nature over dead man-made things.
A similar interesting structure is the administration office and treasury. Mud walls still stand, their tops eroded over time. Elsewhere, similar buildings are in a worse state of preservation. Houses that used to be lived in are no longer present. Stone foundations are seen but not the mud walls above them.
The mint is one of the smallest stone structures. Built on a square plan and no more than 7 ft x 7 ft, it houses a deep storage space dug into the ground. This structure is so small that becomes an ideal construction to study the arrangement of stone pillars on walls, the supporting beams of the ceiling, the beams that form the ceiling and the higher beams above them that form the roof. It is essential architecture and civil engineering at the simplest. The same principles can be applied to bigger structures of the period. A study of the mint can help you to understand the construction of temples within the fort.
Among the temples, most were closed. I am told that they open only on certain days of week. The Kasiviswanatha Temple was white-washed and unsightly with graffiti. The Sampige Siddeshwara Temple was open. It contained an installed Shivalinga and an idol of Veerabhadra. The prefix “sampige” comes from the fact that there is a sampige tree within the temple walls. There are two more sampige trees outside the walls. Opposite this temple is the Hidimbeshwara Temple, recalling the legend of Hidimba who was killed by Bhima. The Siddeshwara Temple (Vijayanagar period) and the Hidimbeshwara Temple (Hoysala period) face each other, with chariot like stone structures before them. They stand to depict the legend. This is the most striking temple complex within the fort.
A singular site within the fort, found nowhere else in India and perhaps the world, is the Maddhu Bisuva Kallu or the Gun Powder Grinder. It is preserved in an excellent state. Four millstones are arranged at four corners within a large stone-lined circular pit built into the ground. These millstones grind gun powder which are then collected at the bottom and moved elsewhere for storage. Two narrow flights of stairs lead into the pit. At its center, a rotary mechanism would have once been installed, powered by either men or animals. The motion is transferred to the millstones via sprockets on the rim of the millstones.
Of course, one cannot leave the fort without looking at the drainage hole called Onake Obavva Kindi. It is a legendary story (I cannot believe it actually happened) in which a common soldier’s wife bludgeoned countless soldiers of Hyder Ali’s army with a pestle (onake). This hole can still be seen though its passage to the outside is today blocked off.
Chitradurga means a picturesque fort. The guide pointed me to a rock at the top that looked like a ship. We passed a thin knife edge rock shaped like the horn of a rhinoceros. Another rock, seen from a specific angle, looked like an elephant. Yet another rock presumed to be a mouse. The guide could see it but I struggled to convince myself.
The best views at the fort are from the prison. The entire city of Chitradurga and beyond can be seen. With a mostly hazy blue sky over the earth-coloured rocky hills, the bright colours in the town below were actually inviting. From here you can see hills in every direction. The hills to the south and east are topped with windmills that do a good job in harnessing renewable energy sources.
Just as I left the fort, I looked back again to the initial scene of the ramparts snaking in and around the rocky slopes, the bastions (bateri) standing in their places and watch towers peering down at me. The hilly slopes are all chaotic. The walls and bastions are ordered. In this union, the hills stand out by sheer size. They diminish the importance of brick laid neatly upon brick. It is for this reason that I was initially not easily impressed by the fort. The fort, in some measure, borrows its charm from its situation.
From Bangalore, there is a direct train to Chitradurga. This is the Hubli Passenger. Be sure to board the right carriage since the train divides at Chikjajur Junction. One section goes to Hubli and the other to Hospet via Chitradurga. Supposed to arrive at Chitradurga at 0525 hours, the train was two hours late, something to be expected for passenger trains.
I couldn’t find a decently clean place to eat at Chitradurga. I am surprised. Perhaps I didn’t look around enough. I visited the fort and left town.