June 2, 2012

We haven’t been traveling much. We’ve been tied down with too many other things and after a while – I never thought I’d say this – you just run out of steam for traveling. Traveling requires energy. That energy usually comes from passion – the passion for travel, for discovery, for adventure. What I never realized was, even that passion can get drowned under a never-ending flood of things to be done; and the energy can be drained away in all the mundane tasks of just getting on with life.

We had planned to go to Chitradurga a while ago, but when that weekend dawned, Amit was just a little under the weather and was not really feeling up to a long drive. So we let it slip. We took up the discussion again one day a couple of weekends ago. We both thought that we “should” go and that if we went we’d enjoy it – but that was as far as we got to committing to the idea. Right up till Friday morning, we were still telling each other that we “should” go, and periodically checking with each other that we would go, right? So Friday dawned and it was Amit’s job to research the route. It was my job to find accommodation. I spent two-and-a-half minutes on Google and found out the names of two hotels. I didn’t know anything about them apart from their names and the fact that at least one of them was a couple of km from the sights. That was good enough – my job was done!

Amit had done nothing. He had not checked the route and he had not tanked up the car and checked the tyre pressure. We hadn’t bought so much as a single packet of biscuits to fend off starvation during the long drive. And packing? What packing? Do you really need to pack for a quick weekend trip?

Despite a complete lack of energy, passion and momentum, we pushed ourselves out of bed at 6 a.m. – an hour later than ETD. Some clothes had been assembled on the dining table the night before and we squabbled about whose job it was to throw them into a bag. The kids bounced out of bed and were dressed in less time than it took us to tell them to go and get dressed. By 6.45 we were on our way – to the petrol bunk. It was almost 7 by the time we were really on the way, and of course nobody had had any breakfast. Also, nobody had researched the route out of town, so we spent at least half an hour taking various wrong turns and arguing about them, but finally we got on to an endlessly long flyover that looked as if it might abruptly terminate in the middle but it didn’t and eventually we were on a lovely tollway heading out towards Tumkur.

Chitradurga is about 200 km from Bangalore and though Amit broke the speed limit consistently and even touched 140 kmph for a brief stretch, we took a few breaks so the drive stretched to five hours. We had a packet of peanuts to keep us all awake and occupied until we reached Kamat for breakfast. An hour later we stopped to let Mrini work off what might have been car sickness, or possibly just boredom. Then we drove another hour or so, till we took an exit off the highway and five minutes later, we were at the hotel. This hotel boasted a basement parking and getting that big fat Honda Civic into it was quite an experience and one which words are completely inadequate to describe. At any rate, we were in a room by 12 noon and out by 12.45. We were supposed to head for lunch, but we thought we’d grab a bite somewhere near the sights and set off walking in the general direction of the ruins that had been visible from our window, asking for directions along the way.

Chitradurga, as you might have gathered from the photos, is famous for its fort. If you want to know who built it and when and why and how, you’ll have to Google it, because didn’t find out much about it myself. Yeah, that’s how much time I spent educating myself for this expedition – such a pity. I normally dive into doing the research.

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The fort is supposed to have seven levels of fortification and it obviously climbs up a hill, using the tumble of natural rock to its advantage. The outer levels have been enveloped by the town – right outside our hotel was a tank that would once have been inside the lowest levels of the fort. The entry to the fort is up a beautiful ramp and through a number of doorways – there must have been at least five, but they are so spread out that I never managed to count them without forgetting where I’d reached. Inevitably, the path ascends steadily, with massive ramparts rising around you and in most places you can go through a doorway, and climb up the rampart and walk right on top of the doorway you just came through. The walls must be a good four feet thick, so it’s more like being on a path and not so much like standing atop a wall. I followed one of the ramparts until it ran into the solid rock boulders of the hill. The lovely thing is, despite the obvious dangers of just taking a tumble down the wall or down the hillside, there are no walls or fences or cordoning off of any area whatsoever. It is absolutely wonderful. I always like to be able to wander off along some interesting looking path or to some fascinating little vantage point and most of the forts I’ve been to in Delhi, Mandu, Daulatabad, and Rome have the interesting bits cordoned off in the interests of safety. Here – no such restrictions! Super!

Of course, it was a little disconcerting to find a collection of huge, white windmills cropping up in the backdrop of every panoramic view of fort and rock. Quite an anomaly – makes you wonder what they would think, if those ancients happened to come back to see what had become of their old lodgings.

The kids were moaning and groaning. We’d been wrong in thinking that there would be decent food places near the fort – there was only one pokey little place and one that was slightly less pokey, where we had a scrappy lunch of greasy lemon-rice (which I couldn’t eat). We’d bought some guavas and 2 litres of water. It was 2 p.m. when we entered the fort and that means probably 36 degrees Centigrade, what with the rocks all around and not a bit of shade. By 3 p.m. we’d been through several gateways, 3 guavas and most of the water. There was lots to see – we couldn’t even see the whole of the interior of the fort yet. Things were beginning to look a bit desperate. Luckily, we found a water cooler and it even had plenty of water in it, albeit securely chained in a little metal cage. Thus fortified (forgive the pun!) we continued our ascent.

Once you get done with all the gates – or all but one, actually – you are in this massive open space with one more gate off to the left, a large but ruined mud brick building off to the right, and a deplorable snack shack full of picnickers right in front. Deplorable because, while sustenance is critical, the crowds, the noise, and the mess is abhorrent. We quickly exited via the gateway on the left and found our way up to a temple. This one had railings – but that was only because the wind is actually strong enough to knock you over the edge if you aren’t careful. It was absolutely wonderful at the top. If we’d had more time, I’d have settled down there for an hour or two. As it was, what we did have were two little girls and even in that heat, with two five-year-olds what can you expect? Nature calls. Luckily, again, there was a toilet – one all the way down near the entrance, and another closer to the deplorable snack shack.

With that side trip out of the way, we explored another little temple that was said to date back to 1328 – I think it must be the oldest part of the fort – and a sort of cloisters or school nearby, called the Ankali Math. There was a sign pointing towards the palace, but I couldn’t see any hint of one, apart from the crumbled remains of a few stone buildings, so we turned away and headed towards the palatial mud building, which I had thought must be the palace, only to find that it was, in fact the mint and treasury. Wow.

After a while we continued on beyond the mint and treasury and found another two tanks side by side. This was their rain water harvesting and filtering system and it was amazing. The water was still and covered in scum, but we went on and came to a larger tank higher up, filled with fresh clean water. The idea was, when this higher level tank overflowed, the water would flow down a channel (through a little doorway, no less) and into one of the lower tanks. From there it would permeate through a rock barrier into the next tank. From there, it would flow down to a tank near the entry gate and finally down to the tank near our hotel. Wow! It was really impressive!

It was about 5 o’clock and the Mrini was tired. Tara was in top form – she wanted to be the leader and pioneer a path straight up the hillside to the enormous rocks at the top. We climbed and climbed and she couldn’t have enough of it! But now we were so far from the entrance and Mrini was so exhausted and it was getting so perilously close to sundown that we decided we would have to turn around and go back. I really didn’t want to – there were more fortifications calling to me from every direction. There were unexplored areas beyond and behind. We hadn’t found Onake Obbave cave and we hadn’t even seen the actual palace! How could I possibly tear myself away from this fabulous relic of the past at this juncture? But then again – I didn’t fancy them locking up the gate and going home and leaving us there all alone all night. (Of course we could have climbed over the fence somehow, or maybe, with Tara in the lead, we could have pioneered a moonlight path over the rocks… so we weren’t really in danger of being abandoned overnight, but still.)

By 6.30 or so, we were back in the room, and the kids recovered by playing games in the cupboard, locking themselves in and periodically erupting to buy chocolates, ice cream, or vegetables from the local supine shopkeepers (i.e. Amit and me).

Naturally, we didn’t give any thought to what we were going to do the next morning. We had dinner and put the kids to bed and crashed pretty soon after that. And in the morning we woke up in a terribly leisurely way and had breakfast before really considering what to do next. There were caves in the neighbourhood that sounded interesting, but in the end – we headed right back to the fort. It was 10 a.m. already and we had to check out at noon, so I made the kids literally storm up the path through all the gates, past the mint, and all the way up to the Akka Thangi tanks. There we found the way to Onake Obavve cave and spent a few minutes there. The legend associated with this place is interesting. The pictures of the cave were not worth displaying, though.

Then we found a narrow path leading around the upper lake and followed it, skirting the water, and wending our way through a patch of wilderness till we came, at last, to our destination – the palace.

These folks had the right idea – the palace is set so deep inside the fort and is backed up against such a steep outcrop of boulders and it is practically invincible. As Amit pointed out, most enemies would be exhausted even before they got there – they’d probably stop at the snack shack along the way and then take a long snooze under a shady tree, if they could find one.

The palace is a complex of buildings, all of mud, many of the walls still standing. It was taken over by weeds and wilderness but it was lovely. The best part was, like any other invading army, the crowds of Sunday picnickers never made it this far and we had the place to ourselves. It was just amazing. The best part was, one of the cold drink vendors near Onake Obavve cave had told us that the palace could be accessed either via the upper tank – the route we’d taken to get there – or via Ankali Math, where we’d seen a sign board and disregarded it. So we took something that looked like a path and it curved around and led through remote and scenic places and eventually emerged somewhere between Ankali Math and my favourite temple! Amit insisted we didn’t have time to linger, so I cast a wistful glance at my favourite temple, promised myself I’d be back, and allowed the family to drag me away, back to the here and now.

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