Weekend Getaways: Exploring ancient history at Chitradurga Fort and the Chandravalli caves

Chitradurga is a paradise for history buffs complete with structures, carvings and curious tales from the era of its last ruler.

I gave in, albeit reluctantly, to the weekend escape plan to Chitradurga, famous for its fort. Climbing the fort and stories behind it did not really excite me in this scorching summer heat. To top it all, a couple of friends whom I spoke to looked at me as if I were mad planning on a Chitradurga trip now.

Our friend who was accompanying us in the trip, researched well around the place and was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of picturesque places near by. So we set off around 8 AM Saturday morning, and after a breakfast at Kamat Upachar on the Tumkur highway (At Dabaspet), we proceeded to Chitradurga.

The first stop was the Jogi Matti forest reserve, where adventure camps organize treks at Jogi Matti (more details). The forest officials, though very friendly, were not able to give us rooms/or permission to go around the reserve due to elections round the corner, and also power issues. They allowed us to visit the Adumalleshwara zoo which was in the same premises.

At the zoo, on finding the huge Banyan tree with its long tentacle like branches, we jumped at performing acrobatics with it, thus amusing the otherwise entertaining monkeys around. One just can’t get enough of this. The zoo and the garden was well maintained. After spotting a couple of sleepy crocodiles, and patient tortoises, the big cats with their piercing features were the ones that we couldn’t take our eyes off. The leopards (in their extremely small enclosures) were very restless.

Watching animals caged in enclosures can be a pretty unsettling experience, and can make one wonder whether it’s us who are in their territory, and claiming our rights on them.

Prajwal Restaurant provided us with good food, after which we checked into Hotel Aishwarya Fort, one of the better known hotels around the area. The Chandravalli caves was one place which had rave reviews, and that seemed a doable option for the evening. What awaited us took as totally by surprise! A sparkling lake, set against a hilly background, just as the sun was setting and the eveningturned cooler.

Deciding to stop by on our way back for some pictures along the lake-side, we were ushered up to the cave entrance by the locals, as the guide was just packing up for the day. The cave, also known as Ankalagi caves, is known to have existed since pre-historic times, and used and modelled as and when kings of various dynasties visited at some points during their reigns.

Interesting carvings and paintings made out of natural materials, meditation seats, resting sofas, bath tub and rain water harvesting systems, niches for holding lamps, “ammi” stone holes (for grinding batter) – name it and you can find it in these caves. There was even a “Rahasyasthala”, where secret meetings were conducted. With all the torches turned off here, one can experience absolute darkness.

Though most of the structures were damaged to a certain extent over time, the beauty of the caves is remarkable. On stepping out of the caves, beyond a rock wall one can get get a glimpse of the lake and the hill beyond. After waiting in vain for a sloth bear to appear near the lake, we returned and rested the night.

The next morning we set off to cover the famous Chitradurga Fort before the sun reached its peak. The fort is an archealogical delight, with every nook and cranny holds a special story behind it. Legend goes that Chitradurga got its name from the natural formations on the rocks. We could spot rocks which looked like a frog, a huge monitor lizard climbing a rock, one shaped like an elephant, another shaped like a rabbit, and so on.

The snake carved at the entrance of the fort indicates the way the fort is constructed, with no one entrance being visible from the prior entrance. One wall had the mark of a cannon shot eons ago. There was a narrow and small locked entrance, which apparently was where the soldiers exercised. The narrow entrance was the only one and was constructed such a way to ensure privacy from unwanted eyes.

A pillar which stands near the Ardha Nareeshwarar temple entrance has the statue of a lady at its lower end. Legend goes that when the pillar was constructed, it was made to stand straight, in vain. No engineering solution would help and the locals prayed to the lord at the Temple. The solution given was to sacrifice animals along with a lady and bury her below the pillar, which would make the pillar stand. No woman was willing to come forward to be sacrificed. The then queen, however, agreed with the condition that her statue be carved at the bottom of the pillar. After the sacrifice was performed, the pillar stood and stands till today.

Another story goes around the treasury area. A small temple like structure was constructed which had an opening inside at the center, below which was a huge storage area. On top of this opening was erected an idol of Lord Shiva. When Hyder Ali came to visit the fort, the Idol was moved, all the mints, gold coins and other valuables which were in the treasury were dumped into the opening below and the idol was replaced. Hyder Ali had no clue, and assuming that this was a temple, he just moved on.

The last point of the Fort that we visited was Onakke Obbava’s Kindi. Madakari Nayaka ruled Chitradurga, which Hyder Ali, the ruler of Mysore, wanted to capture. The legend goes that Obbava, wife of a soldier named Kalanayaka, was guarding a fort tower during her husband’s lunch break. She guarded the fort at a secret opening where only one person could go through. When she stepped out to fetch water for her husband, she heard muted sounds of the enemy soldiers squeezing through the crevice. She quickly hid behind the crevice and with a pestle used for pounding paddy (Onakke) she hit each soldier climbing in through the crevice. Hence, she got the name Onakke Obavva.

After the enriching experience at the fort, we were famished and headed for breakfast. Khali dosa at the Lakshmi Tiffin Room, better known as LTR, is the most sought after breakfast joint at Chitradurga. The dosa is similar to the Set Dosa that we get at Bangalore, and comes with a dollop of ghee in a tiny cup, and a cup of potato sabji. Drowning it with a steaming cup of strong coffee, we checked out and set off towards Vani Vilas Sagara dam near Hiriyur.

This was the only point during the trip where we felt the sun burning down our backs. Climbing up the few steps to reach the dam proved to be really tiresome at 2 pm! But once you reach the top to get a glimpse of the vast expanse of the Vedavathi river, you realize that the efforts were totally worth it!

The heat just fizzles away when one rests the tired feet in the cool waters of the river. With the visit to the dam ended our Chitradurga weekend visit. We headed back home, on the way picking up a couple of ripe jackfruits, which Hiriyur is famous for.

Traveller information:
1. Distance: 220 kilometres from Bangalore.
2. Route: Bangalore -> Nelamangala -> Dabaspet -> Tumkur -> Sira -> Hiriyur -> Chitradurga
3. Places to stay:
Hotel Aishwarya Fort: Around 4 kms from the Chitradurga Fort. Rated 3 star in trip advisor. Decent for a one night stay.
Jogi Matti Forest Reserve: Provided the permission part is taken care of.
Karnataka Hotel Yathri Nivas – Just opposite to the Chitdadurga fort.
4. Eatouts –
Lakshmi Tiffin Room, better known as LTR – Famous for its Khaali Dosa
Hotel Prajwal – Good lunch fare
5. Carry a good camera – you are sure to spot some awesome birds at the forest reserve.
6. Make sure you’ve got caps, sun glasses, and lots of water; coconut water, buttermilk is a must have to beat the heat.
7. Try to limit visits to places during early hours of the morning (6 AM – 9:30 AM) or after 5 PM in the evening

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