Hyderabad is most famous for its iconic Charminar (‘four minarets’) monument. But the Golconda Fort is where the history of the city first began. From here, Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, ruler of the kingdom of Golconda, decided to build his new city on the banks of the Musi river.
Explore the Outer Ramparts of Golconda Fort
They say Golconda hill was fortified as far back as the mid-1100s. But it was the Qutb Shahi rulers who built the impressive fort that one sees today. Until Hyderabad was founded, this fort (and the city within) was the capital of the Golconda kingdom. Most of it is still densely populated. The outer walls of this sprawling fort are about eight kilometres long, and enclose an area of about three square kilometres. Though the central citadel of Bala Hissar is the most famous part of the fort, the outer walls and ramparts have some very interesting sights to see, too.
The outer walls have eight gates or‘darwazas’ facing in different directions. The three largest gates – Makki (or Makkah) darwaza, fateh darwaza, and banjara darwaza, are definitely worth a closer look. Sadly, you can’t stop while driving through the massive Makki darwaza; it’s part of a military cantonment. But banjara darwaza and fateh darwaza are open to the public.
Each gate is built at the end of a curved passage, so battering rams or elephants couldn’t build up enough speed to attack the gates. The gates were also studded with knobs and spikes to fend off the elephants. Makki darwaza has two sets of massive iron-bound wooden gates, with a defensible space between. The banjara darwaza and fath darwaza have only one set of gates.
Interestingly, banjara darwaza has a Hindu shrine built into one of its gates, and a Muslim shrine on top of its battlements. There’s also a little garden at the gate, from where you can watch traffic as it snakes through the gates in alternating directions.
Driving through banjara darwaza used to be a nightmare, with traffic from both sides getting stuck while trying to squeeze through the narrow gate at the same time. Now, traffic lights and policemen allow traffic through in one direction at a time, at 30-second intervals. But there’s still lots of traffic, so it might be a good idea to park a little before entering the gate and go the rest of the way on foot.
Admiring the gate
The gate is quite impressive in the morning light. The crenelated walls of the corridor leading up to the gate force the traffic to snake between them. And the solid gate itself, with its spiked wooden doors, looks both forbidding and beautiful. The gates are now permanently open thanks to the layers of asphalt between them. But one can just imagine what they looked like when they were barred shut, and people were only allowed in through the tiny hatch that now houses the Hindu shrine. It’s a wonder that the wood of the doors has lasted the centuries, even though the spikes on the outer doors haven’t. The inner doors still sport rows upon rows of wicked, six-inch long steel spikes, though.
The easiest way to get to banjara darwaza from the old Mumbai highway side is to take the road next to the passport office and keep going for about 2.5 kilometres. You’ll pass the Qutb Shahi tombs on your right after about 1.5 kilometres, and then the entrance to the Hyderabad Golf Club a little later. Once you see the walls of the fort, you’ve arrived. Use this Google Maps location to navigate.
The Naya Qila or ‘new fort’ is an approximately 115-acre extension to the outer fortifications built in the mid-1650s. It was supposedly built as an additional defence against the Mughal army after their first siege weakened the original outer walls of the fort in that location.
Naya Qila is said to have contained a magnificent garden with pavilions, mosques and a series of interlinked pools, and the massive hathiyan ka jhad (‘elephant tree’) baobab tree in one corner. Today, nothing remains of the gardens. In the late 1990s, the state government gave over almost all the land in Naya Qila to a private golf club, supposedly to ‘promote tourism’. Since then, the Hyderabad Golf Club has turned this priceless piece of heritage into an 18-hole golf course, knocking down a large section of the outer wall in the process! Luckily, they left the giant baobab standing.
Now, almost the entire area of Naya Qila is now off limits to the public, except for a single rampart and the hathiyan ka jhad. The government, though, has plans of recreating a section of the old gardens near the entrance of Naya Qila. Only time will tell how that shapes up.
The hathiyan ka jhad, and a massive cannon
While driving into Naya Qila towards the hathiyan ka jhad, be careful not to miss the tree. You should eventually see it on your left after about a kilometer, but if the road suddenly turns a corner and narrows drastically, you’ve gone too far.
The tree is sometimes easy to miss, especially after the rains when it’s covered with leaves. It actually looks like a little forest, and not like a single tree! The huge, segmented trunk supposedly takes 24 people to encircle it with arms outstretched, is full of initials carved into it by visitors over the centuries. No one knows just how old the tree is, but speculations range between 400 and 800 years. The carved initials high up in the branches indicate that the tree might be very old indeed.
The security guard is sometimes kind enough to let vsitors through the fence surrounding the tree. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even climb up and into the tree’s famous central hollow. Legend has it that thieves used to hide in it, and that it still has remnants of old campfires inside. There’s also a derelict little mosque next door, from where you can see a few tall ramparts on the outer wall.
The ramparts of Naya Qila
Sadly, only one rampart is now open to the public, a short walk back down the road from the hathiyan ka jhad. It’s not a very pleasant walk, because an open drain flows alongside the road. The drain was originally a canal that supplied drinking water when Naya Qila was built, from a lake just outside the walls. Today, the densely populated areas around the lake dump raw sewage into it, from where it flows into Naya Qila and through the pristine golf course.
But once you made your way up the steep granite steps to the top of the bastion, you are greeted with a magnificent view. The rampart is one of the highest points around, and you can see the rest of the fort to one side, and to the other, the city beyond the outer walls.
Because of the view, it might just take you a moment to see the massive bronze cannon lying at the top. At least 18 feet long, and green with age, it lies on the ground still pointing in the direction from which Aurangzeb’s army must have attacked. The cannon is said to have been left behind by Aurangzeb during his first unsuccessful siege. Whatever its story, the cannon adds a lot to the air of history on top of that bastion.
Getting to the hathiyan ja jhad
To get to Naya Qila, turn left immediately after entering banjara darwaza. Make your way through the traffic as best you can (the road leads through a colony) for about a kilometre. On the way, you’ll pass the Jamali darwaza (a gate like banjara darwaza, but smaller). That’s not the one you’re looking for. You’ll finally get to a gate in the fort wall on the left, with a security guard. Tell the guard you’re headed for the hathiyan ka jhad and he’ll let you in.
Once you’re in, keep driving up the main path (it gets a bit narrow at times) for about a kilometre. Keep an eye out for a fence enclosing a mosque to your left. The tree is so big, it sometimes registers as a little forest when it has all its leaves, so watch out. Especially because the path beyond is off limits, and no one thought to put up a sign! You can use these directions to get to Naya Qila and the hathiyan ka jhad from banjara darwaza.
Petla Burj and the massive Fateh Rahbar cannon
Petla Burj (‘the round-bellied bastion’) is a prominent hilltop battlement in the western side of the outer wall. It probably got its name from the fact that it forms a bulge in a wall that is otherwise relatively straight. Petla Burj, though not very well maintained, holds the impressive Fateh Rahbar (‘guide to victory’) cannon. At 16 feet long, weighing 16.5 tons and made of ornately decorated dark green bronze, this cannon is a piece of art.
Like the cannon in Naya Qila, Fateh Rahbar was also used by Aurangzeb to besiege Golconda. But it seems this one was used during the second siege and not the first. After Golconda was conquered (by treachery, after force had failed), the cannon was placed on Petla Burj. It is still there today, facing the general direction of tombs of the vanquished Qutb Shahi kings. One wonders whether Aurangzeb did this deliberately, and what message he meant to send.
Looking out over the city from Petla Burj
Because the fort is still densely populated, the approach to the bastion is built up on either side. Also, very sadly, the path up to the bastion leads through a garbage dump. If you don’t feel like walking through the dump, you can drive a little way through and up past the dump, and then park once you can’t drive any further. You can then walk up the rest of the rough path.
The short stone stairway up to the top of the bastion is badly neglected and overgrown. But the view at the top shows how much the city has grown. Instead of an unrestricted view of the magnificent tombs, you’ll see instead that the city has spread in front and behind them. They look like an oasis of history slowly being engulfed by the urban landscape.
Up close with Fateh Rahbar
The cannon, though, is very impressive. With its complex embossed floral patterns and ornate calligraphy, it looks like something out of an Arabian fairy tale. Various stubborn vandals managed to scratch their initials into the hard metal over the years, but that doesn’t diminish its beauty much.
Getting to Petla Burj
Getting to petal burj from banjara darwaza is relatively easier than getting to Naya Qila. Enter banjara darwaza, and head straight for about a kilometre. After you pass the katora houz open tank on your left, the main road turns left. Turn right instead, and keep going until the end of the road. Use these directions to get here from banjara darwaza. Park wherever you can, and take the path (yes, through the garbage dump) up to the fort wall. Take the path to the right at the fork after the dump. Once you get to the wall, a flight of steps will lead you up to the top of the bastion.
Top tips for Golconda Fort
Traffic on Golconda fort’s narrow, winding roads can be a nightmare. Keep your cool and be patient, and you’ll eventually get through.
Going on a working day might be a good idea. The flow of visitors to the inner citadel on weekends makes the traffic worse.
Naya Qila is usually open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. But the golf club sometimes restricts entry during tournaments.
Jamali darwaza is a nice gate at which to take pictures, too. Just ignore the garbage and detritus.
Be nice to the security guard at the hathiyan ka jhad, and he’ll let you into the enclosure around the tree. He’ll expect a tip, though.
If you want to see the huge cannon on the bastion in Naya Qila, ask someone to point you in the right direction. You can park near the fenced-off path that leads up to it, if you want to avoid walking through the flying foam from the open drain next to the path.
For some reason, Google Maps calls the Naya Qila cannon Fateh Rahbar. That’s a mistake. Fateh Rahbar is on Petla Burj, not in Naya Qila. As far as I know, the Naya Qila cannon is just called ‘bada thōp’ (‘big cannon’).
When parking near Petla Burj, you might want to ask someone before you park. The houses are packed close together, and you don’t want to park in front of someone’s door by mistake.
Also, being nice to someone might make them more inclined to keep an eye on your car while you’re gone.
On clear days, if you look to the east, you can see the Charminar from Petla Burj, 10 kilometres away. It’ll take a pair of binoculars or a good zoom lens for a clear view, though.
Wear jeans or trousers while exploring the outer ramparts. Many areas are overgrown, and walking through the bushes in shorts or a skirt might not be pleasant.
It gets surprisingly windy up on the bastions, both in Naya Qila and on Petla Burj. If you’re going in winter, take a jacket.
Whichever season you visit in, take some water along.
Climbing up the bastions can be quite tiring. #KhabarLive