A 400-year-old rock-girdling aqueduct that plays hide and seek is still a wonder. Only, you have to go looking for it, Serish Nanisetti discovers more

During the eight-month siege of Golconda fort in 1687, water wasn't one of the concerns for the citizens of the fort township as they held out. The mighty army of Aurangazeb could not wrest the fort with the might of its arms despite the siege, despite three months of summer and despite the lessons from an earlier siege in 1656. What made this possible was the assured supply of water.

Twice told tales about the Golconda involve the flow of water through the lakes to the highest point in the fort. But this was subterfuge. The reality is different and humbling. A walk from Pan Maktha, off the Old Bombay Highway, leads to a dirty nullah with plastic bottles and other garbage filling it up. A walk up the hill, leads to exhilaration of watching a small 2-ft canal that skirts the rocky contours of the hill. It disappears and reappears under huge rocks leading right up to the Durgam Cheruvu anicut.

According to a study by Wong and Kallianpur in 2006, the Qutb Shahis used a five-tiered security system to ensure the water supply in times of peace and war. The key component of this was concealment and another by enforcement of guards at strategic points. The bund at the Durgam Cheruvu has a small mosque on the left side called Tana Shah masjid, and beneath it was a small guard room (it has collapsed). A similar structure is visible on the edge of the Malakka cheruvu and another recurs at the edge of the Qutb Shahi tombs quadrangle overlooking the Ibrahimbagh cheruvu. But the water traverses a different course. Away from all these visible structures. If it disappears near Pan Maktha, it reappears yards away from the Husain Shah Wali Dargah where it skirts an old wall. The hydrological skill becomes evident as the rocky aquaduct is built on an elevation in the low-lying area and despite this it remains concealed. The highest point of Golconda is at 609 mts above sea level, while portions of Durgam cheruvu is at 610 mts above sea level but much of the water channel is between 495 and 505 mts above sea level. The concealed canal makes an appearance at the rear of Qutb Shahi Tombs complex (the watchman says “kuch nahi hai udhar”) where a series of holding tanks, canals and other features become visible. The barely concealed canal continues in the rear of the Qutb Shahi complex where it disappears in a freshly minted shantytown. According to lore, the canal blended in with the contours of the land and emerged near Jamali Kunta before entering the Katora Houz on the eastern side.

Once inside the fort, the Persian water wheel was used to pump up the water where the royalty had baths, fountains and toilets and other civilised amenities. According to a calculation the fountain outside Rani Mahal had a pressure of 22 lbs/sq inch. Ralph Fitch, a British businessman, who visited the kingdom around 1591 reports: “Golconda is a fair town with fair houses of brick and timber and abounds with great stores of fruit and fresh water.”

Now, the series of wells inside the fort are dry. The Katora Houz is a sewerage pit. The Persian water wheels have disappeared. But hope dwells eternal. Is it possible to see salvation for the aquaduct in the effort to put Golconda on UN World Heritage site status?