Sravasti Datta is bewitched by the impregnable Chitradurga fort and the never-ending maze of the Chandravalli caves

Urbanisation has slowly creeped into Chitradurga district — many of its streets resemble Bangalore’s smaller streets. But a visit to the well-known Chitradurga Fort and Chandravalli caves makes one wonder at how intrinsically linked we are to our history. Chitradurga is a quaint town with history hidden in its corners. Spread across several craggy hills and overlooking a valley, the past and the present meet in a fascinating way while one views the windmills that form the backdrop to the fort. Earlier known as Chitrakaldurga or “picturesque fort” in Kannada, Chitradurga fort is an architectural marvel.

The Archaeological Survey Of India-protected monument was built between the 10th and 18th Centuries, by kings of various dynasties, the Rashtrakutas, Chalukyas, Hoysalas and Nayakas of Chitradurga. Finishing touches to the fort were added by Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan, before it was used by the British to garrison its troops. Even today, the local community engages with the fort, you can see groups of elderly men, housewives and quite a few morning walkers ambling their way through the cobbled pathways. The serenity of the fort is enhanced by the meticulous maintenance. Not a scratch on a stone or a flower plucked. For all those cynics who believe that monuments are not given the respect they deserve, Chitradurga fort comes as a pleasant surprise.

It takes several hours to a few days, particularly for monument lovers, to explore the fort in its entirety. Housed within the fort, fortified by seven circular walls, are bastions, watchtowers, water tanks, temples,19 gateways, four secret entrances, granaries, oil pits, a mosque and even a prison and four massive grinding stones. The impregnable fort is witness to not just battles but to legends, the famous being of Onake Obavva. She single-handedly defeated Hyder Ali’s soldiers who tried to attack the fort.

The journey through the fort, though tiring, leaves me energised to explore the Chandravalli caves, located amidst three hills, Chitradurga, Cholagudda and Kirubanakallu. It is said that the caves hold many secrets within it. A few hours later, as I stand 80 feet in the belly of the Chandravalli caves, I realise the above notion is true. The caves are a never-ending maze of steep steps that lead into passageways, rooms and ante-rooms where kings from the Kadamaba, Satavahana and Hoysala dynasties resided in and temples where saints of the Ankali Math of Belgaum meditated. The caves are remarkably well ventilated, though those who are claustrophobic should not venture too deep. There is no light and one has to rely on torch light to navigate. As we arrive in one of the secret rooms, the guide switches off the torch and narrates to us, while we stand in pitch darkness, how the kings used lamps that were dimmed whenever there was a threat of an intrusion.

There is an inexplicable magical aura surrounding the caves, with its carvings of Hindu and Buddhist symbols and remnants of pre-historic paintings in vegetable colours. There are rock paintings on top of the hill as well. We are led slowly out of the caves to the temples outside, all of which are clean, its walls and floors spotless. As I walk past the placid Chandravalli Lake, I cannot help but envy the locals who have access to such historical sites.