Balagondarayanadurgam Fort, Krishnagiri, A Trek nearby Bengaluru

As I was researching on 'Baramahal' or the 'Twelve Forts' built around Krishnagiri during the reign of the Vijayanagara Kings, I stumbled upon the fort of 'Balagondarayanadurgam'/'Balakondarayadurga'. 'Balagondarayanadurgam' is located between the towns of Shoolagiri and Krishnagiri. On a Saturday morning, we decided to trek this hill and explore it. It is a fairly big hill with the Bala Kondarayaswamy Thirukkoil (temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu) at its top. We reached the hill base without any difficulty and found a series of well laid steps up to the hill top. There was a small hut at the base of the hill where we could see the fort remains. An elderly couple lived here and as we conversed, we realized they speak the language of Kannada and hence started inquiring about this place.
Balagondarayanadurgam 
Bala Kondarayaswamy Thirukkoil , Krishnagiri
Bala Kondarayaswamy Thirukkoil
Trek Leader
Camouflaged Lizard
 The elderly person started narrating the history of this place and told us an interesting legend which was as follows,"Once upon a time when this place was under attack by the Nizam, the local army was on the verge of defeat. It is believed that sensing this defeat, Lord Vishnu hid himself inside a cave here after transforming into a young boy. When the army of the Nizam came to plunder this temple, they found no murti inside and decided to leave the place without causing any damage or destruction. The Lord has stayed inside the cave ever since, thus the name Bala Kondaraya swamy". Later a murti of Lord Venkataramana was installed here. The ascent was pretty simple and straight forward. Meanwhile a group of people were already climbing the hill. One of them, who seemed very elderly was also carrying a big vessel full of prasadam to the temple at the top. It was a good opportunity for us to lend a helping hand and so we did by sharing the good deed of carrying the prasadam. There is also a small temple dedicated to Lord  Anjaneya on the way to the top. There are many water ponds on the hill of which one is currently being used by the temple folks.
Fort Entrance
Remains of Fort Wall
He Man (Carrying Such Heavy Vessel At this Age to the top)
Sharing is Caring
Finally as we made it to the top of the hill, we could see the remains of fortification here. In the temple, the curtain remained closed as it was time for the daily rituals of the Lord and hence we decided to finish our breakfast, the very yummilicious Bisi Bele Bath along with chips!! In no time we emptied all our packed food. Meanwhile, the Archakaru (temple priest) was ready for the puja. We took the blessings of the Lord and visited the near by cave where the Lord originally resided.  The murti here was small yet very beautiful. There is another big water pond a little away from the temple and down the hill by the side of which is a small shrine dedicated to Lord Vinayaka. There are a few caves nearby this water pond wherein the guards probably took shelter. The descent was uneventful. 
Although not much of the history pertaining to this fort is known, the fort seems to have been built post 16th century by the then feudal king under the declining rule of the Vijayanagara kings. The fort is simple in construction and probably served as a military outpost, which today is in complete shambles.
Lord Anjaneya
Akka Thangi Honda (See the color difference)
Ustav Murti
Bala Kondaraya Swamy
Reflections
Orange Wasp
The temple here is functional only on Saturdays and full moon days, so visits must be planned accordingly. 

Sunrise Trek to Huthridurga - Uttari Betta, Treks Around Bengaluru

'Huthridurga/Hutridurga', also popularly called as 'Uttari Betta' among the trekking community is one among the popular trekking trails around Bengaluru. It is rated as one of the easiest treks around Bengaluru suitable for all age groups. It is a great place for beginners who desire to trek. A word of caution for first time trekkers is to better be accompanied by people who are familiar with this place. Huthridurga is about 55 km from Bengaluru and is one of the Navadurgas (nine forts) built by Sri Kempegowda. This fort was built in the 16th century CE and has later undergone a few modifications during the reign of Hyder/Tippu and the British rule.  Click here for more details about this fort.
We, from #RTCBengaluru had planned a drive cum trek to Huthridurga this Sunday. Though initially many were interested to join the trek,  the number gradually decreased as the week progressed and after the last minute dropouts, our group comprised of 6 adults and 2 kids. We started our journey on time to Huthridurga and traveled in 2 vehicles. We started from home around 3:15am early morning although our scheduled time of departure was 3:00am. We were a few minutes late as we were waiting for one of our friends to join us. Unfortunately, he failed to pick our call and without wasting any more time we drove to our next assembly point which was Magadi Road. The rest of the group  were already present there. We joined them around 3:45 am and began our drive to Huthridurga, via Magadi.
Since it was that hour of the day when traffic is the least, we were able to cross Magadi in time and reach Huthridurga crossing at 4:45 am as per our plan. Here on we had to drive on a small section of ghat road and as we drove ahead, we were informed that Ravi Sir's vehicle had a break down. An inspection of the vehicle revealed that the issue was with one of the tensioner pulleys that had given way.  A wise decision of stopping the car was made to avoid any further problem. We were a little ahead of them and had to return to check on the situation. The vehicle was parked by the road side leaving enough space for the movement of other vehicles without any hindrance. All of us now drove ahead in one vehicle and reached  Huthridurga which was about 1 km from here. We decided to complete our trek first and check on the availability of a mechanic after our descent. 
Sunrise Trek to Huthridurga
Crescent Shaped Moon
We found a proper place for parking at the hill base and started our trek  at 5:15 am. It took us about 45 minutes to reach the top of the hill including a 10 minute break, under the clear black sky dotted with millions of stars and the lone crescent shaped moon. At the break point, I tried my hand at photographing the stars though I couldn't manage capturing a decent picture of the star lit sky. I realized that I should spend some more quality time to learn photographing the skies! We were greeted by a carving of Lord Anjaneya housed in a shelter a little further from here. We trekked  at a slow pace and reached the peak top comfortably. The weather was quite windy and chilly up there and amidst this, we patiently waited for the sun to rise. There is a temple atop the hill built by Sri Kempegowda dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is Sri Sankeshwara Temple which houses a shivalinga with an idol of Lord Nandi opposite to it. Attached on one side to the temple is a mantapa with pillars and roof covered with stone slabs. While my wife and kids took shelter inside the temple to keep themselves warm, the rest of us made ourselves comfortable and took respective positions so we could catch the first glimpse of sunrise.
Sunrise Trek to Huthridurga
Yes! He Finally Arrives!
Best Sunrise trek around Bengaluru
Lord Surya above Savanadurga Hill
Top Place to Watch sunrise around Bengaluru
What a View!
It was cold and quite breezy, and finally at 6:50 am the Sun made his appearance just like the description of Lord Surya arriving on his seven horsed chariot! Every Sunrise is a unique experience. For the next 20 minutes we enjoyed the showdown utilizing every opportunity for photo ops. After the sun rose and the weather turned warmer, we decided to explore the other portions of the fort. We spent some time between the boulders that acted as wind breakers for having snacks and chatting. Finally we descended and reached the starting point where we again halted for a short break to bask under the sun. It was time for breakfast as we all were quite hungry and drove down towards the town of Magadi for some hot Thatte Idli's (Plate Idli's) and filter coffee. After satisfying our hungry stomachs, our next job was to find a mechanic to fix the car, but being a Sunday most of the shops around remained closed. A few who were open were quite reluctant and refused to come along as the destination was quite far. Meanwhile Ravi Sir contacted his regular mechanic who agreed to come by and fix the car. We dropped everyone at the required stops and reached home safely. The weather turned pretty hot along our return journey and we were only reminded of how pleasant it was atop the hill amidst nature! We were informed by evening that Ravi sir got his vehicle repaired and reached home safely. He is quite an inspiration for all of us and his stories kept us engaged all through our trek and drive. It was yet another great experience. If you wish to join us on such drives, kindly visit the website of Road Trippers Club for more information and be a part of many such fabulous drives across India.
Hutridurga Trek
Kempasagar Lake
Uttari Betta Trek
Team on the Top
Trek, Trail and Tales

The Trek Team
1. Teamgsquare (Me, Amrutha, Adhi and Diya) in our Loyal Xylo
2. Ravi Shankar in Mahindra Scorpio
3. Vishwas Gowda, Natesha and Shiva Prakash, car pooled

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Raichur Fort / ರಾಯಚೂರು ಕೋಟೆ

Raichur Fort /  ರಾಯಚೂರ ಕೋಟೆ
Raichur Fort /  ರಾಯಚೂರು  ಕೋಟೆ
A visit to Raichur was pending for a long time and had remained as one of the districts which was less explored by us in the state of Karnataka. Hence we decided to visit the magnificent fort of Raichur at the least. This time we chose to travel by train in order to reduce the driving load and more importantly, to test our ability of having to travel with our little partners!! Raichur is one of the blessed districts of Karnataka in terms of it geographical positioning owing to its location between the two mighty rivers of Krishna and Tungabhadra, making it one of the most fertile regions of Karnataka. Raichur today is most famous for its Thermal Power Station at Shakthinagar situated about 18 km from Raichur and is also known for trading of cotton. This place is of considerable antiquity, right from the prehistoric period to the period of struggle for Independence. The village of Maski is very well known for the Ashokan edicts found here which is believed to have been inscribed in the 3rd century BCE. This is one of the rare edicts where King Ashoka has been referred to as Devanamapriya and Priyadarshi. Also, the Hatti Gold Mines is the only operational goldmine in India and is located in Raichur.
Raichur Fort /  ರಾಯಚೂರ ಕೋಟೆ
Bala Hisar and Fortifications
Raichur Lake
While 'Raichur' was earlier known by the names of 'Rachavoor' or 'Rachanoor', it was later called as Rayachooru. The Fort of Raichur was in existence much before the Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana captured this place in 1150 CE. The fort was built by the Kalyana Chalukyas and later expanded by Raja Vitthala under the able leadership of Kakatiya Queen Rudramma Devi in 1294. The same has been documented in the long inscription found near the second doorway of the fort, inside the Mecca darwaza.
History of Raichur Fort
Telugu Inscription Describing the Construction of this Fort
While most of the fortification was built by the Kakatiya and Vijayanagara Kings, a few later additions and repair works were undertaken by the Bahmanis and Adil Shahis. Though Malik Kafur captured this fort in 1312, it was subsequently captured and strengthened by the Vijayanagara Kings. Post the fall of Vijayanagara kingdom, the Bahmanis occupied this place and was later ruled by the Bijapur Sultans, Mughals and the Nizams.
Raichur Fort /  ರಾಯಚೂರ ಕೋಟೆ
Top Most Fortification
Fort Wall and Raichur Town
Exiting the Dragon
That Sunday morning after having a  good breakfast at Hotel Udupi near the railway station, we took a rickshaw up to the base of the fort.  The driver dropped us behind the fort which was a slum like colony that slowly crept into the fort area. The ascent from here was quite easy along the well laid steps built during the 15th century. Within no time we reached the first entrance of the fort and a short trek from hereon took us to the top most portion of the fort. The Bala Hisar (citadel) situated here, which is occupied by the durbar hall which is a double three arched and triple domed strucutre. There is a big damaged cannon in the premises.  There is also a small mosque built in Bijapura style, with a single arch and two slim minarets. Besides this is a structure that seems like the remains of a small Mantapa associated with a temple, though no traces of any temple were found around. Behind the durbar hall and amidst the rocks is a beautiful carving of Lord Nandi in a seated position. It was very disheartening to see that only the lower portion of the Bull remained intact with no trace of it's head.
The Cannon
Raichur Fort /  ರಾಯಚೂರ ಕೋಟೆ
Bala Hisar
Small Mosque built in Bijapura Style
History of Raichur Fort
Broken Nandi Murti
We started our descent in the other direction, towards the Mecca Darwaza. On reaching the bus stand, we stopped by for a tea break. While we were walking towards the Mecca Darwaza, I spotted a few carvings on the walls inside the recently built Indira canteen campus. I decided to go ahead and check them out only to find inscriptions in Telugu which speaks about how the large boulders were hauled by buffaloes for building the fort walls. It then struck to me that the official website of Raichur district gave a description similar to what I had witnessed.  It quotes, "A little distance to the right of the above epigraph, is depicted the process by which the large inscribed slab was brought from the quarry to the site, laden on a solid-wheeled cart drawn by a long team of buffaloes with men driving and cudgelling the animals and applying levers at the wheels to push the cart forward. The artistic treatment in delineating the line of buffaloes in perspective, and the lively and graphic expression of the strain on them as represented by means of depicting some with tongues lolling out of their mouths, some with bent waists, and others with tails curled and lifted up as is usually seen when these animals are put to extra strain, is indeed a marvel of the art of drawing, particularly when the age of the work is taken into consideration. Further to the right is carved a procession scene of six chariots, drawn by humped bulls with decorative collars round their necks, and a little distance to the south is carved a forest scene with palmyra trees. On various other slabs in the same wall are incised floral and foliage designs as well as numerous figures of men engaged in various activities, and also animals and birds, like bulls, elephants, boars, jackals, cocks, peacocks, geese, etc., all executed in the same delightful manner".  Hurriedly and with excitement, I went back to bring my wife and two little partners to witness this marvel. My wife was stunned after looking at the carvings! It surely was an amazing experience for all of us to see these beautiful and unique carvings that gave us a clear picture of how the huge sized stone slabs were actually laid one above the other and how the fort wall was really built.
Long Team of Buffaloes Pulling the Rock Slab on a Solid Wheeled Cart
6 Chariots, drawn by Humped Bulls
Notice the Huge Size of the Rock Slabs used for Constructing the Fort Wall
Close up of the Solid Wheeled Cart
Hereon we reached the Mecca Darwaza which has been neatly restored by the ASI and has 2 two security personnel in charge of taking care and maintenance. After entering the necessary details in the visitor's book, we proceeded further. The entire gateway and the fort wall of Mecca Darwaza was built during the reign of the Vijayanagara kings, which is quite evident by the presence of carvings such as elephants, peacocks, Lord Anjaneya and other gods/goddesses on its walls. There are a few cannons belonging to the later period kept for display. We explored further on the other side of the fort wall along the moat and found more Hindu carvings. Owing to the persian inscription found atop the fort entrance, some historians claim that the fort walls were built by the Bahmanis, although it is much clear that it belongs to a much earlier period than the Bahmani rule.
Cannon placed at Mecca Darwaza
Mecca Darwaza and the Moat around it
Elephant Carvings on the Wall of Mecca Darwaza
Lord Garuda
Lord Bhikshatana Murti with various Mystical Animals
Our next destination was the most beautiful fort entrance named 'Navarang Dwara' or 'Navarang Darwaza'. This is probably one of the most beautiful fort entrances we have seen till date. It is a classical representation of Vijayanagara Art and Architecture. However, this place now has been converted into a museum and photography has been prohibited. 
Navarang Dwara, Raichur Fort
Navaranga Dwara
Navarang Dwara, Raichur Fort
Interiors of Navaranga Dwara
Intricate Carvings
After spending some time here, we inquired about Gowdra Mane (the royal house) which supposedly houses many beautiful murals belonging to the 19th century. The ASI staff at the museum were kind enough to give us directions to this place. We managed to find an auto rickshaw with great difficulty and the driver agreed to drop us at the old house. Surprisingly not many were aware of such a place around. After many inquiries with the locals, we landed right in front of this beautiful royal house. The exteriors of the house seemed very grand and we were much excited to have a look at what was in store for us. However, the house was locked for interior repairs and we were informed that the family had shifted only recently to another house in the town. We met the neighbors and exchanged our phone numbers so we could try and visit the house the next time. After watching our curiosity to enter the royal house, the auto driver too turned equally curious about the entire situation! Unfortunately, we couldn't make it into the royal house that day. We had to catch our train and hence requested our auto driver to drop us back at our hotel.
Koti Darwaza 
The Royal House of Raichur
The Royal House - Gowdra Mane
Projected Balcony of the Royal House
References:
1. Karnataka Tourism Gazetteer - Gulbarga
2. Raichur Official Website
3. Journeys across Karnataka

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