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Remains of a forgotten regime

Venkatraman S, March 24, 2013 18:22 IST
tranquil The remains of Tipu Sultanís fort in Rayakottai. PHOTO BY AUTHOR

Ibn Battuta, one of the first and greatest travellers, said this about travelling — “it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller”.

And this was my exact feeling after visiting Rayakottai.

Scouting for possible day-long getaways from Bangalore, I stumbled on Rayakottai in the Krishnagiri tourism website. This was followed by a curious search on the Internet, which gave me limited information about the place and its history. And we, a group of bikers, decided to explore this place on a lazy Saturday morning. We rode on NH-7 (Bangalore-Chennai Highway), and reached the town of Rayakottai in an hour.

The sun was slowly catching up, as if it was still not sure whether to wake up from the morning slumber and perform its routine. We spotted a huge rocky hill on the right of the main road as soon as we entered the town. A quick enquiry at a roadside tea stall confirmed that as our destination.

We parked our motorcycles near the base of the hill and with much excitement started the ascent on foot. The sun was bright, but not tormenting. The serrations formed on the boulders and the rocks laid out in the form of steps aided us in getting to the top in an hour. A dilapidated structure, in what should have been the main entrance to the fort, greeted us and we could spot the fort walls at a distance. The walls overlooked the entire town of Rayakottai.

We climbed further up along the trail formed by crushed grass, with a few cave-like structures formed due to the boulders on the sides and reached the top of the hillock. We could see some structures emerging out of the tall elephant grass and other thorny shrubs — it was as if we were just taking part in a treasure hunt. Most of the structures wore a beaten look, with no ceilings and an overgrowth of shrubs and grass everywhere. The small lake at the top had dried up.

With hardly any information boards from the Archaeological Survey of India educating the public on the crumbled state of the structures, we really felt that this place should be better preserved and promoted. I spotted a child who was writing down something in his notebook in the shade of one of the bushes and asked him why he had climbed all the way up. For him, this was the perfect resting spot to finish off his homework as it was too noisy ‘below’. I felt a certain aura in him.

When I quizzed him about the place and its history, he did tell me that it was once Tipu Sultan’s palace and then he went blank. I moved on. Goats roamed around and the ramshackle state of affairs here on the top was disheartening. From the top of the hill, one could see the whole town of Rayakottai and also spot the distant Krishnagiri Dam.

My post-travel research educated me about this forgotten fort. It is believed that this fort was one of the most important and strategic places in the Palakkad Pass and commanded the road to Carnatic. The Mysore armies, during the 18th century, could invade the Carnatic via this route. The fort fell in the charge of Major Gowdie during Lord Cornwallis’s attack.

The sultan’s troops tried to blow up the fort, but the Major’s advance was so sudden that they failed in the attempt, and the fort was later occupied. It is believed that the commandant of the garrison took a bribe from the British on the condition of a safe passage for him and his family and that is how this ‘strong and complete’ fort fell into the hands of the British Army. The forts at Rayakottai, Anchetidurga and Oodiadurga formed an important triumvirate in this region, guarding the entire route, and the latter two too soon fell to the British.

I could now re-enact every piece of history associated with Rayakottai in my mind with the hillock as the backdrop. The threatening cliffs being used as the perfect spot to throw away prisoners from the top made the landscape part of a sordid past was etched in my mind now.

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