Optimism, scorn over search

Central Govt institutions join treasure hunt

Chances of finding hidden wealth were just 0.4 per cent not deterred people from taking up treasure hunt.

Geophysical studies being conducted at the Vidyaranya school ground in Hyderabad for the treasure. Mohammad Aleemuddin

It’s almost like one of those Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones series.

A mason and a few schoolchildren accidentally stumble on a door in a barren hillock and see gold through the key hole.

Then, the archeology professor gets into action for the treasure.

Last month a treasure hunt was launched by a few senior citizens of society and was executed by the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) on Vidyaranya School premises, opposite the Andhra Pradesh State Secretariat.

The search might not have yielded any tangible results but it confirmed the
presence of a maze of tunnels and underground structures in the vicinity of Naubath Pahad, a hill on which Birla Mandir was built.

Treasure hunting was not new to Nizam’s Deccan, as almost every grave yard, temple complex, dilapidated mosque and palaces and also public buildings in Hyderabad have become targets of treasure hunters in the last 60 years.

However, this time the bounty season advanced a bit with massive treasure hunt in the heart of Hyderabad. Excavators were summoned to dig in search of much forgotten bunkers built by the sixth Nizam Mahboob Ali Pasha during World War II to stash his wealth and secure himself from air attacks of Japan.

The last ruler of the erstwhile Hyderabad state was the richest man of his time.
The latest attempt to unravel the Nizams’s hidden wealth in his underground bunkers began amid expectations of finding huge quantities of gold biscuits and diamonds. “It may be recalled that the Nizam had shipped 3,000 kg gold to the newly formed Pakis­tan,” says a local historian, hinting that the underground cache could yield precious metal.

The present search is in one of the complexes which was the palace of one of the princely states under Nizam, now a public school. Ironically a descendent of the princely family of Vanashalipuram, P Anuradha Reddy, is a heritage activist and heads the state unit of the  Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage> “I am surprised to hear about treasure in the ground I played around as a child,” she says.

The National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC), the Geological Survey of India and other agencies have also procured satellite maps and other scientific data about the underground bunkers and hope to unravel the secret treasures of Qutub Shahi and Mogul chieftains of last five centuries. ‘We are certain about the bunkers, but can’t say what they contain now,” says Prof P Channa Reddy, Director of State Archeology Department.

The 25-km radius around Charminar, Golconda Fort and the Naubat Pahad had been in the eye of bounty hunters since last three decades. The expeditions in the Mint compound, Home Science College and the famous Birla Mandir complex have been butt of diggers. Some of the ancient grave yards in old city near Mecca Mosque, the royal grave yard near Purani Haveli, King Koti Palace, Kilwat Palace and also the Falaknuma Palace have been dug up on several occasions.

According to Channa Reddy, who is also the State Treasure Trove Officer, several locations in and around Hyderabad are said to have treasures. Hyderabad had several secret air ducts, chambers and tunnels where money and valuable jewellery could have been stored.

It is believed that the city had two underground palaces-- Dad Mahal and Moti Mahal-- near the Chowk abutting Charminar locality and they may have countless valuables.

The search for elusive treasure is not entirely without reason. Historically and geologically, Andhra Pradesh has the second largest mineral resource in India and the State can boast of producing seven of the world’s top 10 diamonds, including the “Kohinoor” and the  “Jacob”. The family of the Nizams are still searching for the missing diamond estimated at Rs 1,000 crore in the international market and last seen in the Nizams state treasury 60 years ago.

A treasure hunt is often triggered by a folk tale. There have been hundreds of cases of vandalism in and around Hyderabad with organised gangs of treasure seekers digging up even ancient graves. Unlike other States, Andhra Pradesh sits on a treasure trove of natural resources and those left by its rich rulers. Several palaces had special vaults where treasure was stored. “Unfortunately, most of the treasures were stolen by family members and servants after the fall of the kingdoms,” says Hyderabad city historian Dr Narender Luther.

The technical studies carried out by the NMDC on the premises of Vidyaranya School here revealed that a “structure” indeed exists at a depth of about 20 feet. Every monsoon, hundreds of people in Kurnool, Krishna and Visakhapatnam districts search riverbeds and hill slopes for diamonds and precious stones that the rains may have washed down.

The NMDC has set up offices in Kurnool and Anantapur districts and operated some excavations for diamonds and gold on river basins and also hillocks.

Treasure hunters down the ages have dug up almost everything that had even the remotest association with treasure troves. From graves to old trees, palaces to temples, abandoned houses to forest tracts, drains to tunnels, and riverbeds to hill slopes-- all have been the target of treasure seekers in Andhra Pradesh. The chances of finding the treasure is said to be 4:100 attempts.

Accidental finds of treasure have been a regular affair in the State. Coins found during ploughing of fields and renovation of old houses now number over six lakh. The State Archaeology Museum has thousands of gold coins, which together weigh about 130 kg. Andhra Pradesh has been the favourite hunting ground of treasure seekers for several centuries, says Sudarshan Kumar, a senior archeology researcher at Osmania University.

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