Stories abound about ancient tunnels in forts

Stories abound about ancient tunnels in forts

Go to any of the 30,000-odd forts that dot India and you will hear of strange tunnels that radiate from this fort and goes to a citadel nearby.

 Armies supposedly marched through tunnels at magical speeds; princes used them to escape a besieged fortress; and women travelled discreetly through them to visit shrines and garden retreats.

Sometimes, no particular function was specified. The story simply established a spatial association between one place and another. 

When it comes to Mughal cities, the legends multiply more and it is held that there was an underground tunnel between Delhi and Agra and Delhi and Lahore. Modern archaeology, with the exception of Hyderabad and Lahore hasn’t been able to prove any of these tunnels, although there must have been escape routes from the Mughal forts of these metros to nearby forests or other secret hiding places. 

In the case of Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh, the tunnel connecting the Charminar and Golconda fort is believed to have hidden treasures--kept there by Nizams, with emergency exits-- at several places. The tunnel, which is believed to have been constr­ucted by Sultan Moham­med Quli Qutub Shah, the city’s founder 500 years ago, provided a safe pass­age to the royal family from Golconda fort to Char­minar, in case of emergencies.

According to Khaja Moinuddin, retired assistant director census opera­tions, who conducted a comprehensive survey of Hyderabad in 1962, the tunnel which still exists between the two historical structures is believed to have treasures at various places.

He stated in 1936, that the then commi­ssioner of Hyderabad municipality Inayat Gunj and the director of archaeological department Ghulam Yazdani conducted a detailed survey of the tunnel and a map was also prepared by them, which was officially submitted to the then ruler Nizam VII Mir Osman Ali Khan. 

To locate the tunnel, the excavation work was started from a place near Nawab Saif Nawaz Jung’ Deorhi ( palace) and after digging about 10 feet, huge granite slabs were found.

After removing the slabs, the tunnel was found, which was 30 feet deep and 15 feet wide. the depth of the tunnel at some places is about 40 feet. Excavations were also carried out near the locality known as Doodh Khana Allah Rakhi Begum and the tunnel having the same dimension was found. It was revealed in the excavati­ons that the tunnel had at least two branches, one from Saif Nawaz Jung-ki-Deorhi to Mitti-ka-Sher and from Jameelaki-Deorhi to Doodh Khana Allah Rakhi Begum passing through Sahr-e-batil Kamaan.

It passed below the famous Laad Bazar (the bangle bazar) to Puran­apul Darwa­za, Toli Masjid and Langar Houz areas. Later, a report was submitted to the Nizam VII with several proposals for approval. But no follow-up action was taken on them.

Khaja Moinuddin said as the tunnel was constr­ucted mainly for the use of the royal family during emergencies, there was a possibility that treasures were stored in it at secret places. It is said that there was also a secret tunnel from the durbar hall of the Sultans in the Golconda Fort to the Gosha Mahal near the Charminar.

In the early 1950s, under the orders of the Nizam’s grandson Prince Mukarram Jah, efforts were made to clear the tunnel from the Golconda Fort. But the workers found that the tunnel had collapsed in many places due to non-use and they had to abandon the efforts.

The fort tunnels, if carefully prese­rved, can be source of lot of tourist income. So far, only in the Amber Fort of Jaipur the local tourist depa­rtment has succeeded in making them a tourist attraction. In 2011, a portion of the famed Amber Palace-Jai­garh-Fort tunnel, which connects two historical landmarks in Jaipur, was inaugurated, offering a new adventure totourists and history buffs. The tunnel is believed to have been constructed in the 18th century so that the royal family, noblemen and others could be evacuated, in case of an attack on the palace, undetected, to the fort, which was defended by the army.

The 325-metre-long portion of the tu­n­nel excavated so far, is expected to incre­ase the tourism potential of the two monuments. State’s former Tourism, Art and Culture Minister Bina Kak,unvei­led the tunnel — built in the 18th century and flagged off a battery-operated golf cart which carried the Minister from Ganesh Pol in Amber Palace to the Jaigarh Fort. The Rajasthan tourist department char­ges Rs 100 per person to use the golf cart.

Officials of the Indian Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) claimed in 2011 that they’ve unearthed at least five underground ancient tunnels in the town of Srirangapatna once ruled by the Mysore Wadiyar dynasty and Tipu Sultan.

 Dubbed the most “sensational archaeological discoveries” in the history of Srirangapatna, the tunnels lend credence to untold stories of how they were used by members of the royal family and their military generals.