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The salt and earth of Tipu Sultan 

Climbing through a hill in Kunigal taluk, Kirti Malhotra explores a fort and bastions that tell the story of Tipu Sultan’s resistance against the British.
Last Updated : 26 June 2024, 22:32 IST

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I cannot for a moment think of a surrender; that as a confidential servant, entrusted with a stronghold, I cannot, after eating the salt of Tippoo Sultan, for upwards of twenty years, deliver it up, until my master will show the example of Srirangapatna; that as children of an indulgent parent, the people are determined to hazard their all, in his support; even their lives, or what is still more near and dear.” 

This was the Killedar’s reply, on June 26, 1791, when Lieutenant Maclend of the Intelligence department of the army reached the Fort of Outradroog (Hutridurga, a fortified hill in the south-east of Kunigal taluk, Tumakuru district). Lieutenant Maclend was carrying a flag of truce when there was firing from the fort and it became evident that the sultanate’s garrison was not of a disposition to surrender. That simple, but determined answer forced them to leave Hutridurga undisturbed for a while. I read this fascinating detail in Lt Roderick Mackenzie’s ‘A sketch of the war with Tippoo Sultan’ (1792).

Many gripping details of the ‘Outradroog’ Fort have been narrated by James Bristow, a British prisoner, after escaping on the night of November 28, 1790. His capture and escape are recorded in his book ‘A narrative of the sufferings of James Bristow belonging to the Bengal Artillery, during ten years of captivity with Hyder Ally and Tippoo Saheb’ (1793).

I hopped over to Santhepete, the village at the foothill of Hutridurga. I chose the steps route, now enveloped in plants and bushes, rather than a serpentine road and entered the Hutridurga village through an ancient gate and after a short distance, turned left towards the hill. 

The fort walls spiral around the hill at different levels, interrupted at regular intervals with bastions. Climbing up the huge rocky surfaces, I arrived at the second gate. The gate had huge stones on its top beam, now in a precarious condition. 

A steep climb through thick bushes and sunken stones brought me to the next gate. Further up, I could observe the next fort wall and the bastion. The fourth gate was nestled between two massive boulders. Another rocky climb took me through two more gates, and I observed a carving of Hanuman on a big boulder. 

A gopura in the distance

The next stretch was a rocky and dangerous climb. I realised this could be the slope described by Bristow who escaped from this hill fort. A careful climb brought me to the last gate with a well-preserved fort wall extending on either side. 

Entering the fortified wall, which entirely encompassed the ‘top rock’ as described by James Bristow, I found a water body, fully covered with thick vegetation. One could lose their sense of direction here, in the dense forest, unless they spotted the gopura of the Sankeshwara temple at the pinnacle. A climb over to a small mandapa revealed a Nandi inside. I went on to the temple ahead. Near the temple were ruins of granaries and an ancient pillared pavilion stood adjacent to the temple. The ‘Dodda done’ water body, mentioned in the Mysore Archaeological Survey report (MAS) for 1918-19, was at a distance from the temple.  

The final gate in the fort encircling the top rock at Hutridurga hill. 
The final gate in the fort encircling the top rock at Hutridurga hill. 

Coming down, I observed a narrow passage on my right, leading me to a tunnel-like path between three boulders. The track took me further down to a small hill with a wide opening. Could this be the ‘Olaga-dare betta’ mentioned MAS (1918-19), where ‘nautch parties’ used to be held?  I went all over its plateau region and enjoyed the grand view of the far-off horizon. 

I did visit the hill again when new broader steps were being carved on the large expanse of rocks and railings were installed on the steep and slippery parts of the climb. ‘Danger’ marks warning the climbers and arrow signs showing the direction of the climb have been painted. Even the Dodda done had ‘deep water’ painted on boulders that flanked the water body. It is now a safe and easier climb over most portions of the hill.

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Published 26 June 2024, 22:32 IST

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