Some days you don’t plan to wake up bright and early and but instead start the day slower, even if you plan a trip. One one such day we headed out with Anand’s brother to find Penukonda fort. If you think of visiting a fort, the monsoons are always lovely, the greenery amidst the resolute ruins make up for a pretty contrast – add to it a little drizzle and it’s easy to find the perfect experience.
Note: Pick up lunch when you visit this place, there is absolutely nothing nearby that even looks like a restaurant.
You may find chips and soda in small stores but definitely not a meal.
And so off we went, we picked up some parathas for lunch and headed towards the Penukonda fort– a drive of about 2.5 hours. Just following maps we reached the entrance of the fort, through the small roads of the village inside of it. At one point we saw a board announcing Gagan Mahal – but the maps pointed us in the opposite direction. Following it, we reached a village road that was a dead end and villagers who kept saying we were in the fort (and they were right), but we had not researched it and didn’t know what else to ask for.
Lesson 1: Follow the board and not google maps towards the last turn.
So we took the only option left, headed back to the direction towards Gagan Mahal. Its structure is in striking white that’s almost hard to look at in the mid-day sun reflecting all the light it can. It looked well maintained but had a closed gate.We had learnt our lesson from Bidar and got out of the car and walked towards the gate only to have the caretaker come over.
Lesson 2: Don’t let a locked gate deter you. Many places have very few tourists and the caretakers often lock up the gates though they hang around nearby. Show some interest and wait for a while and they will most probably show up.
It had narrow passages and spacious halls with several arches both on the ground level and above. From the terrace, one could have a view of the village inside the fort. Gagan Mahal was the Summer Palace of the kings of the Vijayanagara empire. The windows above allow for a place to sit and watch the people and the rocky hill in the distance.Around the palace, the Archaeology Department has installed the stone sculptures found in the region in an outdoor museum of sorts.
Once done with this, all of us were starving and in the absence of any directions/boards, went to the very end of the road in front of Gagan Mahal. We found a stone bench where we finished every last trace of our packed lunch while wishing we had packed some more of it! At that point through a passageway is a small temple and further down the path we come to what could be a very large lake bordered by the fort walls if it had any water but it was utterly dry despite it being July. On the other side of it was a small park maintained by the local authorities and nothing much else.
Disappointed that we’d made the long trip for nothing, we headed back. At this point, I looked up Penukonda and realised the village was supposed to have 365 temples in it! On the way back we decided to stop at the first temple we saw and as deceptively simple as it looked from the road, there turned out to be a group of temples there with the backdrop of a small hill. One of the temples being a Rama temple where supposedly Rama and Lakshmana stopped on their way to Lanka. All of the temples were closed but we could peep into some of the larger halls even from the closed doors.In the centre, one would find a bunch of stone sculptures placed atop a platform like a central area to pray to the whole bunch of deities.
Just as we were about to leave, we noticed a small pathway with a series of boards. We went ahead to see it and the first one said “Thimmarasu Jail“. It says jail but it’s quite a small structure. Legend has it that the king Krishnadevaraya got his loyal minister, Thimmarasu arrested and blinded under suspicion of him having poisoned his young son. Later at the culprit being proven to be the king of Orissa, Thimmarasu was released by the repentant king but spent the rest of his life in Tirupati in poverty, refusing any help from him. The inside of this jail is simple but with multiple arches making up the ceiling.
Besides this is a water tank that’s quite small and makes us wonder what it was used for.
A few steps ahead is what we thought was a temple but was only the external structure without any idols/prayer area inside. Nevertheless, it sported a tall gopura, the top half of which seemed renovated.
The next board was to the Basavanna well that was for us the definite highlight of this place. Walk through the statue of the bull, climb down through the path between the stone walls and you’d encounter a lovely old stepped well with sculptures of different deities carved on its wall. While it had no water it was quite a charming find.
Just behind it is a small Jain temple, that also looked renovated. The priest told us that the local temples were in different states of maintenance depending on who had decided to sponsor them.
Note : there is possibly more to see in Penukonda, however, there is not much literature available online nor are there any boards/notices to know where to head next. While we weren’t sure what else we could have done to explore more, it may be worth a try if you visit.
We next headed to the Gudibande fort– a fort created by a chieftain called Byregowda who was the Robin Hood of his time taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Like most forts, it has a series of steps to the top. It takes about 20 minutes to get to the top. This fort has changed many hands across kings and rulers and is one of the oldest hill forts in Andhra Pradesh.
Just before we reach the top one would find a small catchment of water. There were young boys on a family trip merrily jumping into the water and having a whale of a time. Apparently, these ponds were to harvest rain water and though not too huge in size, definitely seemed to be doing their jobs well.
At the top is a small Shiva temple and a couple of recent structures. In front of the Shiva temple is a tower on which one of the easy to miss images is that of the devotee Bedara Kannappa gouging his eyes as an offering to Lord Shiva.
The best part of the fort was that right at the top, it’s incredibly windy – so much that your phone is wavy in the wind and it’s hard to take a picture. One instantly feels ones at a hill station of sorts. It’s a charming place to just sit down on the rocks and enjoy the view of the turrets atop the fort, the colourful houses and the weather.
An older gentleman came up to me and told me that there was a lot more to see in the fort. However, I couldn’t completely understand him, though he mentioned there was yet another pool of sorts atop the mountain supposedly at a more discreet place for the women to have their baths during the times of occupancy of the fort. We went to find it and crawling inside a tiny passageway managed to reach the hidden water spot too.
From atop the fort, one can see a large lake that we decided to stop at before we made our way to Bangalore because we do love a good water spot. It’s called Bhairasagara lake. And this as it happened, it is definitely a picturesque spot to end the trip watching birds go by and the gentle ripples in the water reflecting the cloudy evening sky.