India // Andhra Pradesh //

Golconda Fort and the tombs of the Qutb Shahi kings

Golconda, 122m above the plain and 11km west of old Hyderabad, was the capital of the seven Qutb Shahi kings from 1518 until the end of the sixteenth century, when the court moved to Hyderabad. Well preserved and set in thick green scrubland, it is one of India’s most impressive forts, boasting 87 semicircular bastions and eight mighty gates, complete with gruesome elephant-proof spikes.

Entering the fort  by the Balahisar Gate, you come into the Grand Portico, where guards clap their hands to show off the fort’s acoustics. To the right is the mortuary bath, where the bodies of deceased nobles were ritually bathed prior to burial. If you follow the arrowed anticlockwise route, you pass the two-storey residence of ministers Akkana and Madanna before starting the stairway ascent to the Durbar Hall. Halfway along the steps, you arrive at a small, dark cell named after the court cashier Ramdas, who while incarcerated here produced the clumsy carvings and paintings that litter the gloomy room.

Nearing the top, you come across the small, pretty mosque of Ibrahim Qutb Shah; beyond here is an even tinier temple to Durga. The steps are crowned by the three-storey Durbar Hall of the Qutb Shahis, on platforms outside which the monarchs would sit and survey their domains.

The ruins of the queen’s palace, once elaborately decorated with multiple domes, stand in a courtyard centred on an original copper fountain that used to be filled with rosewater. You can still see traces of a “necklace” design on one of the arches, at the top of which a lotus bud sits below an opening flower with a cavity at its centre that once contained a diamond. At the entrance to the palace itself, four chambers provided protection from intruders. Passing through two rooms, the second of which is overgrown, you come to the Shahi Mahal, the royal bedroom. Originally it had a domed roof and niches on the walls that once sheltered candles or oil lamps. Golconda has a nightly sound-and-light show.

There are 82 tombs  about 1km north of the fort’s outer wall. Set in peaceful gardens, they commemorate commanders, relatives of the kings, dancers, singers and royal doctors, as well as all but two of the Qutb Shahi kings. Faded today, they were once brightly coloured in turquoise and green; each has an onion dome on a block, with a decorative arcade.