As you head north from Hyderabad, the landscape becomes greener and hillier, sporadically punctuated by photogenic black-granite rock formations. There is little to detain visitors here except Warangal, which has a medieval fort and a Shiva temple. South of the capital, swathes of flat farmland stretch into the centre of the state, where the Nagarjuna Sagar Dam has created a major lake with the important Buddhist site of Nagarjunakonda, now an island, in its waters.
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WARANGAL – “one stone” – 150km northeast of Hyderabad and just about possible to visit as a day-trip, was the Hindu capital of the Kakatiyan empire in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Like other Deccan cities, it changed hands many times between the Hindus and the Muslims – something reflected the remains you see today.
Warangal’s fort is famous for its two circles of fortifications: the outer made of earth with a moat, and the inner of stone. Four roads into the centre meet at the ruined Shiva temple of Swayambhu (1162). At its southern gateway, another Shiva temple, from the fourteenth century, is in much better shape; inside, the remains of an enormous lingam came originally from the Swayambhu shrine. Also inside the citadel is the Shirab Khan, or Audience Hall, an early eleventh-century building very similar to Mandu’s Hindola Mahal.
Some 6km north of town just off the main road beside the slopes of Hanamkonda Hill, the largely basalt Chalukyan-style “thousand-pillared” Shiva temple was constructed in 1163. A low-roofed building on several stepped stages, it features superb carvings and shrines to Vishnu, Shiva and Surya, the sun god. They lead off the mandapa, whose numerous finely carved columns give the temple its name. In front, a polished Nandi bull was carved out of a single stone. A Bhadrakali temple stands at the top of the hill.
NAGARJUNAKONDA, or “Nagarjuna’s Hill”, 166km south of Hyderabad and 175km west of Vijayawada, is all that remains of the vast area, rich in archeological sites, that was submerged when the huge Nagarjuna Sagar Dam was built across the River Krishna in 1960. Many nearby villages had to be relocated to higher ground when the valley was flooded. Ancient settlements in the valley were first discovered in 1926, and extensive excavations carried out between 1954 and 1960 uncovered more than one hundred sites dating from the early Stone Age to late medieval times. Nagarjunakonda was once the summit of a hill, where a fort towered 200m above the valley floor; now it is just a small oblong island near the middle of Nagarjuna Sagar lake. Several Buddhist monuments have been reconstructed, in an operation reminiscent of that at Abu Simbel in Egypt, and a museum exhibits the more remarkable ruins of the valley. VIJAYAPURI, the village on the shore of the lake, overlooks the colossal dam itself, which produces electricity for the whole region.
Boats arrive on the northeastern edge of Nagarjunakonda island at what remains of one of the gates of the fort, built in the fourteenth century and renovated by the Vijayanagar kings in the mid-sixteenth century. Low, damaged, stone walls skirting the island mark the edge of the fort, and you can see ground-level remains of the Hindu temples that served its inhabitants. Well-kept gardens lie between the jetty and the museum, beyond which nine Buddhist monuments from various sites in the valley have been rebuilt. West of the jetty, there’s a reconstructed third-century AD bathing ghat.