Pico Iyer resurfaced in our conversation as soon as I told him about our plans for the weekend. We discussed this blog. It was meant to be a travelogue when it was started. I had very high hopes of high frequency travel and high availability of time, when I started the blog. Like my relationship with Twitter now, I knew how different people used blogs, but was not sure how best I would use my blog, then. So I told him, how, over the years this blog had changed complexion and texture, but weathered all the climate change. He was sympathetic — he gently assured me that this blog was indeed about travel — not the kind where we use trains and cars and visit real places, but travelling through and to thoughts and memories. I smiled at the assurance and said, it’s good destiny any how — I could never write like a travel writer.
It seems redundant to write facts about a place, when there is so much available on Wikipedia and million other people are repeating the facts all over.
What to see? What to shop? Where to stay? How to get there? Tips for travellers. Sameness pervades our lives.
Templates are the curse on the variety that we have in life.
What was supposed to be a drive in my car, turned out to be a Xylo bouncing across the NH3 chauffeured by a short, young, and able driver of good disposition. I was upset about not being able to drive, but was suitably compensated by the chance to take photographs from a moving vehicle, which, really, I don’t enjoy. But you do get to catch a few winks, and not pay attention to the road, but miss the experience of a drive. So you can imagine the number of times the emotions were smoothly changing directions on the almost straight road to Aurangabad.
700-odd steps. That’s how high up we’d have to go if we wanted to get to the peak at Daulatabad. 700-odd fort steps. Not your consistent byte-sized, apartment-style steps. Some dreadful glances were exchanged at the base of the fort between us. We had much more to travel and walk at our next stop. We went in, the 700-odd steps looming heavy over our heads — deciding to leave the climb/not climb decision when got to the steps. Cannons greeted us at the base of the fort, in an enclosed, but a large open space. To my sense, the scene was jarring. I imagined a smart ASI officer (or a consultant) who must have had the bright idea to bring down the cannons from their original location, and placed incorrectly in an enclosed space — all directed inside. Pop-Tourism, is a curse, when you want to discover history. Artefacts are removed from context to give you your money’s worth. Small and temporary pleasure of having seen a cannon and perhaps the gross gratification of touching something a few hundred years old, completes our tryst with history.
There’s a lot more to see in and around the fort — thoughtful architecture, stones that have onyx embedded in them, an impressive Chand Minar, small sculptures embedded in the walls, dual moats, triple walls, and many labyrinths. You will also see a few manicured lawns that almost make you feel you are in a monument in New Delhi. Apart from those exceptions, you are reminded soon enough that this is monument far from the capital and does not receive the kind of maintenance, support and attention due to its distance from the centre.
As we walked slowly from a wall here and a small temple there to a large tank there, for a good hour, we reached the decision point. It was a massive arched entrance that invited and challenged us at the same time. Being in the fort for an hour had made us feel at home, in a sense.
We embraced the challenge.
Of the 700-odd steps, we climbed a few hundred, crossed the dry and the wet moat with considerable ease, unlike what it must have been when the fort flourished under Tughlaq, the Mughals and the Nizams. To my dismay, we were in the fort for most of the late morning and the early afternoon, when sunlight is the worst. For humans, as well as for good photography.
Forts, somehow, are silent storytellers. A guide or an accompanying book can give you a lot of facts. An enthusiastic guide can even (and usually will) sprinkle myths that are very creatively meshed with the facts. But the fort, with its irregular textured walls, falling tiles that expose the rough underneath, remnants of prosperity, carvings that have dulled by weather and human abuse, will always tell a story. All you need is imagination to watch that story unfold before your eyes. When the imagination takes flight in the strong breeze on the top of the hill-fort, use the facts to control the story, if you must. These places are the best to time-travel.
I indulged in a flight of fancy, at the Chini Mahal, here, where Abul Hasan Qutb Shah was imprisoned for 13 years. To be imprisoned in a section of the fort that was adorned by encaustic blue china tiles, yet never ever see it.
We saw a lot of inscriptions of love along the walls, mostly made in chalk or inscribed by stone, of undying love. Most of these were made in the last fifty years. I could imagine these lovers coming from far and nearby on their bikes or gaudy-coloured tourist buses, where they are given an hour to see the fort. And since you can never finish seeing the fort in an hour, these lovers, instead of expressing their love for each other had to leave a mark on a heritage site. I have become quite numb to this crass expression of permanent presence, sometimes just initials, invalidating the purpose of graffiti; sometimes with spelling mistakes: perhaps in the future, it may become the subject of an anthropological study.
It so happened that we did not get to the top — the last few hundred steps were sacrificed to manage our schedule that we had packed too hard. There was much walking to be done ahead at the next heritage site: Ellora. I left Daulatabad with a promise to lay a longer siege some other day. The fort is no stranger to a siege, but I believe it will welcome mine.
These photos (and more, soon) are available on my Flickr