Monday 11 February 2013

The bears that took over the fort

It is one of the most historic forts and it was the centre of five major dynasties. The fort itself is located on the banks of a river atop a hill. The fort and its surroundings make for an interesting getaway.
Over centuries, the fort was in the possession of the Qutb Shahis, Mughals and Asaf Jahs. The Kings of these dynasties took over the fort and strengthened its ramparts. But in the last few years, the fort has been in the news as it has been taken over by bears. Yes, bears. This can happen only in India. Mera Bharat Mahaan.
Read on about the capture of the fort by the bears…..
This is the Elgandal Fort in Karminagar district of Andhra Pradesh. It is situated on the banks of the Manair River which is a small tributary of the Godavari. The fort is on the Kamareddy road and it is just ten kilometers from Karminagar.
The fort is an important historical link as it has been the centre of  five dynasties, including the Kakatiyas of Warangal, Bahamanis of Gulbarga and Bidar, Qutb Shahis of Golconda, Mughals of north India and Asif Jahs of Hyderabad.
During the Nizam rule, Elgandal was the headquarters of Karimnagar province. It is believed that there is a secret tunnel connecting Elgandal Fort and Manakondur Fort which is nine kilometers away Karimnagar on the Karimnagar-Warangal highway.
Well, all this is now past. Now for the bear attack. In 2011, the fort was closed for two months and tourists were denied entry to the fort after the bears took over the ancient citadel.
The fort remained closed for more than two months and it was reopened only after the residents of  Elgandal and scores of tourists pleaded with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the local administration to reopen it.
The ASI and local administration had acted swiftly after they were informed that several bears had  entered the fort and made it their home. These sloth bears had lumbered into the fort in the first week of November 2011 from the nearby hills and forests.
The bears had been obviously driven out of their lair by continuous blasting and setting off of explosives at stone and quarry units operating both legally and mostly illegally in and around the hills ringing the fort.
Initially, the bears took over the fort only during nights. But soon, they decided to make it their permanent home. The fort afforded them protection from the continuous blasting and also gave them relief from any human movement.
The bears were noticed moving about in the fort and the Forest Department was quickly informed. When the Forest officials visited the fort, they found that six bears had made the ancient monument their home.
Moreover, one female bear had delivered several cubs and it was in an aggressive mood snapping at anyone who came near her and her cubs.  
They realised that it would be extremely difficult to shift them out of the fort. Moreover, they could not stop the continuous blasting at stone and quarry sites. With the villagers piling on the pressure to do something, they did what is best known to them. Close the fort and let the bears be.
The Forest officials then called in the ASI. When apprised of the “bearish” visitors, the ASI agreed to close down the fort, albeit temporarily.
This was in November first week of 2011. After the ASI closed the fort to the public, the villagers too on their part, prevented visitors from entering the fort.
The fort remained closed for over two months before it began pinching the pockets of  some residents of  the area who made a living by guiding the visitors around the fort, providing food and accommodation. The many shop keepers around the fort too faced difficult times as business dried up.
When weeks turned into months and there was still no sign of the local authorities in evicting the bears from the fort, the residents once again approached the authorities and this time it was for reopening the fort. You see, the earlier caution about bear attack had now been replaced by the lure of the lucre.
The local authorities dithered but gave in when the residents and elected members made a pitch for reopening the fort and if need be chase away the bears which had taken over the fort.
It was then that scores of residents of  the area, sarpanch, MPTC member and enthusiastic youths entered the fort to the beating of drums and blaring of horns and shouting . You see, these people were as scared of the bears as the animals were of human beings. The while party went to the fort like conquerors to the beating of drums and waving of fire torches. Alas, their bravado was in vain as the bears, it seems, had beat a retreat.
The bears had magnanimously left the fort that had so effortlessly captured a few months ago. Later, Forest official found tracks showing that the bears had made their way back to their lair through the hillocks and thick bushes surrounding the fort.
The bear retreat was brought to the notice of the ASI which then threw open the fort for visitors again.
However, the residents of the area are still wary of a renewed bear attack. Even to this day, they fear that the wild bears may intrude into the fort. They wanted the authorities to chalk out a plan to protect them and the tourists entering the fort.
By the way, this was not the first time that the fort came under bear attack.
In 2010, the fort remained closed  for visitors and tourists for ten days following bear sightings. The ASI and locals had put up a poster on the fort walls stating that the “fort remained closed due to intrusion of wild bears”.
Elgandal was the first headquarters of Karimnagar during the Nizam rule. It has several monuments of architectural value, including shaking minarets and minarets that are almost the same height as those of  Char Minar in Hyderabad.
The fort was once surrounded by a wide moat which was five metres in breadth and four metres deep. Crocodiles were let into the trenches to stop enemies from venturing near the ramparts. Visitors who came to the fort are in for a surprise when they see greenery amid huge rocks.
A climb of 250 steps leads to the entrance of the fort. The Brindavan tank, mosques, temple of  Narasimha swamy and ruined buildings greet you here. There is a four- minar mosque which reminds the visitors of Char Minar in Hyderabad.
The fort has 17 cannons with 16 of then being forge welded and the lone one cast in iron. Blacksmiths of Kodimyal constructed the Kodimyal Tope on the ramparts of the fort.
The place was earlier known as Bahudhanyapuram, Tellakandula and Veligandula. In course of time, it came to be called as Elgandal. It was the capital of Telangana till 1905.
The Kaman is one of the oldest constructions that greets visitors to the town. It was built by a trader in 1937 at the entrance to the town on the Hyderabad road. Christian missionaries entered Karimnagar town in 1882-87 and built landmarks like the Mission Hospital in the town.

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