Travellers hurrying from Bangalore to Pondicherry seldom make a stop at Gingee, just before Tiruvannamalai. The highway cuts right through the fort’s walls. This is all that the passer-by sees of this magnificent fort, and that’s a shame.
Gingee (also spelled Chinji or Senji) is a scenic stopover on the Bangalore-Pondicherry route best known for the magnificent ruins of the Rajagiri Fort. The three boulder-strewn hillocks over which the fort sprawls are popular with trekkers.
The Rajagiri Fort pops out of the countryside so suddenly that it begs to be declared a traffic hazard. Jokes apart, this stopover on the tamarind-lined highway between Tiruvannamalai and Tindivanam can be easily missed if you nod off. Not surprisingly, few travelers on this route have heard of it and fewer have experienced its splendid historical showcase.
Gingee is the Anglicisation of Sengiri, Tamil for ‘Red Hill’. National Highway 66 cuts right through the fort. The walls snake away on both sides in broken lines towards three rocky hillocks — Rajagiri, Chandragiri and Krishnagiri — on which distant ramparts, lonely towers and crumbling turrets blend into the scenery.
This is only the wrapping. The prize lies hidden from view.
Take the narrow curving road to the right. Its gentle gradient winds past an office of the Archaeological Survey of India. A few yards away in the middle of a field stands a pillared stone temple built in the Chola style — the Amman shrine.
Driving? Take the pebbly road towards a huddle of motley buildings in European, Islamic and Chola styles to your right. Not without reason, for Gingee has served several masters. The fort, all of 7 sq km, sprawls over three hillocks and rises to 800 ft (240 m) at its highest. This unique vantage (on a clear day, the Bay of Bengal can be seen glimmering in the eastern horizon) made it a strategic military asset.
Built by the Chola kings in the 9th century, the fort fell into the hands of successive conquerors — the Vijayanagar Empire, the Gingee Nayaks, the Marathas, the Bijapur Sultans, the Carnatic Nawabs, the French, and finally the British. Now, in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, it survives despite the vandals who have routinely abused it.
Gingee wears the cultural touch of each dynasty that controlled it. A fitting testament to the fort’s secular character is the funeral platform of Raja Tej Singh (Thesingu Raasan in Tamil), who is reputed to have shared a celebrated friendship with his general Maavuthukaran alias Mehboob Khan. The temple of the Dravidian goddess Chenjiamman stands beneath an enormous banyan tree beside the shimmering Anaikulam (Tamil for ‘elephant tank’). Monkeys swing like trapeze artists from the banyan’s aerial roots while goats wander about the temple courtyard. The shrine of Venugopalaswamy has an exquisitely carved sculpture of Krishna flanked by his wives Rukmani and Satyabhama. There are two mosques in the fort complex – Sadatulla Khan Masjid and Mahabbat Khan Masjid.
To the right looms a large stone structure — the granary. The white pagoda-like spire of the Kalyana Mahal, thought to be the quarters of the queens, is stunning in its splendor. There are touches of French architecture in the Pondicherry Gate, which looks to the east. The ASI museum at the entrance to the museum provides plaques that describe these monuments and their historical significance.
The three boulder-strewn hillocks over which the fort sprawls are popular with trekkers, many of whom are barely aware that the soil underfoot has been trampled by armies of successive dynasties since the 9th century. The well-maintained fort and its precincts offer an engaging half-day historical tour. It is also popular with artists, who can often be seen making meditative sketches of the ruins. For centuries, Gingee has been washed with the blood of conquerors. Today, the ruins sleep in peace , barely disturbed by the footfalls of tourists.
Sunny days offer excellent photographic opportunities but the heat can be exhausting. For the best experience, stay overnight at Tindivanam (28 km) or Tiruvannamalai (50 km) and reach Gingee before 8 am. You can visit the lower fort, including the Chenjiamman temple, without a ticket. Enjoy a picnic breakfast here before the ticket counter opens. Travel on a weekday to avoid boisterous crowds. Carry sunscreen and wear a hat or cap. Pack light snacks as there are no restaurants till Tindivanam. If you are adventuresome, a slow, tough hike to the top of the hills is invigorating.
From Bangalore: 250 km
Driving: NH7 to Hosur-Krishnagiri; NH46 towards Chennai for less than 1 km; exit right to NH66 towards Tiruvannamalai and Pondicherry. Gingee is 50 km from Tiruvannamalai.
Bus: All Bangalore-Pondicherry buses stop on request at Gingee
Nearest railhead: Krishnagiri (95 km)
From Chennai: 160 km
Driving: NH 45 to Tindivanam via Chengalpattu; NH 66 towards Tiruvannamalai; Gingee is 28 km from Tindivanam
Bus: Chennai to Chengalpattu; Chengalpattu-Tindivanam; Tindivanam-Gingee
Nearest railhead: Tindivanam (28 km)
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A version of this post appeared first on Yahoo India
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