THE MYSTERY OF THE HAUNTED FORT - Chapter 1
“This is the historic monument,Taramati Baradari. It was built by Abdullah Quli Qutb Shah, the seventh Sultan of Golconda, as a token of his love for his beautiful Hindu queen Taramati. ‘Bara’ means twelve, and ‘dari’ means doors. ‘Taramati Baradari’ has twelve doorways that allow cross ventilation. It is one of the most indigenous techniques of that time.” the local guide pointed at the historic monument facing ‘Ibrahim Bagh’, the historic garden on the banks of the Musi River in Hyderabad. The group of tourists looked at it with little interest. The guide explained its connection to the Golconda Fort.
“I will tell you now, how the Sultan fell in love with Taramati.
Taramati was a ravishingly beautiful woman and an exceptional singer. Her father ran a sarai or inn near Ibrahim Bagh where travelers visited especially to listen to her mellifluous voice. One day, the gentle spring breeze carried her melodious voice to the Sultan at Golconda Fort, two miles away. He was absolutely mesmerized by the magic of her voice and fell in love with her. He made her his queen and they spent their life amidst love and music. Both of them passed away in 1672. They were buried in the royal cemetery of the Qutb Shahi kings.”
The tourists were getting bored now. It was past 2 pm and they were eager to have their lunch. They wished that the guide should now finish his long narration and take them to a restaurant. Noticing their lack of interest, the guide now played his trump card. It always worked…always.
“Taramati’s spirit still haunts this place. Her melodious voice has been heard by manyvisitors at night. Her apparition still dances in the royal courtroom of Golconda Fort. Tourists can hear strange sounds from the ancient ruins at night. They believe that the spirits of the ancient rulers haunt the Fort. Body-less shadows can be seen wandering in darkness. Old photographs and pictures suddenly turn upside down on their own. People who dared to stay back in the Fort after sundown have experienced the most terrific, unexplained and strange activities inside it.”
There was a buzz among the tourists. Some disbelieved the stories, some wanted to experience the scary adventure and some became eager to get out of the Fort before sundown. But the bored expression had clearly vanished from their faces. The guide felt pleased.
“Now I will take you to a good AC restaurant where you can have your lunch. After that we will explore the Fort.”
The tourists were too happy to escape from the scorching heat of the September sun.
“I hope you’re not tired, Payel. If you wish we can go back to the hotel.” said Rajat, as he tore a piece of tandoori roti and dipped it in ‘Gosht Pasinde’, a tasteful meat recipe and a famous delicacy of Hyderabad.
“Hmm? No, I’m not tired.” replied Payel absentmindedly.
Rajat and Payel had come to Hyderabad to celebrate their first wedding anniversary. Payel loved historical places.
“This item is delicious. Shall I order some more?” Rajat’s plate was already empty.
“Yes, if you want.” Payel was toying with her food. She had a far off look in her eyes.
“What’s the matter, Payel? Are you not feeling well? You haven’t eaten anything at all.”
“No, I’m okay.” Payel put a small piece of tandoori roti into her mouth.
Rajat studied her. She was not her normal jovial self. She was hardly eating anything. What could be the matter with her? Suddenly he understood.
“Hey! Did you believe in all those silly stories?”
“Those anecdotes the guide told us just now.”
“They are not stories. They are facts.”
“Come on, darling! You don’t mean to say that you…. I can’t believe it!” Rajat guffawed. But Payel did not look amused. She kept quiet and looked at her hands.
Rajat was intelligent enough to understand that for some reason, Payel was not in the mood to talk and it would be better not to tease her now.
They finished their lunch in silence.
“Golconda was the capital of the medieval sultanate of Qutb Shahi dynasty.” The guide was out on his tour again. The tourists gathered round him and listened to his monotonous narration.
“‘Gol’ means round, and ‘konda’ means hill. Golconda region is famous for its diamond mines. It has produced some of the world’s most famous diamonds, like, the Koh-i-Noor, the Hope Diamond, Noor-ul-Ain, Nassak Diamond, etc.”
There was a low whistle among the listeners.
“The Golconda Fort was first built by the kings of the Kakatiya dynasty. In 1538, it finally came under the rule of Quli Qutb Shah who was also the founder of the Qutb Shahi dynasty. The original mud fort was replaced by a massive fortification of granite extending around 5 km in circumference. Mughal emperor Aurangzeb led an eight year long siege on Golconda Fort and captured it in 1687.”
The guide then led the group through a massive, spiked gate.
“We are entering through ‘Fateh Darwaza’. Aurangzeb’s triumphant army entered the Fort through this gate. So it is also known as the Victory Gate. These giant iron spikes prevented elephants from entering the Fort.”
The group followed the guide inside. They came to a lush green garden surrounded by the ruins of the historical Fort. The broken remnants of the majestic Fort filled Rajat’s mind with sadness. He remembered the opening lines of Keats’ poem, ‘On receiving a curious Shell’…
“Hast thou from Golconda, a gem
Pure as the ice-drop that froze on the mountain?”
‘Aurangzeb was a Vandal. How could he destroy such a magnificent monument?’ he thought sadly.
The guide was narrating some more historic events, but Rajat was too bored to listen. He wanted to explore the Fort instead. Payel was busy taking photographs. She looked more like her normal self again. Rajat came over to her.
“I’m going inside the Fort. Would you like to come?”
“I was about to suggest the same thing. Let’s go inside.”
They sneaked out of the group and entered the nearest monument. There was no other tourist inside it. They walked through the outer passages and reached the stair case leading to the inner halls and rooms. Unknowingly they were approaching the heart of the ruin.
Inside it was dark, moist and shadowy…and absolutely silent. Even a soft whisper echoed through the big passages. Thin rays of the sunlight penetrated through cracks in the roofs and walls forming a netted design on the stone floors. Rajat tightly held Payel’s hand and led the way. Hundreds of bats hung from the ceiling. Some of them were flying close over their heads. Rajat stole a sidelong glance atPayel. She appeared surprisingly animated. They silently went on walking, hand in hand. Suddenly Rajat realised that now Payel was leading the way through the labyrinth. She easily walked past passages, climbed up and down staircases, walked through the majestic halls with such grace and poise that she looked like someone from a different era who was very much familiar with this place. Once she whispered something which Rajat couldn't decipher. He was so perplexed that he blindly followed her without asking any question. He seemed to see mysterious shadows in one of the halls where Payel stopped for a few moments.Was he hallucinating? Did he hear the faint sound of a musical instrument? He followed her like a zombie till they came out into broad daylight again.
“How did you find your way so easily through this maze, Payel?”
“I know this place.” Payel’s voice sounded dreamy.
“Have you ever been here before?”
“Yes, many times.”
“But you said this is your first visit to Hyderabad.”
Payel did not reply. There was a far off expression in her eyes.
Rajat looked at his watch and got a jolt. It was 5.45 pm! They were inside the ruins for nearly three hours!
The guide and the other tourists were nowhere to be seen. They must have left or were waiting for the ‘Light and Sound’ show. The sky was covered with thick, dark clouds, indicating the approach of a heavy shower.
“Payel, can we skip the ‘Light and Sound’ show? Look at the sky, a heavy shower is coming.”
Payel was unhesitant in her reply.
“Let’s go back to the hotel.”
Minutes after they reached the car, the downpour began. Rajat heaved a sigh of relief. He looked at his wife and squeezed her hand.
“Thanks Payel, for agreeing to skip the show.”
“Why should I waste my time watching things that I already know?”
Rajat started, and then laughed.
“Of course. I know you surf through the net to learn about a place before we go there.”
Payel did not reply. Soon they reached their hotel. The daylong excursion had exhausted both of them. Payel did not speak much. Her mind seemed to roam somewhere else. Rajat decided to leave her alone. She would be all right after a good night’s sleep. He hit the bed after dinner and started snoring in no time at all.
Payel was lost in an endless dream, where she was deported to a far off age…to the year1628 CE, when she was not Payel, but someone else!