Gingee is a small town between Thiruvannamalai and Tindivanum. If you are travelling between Bengaluru and Pondicherry, you will be likely going via Gingee and it is hard to miss the fort that spans on both sides of the road. The history of the fort is dated to the Chola dynasty but it saw massive fortification during the days Vijayanagar Empire. It later fell into the hands of Gingee Nayaks, Marathas, Bijapur sultans , Mughals, Nawabs, French and then to British. It is now well maintained by Archeological Survey of India (ASI).
I was in Pondicherry for a team building activity. Eight of us who had come on our own vehicle decided to visit this fort while returning back. Most of the other team members were not regular trekkers but I was not worried much about the climb but about the hot weather in that area. While rest of India was bathing in rain, it was still hot in Tamil Nadu!!
The Gingee fort complex has three hillocks – Rajagiri, Krishnagiri and Chandrayandurg. We decided to climb Rajagiri, the biggest and toughest of the three. Since it is maintained by ASI, we had to pay entry fees (Rs 25/- per head) to get into the fort. It was 10AM in the morning, not early by any standards but there were no other visitors. A bus load of people arrived but they restricted themselves to explore the monuments near the entrance of the fort. We wanted to finish our climb before it got very hot and hence continued to walk forward.
The fort was said to be the one of the most impregnable and it was very evident while we were climbing. It was steep and gateways were placed at the corners making it very hard for attackers to gain momentum. Occasionally resting under the shades of tree and gates, we made very quick progress.
After the first stage of the fort, the path went on a plain ground. Here we saw two girls who were sitting along the side of the path. They were students from a college in Pondicherry and had come to climb the fort. They asked us whether they could join our group. Apparently, the security person did not allow them to proceed further. He might have felt that it was not safe for them to go up (The area is bit isolated). So, they joined us.
The climb got steeper here. After crossing about six gates, we were almost at the citadel. What separated us was a deep natural chasm!! Now there is a bridge constructed to cross it but if that is broken, there is no way to enter into the citadel. It would have been very tough for enemies!!
After crossing the last gate and a bit of climb, we were at the top of the fort. The temples, stables, granaries, meeting halls indicated that the citadel was used by royals. We spent a long time resting in the temple and exploring the surroundings.
As expected, the view from the top was great. The smaller hill of Krishnagiri (also called as Queen fort) was clearly visible. The clear weather meant that we had a very good visibility of the surrounding areas.
One who climbs up has to come down. So, we started our descent which was faster than ascent. Apart from the two girls, we were the only ones while climbing up. But during our decent, we met people at regular intervals. It seemed like the fort is a famous place among local people.
We were back to the base of the fort and it was time to visit the monuments. In fact, for people who do not wish to climb the fort, there is enough to see at the base itself. The most important of them is the Kalyana Mahal. The structure looks different from the entire bunch of monuments in the fort!! It looks like it was built later. It would have served as the place of stay for women. But it is the most magnificent structure in the fort. It is also allowed to climb up the building.
Besides the Kalyana Mahal, there is a mosque, Venugopala Swamy temple, Elephant tank, servants rooms, granaries, military gymnasium and many ruins. Several centuries ago, this must have been a thriving place. Though the golden days are long gone, we must happy that at least a few things are still standing for us to have a glimpse of the glorious past.
We had spent nearly three hours in the fort and it was time to move. It was a good climb with lot of Vitamin D and suntan but it was completely worth the effort. I would rate this fort on par with the forts of Devagiri and Chitradurga.
Gingee fort is about 40km from Thiruvannamalai on Thiruvannamalai – Tindivanam – Pondicherry route. The fort open from 9AM onwards and closes by 5:30 PM. It is not allowed to climb up after 3 PM. It is a long climb but there are steps all the way to the top of the fort. Due to lack of time, we could only climb Rajagiri but the climb to the smaller hill of Krishnagiri will also be interesting.