Just a short drive away from Hyderabad, Warangal is filled with history, wildlife and scenic beauty with forts, temples, lakes and plenty of flora and fauna to explore
Words: Aruna Chandaraju
For long, Warangal has witnessed some of the most important historical events in Telangana. Today, it has become famous for its educational institutions and is the second most important city in the state. Moreover, in 2014, it was included in the Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana by the Government of India, along with 11 other heritage cities.
Warangal is generally used as an umbrella term for three contiguous cities: Hanamkonda, Kazipet and Warangal. Located around 150 km from Hyderabad, it can be reached by a three-hour drive. There are daily local trains too so you can commute from Hyderabad to and fro.
The city’s history dates back to about 12 century A.D., when the Kakatiya Dynasty built the Warangal Fort and left behind some architectural masterpieces in this region, which are unquestionably the grandest and finest in the state. What is more, in an around Warangal, are villages that are home to beautiful handicraft traditions such as Warangal durries, Pembarthi brass work and Cheriyal paintings. There is also a beautiful lake with boating facilities and a ropeway and lots of children’s activities too. The Pakhal Wildlife Sanctuary is another big draw.
It is no surprise, therefore, that a trip to Warangal has become increasingly popular with those who like camping and adventure sports at the water bodies, wildlife and long climbs.
I have visited Warangal several times and the latest trip was with a group of relatives. Driving from Hyderabad into the city, we had a quick breakfast and went to see one of Warangal’s biggest attractions, the Thousand Pillar Temple. The Veyi Sthambhala Gudi (in Telugu), aka 1,000 pillar temple, is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is supported by 1,000 pillars and no walls. Sadly, however, much of it was destroyed around the 14 century by invaders. Restoration work has been done by the government in hope to restore its original grandeur.
One can see a small shrine showcasing superb stonework and intricately carved pillars here. Another impressive object is the massive monolithic Nandi. The main sanctum in the mandapam contains shrines for Surya, Vishnu and Shiva, though the solid gold statues therein have been stolen.
Late afternoon was time for the famous Warangal Fort. It is believed that the construction of the fort was completed in the early 13 century A.D. A sprawling complex, it is said to have originally contained a total of seven forts within its area, including the Raati Kota (stone fort), Kanchu Kota (brass fort), Ituka Kota (brick fort), Matti Kota (sand fort), Neeti Kota (water fort) and Kampa Kota (fenced fort). Given the ravages of time and destruction by invaders, today only the Matti Kota and Raati Kota have survived. Similarly, it is said around 360 temples and a similar number of wells were originally built for the people who lived in the fort’s premises, although most have either crumbled or disappeared altogether.
Today, the Warangal Fort is like a humongous outdoor museum with only the assembled pieces of the lost glory all laid out in a huge garden. There are fragments of brackets, ceilings and pillars, including rows of yalis (mythical beasts considered as the temple guardians). While the remains offer an insight into the fort structure of the Kakatiya era, the big highlight of this place is the magnificent and the ornamental entrance gate—Kakatiya Thoranam. The entrance gate of the fort has been adopted as the emblem of Telangana and one can see it recreated in different parts of the city too.
A sound and light show every evening takes visitors through the history of the Kakatiya Dynasty and fort. Adjacent to the temple complex is the Khush Mahal, which is now used as a museum. The museum showcases statues of gods, celestial beings such as Apsaras, and cannon balls found in the fort.
Another landmark in the city is the famous Bhadrakali Temple dedicated to the fiery Goddess Durga. It is considered to be Warangal’s most visited temple. The famed Kazipet Dargah is where you make a wish, it is associated with the Sufi saint Hazrath Syed Shah Afzal Biabani.
Next day, we headed for the must-do on any Warangal trip: the magnificent Ramappa Temple aka Ramalingeswara Temple, located around 70 km from Warangal. The well-preserved temple is located in Palampet village. An inscription in the temple dates it to the year 1213 A.D. and tells visitors it was built by a chieftain/general Recherla Rudra, during the period of Ganapati Deva, the well-known Kakatiya ruler. Interestingly, the temple is named after the architect or sculptor Ramappa.
There are columns around the outside of the temple with large brackets in the main shrine, a shivalayam, stands majestically on a six-feet-high, star-shaped platform. The hall fronting the sanctum has numerous superbly carved pillars. Moreover, they have been positioned to create an effect that reveals an amazingly intelligent use of the principles of light and space.
Two small Shiva shrines can be found on either side of the main temple. The roof (garbhalayam) of the temple is built with bricks reputed to be so light that they are able to float on water!
The dance form Perini Sivathandavam was revived by Nataraja Ramakrishna after studying the sculptures in this temple. The dance poses, mentioned in a dance classic Nritta Rathnavali, authored by Jayappa Senaani, also appear in these sculptures.
At short drive from Warangal are the scenic Lakhnavaram Cheruvu Lake and the Kakatiya-era Pakhal Lake as well as the Pakhal Wildlife Sanctuary. They are great places for outdoor lovers and very popular with adventure clubs.
The Lakhnavaram Lake is great for photo-ops, given the pleasant weather. The lake offers boating facilities and simple water sports. There is also a small island in the lake and a ropeway connects it to the mainland.
At the Pakhal Wildlife Sanctuary one can see spotted deer, wild boar, sloth bear, fox, sambhar, Indian gaur, nilgai, hyena, civet cat, mongoose, leopard, tiger, and python. Also avifauna such as ducks, storks, teals, cormorants, raptors, kingfisher, ibis and egrets have found home here, while a few migratory birds such as Brahmini ducks arrive in the winter. The Pakhal Lake was another picturesque spot.
On the way to Warangal from Hyderabad, after a brief detour, you will find a tiny village, Pembarthi. If you travel directly from Hyderabad, it is 80 km from the capital. Here you will find sheet metal workmanship of high order. Brasswork in wall plates, lamps, animal figures, etc. are made here. We found great bargains too.
Also close to Warangal is the crafts village of Cheriyal, where the eponymous scroll paintings are made. The artists here—their tribe is unfortunately dwindling—make beautiful, richly- coloured scroll paintings, which are narrative in nature. Traditionally, they were used by rural storytellers as illustrations in the background. Though the tradition still continues, today the Cheriyal artist mostly makes the panels for sale as decor objects. The single-panel, neatly framed, Cheriyal painting is the best seller in handicraft showrooms in the state. And we too purchased a few of these for ourselves.
Literature and classical music lovers can head to the sleepy village where the great 16 century Telugu poet Bammera Pothana lived. His Bhagavatham is a Telugu classic and was acknowledged as an inspiration by the legendary saint composer Thyagaraja, whose exquisite Telugu lyrics are considered the highest watermark of Karnatik music.