The extravagance of the nizams who laid the foundation of Hyderabad as a cultural centre needs little introduction. The city is dotted with monuments, palaces, museums and bustling markets that often become the themes for heritage walks and photo-tours on weekends. Whenever the calendar of events is insipid, however, it’s a cue for the culture connoisseur to head out of the city.
Of the many highways that radiate from Hyderabad, I had never been on National Highway (NH) 44. Last winter, when the afternoons were still pleasant and in-city weekend plans looked bleak, two friends and I set out on the motorway that opens up a multitude of options—heritage, culture, nature. We had planned a weekend trip to Medak.
All we knew about the town was that its most prominent landmark, the Medak Cathedral, is a beacon for religious travellers. We entered the town, heading in the direction in which a brown bell tower stood out behind tall trees. A scruffy guard at the door of the cathedral seemed reluctant to share the history of the cathedral with “just” tourists rather than the religiously inclined. He relented eventually.
The first brick of the cathedral was laid in 1914 by Reverend Charles Walker Posnett, who thought it was an ingenious way to employ locals who were suffering the ravages of a debilitating famine. It took 10 years for its mainly Gothic style to take shape. Six colours of imported tiles, grey stoned pillars and exquisite masonry accentuated the stained-glass windows that are still the highlight.
Reeling from the sheer size and magnificence of the cathedral, we took a short tea break at a shanty close by. The tea-stall owner had advice for us. He suggested we revisit the town in September, during the nine-day festival in honour of the goddess Gauri. That is the time when the town is crammed with flower cones of various sizes called bathukamma—a rendition of the goddess.
“I have one more surprise for you,” he went on. “Medak is also the place where both Hindus and Muslims participate in the solemn Peerla Panduga procession across many Sufi shrines in September.” Impressed at the religious tolerance displayed by this small, dusty town, we agreed that another trip was required.
Our night halt was the state tourism heritage hotel which lies right in the heart of town, adjoining the Medak fort. It is, in fact, part of the fort. A short climb further up the hillock and some steps take you to the ancient citadel, once a bastion of the Kakatiya kings (1175–1324). Sweeping views and piping hot idlis with coffee made our day. We decided to explore the fort the next day, enjoying the view of the rock-strewn brown landscape changing hue to orange as the sun went down.
Not much remains of the fort other than its three entrances—Prathama Dwaram (first entrance), Simha Dwaram (lion entrance) and Gaja Dwaram (elephant entrance). These are striking in their architecture and as the names suggest, are adorned with snarling lion heads and majestic elephants.
We thought it prudent to start early the next day, before the searing rays of the sun caught up, for we had decided to add a 15-minute detour to the Pocharam lake. The view was soothing: mirror-flat blue water, a copse of green trees at the edges, and birdsong. Abutting the lake is the nizam’s former hunting ground, the 130 sq. km Pocharam Wildlife Sanctuary. We decided to visit it on our next trip. After all, the plan for September had already been finalized.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The author tweets from @mapinmypocket.