India: Naya Qila - An abandoned fort and treasures hidden inside a baobab tree.

What?
The Naya Qila is an extension of the Golconda Fort.

Inside is a 500 year old baobab tree, the hollow interior of is what locals believe is the cave that Ali Baba from Arabian Nights found.

Why visit?
Because its not often that you get to say, “I was inside a 500 year old tree”. Boababs trees are native to Africa. They are a rare sight in the subcontinent.

Further, unlike the Golconda, Aurangzeb left the Naya Qila untouched during his siege of the city. Its a great opportunity to see what undamaged Qutb Shahi forts looked like.

Where?
A 10 minute drive from the Golconda Fort. Map.


OUR CAB DRIVER was surprised when we told him that we wanted to go to Hathiyan Ki Jhad - The Elephant Tree. He asked us how we found out about the place. Soon, he was telling us how he used to climb up the tree and play with his friends. At this point, he was more eager than us to get there.

He cautioned us that it might prove impossible to see the tree as the golf club didn’t take too kindly to visitors. However, we had no trouble getting through the Jamali Darwaza. Scared of being stopped though, we didn’t get down and take any photos at this beautiful entrance to the Qila complex.

For the next five hundred or so metres, we were enveloped by the golf club’s fences over which had been thrown opaque sheets. Our driver remarked, “I understand that they don’t want us to play with them. But what’s the harm in us seeing them play? It looks like a very boring game any way.”

The drive to the tree is an incredible juxtaposition of modernity and history. On your right is the well manicured course of the Hyderabad Golf Club and on your left is the ruins of Bagh-i-Qutb, the pleasure gardens of the seventh Sultan of the Qutb Shah dynasty. There are a few sign boards here, put up by the government, about the history of the Naya Qila. Also visible is what’s left of the Naya Qila Talab - the water tank that irrigated the areas in and around the fort.
The remains of the Bagh-i-Qutb.
Golf Course with the Naya Qila's walls in the background. 
Further along the path is a stream that is equal parts water and equal parts froth. While it makes for a pretty sight from the distance, it is actually highly polluted and probably toxic. About a hundred metres ahead, on your right you will see three paths leading to different structures that are part of the fort complex. Four or five security guards glared at us as we drove past, almost challenging us to stop there.
Path to the Golf Course.
One of the structures of the Fort. 
While on this particular visit, we drove past these, on a second visit to the Naya Qila complex I was able to request one of the men guarding these structures to let me explore them. He said there were golfers on the other two but let me go to the central structure after leaving my camera behind. While the climb is not one I would recommend in the middle of the day during the Hyderabad summer, the structure itself is incredibly beautiful and that’s when you completely discount the view. For all my complaints about the golf course, it is still beautifully landscaped and enhances the view from the top. Also visible is the Golconda fort in the distance.
The structure that I climbed... 
...and the view from the top. 
This time though, we went further ahead till on our left was visible a fenced enclosure and inside a tree that looked completely out of place. It had no leaves, its trunk wide and branches twisted. We were also the only people there. The place was guarded by an old man who clearly spent most of his time sleeping as visitors were few and far in between.
Without leaves...
...and with leaves!
The guard and our driver got talking and they told us that bandits of old used to hide their loot inside the tree and often spent the night there. When the sultan’s men came looking for them, they would be nowhere to be found. They also told us that the tale of ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’ was actually inspired by the thieves who hid in this tree.

While I can find little to back up this claim, interestingly this is not the only connection between the ‘Arabian Nights’ and this city that I’ve come across. At the Nizam’s Museum in Purani Haveli is a plaque that talks about how one of the cities that Sindbad visits could have been Hyderabad.

Legend or not, the tree is living proof of the century-old contacts between India and the Swahili Coast in East Africa, across the Indian Ocean, connected by Indian, African and Swahili traders. (See Minor Sight's article about Lamu.) This tree was planted by wandering fakirs from Africa during their visits to the Sultan's court.

The tree, for all its size, has clearly been climbed even up to its topmost branches evidenced by the vandalism of its many conquerors. Behind this tree lies the Mulla Khayali mosque. The mosque is locked and entry is prohibited to visitors.
The Mulla Khayali Mosque. 
Initials carved into the tree's trunk. 
Our driver, still reminiscing about his childhood, informed us that the guard would let us climb inside the tree if we were quick. Palms were greased and we were ready to make the climb. Once we were inside the smaller fence enclosing the tree, the guard closed the gate behind us. The tree’s trunk was surprisingly velvety to the touch and the guard instructed us to use the various knots on its trunk as footholds to climb up.

Sitting at the base of where the branches diverge, a hole is visible that we rather hesitantly climbed into. Immediately welcomed by the stench of birds’ droppings, the size of the cavity is not the first thought that crosses your mind. While it could definitely not hold forty thieves and the jewels they stole, five adults can easily walk around.

Lit only by the sun shining in through a small hole at the top of the tree, the cavity is empty. No treasures and no bandits. It is a humbling moment though, when you realise just how many people’s lives the tree would have been part of - the sultan and his men, the fakirs, playing children and couples marking their love for each other on a tree that’s grown a continent away from home.

Getting there:
Driving instructions on Google Maps will take you on the blue path I’ve marked. Do NOT follow this. Use the green path instead. The entrance is the Jamali Darwaza.









Useful links:
Why are there baobab trees in India?




About the Author:
Hadi is on his way to UMass to study Computer Science. 

While working in Hyderabad, he fell in love with the city. He has been perfecting a 3 day historic tour of the city and will share it with anyone willing to listen. While not exploring or collecting stories you can find him at the local board game meetup or watching some Netflix.

5 comments:

  1. Wow! Thanks for informing us about this minor sight. Will definitely plan a trip to Naya Qila.

    ReplyDelete
  2. awesome!!! Good to know, missed it all these years.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Monish. Do you live in Hyderabad? It's got a lot to discover!

      Delete
  3. Very well written article. I love how you have stated the facts first and then also cared enough to tell the stories that have taken shape about the tree all these years. After all, who doesn't love stories.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hadi did a great job! We hope he'll drop by here and share his favourite 3 day itinerary with us...

      Delete

Have you been here? Or are you planning to go? Either way, we would love to hear about it.

 

Find Minor Sights on a map

What is this site all about?