Another fitting sobriquet for India’s ‘garden city’ could be ‘land of forts’, as it is perhaps bettered only by the likes of Rajasthan and Maharashtra. As one drives out of Bangalore, the numerous hillocks that dot the landscape and the forts that adorn them are a wonderful sight. The rulers of the past had the foresight and vision to leverage sheer drops and difficult terrain to build forts that were almost unconquerable.
One needs to drive through the sleepy town of Kabbala to get to the base of the hillock, and if the stories of Kabbaladurga were not terrifying enough, just the sight of it was enough to doubt whether a trek could even be attempted. The ascent to the top looked quite daunting even for experienced hikers. Walking past a stone quarry to start the ascent, I could see sheets of rock that were slowly being cut away, leaving huge craters on the surface. Lemon Pansies and Tigers (the winged kind) fluttered around, adding a dash of colour to the otherwise grey background.
While the hill and the fort conjured an image of fear, birds and butterflies put up displays like they planned to take our mind off the gruesome history. An Indian Roller took flight, showing off its radiant blue. Green Bee-eaters flew in a loop, returning to the same perch with a dragonfly or a bee. Purple-rumped Sunbirds rushed from one shrub to the next, seemingly in a hurry, while a Pied Bushchat sat still on a shrub, alert and vigilant. More Lemon Pansies, lime, emigrants and other butterflies fluttered around. Cattle Egrets remained focused on following some cows that were grazing at a distance. A Black-shouldered Kite hovered over all this action, with Coppersmith Barbets and Koels providing the background music, and the metallic calls of the Ashy Prinia adding to the rhythm.
Walking up the rock face, all the while negotiating the steep climb and retaining my balance, whenever I managed to look around, I was treated to beautiful views of fields, coconut groves and tiny hillocks stretching over miles. If fortunate, one can also spot the endangered Egyptian Vultures scavenging for their next meal.
The path took me through seven fort walls and doorways, some more prominent than the others, reminding me of the famous Chitradurga Fort. Abandoned and neglected for years, the forest here is slowly reclaiming what is rightfully hers, and ficus roots growing out of the fort walls and beautiful but bare Plumeria trees gave me the feeling of walking through the set of the movie ‘Tomb Raider’. Beppale trees (Wrightia tinctoria), popularly used for the wooden Channapatna toys, offered some shade once in a while on the otherwise-bare rock surface.
As I walked past boulders and fort walls, Rock Agamas occasionally darted around. The boulders that support the walls are decorated with mesmerising patterns formed by lichen, forcing you to take a minute to admire them. With the crossing of each wall layer, the ascent became steeper, and looking back at the starting point made me feverishly pray that I don’t miss a step. The foot-holdings created along the path did make the climb slightly easier, though. When one reaches a Silk Cotton tree, it is an indication that the peak is just minutes away. I finally scrambled up to the top, where waist-high grass welcomed me, with Nawabs and Rajas busily engaged in territorial fights.
The broken remains of the magnificent fort are the only surviving witnesses to the horror-stories from the past. Looking at the vertical drop from the peak, and listening to the story of the fort guards poisoning the only water source to ensure that no prisoner escaped or remained alive, left no doubt about why Kabbaladurga was called ‘the fort of no return’. The poisonous water source is now covered with reeds, duckweed and trash left behind by humans.
Beautiful views and succulent plants adorned with sacred threads, prayer offerings and bangles, diverted my thoughts away from the grim stories of the past and helped me enjoy the mesmerising landscape.
This monolithic rock is situated 80 km from Bangalore. Drive on Kanakapura Road towards Sathanur (about 70 km) and turn right at the Sathanur Junction to get to Kabbala village.
Along the way, you will cross multiple water bodies, and these are good places to look out for birds like egrets, Baya Weaver, Pheasant-tailed and Bronze-winged Jacana, Common Moorhen, Purple Moorhen, Black Ibis, Pied Wagtail, Painted Stork and Open-billed Stork.
The trek to Kabbaladurga takes about 2-2.5 hours to complete, and since there are no water sources throughout the trek, it is best to carry at least a litre of water per person and some food.