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The Oxford dictionary defines the term ‘monolith’ as “a large single upright block of stone, especially one shaped into or serving as a pillar or monument.” And with the Madhugiri Hill, located approximately 100 kms away from Bangalore in the Tumkur district of Karnataka, being the second largest monolith in Asia after Savandurga, you can be certain it’s not going to be your average fort trek.
The trek up Madhugiri Fort sets itself apart owing to a myriad of reasons, the most obvious of which being the fairly challenging climb up to the peak and the intricate architecture adorning the ancient fort that follows you all throughout the trail.
Literally meaning ‘Honey-Hill’, Madugiri derives its name from the Honeybee colonies that used to be prevalent atop the fortress during ancient times. Originally built in the year 1678 by Raja Heera Gowda of the Ganga Dynasty, various additions were made to the fortress later on by Hyder Ali, the then de facto Sultan of Mysore. With grand bastions, gateways and water tanks located at strategic locations, the Madhugiri Fort is a prime example of the way warfare was conducted in those days.
A little less than 6 kms in distance, the hike can be divided roughly into four parts based on difficulty level and marked by stone gateways at each of these points. The initial stretch of the hike takes you up a flight of stairs with the climb being relatively easy and scenic. You are presented with majestic views right off the bat, a preview to what lies further up ahead. One is also greeted with a series of intricately carved stone gateways along this stretch that begs you to take a step back and appreciate their beauty.
This short climb up the steps takes you to a flat surface marked by a majestic bastion poking out from the rest of the fortification that offers a 180-degree panoramic view of the surrounding area. The bastion constructed atop a natural pillar of rocks accompanied by an artificial tank used to store water for the military is truly a sight to behold and can only be appreciated when it’s viewed from a higher vantage point a little further up the trail. The climb up and down from the bastion is quite tricky with only a vertical slippery rock surface as a means to reach it but offers a view well worth the efforts.
The second stretch of the hike starts from here as the trail up ahead is marked by steps that are carved into the rock surface itself and the incline gets more challenging. However, the handrails offered for support here make the ascend a little easier. Enjoy the stupendous views of the bastion standing in contrast to bird’s eye view of the Madhugiri town below as you make your way up to the third and most difficult part of the climb and one which is perceived as dangerous by many.
With an inclination of roughly 60-70 degrees, this forms the most adventurous part of the trek as the trekkers will require to get down on all fours while attempting this tricky stretch. Those with a fear of heights might find this particularly challenging, however, push ahead with determination and overcome your fears and you will be duly rewarded. Sturdy footwear is a must on account of this stretch for your trek to Madhugiri Fort even in the drier seasons not to mention it becomes an entirely different ball game during the monsoons.
Let out a sigh of relief as you make your way through the tiny stone corridor marking the beginning of your fourth and final part of your trek up Madhugiri Fort. This is a fairly easy stretch as it mostly constitutes a simple walk as you make your way up to the peak on a gradual ascent. However, with most of your energies depleted by now, this final hike is a test of your stamina as it requires you to squeeze out every last ounce of energy from your already tired bodies.
A fortified bare stone wall with a single door opening, unlike the stone gateways like before, marks your arrival at the peak. One of the features that sets the Madhugiri fort from the other forts in the region is the presence of several ancient structures at the peak itself in comparison to a relatively bare peak on most others. Apart from the Gopalakrishna temple, one can also find several dome-shaped stone granaries used to store perishables by the military. However, the most unique sight here has to be the single-storied structure built of rocks and concrete consisting of multiple rooms inside. Each of these rooms is illuminated with a single opening on the ceiling that makes for some interesting play of light. Whether these rooms were used to accommodate the soldiers or prisoners of war is uncertain but it certainly must have been of some significance given its strategic location at the very top of the fort.
Once at the peak, explore the ancient structures and take in the majestic views of the surrounding hillocks and also of the Madhugiri town below that now look like grains of sand. It’s also a good idea to take some good rest here before you start the descent as the Sun would now be out in full strength and you would want all your energy to tackle some of the steep stretches that are more challenging to descend than to climb up and that offers adventures of their own.
Once at the bottom look back on the maze of a trail that you’ve just conquered and the glorious Madhugiri Fort bidding you farewell as we begin our return journey back to Bangalore.