Dig into Telangana's past through the 20 Garhis of Gonds

At least twenty isolated, dilapidated and spooky 'garhis' or minor forts dot the expansive tribal heartland of Adilabad, Kumram Bheem Asifabad, Mancherial and Nirmal districts (all constituting old Adilabad). These were seats of administration of the given area during the heydays of the Gond kings of Chandagarh, most of the kingdom spread over an area now known as the Chandrapur district and surrounding tracts in Maharashtra.

By S. Harpal Singh  Published on  5 Aug 2022 5:31 AM GMT
Dig into Telanganas past through the 20 Garhis of Gonds

Hyderabad: The erstwhile Adilabad is still known as a 'dark continent' thanks to its several mysteries. Its greenery and the central highlands can stir anyone's wanderlust while serving as an appropriate place for history buffs to indulge in some amateur research into the glorious past of this place that is home to some ancient aboriginal tribes.

At least twenty isolated, dilapidated and spooky 'garhis' or minor forts dot the expansive tribal heartland of Adilabad, Kumram Bheem Asifabad, Mancherial and Nirmal districts (all constituting old Adilabad). These were seats of administration of the given area during the heydays of the Gond kings of Chandagarh, most of the kingdom spread over an area now known as the Chandrapur district and surrounding tracts in Maharashtra.

Besides large swathes of territory in the Vidarbha region of the neighbouring state, the Chandrapur Gond kings ruled over the north of Telangana between the Penganga river in the north and the Godavari river in the south. While Koll Bhil was the first to bring various Gond forces together and found the kingdom in Chandrapur, it was Bhim Ballal Singh (870-895) who constructed the first fort of Chandagarh at Sirpur and made the place his first capital.

Visitors should bear in mind that they should solicit the help of locals wherever they go as most of the garhis or whatever remains of those stay hidden in wild growth. Another factor to be kept in mind is to observe local customs while entering the ruins as there are spots that are sacred to the tribals.

There are two Sirpurs in KB Asifabad, both of which have a ruinous garhi each and the one in Sirpur (U) mandal is associated with Gond raja families. However, it is the fort at Sirpur (T) which is generally believed to be the first capital as some historical references place it close to the Penganga river.



The present condition of the main gate of Sirpur (T) fort



The main gate of the Sirpur (T) fort

While most of the area in question was also ruled by Bahmani kings and later, the Niza,m as it was clubbed with Berar, some parts, especially in Mancherial district, were ruled by the Kakatiys too.

All the garhis under Gonds belonged to the Mokashis who was responsible for the day-to-day administration of their respective place, including collecting taxes and looking after the welfare of the subjects. Dr. Thodasam Chandu, retired district medical and health officer of Adilabad, himself a Raj Gond tribal, has painstakingly recorded the names of Mokashis of different clans of Raj Gonds and the places they ruled.



The inner chambers of the main gate of the Sirpur (T) fort


This research can serve as a basic guide for those who are curious to know about the rule of the Gonds in Telangana who are famous for being egalitarian. He divided the areas of Gond rule into eight talukas as was originally done for administrative purposes under the Nizam of Hyderabad.

Among the must-visit garhis are the one at Sirpur (T) where only the main gate of the fort stands today and some of its innards. The best preserved garhi is at Utnoor mandal headquarter in Adilabad district belonging to the Seetagondi Athram Rajas.



A stone staircase that leads to the underground portion of the Sirpur (U) garhi

It is spread over more than five pieces of land and the outer mud walls are very thick. It has an underground granary and four cannons stood sentinel over its four burj or bastions.



Some of the stone idols strewn around the Sirpur (U) garhi



A more than two centuries old tomb of a raja near the Sirpur (U) garhi


This fort once had its twin at Kawal in Jannaram mandal, Mancherial district, which lay at the southern end of the area over which the Athram Rajas of Utnoor ruled but only a part of the main gate of the old structure and a nondescript stone rectangular structure stands witness to the glorious history of the place now. Visitors to this fort can avail the opportunity to take a safari ride at the Kawal Tiger Reserve.



The main entrance of the Utnoor fort

There were two garhis at Wadoor in Neredigonda mandal, one inside the present village and the other, made of stone, outside the habitation. While local historians believe the stone structure, now completely in ruins owing to vandalism by treasure hunters, belong to old rulers of Nirmal, famous Austrian anthropologist Christoph von Furer-Haimendorf said it belonged to the Gond ruler.



The inner chambers of the Utnoor garhi man gate



The inner chambers of the Utnoor garhi man gate


An old stepwell within the premises of the Utnoor garhi

Visitors to Wadoor can enjoy the Kuntala and Pochera waterfalls located a few km away. They can also stop for a breather at the Guthpala and Koratikal waterfalls by the side of NH-44.



The arched main entrance of the Wadoor fort


Among the most beautiful structures is the fort at Gandhari, called Gandhari killa, near Mancherial district headquarters. The entire hill on which the once fortified stony structure stands offers a unique view.


The bas relief of a goddess at Gandhari killa


The Kova clan of Raj Gonds and the Naikpod tribe celebrate their festivals within the fort. It is among the most famous tourist attractions in the area.

Visitors can also see the standalone bastion of what was once a garhi said to belong to the Arka clan of Gonds near Khanapur mandal headquarter in Nirmal district. They can check the 125-year-old Sadarmat anicut across a smaller branch of the Godavari close to the ruins of the garhi.



The hillock on which Gandhari killa was built


A stone wall inside the Gandhari killa


An entrance passage inside the Gandhari killa

The Kadem dam, about 20 km from Khanapur, is another place to visit. It has a picturesque view of the reservoir. The dam was damaged in the recent floods and visitors can see the gates being repaired, a rare opportunity for ordinary people.



The broken arch of the Otegarh fort which overlooks the Balhanpur village


Talking of bastions and burjs, there are five such structures, now standing independent of each other, at Tandur mandal headquarter in Mancherial district. These were once part of a glorious and perhaps the biggest garhi in these parts.



Gonds of Purka clan entering the Otegarh arch as part of their religious practice


Mystery shrouds the minor fort as neither the name of the king or Mokashi is known nor the period during which it flourished. It, however, was certainly connected to the Sirpur (T) fort just 25 km away.



A temple of the Kumra clan at the Murimadgu garhi in Jannaram


The ruins of the Tandur fort are just 30 km away from Gandhari killa. Visitors can also check the open-cast coal mines in the area.

The most inaccessible of them all is the dilapidated stone arch belonging to the Purka clan of the Gonds which stands on a precipice of a hillock near Otegarh village in Asifabad mandal, KB Asifabad district. Stones can also be found organized in the fashion of a low rampart running all through the upper circumference of the hillock.



A strange opening in the ground of the Murimadgu garhi

It can be reached through Jainoor mandal headquarter via Netnur in Sirpur (U) mandal. The last five km stretch offers a challenge as it has no road but three steep hills need to be crossed.

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