Bijapur, in the middle of northern <g data-gr-id="135">Karnataka</g> is a relatively unfamiliar destination for visitors both within India and from abroad. But it can easily be a one-stop-tourist-shop for a variety of historical monuments. A fascinating open-air museum dating back to the Deccan’s Islamic era, dusty Bijapur (renamed <g data-gr-id="117">Vijapura</g> in 2014) tells a glorious tale dating back some 600 years. Blessed with a heap of mosques, mausoleums, palaces and fortifications, it was the capital of the Adil Shahi kings from 1489 to 1686, and one of the five splinter states formed after the Islamic Bahmani kingdom broke up in 1482. Despite its strong Islamic character, Bijapur is also a centre for the Lingayat brand of Shaivism, which emphasises a single personalised god. The Lingayat Siddeshwara Festival runs for eight days in January/February.
Established by the Chalukya dynasty sometime in A.D. 535 and thereafter ruled by the Rastrakutas, Hoysalas; Badami monarchs etc. it was then called Vijayapura or the City of Victory. Over the <g data-gr-id="109">years</g> Vijayapura turned to Bijapur and experienced a burst of architectural activity under the Adil Shahi dynasty for the next 150 years or so. Some of the relics are still intact today and devotedly nurtured both by the state and central Archaeological departments.
Dominating the landscape of Bijapur in the Deccan plateau of Karnataka is India’s largest antiquated but amazing dome called Golgumbaz. Once it was the only structure visible on the horizon of ancient Bijapur but today it is sheltered in a sprawling 70-acre manicured estate, surrounded by lush lawns, under the surveillance of the Archaeology Survey of India (ASI). Set against a backdrop of tranquil gardens, the magnificent Golgumbaz mausoleum houses the tombs of emperor Mohammed Adil Shah (1627–56), his two wives, his mistress (Rambha), one of his daughters and a grandson. Octagonal seven-storey towers stand at each corner of the monument, which is capped by an enormous dome.
An astounding 38 m in <g data-gr-id="125">diametre</g>, it’s said to be the largest dome in the world after St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is passionately preserved by a small army of gardeners, guards’, horticulturists and archaeologists. I lingered here all day walking around to get different perspectives and ruminating on its glorious history. Climb the steep, narrow stairs up one of the towers to reach the ‘whispering gallery’ within the dome. An engineering marvel, its acoustics are such that if you whisper into the wall, a person on the opposite side of the gallery can hear you clearly. <g data-gr-id="124">Unfortunately</g> people like to test this out by hollering (its unnerving acoustics have the nightmarish effect of a bad acid trip).There’s also the archaeological museum, with an excellent collection of artefacts, such as Persian carpets, china crockery, weapons, and daily use objects dating back to Bijapur’s heyday.
Ibrahim Rauza is another star attraction in Bijapur, on the western outskirts of the city. It comprises of two buildings, a magnificent tomb and a remarkable mosque enveloped by a garden. Facing each other, these twin buildings have a fountain in between them. A Persian inscription here records the construction of this Rauza in 1626. The beautiful Ibrahim <g data-gr-id="126">Rouza</g> is among the most elegant and finely proportioned Islamic monuments in India. Its graceful 24 mt high minarets are said to have inspired those of the Taj Mahal, and its tale is similarly poignant: built by emperor Ibrahim Adil Shah II (known for his religious tolerance), as a future mausoleum for his queen, Taj Sultana. Ironically, he died before <g data-gr-id="121">her,</g> and was thus the first person to be laid there. Also interred here with Ibrahim Adil Shah are his queen, children and mother. For a tip (Rs 150 is fine), caretakers can show you around the monument, including the dark labyrinth around the catacomb where the actual graves are located.
In the words of renowned traveller and historian, Fergusson: “There is nothing in Hindustan comparable with the grandeur of conception of the Gol Gumbaz nor any so elaborately rich in ornamental detail as the buildings comprised in Ibrahim Rauza. The tombs of Humayun and Akbar will not bear comparison with them.”
Constructed by Ali Adil Shah I (r 1557–80), the finely proportioned Jama Masjid has graceful arches, a fine dome and a vast inner courtyard with room for more than 2200 worshippers. Jama Masjid qualifies as the largest and oldest mosque in the Deccan with columns in the main building dividing the floor into 45 equal squares. The most beautiful feature here is the mihrab (indicating the direction) painted in gold with great finesse. Women should cover their heads and wear suitable clothing.
Built by Mohammed Adil Shah in about 1646 to serve as a Hall of Justice, the Asar Mahal once housed two hairs from Prophet Mohammed’s beard. The rooms on the upper storey are decorated with frescoes and a square tank graces the front. It’s out of bounds for women.
Then there is the citadel, surrounded by fortified walls and a wide moat, which once contained the palaces, pleasure gardens and durbar (royal court) of the Adil Shahi kings. Now mainly in ruins, the most impressive of the remaining fragments is the colossal archway of Gagan Mahal, built by Ali Adil Shah I around 1561 as a dual-purpose royal residency and durbar hall. The gates here are locked, but someone will be on hand to let you in. The ruins of Mohammed Adil Shah’s seven-storey palace, the Sat Manzil, are nearby. Across the road stands the delicate Jala Manzil, once a water pavilion surrounded by secluded courts and gardens. On the other side of Station <g data-gr-id="115">Rd</g> (MG Rd) are the graceful arches of Bara Kaman, the ruined mausoleum of Ali Roza. <g data-gr-id="114">Barakaman</g> is a mausoleum built in 1672, the 12th monument during the last ruler’s reign. It has seven remaining arches and the stubs of tombs.
The Malik-e-Maidan (The Monarch of the Plains) is supposedly the largest medieval cannon in the world. Weighing an incredible 55 tons, this beast of a gun was brought here in the 17th century as a trophy of war and drawn by 400 oxen, 10 elephants and hundreds of muscular men. It was placed on the <g data-gr-id="95">Sherza</g> Burj (Lion Gate) on a platform <g data-gr-id="102">especially</g> built for it. It is said that after igniting the cannon, the gunner would remain underwater in a tank of water on the platform to avoid the ear-splitting explosion.
Upli Buruj is a 16th-century, 24m-high watchtower near the western walls of the city, a spherical structure with stone steps winding round the outside which lead to the top, where you’ll find two hefty cannons and commanding views of other monuments around town.
As Bijapur is strewn with more than 300 mosques, mausoleums, tombs, domes and many ruins, I made up my mind to revisit it. Only a full week of meandering among the other monuments, which are also splendid specimens, would satisfy my hunger for relishing all the relics and remnants.
Given the amount to see and distance to cover, Rs 500 is a fair price to hire an autorickshaw for a day of sightseeing. Expect to pay Rs 40 to get from the train station to the town centre, and Rs 50 between Golgumbaz and Ibrahim Rouza.
If your wanderings make you hungry, try Swapna Lodge restaurant, two floors up a dark staircase next to Hotel Tourist, which has good grub, cold beer and a 1970s lounge feel. Its open-air terrace is a pleasant viewing spot. The attractive outdoor garden restaurant at Hotel Madhuvan International does fantastic vegetarian dishes including eight different kinds of dosa and 14 paneer dishes. There is no alchohol on offer. Below Hotel Kanishka International, the popular Kamat joint serves diverse South Indian snacks and meals, including an awesome thali bursting with regional flavours. Samrat scores with its North Indian (Rs 55) and South Indian (Rs 44) thalis, which begin with tomato soup and end with ice cream! The modest little pink-painted Bangalore restaurant on MG Road also does a decent South Indian veg thali.
Bijapur is effortlessly approachable from far and wide because of admirable driving roads. It is nearest from Sholapur at 100 km; Goa at 340 km and 530 km northwest of Bangalore but I preferred to self-drive 380 km west of Hyderabad in a friend’s car to explore this town of tombs and domes. Gol Gumbaz definitely deserves to be on the coveted list of world heritage sites. On the drive back I bought juicy red pomegranates. Beejpur literally means replete with seeds in Sanskrit, meaning Pomegranate!