When I was kid, I used to participate in a lot of quiz competitions.  I used to go about reading a lot of magazines, news papers, and several of those printed GK books.  My favorite chapter in these books was ‘Highest, Tallest, Biggest, Largest, Deepest’. This chapter would give details of all the living and non-living, man-made and natural entities that would fall into these categories and would give information about them as well.  I had read – the worlds 2nd largest dome was ‘Gol Gumbaz’ and it was in Bijapur. 

I had pondered about Bijapur a lot and had also read and lot about its places history, I was impressed, and I decided that I have to go and see Gol Gulbaz.  I made the trip to Bijapur in Nov 2001.

Bijapur is not linked by rail directly, Gulbarga and Sholapur are the closest Railway stations.  It takes about 4 hrs to reach Bijapur by bus from any of these 2 places.  Since, we were in Chennai, we took the Chennai Mumbai mail.  This train stops at Gulbarga as well as Sholapur. The train left Chennai central at 10 pm and reaches Gulbarga at about 2 pm the next day.  Our co-passengers in the train told that it is better to get off at Gulbarga at 2 pm and reach Bijapur in 4 hrs, rather than get off at Sholapur at 6 pm, and take another 4 hrs to reach Bijapur. Gulbarga seemed the right place to get off.  

There are several buses to Bijapur from Gulbarga, and as expected, we reached in 4 hrs.  The terrain of North Karnataka is so different from the green Southern parts.  It is dry  here, and as the bus moves on the highway, you will see dry barren land without even a blade of grass.  Never the less, the scenery is stunning.

Bijapur is a small dusty town. I had a print out of budget hotels, that I had taken from Traveljini.  I did not have a booking, as I wanted to see the hotel before checking in.  The first hotel that we went to, Madhuvan,  was simple and nice. There was nothing lavish about it. It had simple rooms with basic amenities and charges a nominal INR 300 per day.  This place also had a attached restaurant, and guess what, from the hotel room, we could see Gol Gumbaz.  The receptionist was very helpful, she told us about all the places that are worth seeing in Bijapur.  We took rest that evening, and we were prepared to explore every nook and corner of Bijapur the next day.

Bijapur is a historic fort city. You will know this only once you get there.  When you get on top of the Gol Gumbaz, and when you look around, you will see a high fort wall, that was constructed all around the city with 4 watch towers. The fort walls are in ruins right now, but in many places it is intact.  3 of the watch towers are fine, and you can get in flash back mode and imagine what the place would have been like in its hey days during the time of Adil Shah. Inside this walled city – is Gol Gumbaz, Juma Masjid, Barah Cumman, Ibrahim Rouza, Sher – e – Burj and several palaces.  Most of the palaces are in a dilapidated condition, but, some places are well preserved.  It is called Agra of the South – there is reason for this, and I will explain it later.  Your visit to every monument will reveal yet another secret of this city’s illustrious past. After all, Bijapur was not built in a day.

One can’t appreciate the beauty of the place, if you do not know about its history. The foundations of this  city were laid during the Chalukyan dynasty of Kalyani between the tenth and eleventh centuries. They called it Vijayapura or the "City of Victory" from which  comes its present name Bijapur.  

Bijapur came under Muslim influence, first under Allaudin Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi, towards the end of the 13th century, and then under the Bahamani kings of Bidar in 1347.  In 1481, Mohammed III, one of the Bahamani Sultans, appointed Yusuf Adil Khan as the Governor of Bijapur.   Now about Yusuf Adil Shah – his is a story of rags to riches. He was a slave who became a Sultan.  He was one of the sons of Sultan Mahmud II of Turkey.  Adil Khan fled his country on the death of his father, to escape the massacre of crown prince  in the battle for succession to the throne.   He was purchased as a slave by Mahmud Gavan, the Prime Minister of Mohammed III.  

With the decline of the Bahamani power at Bidar,  Yusuf declared his independence in 1489 and thus became the founder of the Adil Shahi dynasty. Bijapur became the capital of the Adil Shahi kings (1489-1686), one of the five splinter states formed when the Bahmani Muslim kingdom broke up in 1482.  Bijapur  survived as a kingdom till its annexation by  Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1686.

Bijapur  experienced a great burst of architectural activity under  the Adil Shahi dynasty. The Adil Shahis  encouraged building activity  to such an extent that  Bijapur itself has over 50 mosques,  more than 20 tombs and a number of palaces.   An interesting feature was the employment of large numbers of  Indian craftsmen .  Earlier Muslim rulers of the Deccan deployed  Persian craftsmen and architects.

Bijapur is still strongly Muslim in character and it has many important monuments and historical ruins.

Bijapur’s greatest  attractions are architectural, especially  Islamic architecture. Minarets, domes and echoing burial chambers all conjure up images of the Arabian Nights. Here are a few of the many monuments, you may want to visit , at the least.  

Gol Gumbaz – Gol Gumbaz was the first place we went to.  The mercury was rising, and I had enough stock of sun tan cream to fight it.  Literary meaning, ’round’, it is the tomb of  Mohammed Adil Shah (1627 -56) , the seventh ruler of  Adil Shahi dynasty.  

Built at his orders before his death, this gigantic mausoleum took 20 years to complete , which dominates the landscape of Bijapur for miles around.   It has a floor area of 1700 sq.m., height of 51 m and diameter of 37 m. The walls are 3 m thick. The central dome, second in size only to the dome of St Peter’s  Basalica in Rome, stands unsupported by any pillars. The tick of a watch or the rustle of paper can be heard across a distance of 37 m in the Whispering Gallery. The acoustical phenomenon of this dome is such that a sound is echoed eleven times over. Listen in silence and the true power of the Gol Gumbaz becomes apparent.   Under the dome are the tombs of the Sultan, his two wives, his mistress Ramba, his daughter and grandson.  

The octagonal turrets which project at an angle and the huge bracketed cornic below the parapet, are important features of this monument. From the gallery around the dome, which can be reached by climbing up the turret passages, one can have a fabulous view of the town.  

The building complex includes a mosque, a Naqqar Khana, a gateway and a dharmashala. The edifice in front of the tomb has been converted into a museum.  

Ibrahim Rouza -   Rauza literally means a tomb with an attached mosque and garden. The square enclosure consists of 2 buildings, one housing the tombs of Ibrahim Adil Shah II & his family & the other a mosque.   The tomb, evidently executed under the orders of Ibrahim Adil Shah (1580-1627) is noted for its striking symmetry of proportion, exquisite minarets cupolas, parapets & cornices & is supposed to have been an inspiration for the Taj Mahal at Agra. Yes, the Ibrahim Rouza is like two Taj Mahals and a garden and waterway in the middle.     This monument shows the creativity of its Iranian born architect. Built on a single slab of bed-rock, the architect has attained a perfect balance on the site, with the mausoleum on the left and the prayer hall to the right. This whole structure lies above a basement which houses secret passages (used to store munitions and food) and also holds living quarters for the cavalry, with stables opposite. The gardens are beautifully sculpted and are enclosed within an imposing wall and have some superb gateways. The architect’s simple grave lies within the courtyard. He was buried there at his request, to be close to the Sultan.

One cannot stop and marvel at the tremendous effort put in by the sculptors, who carved every stone that makes up this beautiful complex. Two stone chains (each carved from a single rock) hang from the sides of the prayer hall. Each door (made in teak wood and re-enforced in metal) in this complex is unique, with some excellent features. The door handles are iron and brass and provide for some intricate patterns, which are largely intact.  The arches in the hallway surrounding the inner perimeter of the mausoleum are superbly crafted. The facades of the building provide for some stunning art-work in stone, including a map to the basement, which lies under the mausoleum.   An acoustic feature in this complex is worth mentioning. If you are standing at the mausoleum by the grave side of the Sultan, you can distinctly hear the prayers being said at the other end, in the prayer hall.  

Burj-E-Sherz - Home to the famous 8.5 m-long Malik-e-Maidan cannon (Lord of the Battle field). It was used in the battle of Talikot, when the Vijaynagar Empire fell. Measuring 4.45 m in length, 1.5 m in diameter and weighing an estimated 55 tons, it is one of the largest medieval guns ever made.

The muzzle is a lion’s head with open jaws with an elephant being crushed to death inside. The weapon is said to keep a cool head even in the blazing heat of the sun. When tapped it gives out a soft humming sound.  Legend has it that if you touch the gun and make a wish, it will come true!

Bara Kaman - This unfinished mausoleum of Ali Adil Shah, if completed, might have surpassed all others of its kind. Its 12 graceful arches which give it the name Bara Kamaan, makes one feel the power of time & death.  This unfinished tomb of Ali Adil Shah is an array of brown basalt stone arches on a base set in the midst of a public garden.

Juma Masjid - Called Jumma Masjid because the Khutba is recited here on Jumma ie. Friday, it is the largest & first constructed mosque in Bijapur.  It was built in 1576, the largest mosque in India, by Ali Adil Shah, who acquired the land after defeating the rich Ramaraja of Vijayanagar.

The total area of the mosque is 10,810 sq m. The main part of the mosque stands to the west & has nine huge arches on their facade that deepen into five arches & form 45 compartments.  The majestic tomb rises above the roof in a semicircle resembling the bud of a flower. This imposing mosque (the rectangle is 170m x 70 m) is incomplete, lacking in 2 minarets.

Aurangzeb extended the mosque in the east, the south & the north verandah & built the eastern gate. The original gateway is on the northern side. The interior of the mosque shows restraint, except for some decorative motifs on the apexes of the arches. The heavy curtain hangs over the "Mehrab", which has domes which are onion shaped, minarets, niches with books, flower vases & Persian writings in calligraphy  ( Koranic Verses ) inscribed on it.  

Mahtar Mahal - This finely wrought gateway to the mosque is an excellent example of the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. It is embellished by a profusion of carvings in the form of brackets supporting the balconies & stone trellis work in Hindu Style.  Many believe that it was built for the palace sweepers.

Taj Bawdi - This great tank was built to commemorate  Ibrahim II ’s first wife Taj Sultana.   Its front is a majestic arch flanked by 2 octagonal towers, the east & west wings of the towers form spacious rest houses

Assar mahal -  It is believed to contain some relics of Prophet Mohammed. It enshrined two hairs from the Prophet’s beard and was called Asar-e-Sharief . It was constructed about 1646 by Mohammed Shah., There are Landscape paintings and designs on the walls and ceiling of the hall. You are expected to take off your shoes when you enter.   Women are not allowed inside.

The Raja of Satara had the paintings at Assar Mahal scraped of their gold leaf, which he melted down to gold. The major work that survives dated 1600, is a portrait of Adil Shah and is now in the Bikaner collection.

Gagan Mahal - This mansion was constructed by Ali Adil Shah I in 1561. It served as a royal palace for some time.  There are three magnificent arches, the central one being the widest. The ground floor was the Durbar Hall and  the first floor, now in ruins, was the private residence of the Sultan.   This was where Sikander Adil Shah surrendered to Aurangzeb chained in silver. Originally Ali Adil Shahs ’Heavenly Palace’, it later served as a durbar hall for the Sultans who would sit on the platform while watched by the crowds on the grounds on the opposite side

Citadel – Bijapur’s citadel rests in the middle of the town. Most of the buildings inside have collapsed or have been converted into government offices but a few remain giving you a sense of how imposing this royal enclave must once have been.

Archeological Museum - The Archaeological Museum is located in the gatehouse of the Gol Gumbaz. A collection of Chinese porcelain, parchments, paintings, armoury, miniatures, stone sculptures and old Bijapur carpets are all housed here. The museum is open on all days from 10 am to 5 pm, except Fridays. Entrance is free.

Bijapur is a great place for all those who read up the history books before going to a historic city.  Simply landing up there is no fun at all.  I had read about Adil Shah in the history books in school, but there was just one small paragraph about him.  The Mughal era takes away the majority of space in Indian History books.  The Archeological museum has a lot of stuff that Adil Shah used, his clothes, battle outfit, swords, daggers etc.  This stuff is soo huge, I am sure Adil Shah must have been a tall and well built man.  His sword is so big, if we were to even lift it today, 4 well built men would be required.

Apart from these palaces and mosques, there is nothing much. The town is small and the life here is laid back.  There are lots of road side vendors who sell ceramic ware. If you are the type of person who loves to bargain and buy stuff, this is the place.  I bought lots of ethnic porcelain for the house.

All the monuments here are protected monuments, but they are not maintained neatly. There is gobar and goat shit all over the place.  Apart from the mosques that are in use even today, most of the palaces are full of miscreants, just hanging out there.  And, there are not many tourists who come here.  None of the Indians have the inclination to go to a town like Bijapur.  And the foreigners don’t think beyond Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Dharamsala, and Goa.  So, unless the Karnataka Tourism Department does something to promote Bijapur, the monuments will not get better attention and care.

But, none the less, if you love to backpack, read up a history book, and wish to go in search of something, like in my case, I wanted to see the Gol Gumbaz, I suggest the next time around you get 3 days off, just go to Bijapur.  If you have an additional 3 days, you can explore Hampi as well. You will realize, why India is rich in history, culture and diversity.

Getting There :

By Air : The nearest airport is Belgaum(205 kms), which is well connected to   Mumbai and Bangalore.

By Rail : Bijapur is well connected to Bangalore, Mumbai (via Solapur)  ; Hyderabad  (via Solapur or Hotgi Jn);  Hospet (via Gadag) ; Vasco da Gama (via Hubli and Londa).  

By Road : Bijapur is well connected to many cities in south and west india, notably. Sholapur ( 101 Kms ), Gulbarga ( about 120 kms ), Belgaum ( 205 kms ), Hyderbad ( 420 kms ), Mumbai ( 500 kms ) & Bangalore ( 530 kms )

Local Transport :  Autos, Taxis

Trip duration : 3 days

Best time : North Karnataka is usually hot throughout the year.  The best time is between Oct and Feb.

Where to stay :

Hotel Madhuvan - 08352- 55571, Hotel Samrat - 08352- 21620, Hotel Tourist - 08352- 20655. Megharaj - 08352- 25571, Rajadhani - 08352- 2334468, Sasnman - 08352- 21866. All of these are on Station Road.

Hotel Sagar - 08352- 59234. Barah Kaman Road

KSTDC’s Hotel Mayura Adil Shahi – Anand Mahal Road

Note : The details pertaining to History and the monuments that I mentioned in this travelogue are from history books and websites that I have read.  They are mostly accurate.