While the world readied themselves to party the new year in, we decided to visit dusty tombs of dead kings, cobweb ridden forts and a university struck by lightning – so well, Bidar it was.
As we left on a Thursday afternoon, we were lucky to see a winter sunset that was needlessly dramatic – the orb of a gorgeous shade of gold with a sharply defined outline and the bluish-pink sky, on the other hand vying for your attention. Further on ahead, a cop at a highway checkpoint asked for a lift and we obliged. We were well rewarded with recommendations of tourist places nearby. We also got a peek into his life with 18-hour shifts, 24*7 availability, being witness to the aftermath of avoidable traffic accidents every day and the crimes he gets to clean up after every day. We soon felt guilty of how less we appreciate their work every day to keep our cities and villages safe even when often it’s just one of them on a long, lonely and dark highway.
Tip: You could also stop at Lepakshi on the way from Bangalore to Bidar which is a lovely old temple.
On the brighter (sparklier) side, with it getting darker earlier due to the winter, we were taken by surprise at the perfectly clear view of endless stars that lit up the night sky and left us smiling for a long time. After checking in to the hotel and dinner we crashed and woke up to the image of a pretty pond and guava trees outside our balcony.
But we had more road to cover- through tractors full of sugarcane and fields of cotton that looked like they were specific areas blessed with a snowy Christmas. The roads are great except for a small stretch before reaching Bidar since the roads there are being laid afresh. When there, expect your vehicle to be covered liberally with deep red soil on every bit of its exposed surface.
After checking in and a relaxed lunch, we headed off to our first stop.
Chaukhandi of Hazrat Khalil Ullah
Our first stop was Chaukhandi. This is a strikingly designed octagonal tomb of Hazrat Khalil Ullah who was the king’s spiritual advisor. Its distinct shape makes it easily visible from afar too.
It has a reverent air around it as devotees continue to visit it as a dargah. There is lovely Quranic calligraphy work around its façade. The smaller building beside the more prominent one, was where musicians used to play trumpets and drums as appropriate to the shrine.
There are 3 graves inside the tomb and are a few smaller ones around it, some with adornments on their outer structure too. There is a small step pond beside the main structure.
Tip: Make sure you are well covered, including for gentlemen- wear trousers in lieu of shorts. To this place the only pointer, if you don’t have a map, is to look for road signs to “Ashtur”
This is just a little away from the Chaukhandi and really takes your breath away. It is made of 8 main tombs and several smaller ones. The tall and graceful arches along with remnants of the richly coloured designs made for a sight for sore eyes.The one dome that has crashed in opening up to the sky, lends it a special touch of intrigue and mystery.
It’s interesting to note how young some of the designated rulers at the time were, some just 8- 12 years old. One wonders what lives those children led. The queens were called “Mallika-i-Jahan” (Queen of the world) very dramatically and were often the regent queens till the children grew up.
The people there seem to have the opposite energy levels those in the Chaukhandi. Children frolicking around, families playing a joyful game of kabaddi with some of its best participants in a hijab and, a group of young men learning to ride a bike inside the premises and taking ubiquitous selfies of course. It’s the perfect place to spend a beautiful winter evening.
As we climbed atop one of the structures a young girl of about 9 yrs old approached me asking why we were taking videos(she assumed due to the huge DSLR) and what we’d do with them. I explained as best as I could and then we exchanged names.
“Are you a Hindu?” she then asks.
“Well… I guess…but what difference does it make?” [there wasn’t enough time to express my opinions about religion]
She giggles in agreement.
She continues, “You are very nice…..but………..you have short hair.” More giggling! 😐
She then proceeds to call her sisters too and each one requests a separate picture with me. Revelling in the glory of fleeting celebrity-hood I agree with a grin.
The setting sun lends marvellous shades of gold to the tombs and their facades adding to their charm. Reflecting on the place we decided that while all of us die, some of our tombs are possibly grander but considering we aren’t around to enjoy them, we might as well enjoy our evening for now.
The next day was the main focus of our whole trip, the Bidar fort. It is considered one of the most formidable forts in the country. However, a few steps from the entrance and you’re instantly transported to another time half expecting sentries to bring down the draw bridge for you at the doors. The 3 moats around it are clearly visible just a short climb up its ramparts. It lends itself to a day of joyous exploration with something new at every turn. Despite it being a sunny day, areas of the fort are deliciously cool with their design optimising for air flow. The inside of the fort starts off with the Rangeen Mahal and the Prince’s Mahal on the left with the Fort’s museum on the right. The Tarkash Mahal and the Solah Khamba Mosque are soon after. Further inside one would reach the Diwan-i-Aam, the Takht Mahal and several other structures.
The hall for an audience with the public – was contrary to its name, well, closed to the public, since it was undergoing renovations. A peek from the gates, however, led us to view a large area for the people to meet their king and walls with tall arches all around.
Is a corruption of “Turkish” which is what the queen was, and this was made for her. This too was unfortunately closed and seemed to have multiple steps and sections, much left to our imagination.
Solah Khamba Masjid
This is still used as a mosque. It has 16 pillars in the front but a total of 96 smooth, round, huge, white pillars beautifully aligned to make up the structure
This was one structure I was yearning to see and it did not disappoint. Marble tiles in stunning shades of blue, green and white make you long to see how it may have been when it was all in place.
Just beside the Rangeen Mahal was the Mahal of the prince. All that was left were strong pillars, sectioned off rooms and wide spaces.
This was a favourite of mine. Easy to get lost amidst its huge sections separating the rooms with beautiful archways and huge windows to look benevolently(I hope) at the peasants in the plains below.
Renovations are ongoing to put back together the waterbodies in each courtyard attempting fervently to re-create the glory days.
The Persian influence in architecture is noted in the tiger with a starburst seen right at the entrance of the building.Just behind it are secret passageways and tunnels to escape into the earth in case the enemy attacks.
As we moved towards the exit, we also stopped at some old granaries still in pretty good shape. There are huge canons around the fort area too.
It’s a delightfully enchanting space to spend a relaxed day stumbling into its various nooks and spaces, discovering a cannon at one spot and a vibrant blue mosaic at another, feeling like an intruder in space you yearn to really see in it’s prime.
We wished we could, if only for an instance, breathe life into those spaces to get a peek into the lives and times of the people of the era, their every days and their celebrations, their joys and their heartbreaks. For now, we’ll never know what secrets the place may be holding close to its heart and what tales the palaces would be yearning to share.