Undiscovered charm of the Hyderabad-Karnataka region

The tourism potential of the north-eastern districts of Karnataka which host wondrous historical monuments such as the Gol Gumbaz, Bidar fort and numerous natural attractions, has been neglected

A not-so-well known fact about the south-western state of Karnataka (pop. 68 million), whose capital Bangalore (pop. 12.5 million) has emerged as the hub of India’s fast-track computer software industry, is that beyond Bangalore it offers a scenic countryside, rich in flora and fauna. Once the seat of the famous Vijaynagar kingdom, Karnataka is a composite tourism destination offering an enchanting mix of temples, wildlife, trekking, health spas and unspoilt beaches — an excellent, even if under-promoted balance of natural attractions (forest and wildlife) and architectural splendour. Moreover the state is a major producer of coffee, spices and betel nut, and produces 60 percent of the country’s silk.

Although the state has a large number of tourist attractions, its tourism potential (102 million domestic and 460,000 foreign tourists per year) is dwarfed by the neighbouring states of Kerala and Goa, primarily because most of Karnataka’s tourist sites are underdeveloped in terms of infrastructure, roads, hotels etc. A case in point are the wholly neglected north-eastern districts of Bijapur, Bidar, Gulbarga and Raichur aka Hyderabad-Karnataka region due to its large Telugu speaking population. Prior to independence from British rule in 1947, the region was ruled by the Nizam of Hyderabad. These districts which host wondrous historical monuments such as the Gol Gumbaz, Bidar fort, the Badami and Lakkundi caves and natural attractions including Jaladurga Falls, Tungabhadra dam, Kudala Sangama among others have great tourism potential, but they have been neglected.

To fully redeem its tourism potential, the Hyderabad-Karnataka region requires radical infrastructure upgradation by way of improved roads, establishment of tourist information centres, planned preservation, restoration of historical monuments and education of local youth as guides.

Bidar

Bidar (pop. 1.7 million) situated on the north-eastern tip of Karnataka, was formerly the capital of the Bahamani kingdom. The town is famous for its numerous historical monuments which reflect the glory of the 14th century Bahamani rulers. Apart from monuments and mausoleums, Bidar’s cool and refreshing climate also attracts visitors. Sited 669 km from Bangalore, at an altitude of 2,200 ft above sea level, Bidar overlooks the picturesque Manjira river valley. The best time to visit is between October and March.

Historically this region formed an important part of the kingdom of Vidharba, referred to in the Mahabharata. Bidar was absorbed into the Chalukyan Empire in the 10th century. Later the region was taken over by the Yadavas of Devangere who were followed by the Kakatiyas of Warangal and finally by the Bahamani sultans in the 14th century.

The disintegration of the Bahamani kingdom in the late 15th century into five small states led to the rise of the Sultanate of Bidar. Sultan Ahmad Wali I shifted his capital from present day Gulbarga to Bidar and built a fort here. Later in 1656 Bidar was annexed and incorporated into the Mughal Empire by Emperor Aurangzeb after which it was governed by Hyderabad Nizams in the early part of the 18th century. After India gained independence in 1947, the rule of the Nizam was abolished and Bidar became part of the Indian state of Karnataka.

The highlight of Bidar is the Fort, which encircles the town completely. Surrounded by a three-mile long wall with 37 bastions, most of them surmounted with cannons, the fort and its well laid out gardens are ascribed to Ahmad Wali Shah. In the heart of the fort is the old city with monuments and structures of the Bahamani era. The Rangin Mahal here, has ornately carved wooden pillars with Persian artwork and the Solah Kambh Masjid (16-pillared mosque) is the oldest Muslim monument here. Also worth seeing are the Gagan Mahal, the Diwan-e-Am, the Royal Pavilion, and Takhat Mahal — all within the perimeter of the fort.

Towards the end of the 12th century Bidar witnessed a religious reformation, led by the lingayat reformist Basavanna, the foremost propagator of the Saivaite movement in Karnataka. Therefore it boasts several religious centres. Among them: Nanak Jheera, the largest Sikh temple in Karnataka; the sanctum of Narasimha Jheera sited in a deep cave, accessible only after wading through a 146-metre stretch of waist deep water (and braving a multitude of bats hanging from the roof). The cave enshrines Narasimha — the leonine avatar of Lord Vishnu.

Getting there. Air. The nearest airport is Hyderabad (136 km). Rail. Bidar is connected by rail to Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai. Road. The town is well connected by road with Hyderabad (136 km), Gulbarga (110 km), Bijapur (246 km) and Bangalore (669 km).

Accommodation. There are very few hotels and lodges in Bidar. Whatever accommodation is available is of mediocre standard. Blackbuck Resort (Rs.7,623-12,756 per day meals and excursions), Hotel Sapna International (Rs.1,737-2,072), Shiva International (Rs.900 per night), Kasturi International (Rs.1,232).

Excursions. There are several day and weekend getaways around Bidar. Basvakalyan (80 km), capital of the latter Chalukyas of the 10th century has some interesting historical monuments; Humnabad (52 km) is a famous pilgrim centre and attracts thousands of devotees annually during the seven-day Veerabhadreshwara Jatra held in January-February.

Bijapur

Bijapur (pop. 401,380) is a city of grand monuments, built in a unique style of Islamic architecture. It was the capital of the 15th century Adil Shahi dynasty and has numerous sites of historic, cultural and architectural interest. The climate is temperate — summer (April-June) being warm and winter (November-February) is cool and pleasant.
The Chalukya rulers of south India (10th-12th century) laid the foundation of Bijapur. At that time, it was called Vijayapura (city of victory). Bijapur was under the local Yadava rulers for about a century till Ala-ud-din Khilji captured it and made it part of the Delhi sultanate towards the end of the 13th century. In 1347 Bijapur was absorbed into the Bahamani kingdom. The region’s golden period started with the decline of the Bahamani rulers. In 1489 Yusuf Adil Shah, one of the nobles under the Bahamanis founded the Adil Shahi dynasty and made Bijapur his capital. The Adil Shahis ruled until 1686, after which Aurangzeb annexed Bijapur.

The pride and joy of the walled city is the magnificent Gol Gumbaz or Round Dome. Built in 1669 by Mohammad Adil Shah and designated his tomb, this is the largest unsupported dome (diameter 36 metres or 124 ft) in India and the second largest in the world. The unique design of this monument supports four staircases leading to four minarets overlooking the gold and azure topped dome. The acoustics of the enclosed space make it a whispering gallery, in that even the smallest sound is heard across the dome and echoes nine times before fading away.

Other sites of interest are the archaeological museum, the neighbouring well-maintained gardens and the Ibrahim Roza, a beautiful tomb built by Adil Shah II for his queen, featuring highly decorative carvings. The citadel situated at the centre of the walled city is a small, fortified area with a moat, grand palaces, beautiful gardens and public halls built by the Adil Shahi rulers. Though most of these are in ruins, the remains of Gagan Mahal are evidence of the grandeur and refinement of the Adil Shahi kings. Visit the Sat Manzil (seven-storied palace), Jala Manzil (water pavilion), the Taj Bawdi (water tank), Upli Burj (watch tower), Mehtar Mahal (palace built by sweepers) and Asar Mahal.

The Jumma Masjid is another major tourist attraction here. One of the first mosques built in the country, it showcases an exquisite copy of the Holy Quran, inscribed in gold. Barah Cummon with its twelve interleaving arches and Malik-e-Maidan, the largest cannon of the medieval world weighing 55 tonnes and 14 ft in length are definitely worth seeing.

Getting there. Bijapur is well connected with Bangalore, Belgaum and Goa by road and rail. The nearest airport is Belgaum (205 km).

Accommodation. Hotel Madhuvan International (Rs.2,240-2,382 per night), Hotel Mayura Adil Shahi (Rs.1,680), Hotel Shubhashree (Rs.2,227-2,687), Sabala Heritage Home (Rs.1,294-1,600) are the best options.

Excursions. Among the numerous weekend excursions from Bijapur are Basavana Bagevadi (43 km), known for its Shiva temple and as the birthplace of Saint Basaveshwara, and Kundalasangama (67 km), an important pilgrim centre associated with the 12th-century poet and social reformer Basaveshwara.

Gulbarga

Gulbarga (pop. 533,587) is perhaps the largest town in north-eastern Karnataka. Sited 663 km from Bangalore, the town experiences moderately hot summers (April-June) and pleasantly cool winters (November-February). The best time to visit is from October-February. Gulbarga is famous for its association with the erstwhile medieval Bahamani kingdom (1347-1526) and was the first capital of the Bahamani rulers. Numerous monuments here reflect the glory and architectural skills of the Bahamanis.

The origin of the town dates back to the Kakatiya rulers of Warangal. The region witnessed considerable turmoil in the early medieval period before it was absorbed into the Delhi Sultanate in the 14th century, following a siege of the town by Ulugh Khan, a general of the Tughlaq dynasty. Following the death of Mohammed bin Tughlaq, Gulbarga was conquered by the Bahamanis who made it their capital from 1347 to 1428. In the 17th century Gulbarga was annexed by Emperor Aurangzeb, and a century later the region was ceded to the Nizams of Hyderabad.

Gulbarga is renowned for its Bahamani era monuments. The Gulbarga fort originally built by Raja Gulchand is studded with 15 watchtowers. The Jama Masjid built in the late 14th century on the lines of the great Cordoba Mosque in southern Spain, is a popular tourist site. Also worth seeing are the imposing tombs of the Bahamani rulers, Haft Gumbaz, the tomb of Khwaja Bande Nawaz — a sufi saint who visited the region in 1413. The annual Urs festival held here is an important social event in Gulbarga. Also check out the Sharana Basaveshwara temple in the centre of the town.

Other interesting monuments are Khandar Khan’s mosque, Hirapur mosque both built by royal consort Chandbibi in 1585, the Archeology Museum which displays ancient Buddhist plaques and the Durgah Library which contains over 10,000 Urdu, Persian and Arabic books.

Accommodation. Despite being a district headquarter town, Gulbarga does not offer much in terms of residential accommodation. Among the better known hostelries are: Citrus Gulbarga (Rs.2,584-2,800 per night), Lumbini’s Grand Hotel (Rs.2,072-2,296), Hotel Pariwar (Rs.2,056-2,166), Hotel Heritage Inn (Rs.1,680).

Getting there. Rail. Gulbarga is on the main Mumbai-Bangalore line and a number of express trains stop here. It is also well connected with Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kochi by rail. Road. Gulbarga is well connected with the rest of Karnataka. Buses ply frequently from Gulbarga to Bidar and Bijapur (three hours each). Night buses are available from Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Excursions. There are several weekend excursions ex Gulbarga. Jevargi (40 km) on the banks of the Bhima river is an important religious centre for Jains; Jaladurga Falls near Narayanpura Dam (120 km) on the Krishna river is a scenic picnic spot.

Badami

Badami (pop. 330,860) is picturesquely situated at the mouth of a ravine between two rocky hills. Sited near a red sandstone ridge, this small town is famed for its rich history and architecture. The capital of the early Chalukyas who laid the foundation of a unique style of architecture — a fine blend of north Indian Nagara and Dravidian styles — Badami abounds in cave temples with intricately carved frescoes and interesting monuments of the Chalukya era (500-700 AD).

Badami is famous for its rock-cut cave temples. Carved out on the red sandstone hills that surround the town, these temples date back to the 6th and 7th centuries and are embellished with ornately carved images of Hindu deities. Three shrines are dedicated to Hindu gods while the fourth is a Jain temple and was built much later. Situated contiguously is the 5th century Agastyatirtha Tank, dotted with Bhuthnath temples, dedicated to Lord Shiva. The archeological museum is situated nearby.

Accommodation. Badami offers few hotels of acceptable contemporary standard. Among the better ones are: Krishna Heritage (Rs.4,818-5,151 per night), Hotel Mookambika Deluxe (Rs.2,084), Mayura Chalukya (Rs.3,835), Clarks Inn Badami (Rs.3,058-5,900).

Excursions. A number of historical spots are accessible from Badami. The historic village of Pattadakal (20 km) was the second capital of the Chalukyas with several temples dating back to 6th and 7th centuries. The Mahakuta and Naganath temples (10 km) and Lakkundi (82 km) cave temples are recommended excursions.

Aihole

Some scholars regard this temple town — 110 km from Bijapur and 550 km from Bangalore — as the ‘Cradle of Indian temple architecture’. Aihole (pop. 25,852) known as Ayyavole and Aryapura in ancient manuscripts is situated in a picturesque location on the banks of the Malaprabha river and dotted with over 125 temples featuring carved frescoes and sculptures rich in detail. The temples divided into 22 groups are scattered all over the village and surrounding fields. Most of them were built between 700-900 AD. The oldest temple here is perhaps the 5th century Lad Khan temple, located south of the Durga Temple, built in the panchayat hall style. The windows are decorated with latticework of north Indian origin while the Dravidian style sanctum was added later. Built around 450 AD, the temple derives its name from a Muslim prince who converted it into his residence.

Also highly recommended are the Konthi temple complex (Kwanthi Gudi); the Uma Maheswari temple featuring an intricately carved Brahma seated on a lotus; the austere Jain Meguti temple and the two-storeyed Buddhist temple. The nearby Durga temple derives its name from Durgadagudi or ‘temple near the fort’. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, it is a Hindu adaptation of the Buddhist chaitya (hall). Standing on a high platform with a rekhanagara type of shikara, it is the most ornate monument in Aihole. The columns at the entrance and within the porch are carved with figures and ornamental relief sculptures.

Meguti temple is the only dated monument in Aihole, built atop a small hill in 634 AD. Now partly in ruins, this temple provides important evidence of the early development of the evolving Dravidian school of architecture. The Surayanarayana temple to the north east of Lad Khan, features an icon of Surya with his two consorts Usha and Sandhaya, drawn by horse chariots. Numerous exhibits in the sculpture gallery maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India in the Durga temple are absorbing.

Accommodation. There is only one hotel in Aihole: Iroomz Mayura (Rs.2,000).

Excursions. Weekend and day outings ex Aihole include Koodalasangama (45 km), a pilgrimage centre at the confluence of the Krishna and Malaprabha rivers with a temple consecreted to Shiva. Facing the temple, in the midst of the river, is a small stone mantapa containing a Shiva linga.

Pattadakal

Pattadakal (pop. 173,181) is one of the 26 Unesco-recognised world heritage sites in the country. The town boasts ten strikingly attractive temples built in the early Chalukya style of architecture. The biggest, dedicated to Virupaksheshvara has an imposing gateway and is guarded by a majestic sculpture of the Nandi bull.

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