In some cities history occupies a central portion of the landscape—a grand palace smack in the heart of the city, a well-preserved old town on a riverbank. In others, history is found around the bend, in a decaying tomb amidst a grove of trees, in the bustle of shops nestled within ancient city walls. Bijapur is the latter. Monuments large and small are scattered throughout this sleepy Karnataka city, once the capital of the Adil Shahi dynasty.
For many, Bijapur, now Vijayapura, is often a pit stop on the way to the temple trinity of Badami, Aihole and Pattadakal. But this dusty city has its own rich heritage. After all, eight generations of Adil Shahis ruled over it before Aurangzeb annexed it into the Mughal empire.
My mother and I freshen up at our hotel and head straight to the famed Gol Gumbaz. Mohammad Adil Shah’s mausoleum stands inside a garden with a stately mosque beside it. The massive dome of the Gumbaz, once the largest in the world, is visible even a mile away. Flanked by four minarets, the dome is held by eight intersecting arches and resembles a blooming rose. The outer facade is decorated with exquisite jali work and ornate chajjas, but the interior is plain and stark, reminiscent of the Duomo in Florence. The Gumbaz houses the tombs of Mohammad Adil, his family and his mistress. I silently reflect at the oddness of a mistress being buried alongside the royal family.
Next up is the Whispering Gallery. We climb the narrow steps of the seven-storey minaret to get to the gallery. The ascent is steep, so we take breaks to see the city unfold beneath us. A sound in the Whispering Gallery is said to reverberate 30-odd times.
Since visitors fill the gallery with a cacophony of screams that assault the ears, we wait 15 minutes for some of the crowd to stream out. Once they do, I put the acoustics to test. I place my ear to one wall. My mother’s murmured “hello” sounds like a whisper from another time.
In contrast to the grandiosity of the Gol Gumbaz is the Bara Kaman, the unfinished mausoleum of Ali Adil Shah. It is a series of 12 arches that were meant to uphold a dome larger than the Gol Gumbaz, but legend goes that its shadow would have fallen on the Gumbaz, which is why it was abandoned midway.
Next morning, we pass the crumbling walls of the Bijapur Fort as we head to the Malik-e-Maidan—a massive cannon atop one of the fort’s towers. Our guide points out carvings on the cannon’s muzzle, but the fort walls are what stay with us. They weave through the city, supporting roadside shops selling flowers, vegetables and knick-knacks.
A bush-lined walkway leads us to the Gagan Mahal, ruins of the darbar hall, where the last Adil Shahi ruler surrendered to Aurangzeb. The guide paints a dramatic picture—Sikandar Adil Shah, bloody, beaten and bound in silver chains, kneeling before a haughty Aurangzeb. The imposing monument seems to look down on me, a puny human trying to understand the significance of all that the walls have witnessed.
After hours of monument-hopping, we enter a vegetarian restaurant near the central Gandhi Chowk to sample some north Karnataka food. We try the bhakri along with some cabbage palya (curry). I don’t like the bhakri too much but the ghee-laden bisi bele bhaat melts in my mouth. Saaru, a fiery cousin of rasam, accompanies our meal. Spice levels in Bijapur are on the higher end of the spectrum, so we buy some milky, sweet pedha to soothe our burning palates.
After a hearty meal, we walk to Ibrahim Rouza. Touted as an inspiration for the Taj Mahal, it’s a monument of love, built by Ibrahim Adil Shah for his queen, Taj Sultana. Back then, our guide tells us, kings usually commissioned mausoleums while they were alive. Ibrahim Adil Shah, however, died before Taj Sultana. Today they rest beside each other. The mausoleum alone is not the primary attraction. A gorgeous mosque stands next to it. Its Indo-Islamic architecture focuses on symmetry, and this is especially pronounced in its arches that create an Escher-like visual panorama, reminiscent of the Dutch graphic artist’s works.
Ibrahim Adil Shah’s resting place is quiet, with walls covered in delicate Persian calligraphy; its latticed teak windows create a lovely interplay of light and shadows. We spend a while admiring the craftsmanship and then we sit in the manicured garden overlooking the mausoleum. Watching the sun go down on the monuments, I recall the surprise on my friend’s face when I’d said I was planning a weekend getaway to Bijapur. “What on earth for?” she had asked. I now want to tell her that Bijapur has stories etched into its stones, stories of one of the great dynasties of South India.
Arundhati Hazra works a 9-to-9 job so that she can indulge in her three key vices - traveling, eating and buying lots of books. She'd like to go from aspiring writer to aspirational writer sometime soon.