Trip to the Chalukyan Era – I – Gol Gumbaz – No secrets here !

Chalukya calling

Barely a week since returning home from the year end trip, we were planning another one, the long weekend for Sankranthi was too good to miss. While staying at home and celebrating festivals and feasting is a lot of fun, not travelling on long weekends seems like an opportunity gone by ! We had planned to go to Konaseema area as Sankranthi time was the best season to visit that part of Andhra. However, two days before the trip, one of our travel partners’ Figo came up with a bearing problem and we couldn’t go on a long road trip. We almost gave up our travel plans but decided to still make use of the holidays and atleast make a day trip, when we hit upon the idea of visiting Badami-Pattadakal-Aihole, the heartland of the Chalukyan Era, with just a day to go. There was not much to plan, we just called a few hotels and blocked accommodation, one of the good things about road trips, you don’t have to worry about tickets, reservations, cabs etc.

Once more, we lose our way !

Saturday, 12th January 2013, we started off from Hyderabad ORR at 9 AM. Our route for day 1 – Zaheerabad-Gulbarga-Bijapur-Badami. We had to take an exit on the ORR to go towards Patancheru, Hyderabad’s suburbs and then take the road to Zaheerabad. Needless to say, following Google maps, we missed the exit somewhere and found ourselves at Medchal on NH9 ! We are the PAC and losing our way is our travel right !

We could have continued on the highway, which though a longer route, was still on track. Instead, we tried to take what seemed to be a shorter route and ended up going through villages and bad roads ! It was almost 11 AM, when we actually hit the highway to Zaheerabad via Sangareddy. The delay also meant, we had to skip breakfast and make do with biscuits.

Road throws a happy surprise

We were apprehensive of this road after our epic 18 hour journey in October last year but thankfully, the roads were so much better, at times we couldn’t believe if it was the same road that showed us the stars a few months back ! We stopped for an early lunch at Zaheerabad at Ghar Dhaba, an innovative idea from Bharat Petroleum, their regular fuel station comes with rest areas and good eating joints for a quick stopover on the highway.

Our estimation told us we would reach Bijapur by 4 PM, that would give us enough time to visit the Gol Gumbaz which we missed last time. The idea of taking this route was to visit the Gol Gumbaz, otherwise the Raichur route is atleast 100 kms shorter.

The road was very good between Zaheerabad and Gulbarga, throwing up some fantastic scenes and landscapes. If we were not racing against time, we would have stopped to click pictures. Gol Gumbaz closed at 6 PM and we wanted some time for it. It took us exactly 2 hours to reach Gulbarga. Gulbarga has a nice fort but we gave it a miss.

Behold ! The Gol Gumbaz

By 4.30 PM, we could spot the gigantic Gol Gumbaz from a distance of 2 kms before entering Bijapur. Bijapur, the capital of the Adil Shah Dynasty Bahmani Sultans of the 1600s A.D.

The entire town of Bijapur is dotted with history and old structures, the Gol Gumbaz towering over the rest.

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There is an entrance fee of Rs.5/- and is open from 6 AM to 6 PM. As we entered the complex, we were enamoured by the sheer size of the structure. Believe us, the Gol Gumbaz is colossal !

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Built in 1656 A.D, the Gol Gumbaz has one of the largest domes in the world. It is considered to be an architectural wonder, for its unbelievable size and more importantly, for the “Whispering Galleries”. Even in its massiveness, there is elegance. Whoever said small is beautiful, the Gol Gumbaz is an example of how big can also be beautiful !

The inside of the Gol Gumbaz is cool and slightly dark, the windows on the arches along the walls through in some sunlight which gives it a very serene look. At the centre lie the graves of Muhammad Adil Shah and his family.

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As soon as you enter the Gol Gumbaz, apart from the stunning interiors, you can also hear haunting sounds. For a moment you could think that the place is haunted – screams, whistles, human voices echo all around you making the place eerie. You look up and see the giant dome staring down at you.

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No secrets please !

There is a staircase leading up and we went to explore the source of the sounds, the “Whispering Galleries”. One has to climb 4 floors through the winding staircases inside the pillars. The climb is slightly tiring because the steps are almost knee high. We had to take a break at every floor and were treated to some lovely views of Bijapur.

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The “Whispering Galleries” is an architectural feat.IMG_6123

Located right under the dome and running along the border of the dome, the acoustics of the Whispering Galleries are such that even the faintest sound, echoes off the walls and the dome and can be heard everywhere, all the way 4 floors below ! Each sound echoes 10 times and reverberates 26 times, the highest known count in any building !

People had a ball shouting at the top of their voices, clapping, talking loudly, some of us tried whispering into the walls and you can hear the whispers too all the way at the other end of the 44 m diameter dome !

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It is pure genius to achieve something like this in such massive proportions ! If you are brave enough, you can look 4 floors down from the galleries, the height could send you in a tizzy. We clapped, cheered, shouted, whispered and talked but nothing can remain a secret inside the Gol Gumbaz !

Bijapur sights

Outside the dome, we got a bird’s eye view of Bijapur, you can see ancient structures everywhere, all within the walls of the Bijapur fort, the fort walls run as far as you can see encompassing a part of the modern day town of Bijapur.

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We climbed down, as the sun was getting ready to set and left the place with a last look at the Gol Gumbaz, now shining in a shade of orange under the setting sun.

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We wondered what made these kings of yore build structures of such magnitude, how did they dream of such structures and convert them to reality? It is things like this that make history fascinating.

Then, we drove through the old town of Bijapur in search of Malik-e-maidan, a part of the fort that houses the largest cannon of the medieval period. By the time we reached it, it was past 6 pm and we knew it would be closed. We drove around the fort wall on top of which the cannon is kept, hoping to get a glimpse but we couldn’t see it. The Malik-e-maidan closes at 5 PM.

As you drive through Bijapur, you can find ruins peeping from corners, old fort walls between shops and on the road side. We had a refreshing cup of tea and set off to Badami, 120 kms away.

We had no expectation from the road but it threw up a pleasant surprise, we cruised to Badami by 8 PM and checked into our hotel, Mookambika Deluxe. Being a popular tourist spot, accommodation at Badami is slightly on the higher side with Rs.1000/- being the minimum in a decent place.

Dinner consisting of a simple Karnataka Thali was at a nearby restaurant, Hotel Banashree. We retired early to wake up in time for a day full of sightseeing the following day.

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