Amazing and offbeat- Bijapur Travel guide

Gol Gumbaz terrace

It wasn’t love at first sight when I first visited Bijapur in 2013. A day of seeing only the tourist-centric spots and some faltoo guide explaining fake histories didn’t charm me enough. But the whispering gallery of Golgumbaz and the petal domes in the terrace felt as if they had interesting stories to tell. While we wandered in Kashan experiencing Persian hospitality and architecture, a wall of Tabatabaei House reminded me of Gol Gumbaz. The stucco works were shockingly similar. That day’s reading after eating Mirza Qesemi revealed tales from the days of Ottomans+Persians+Vijayanagara+Bahamani = Bijapur’s Sultan. I knew we must wade through many layers to know what Bijapur is. 

Here is your complete guide to Bijapur – An Indian town loaded with history dotted with minarets and domes.

Indo Persian architecture - Stucco work similarities in Bijapur

Index

Where is Bijapur

Bijapura Railway station

I usually don’t write where a place is located. As many travellers confuse Bijapur to be in Maharashtra. But it is an essential part of my home state Karnataka. You find Marathi and Hindi speaking people there – They are as Kannadiga as the rest of Karnataka is. Bijapur was called Vijayapura (the land of victory) during Chalukya king times much before Bahamians. So now again, Bijapur is renamed as Vijayapura.

Award winning sculpor artists of Karnataka

There are many stories behind Bijapur Adil Shah dynasty founder Yusuf’s arrival to South India. One common thing all historians believe and prove is he was from Iran. So Are you ready for a masaladaar story ( I think 95% of it is a fact) of Bijapur Sultans? I am sure Sanjay Leela Bhansali can make a good movie out of it.

Gripping story of Yusuf Adil Shah – Indo-Persian Relations
Gol Gumbaz image inverted in a glass globe

Yusuf Adil Shah was born in the 1450s as a son of an Ottoman emperor in Turkey. We all know how Roman and Ottomans were fighting each other at that time. The Ottoman king had two sons, and he was worried that the two sons might fight for the throne in the future. The king ordered to get one of the sons killed to avoid internal wars. But the queen didn’t want her son to die.

So she gave it to a Persian trader Mahamud Gawan and lots of treasure to look after the kid. The kid went to Iran from Turkey, learnt the Persian language and all other warrior stuff. When Mahamud Gawan came to Maharashtra port, he sold Yusuf to Bahamani sultans of Bidar! Observing his bravery and talent, the Bahamani emperor made him Bijapur Governor. When Bahamani kings became weak in power, Yusuf took advantage of his own lords and turned his province into an independent kingdom – Bijapur Adil Shahi.

There is more – He went to Goa (310km from Bijapur) and captured the town from Bahamanis in 1490. The drama doesn’t continue – Vijayanagara kings captured Goa, defeated Yusuf and gave it to the Portuguese! in 1510. But Bijapur Sultans remained in their province, creating epic Islamic architecture wonders in my home state. The story of Adil Shahis ended when Mughal emperor Aurangajeb from Delhi (1635km away from Bijapur) attacked them in 1687 for 15 long months! 

Islamic building with decorated ceiling and wall in a mosque at Bijapur

Egypt’s Queen Hatshepsut story of how a queen became Pharaoh was the spiciest historical story I had ever heard. But the real-life of Yusuf Adil Shah is even spicier.

Why is it worth to visit Bijapur

Girl in Burqa qalking in the stone tunnel

If you are a history buff who loves to learn the facts and hear stories amidst architectural wonders, you will love Bijapur. I often hear negative comments and an average review about this town that struggles with water scarcity. Some say, “It is a day trip from Badami; see Gol Gumbaza and go to Hampi. There is nothing much in the small town.” Let me explain to you why those words are wrong.

There is a garbage litter and water scarcity problem. I don’t deny that. The sun and dust may bother you if you aim to see the town and see only major tourist locations. As most people prefer only that, major tourist attractions are kept clean, and the side lanes need a major makeover. Like most other Indian towns, things are better after Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. My friend Namratha from Bijapur says that they got a running drinking water supply in 2018! Until then, they had to store water twice a week, that is enough for the whole week. Local communities continuously create awareness among those who don’t even know that they can live in a better environment.

Isfahan of Iran and Bijapur's Asar Mahal

Deciding not to travel to Bijapur based on its problem is the silliest thing you can do. The sunrise behind Gol Gumbaz dome and Kadak Jowar roti meals in a local Khaanavali is worth every paisa, and second, you spend in this small town. If you are an experience seeker, you fall in love with the Indo-Persian town of Karnataka. If you are there for the experience, the architectural wonders and nice people win over the filth. 

How to reach Bijapur

As of 2022, Bijapur Airport is set to open by 2023(hopefully). But trains and buses are plenty. Many tourists come to Bijapur from Goa. You can head to Bidar-Hyderabad and central India further. Or go south to Bangalore-Mysore -Hampi.

Old building in Bijapur with stone wall and cast iron railing

Bijapur By Train: The most convenient way to get to Bijapur from cities that are 500-600km away is by Train. There is even a train from Bikaner of Rajasthan to Bijapur. Hyderabad, Solapur, Goa, Mumbai, Hampi, Bangalore, Mysore have direct trains to Bijapur. Don’t get Confused when the IRCTC website shows Vijayapura as the destination every time you click Bijapur. You won’t regret spending extra money on AC Coach.

By Bus: If your journey is less than 4 hours, the bus journey is good. There are two Government bus stands in Bijapur. Both are ill-maintained with litter everywhere. Don’t use toilets here before heading to the bus terminal; confirm and then get to the Terminal.

How to go around in Bijapur

Man walking wearing mask in the sidelanes of Bijapur

As usual, we did our typical thing on the first day – We walked for 14km on the first day. Starting from the train station to our hotel and everywhere else. Because we did so, I feel we experienced Bijapur better. Many scooter riders on our way asked if we needed a lift. We happened to see some old monuments tucked away in the alleys of residential areas that don’t surface on the “Tourist attraction list”.

Beyond that, we met an artist working on his brass sculpture. It gets hot by noon, so switch to autos (Bargain for the price) in the noon. Some ruins are best explored by Taanga (the horse chariot). It is shaded yet open, and the Taangawaala is usually a good narrator. He talks about the town very well and can take you to remote places.

Brass sculptors of India

How many days to spend in Bijapur

In one day you can see only the famous places – Gol Gumbaz, Ibrahim Rauza and Baarah Kamaan. To experience more of Bijapur blissfully, two days are needed.

Best time to visit Bijapur 

It is October to January when the sun shows little mercy on you.

Old heritage homes of Bijapur

Where to stay in Bijapur.

 I recommend you opt for hotel rooms that cost you 2k-3.5k rupees a night and maintain hygiene better. We stayed in the Kyriad hotel. The room was clean and comfortable. But the staff were of zero help when we asked if they knew any guides. They asked, “What is Bidar” when we told them we wanted to go Bidar. This is just one example of how border areas of Karanataka are neglected not only by the state government but also by its citizens. 

Most beautiful terrace in the world

Best things to do in Bijapur.

Watch Sunrise at Gol Gumbaz.

The city’s atmosphere is way different when it is still sleeping. Other than the vrooming buses, the wide highway is all yours. Middle-age people go jogging by the highway side. Most of them enter the world-famous Gol Gumbaz premises. The entry is free for residents for their morning jogging. So you see many groups doing yoga and laughing club on the well-maintained lawn.

Entrance of Bijapur's gol gumbaz with lawn

The museum at the entrance that looks like the holder of that bulbous dome stands with a flat roof awaiting tourists. As you go ahead, receiving smiles and good mornings from the joggers, a wide building with arches puncturing the wall hiding the monument behind appears. That central opening reveals the 51m tall monument with excellent Stucco work on its facade and wooden panelled doorway. If you find this moment enthralling at this point- wait, the best part is yet to come.

Gol Gumbaz elevation

The 40m turrets on either side are difficult to climb using the spiral staircase. You take multiple long breaths with high rises, but you must make it to the terrace to witness the magic of smaller domes and a huge one lined with Petals at the bottom. With hardly any tourists at 6 am, the entire complex may be yours. To say a Hi, the sun who exactly looks like bright orange fruit rises behind the couple domes – This is the moment to be enthralled and rejoiced looking at the town below and surrounded by tiny domes where Green parrots have made home.

Beautiful sunrise of Bijapur

Trust me; three hours on this terrace flew like 3 minutes for us.

Due to the simple principle of sound reflection and smooth surface of the 44m wide dome, the echo in the mezzanine floor that can be accessed only from the terrace is a phenomenon to witness.

Even a small whisper or finger snap sound can be heard across 44m. Trying it in your own voice is good. But by 10 am, when the tourist crowd arrives, their main aim is to make weird and funny sounds to see how it gets echoed. Evil laughter, someone saying “I love you Chinnu”, singing a sad song or even shouting names – Tourists have utmost fun here. You sit either on the terrace outside the whispering gallery or inside- Listening to crazy echo sounds is the fun.

Intersection of arches to create whispering gallery.

Spend the evenings at Ibrahim Rauza.

Sunset st Bijapur Ibrahim Rauza

Another architectural wonder is the combo of the mausoleum (king’s tomb) and a small mosque on an elevated terrace amidst a vast open area. The side stone benches are made for those who love to watch people. The stucco works and brackets that support the roof overhangs can be observed and admired closely. The inside of the roof with ribbed vaults and domes won’t fail to remind you of Iran. As this is one of the famous destinations, expect the crowd. But being here at sunset is another level for the experience, even with the crowd. Good lighting, great architecture, and the dawn light invite local models to their photoshoot. 

Ibrahim Rauza architecture

Eat at Khaanavali.

Khaanavali meals of Jowar roti and dal

North Karnataka food is different from the rest of India and tastes heavenly. Mainly with Jowar roti, the meals are super healthy with lots of pulse curries, veggies and curd. A community called Lingayats are pro of making Jowar roti meals, and they run small eateries called Khaanavali. Yedeyur Siddlingeshwar Bhojanaalaya is where we had delicious lunch on two consecutive days.

Visit buzzing Shastri Market.

Shop in Bijapur Shastri market selling dhoop and colour powder

An Indian admiring a usual market- why? You may ask. Most modern shopping complexes in India sell usual things. Almost 100m long Shastri market sells pure Bijapur things – Chilli, Wax like dhoop, fryums, Ilkal sarees and most importantly – Tastiest Kadak roti (dried Jowar roti) along with Shenga Chutney. Castor oils to Chia seeds, Pulses to highly quality jaggery – the aroma in this market is heavenly. The way women bargain with saree sellers here is an art even an Indian like me who is born and brought up here must learn.

Big jaggery piece in Bijapur

I don’t know if Bijapur is the “Pulse and Grain capital of Karnataka”, but I have never seen such a variety of pulses at one shot anywhere else in my home state. That too in small “Not wholesale” shops. If you are looking for high-quality pulses at a better price, visiting the Shastri market is necessary. Most parts of the market we wandered were clean except one corner where buyers and sellers treated it as a dumping and spitting yard in the middle of a walkway.

Red chillis stored in gunny bags

Wonder what is Jod Gumad.

Jod means couple- So this is a place that got two tombs with one dome on each. The shape of the domes are similar to that of Ibrahim Rauza, and seeing a pair of domes in the middle of nowhere is bizarre.

Jod Gumbad Bijapur

The entrance of Dargah has shops selling Chadar, flowers and incense for the saint’s tomb. As you go in, you find people of multiple religions! This is a holy place for Muslims, but we saw many Hindus meeting their Muslim friends on the premises. We overheard conversations where they were conversing about prices for their crops and a woman yelling at someone over the phone to return the money. The outside of Dargah makes you feel it is a religious place, but the premise acts more like a Public Plazza than a Mausoleum. 

A part of the complex looked like a temporary shelter, and some has made this their forever home. This is the most bizarre mausoleum I have ever seen where people pray and live next to it.

Watch the sunset behind India’s tallest Shiva statue.

Largest shiva statue in India - Shivgiri

Honestly, I am not a fan of modern buildings, especially religious buildings. But this 25m height Shiva statue built-in 2006 is perhaps the only contemporary religious place I enjoyed. Instead of a closed temple, Shiva sits in a meditating pose in an open field surrounded by gardens facing East. As a result, the sunset behind him gives you an uninterrupted view, and it looks mystical at twilight. After walking for 10+ kilometres in the day, this place where local people come to hang out with families in the evening was the best place to watch people.

Visit unfinished Baarah Kamaan

Baara Kamaan, Bijapur. An unfinished ancient structure.

Arches that are silently crumbling yet graceful hide dark stories behind them. This unfinished monument was supposed to be the mausoleum for Ali Adil Shah (the king’s son who built Gol Gumbaz). The father got jealous of his son building something that would rival the magnificent Gol Gumbaz he built for himself. So he ended up killing his own son, and the mausoleum construction stopped! – Bijapur Sultan stories are as spicy as their food, you see.

All you can see is a dozen arches inclining inwards on a high plinth surrounded by a garden decently maintained by an archaeological survey of India. What is more exciting for Kannadigas is the famous song “Pyaar ge Aag Bittaithe” was filmed here.

Visit Jama Masjid.

Jama Masji Bijapur Interiors

Jama Masjid means “Congregational mosques”. There are plenty of such mosques in India. Bijapur Jama masjid is neither large nor aesthetically wonderful from the outside. Because Adi Shah kings never completed it. When Mughal king Aurangazeb captured the town, he added one more entrance from the east. So approach to this via residential areas is interesting. The inside of the mosque is more interesting, with arches interesting to hold the dome on top – which exactly reminded us of Iran.

Influence of Persian architecture in India

Wander in old residential areas.

Ancient stone houses with cast iron railing in Bijapur

The town was established in the 10th-11th century. It has gone under constant changes under different rulers. Even with modern urbanization, some old houses stand strong. Shivaji road in Uppal Buj area and near poorly maintained Taj Bawdi; you spot many of these 200-year-old houses. Some are active, and some are locked. Most houses have stone walls and cast iron railing. The smaller windows with triangular shade and cornice design are typical to rich men’s houses. These lanes need immediate attention by heritage conservationists and the government before the owners sell them or alter them to make a commercial building complex built of glass and ACP.

Bijapur streets with old mud houses

Relish on Persian influenced cuisines.

I wanted to know if there is a community that are descendants of Adil Shah’s family still living somewhere in Bijapur. When I asked the caretaker at Jama Masjid and other locals, laughingly, they said, “What do you want to do with them? We don’t know anyone related to Adil Shah.”

Persian influenced food in Bijapur

I haven’t found the living lineage of Bijapur Sultans yet, but why I wanted that was to find some Persian dish for Ashrith. I know how he devoured the food in Iran, so I wanted him to enjoy a similar thing in this Indo-Persian town. A local friend suggested Qaswa hill restaurant because the restaurant claims that the owner’s lineage belongs to Adil Shah kings’ tax collectors. They still have some unique cuisines whose making and taste belong to Adil Shah time.

There was one dish – “Persian Delight”- Unaware of the taste, he ordered that it was the rightest choice he could ever make. He says this chicken dish with rice tasted like the Persian dish Koffteh. Their veg food was decent; Their drinks, Pista Faluda and Shahi Gulab, was super refreshing.

Take a Taanga ride and enjoy the vibe.

Mehtar Mahal Bijapur.

Taanga rides aren’t fun everywhere. It can’t go in a narrow lane; the clip-clop sound is loud that you can’t talk to the person sitting next to you. But I loved Horse riding in Bijapur. It let me see a lot of Bijapur streets. The taanga drivers living here since birth know a lot about their town. So talking to him was fun. Stops at smaller monuments and open markets to buy food for horses, his views on the city – Everything about the Tanga ride was fun.

Picnic with local residents at Gagan Mahal

Gagan Mahal Bijapur

There is just one wall with some arches here – It is hard to believe it was once a royal residence of Ali Adi Shah and a Durbar hall. The vast lawn in front encourages people of all age groups to come for an evening picnic. The kids run around with bubble guns. Adults mainly open their bags for some delicious food and often forget to put it in the dust bin after done. Immediately, you hear a whistle from the watch guard yelling at them to keep the place cleaner. The man, with a mouthful of Gutkha, picks all plates used by his family and puts them in the bin without shouting back at the guard – Because we Indians are now learning the importance of public hygiene.

Would you consider visiting Bijapur after reading our post? Let us know in the comment section below.

Best places to vvisit in Bijapur

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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