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Bhongir Fort
Travel

Bhongir : where history meets geology

A pleasant 50km drive from Hyderabad takes one to a small town called Bhongir, where history meets geology. Long before you enter the town, its trademark egg-shaped hillock looms into view. The hillock is actually a giant rock, called a batholith. A batholith is a huge igneous rock that is formed when molten magma cools and solidifies, often running kilometers deep into the earth. The Bhongir batholith is said to be comparable in size to the one in Uluru, Australia, a World Heritage Site.

Bhongir Fort

Bhongir Fort

Bhongir Fort

Bhongir was named Tribhuvanagiri after the Chalukya ruler Tribhuvanamalla Vikramaditya, who is believed to have built a fort on top of the rock in the 12th century. Tribhuvanagiri became Bhuvanagiri, which eventually became Bhongir. Later, the fort passed through the hands of the Kakatiyas, the Bahmanis and the Qutb Shahi Sultans of Golconda. Most of the present structure dates back to the Bahmani and Qutb Shahi era, and you’ll notice similarities with the forts at Golconda, Bidar and others built by the various Deccan Sultanates.

Bhongir Fort

Bhongir Fort

Bhongir FortBhongir Fort

The climb to the top was lovely the day we went – there was a light drizzle throughout, like a gentle spray. On a blazing hot day, I’m not sure how fun it’ll be! There are steps hewn into the rock for the most part, and railings for support when the slope gets steeper. It takes about an hour, plus or minus, maybe longer if you stop frequently to take pictures.

 

At the very top, there is a pavilion that looks strikingly similar to the Balahisar Baradari, the topmost pavilion in the Golconda Fort. When you reach it, you realize it’s a bit larger than it appears from below, dwarfed by the huge hillock. The panoramic views of the countryside are breathtaking, and you can’t help wondering what it must have been like to be a ruler standing up here and surveying your kingdom. In reality though, the Qutb Shahi kings did not actually stay here. They stationed a governor in Bhongir, and used this fort to imprison people who tried to grab the throne.

Bhongir FortBhongir Fort

Since the hillock is almost egg shaped, it has sheer drops all around,  attracting adventure sports enthusiasts. Bhongir even has a rock climbing school that teaches bouldering, rock climbing and rappelling.

Bhongir Fort

You can combine a trip to this fort with a visit to the famous Lakshmi Narasimha Swamy Temple in Yadagirigutta, just about 14kms away. Also combinable is Kolanupaka, home to a stunning Jain temple, only 30 kms away.

 

The making of Bidriware
Travel

Bidriware

The historic town of Bidar is famous for more than its architecture. The ancient art of Bidri was born here, during the rule of the Bahmani sultans. It is said that Abdullah bin Kaiser, a craftsman who came from Iran on the Sultan’s invitation to decorate Bidar’s royal buildings, developed this art along with the local artisans. Bidriware is made with a blackened alloy of zinc, inlaid with thin wires of pure silver. First, a molten alloy of zinc and a little copper is poured into moulds, and hardened to various shapes.
The making of Bidriware
The shapes formed are smoothed and covered with a temporary black coating. Intricate motifs are engraved on it, and silver wires are hammered into them.
The making of Bidriware
The making of Bidriware
The surface is smoothed thoroughly and it turns silvery white all over, including the zinc areas.
The making of BidriwareThe surface is then heated, and saline mud from the dark regions of the Bidar fort that is unexposed to sunlight, is rubbed onto it. This to selectively darken the body, but not the silver inlay. The paste is washed away, some oil is rubbed on the surface, and tada!! Gleaming new bidriware is ready 🙂
The making of Bidriware
The making of Bidriware
Bidar Fort
Travel

Bidar, the capital of the Bahmani and Barid Shahi Sultanates

Only 140kms separate two medieval kingdoms of South India – Golconda (Hyderabad) and Bidar, both of which were part of one large kingdom once upon a time. During the Diwali weekend, we travelled this distance, to visit the capital of the Bahmani and Barid Shahi dynasties.
 
In the 14th century, Alauddin Hassan Bahman Shah revolted against the Delhi Sultanate and founded the Bahmani Sultanate, the first Muslim kingdom of the Deccan with Gulbarga as its capital. However, the capital was soon shifted to Bidar. In the 16th century, the kingdom broke up into the five Deccan Sultanates of Ahmednagar, Berar, Bijapur, Bidar and Golconda. Of these, the Bidar Sultanate was ruled over by the Barid Shahi Sultans. In the 17th century, it became a part of the Bijapur sultanate, and was later taken over by the Mughals.
 
Right in the middle of Bidar, this imposing watch tower, the 71 foot Chaubara built as an observation post, keeps an eye over the old town:
Chaubara, Bidar

Chaubara, Bidar

A short distance from the Chaubara is this spectacular madrasa built by Mahmood Gawan, Prime Minister to the third Bahmani Sultan. It is said that this university attracted intellectuals from all over the Islamic world, and had a library that housed over three thousand manuscripts. When the kingdom was taken over by the Mughals, Aurangzeb used this madrasa as a military barrack, and an accidental gunpowder explosion destroyed a large portion of the structure. This madrasa is believed to be a copy of a college in Persia, and is the only one of its kind in India.
Mahmood Gawan Madrasa

Mahmood Gawan Madrasa

Old Bidar is a walled city, surrounded by a triple moat fortification. The Bidar Fort has seen the rise and fall of several dynasties. It is said to have been built during the reign of the Chalukyas, and was later a part of the Kakatiya kingdom, until it was taken over and extensively modified and expanded by the first Bahmani Sultan Allauddin Bahman Shah. When the Barid Shahi sultans took over the kingdom, more additions were made. Since Telangana, the Carnatic and Maharashtra converge at Bidar, and the town is located about 200 feet above the surrounding plains, it is no surprise that this strategically located town was favoured by so many dynasties. The fort is imposing and magnificent, and the best part is, it is so huge, that you can actually go around it in your car and visit all the different areas.
Bidar Fort Bidar Fort Bidar Fort Bidar Fort
We reached the Gurdwara Nanak Jhira Sahib at lunch time, so I dont have any pictures, but here’s a link. We saw the beautiful white gurdwara from the outside, and had our lunch in one of the awesome Punjabi eateries nearby – one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. Refreshed, we headed back to the old city, to watch how Bidri work is done. I’ll post about that separately – I shot a series of pictures there. Next, we drove to Ashtur, where the ancient, ruined tombs of the Bahmani Sultans dot the green countryside. The lofty tombs are decorated with calligraphy and beautiful mosaic tiled panels, some of which are still intact.Bahmani tombs in Ashtur
The coolest tomb here is that of Sultan Humayun Shah, the 11th Bahmani ruler. Its dome was struck by lighting many years ago, and split open. Since only half of the dome exists now, you get a unique view of both the inside and the outside. Interestingly, Humayun was a very unpopular king, and was called Zalim (cruel) by his subjects, so there is a popular legend that the tomb being struck by lighting, was God’s way of punishing him.
Ashtur Tombs, Bidar
Our day ended with stops at two temples. The Narasimha Jhira Temple in which one needs to wade through an underground stream of chest-deep water in a dark cave (We didn’t have extra clothes, plus it was too scary, so we gave that part a pass), and the Papanash Temple, where Lord Ram is believed to have installed a Shivalinga on his way from Lanka to Ayodhya. While driving towards the highway to Hyderabad, we passed the Barid Shahi park, where the Barid Shahi sultans are buried, but couldn’t go in to take a closer look, because it was very dark already, and we had a long drive home.