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Gulbarga: India's city of tombs and domes
The Persian word ‘Gul' means flower and ‘burg' means leaf, and we realise what Gulbarga is all aabout. Driving into the town, we reached our accommodation located close to the massive Gulbarga Fort. We gazed at the 14th Century fort which had remained almost unscathed for many decades. Now, it's all set to regain its lost glory, as the Archaeological Survey of India and the State government are working for its restoration.

The Fort at Gulbarga
As the fort was just round the corner, we were practically walking the lanes of history to explore the city of tombs and domes. The story of Gulbarga goes back to the 13th and 14th Centuries. The Bahmani Sultans were the first Muslim rulers to dominate the Deccan region although it was earlier under the Hindu kings.

The Bahmanis decked this arid place with beautiful palaces, fortifications and stately structures. Today Gulbarga is a treasure with its old forts, mosques, horse stables, dilapidated tombs, large courtyards and ancient temples.

Sprawling over 75 acres, the fortification has 15 watch towers with 26 massive metallic cannons strategically mounted. We managed to see only three of them located atop the three-storied structure called ‘Ranamandal', in the middle of the fort. A rundown, 40-ft moat separates the double boundary wall of the fort. The moat was said to have been filled with water to the brim, with man-eating crocodiles to keep enemies at bay.

The Jama Masjid inside the fort wall is a unique mosque with a huge dome and smaller ones as embellishments. It was built in 1367 by an architect from Spain, with arched doorways on the same lines as that of the Great Mosque of Cardova in Spain.

Haft Gumbaz

In the morning we started the search for more monuments of Gulbarga with our first stop at a quaint complex housing seven royal tombs popularly known as the Haft Gumbaz. It is interesting to wander in the spacious interiors with latticed windows, cusped arches and ornamental remnants. The seven tombs are of admired rulers, and the most elaborate one being that of Feroz Shah Bahmani's. Interestingly, it was cool inside the tombs while it was scorching outside.

The royal tombs popularly known as the Haft Gumbaz
Our next stop was Khwaja Banda Nawaz Dargah, the tomb of Sufi Syed Mohammed Gesu Daraz. It was standing in a large complex comprising lesser tombs and mosques. The interiors are richly decorated with frescos on glazed tiles with blue-green geometric designs, free flowing tendrils and flowers, portraying the influence of Indo-Islamic art. The mirror work set inside the dome of this dargah makes it a spiritual tour de force of the Islamic world, and is surely a feast to the eyes.

Unfortunately women are not allowed inside the shrine where this exquisite mirror work is inlaid. They can only have a glimpse through a small window from the outer wall. Hundreds of devotees, both Muslims and Hindus, pay homage to the Sufi saint during the annual Urs. After a random view of the tombs and domes, we ventured to the wish-fulfilling chamber where we dropped a few coins, for luck to smile on us.

Lost ruins

Later we set out 22 km south of Gulbarga in search of the lost ruins of Firozabad, a city founded by Firoz Shah Bahmani. On reaching a tiny hamlet, we took the trail that runs along the village fields next to the fort. Huge arches and crumbling palaces were the remains at Firozabad. We climbed over unused steps and walked the alleyway atop one fortress to enjoy the rustic surroundings. These forlorn ruins, with weeds and reeds around, need immediate attention, restoration and conservation.

Chor Gumbaz: One of the tombs at Gulbarga
Close to the town, located on a lonely hillock is the Chor Gumbaz. A huge hemispherical dome, akin to the famous Gol Gumbaz in Bijapur, it has multiple arches on each side.

It also has decorative domes on all four corners. Watching the sunset with its slanting rays spread on this tomb was a sheer delight. On the way back to our hotel, we passed by Aiwan-e-Shahi, the rest house of the Nizam, built in two shades of stones. Also we saw a large lake next to the 19th Century Basaveshwara Temple, now undergoing repair work.

Gulbarga has its own railhead and many trains to Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi pass through it. But, be warned about accommodation — Gulbarga does not have luxury hotels, but the ones available are good enough for a comfortable stay.

Authors: Sandhya Rao and N. Shiva Kumar | Source: The Hindu [April 09, 2011]

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