The Dussehra and Eid-ul-Zuha vacation this year provided an opportunity to explore northeast Karnataka. We started our tour of the Deccan Plateau from Gulbarga. We landed in Hyderabad and drove to Gulbarga town, a district and divisional headquarters for administration in Karnataka.
Historically, Gulbarga was the capital of the Bahmani Dynasty established by Sultan Alauddin Bahmani in 1347. After the Bahmanis, the city was ruled by the Adil Shahi rulers and later conquered by the Mughals. The Nizam of Hyderabad held suzerainty over this entire region for over two centuries. In 1949, this region was liberated from the Nizam’s rule by the Indian Army and in 1956, Gulbarga became part of the state of Karnataka.
Gulbarga lies around 220 kilometres from Hyderabad, and the road to Gulburga passes through the towns of Chevalla, Pargi, Kodangal, Ribbanpally and Sedam taking about three and a half hours to cover the distance. The highway in the Telangana segment (SH 4) has sharp curves and is intermittently bumpy. The Karnataka segment of about 100 KMs is also a State Highway (SH 10) and well maintained. Gulbarga can also be reached by train from Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai. The Grand Hotel offers the best accommodation for visitors to the city. There are a few government guest-houses as well, such as the Aiwan Shahi, which was once the guest house of the Nizam. The main attractions in Gulbarga are the Khwaja Garibnawaz Darga, the Gulbarga Fort, Chor Gumbaz, Sharanabasaveshwara Temple and the Buddha Vihar, which is a Buddhist temple, with a meditation centre.
The cuisine in this area is unique. A combination of Jowar rotis, peanut chutney powder, and brinjal gravy is eaten at lunch and dinner and most of the local hotels serve this as part of the menu. The biryani here is also very good and influenced by Hyderabad cuisine.
On the second day of the trip, we left for a day trip to Sannati, a historical site with a Buddhist Stupa which dates back to 2nd century BC. This site was discovered in the 1980s and is under ASI and currently restoration works are underway. Sannati is around 90 kilometres from Gulbarga and can be reached by road in two hours via Chittapur, Wadi and Nalwar. The drive offers a chance to experience rural Karnataka. Both sides of the road are flanked with fields with crops such toor dal, bajra, cotton, jowar, corn and sugarcane.
The Sannati Stupa is learnt to have been constructed during the time of Emperor Ashoka and was later improved upon by the Satavahana kings. The Stupa has been constructed in Shahabadi stone, which is locally available. Beautiful carvings on stone, and Ashokan edicts provide a glimpse into one of the most eventful periods in history. The Sannati Stupa is a very good example of Ashokan architecture. We explored the historical site for about two hours and headed back to Gulbarga.
On the third day we started early in the morning towards the town of Bijapur. We took the National Highway 218 and covered the distance of 160 KMs from Gulburga to Bijapur in about 2 hours and 30 minutes crossing the towns of Jewargi and Sindagi. The road was in a good condition and the journey was thus enjoyable. The name Bijapur comes from Vijayapura or city of victory. It is a city where history stares at you at every nook and corner. The city boasts of large number of tombs and palaces and the star attraction is the tomb of Gol Gumbaz which is also reported have the second largest dome in the whole world. This monument was built by Sultan Mohammed Adil Shah of Adil Shahi dynasty in 1656.The Gol Gumbaz has a height of 50 metres and has 5 stories. The most interesting aspect of Gol Gumbaz is its whispering gallery, which is an acoustic marvel. The round dome with intersecting arches is indeed a rare engineering feat. In the tomb is buried the Sultan, his consort, a temple dancer by the name of Ramba, a wife and two grand children. The Nazar Khana in front of Gol Gumbaz hosts an museum run by the ASI. The other attractions in Bijapur are the Ibrahim Roza and Bara Kamaan. After having lunch in one of the hotels near the Gol Gumbaz we returned to Gulburga by evening through the same route.
On day 4 we set out to visit the ruins at Hampi, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. To reach Hampi, we took the NH 218 till Jewargi and then took the State Highway 19, one of the arterial highways of Karnataka, which passes through the towns of Shahpur, Shorapur and Lingsugur. Though the road was in a good condition we encountered many road humps after passing Shahpur, especially near Shorapur. Enroute, we crossed the river Krishna at Thinthani near Lingsugur. Historically, the river Krishna was the border between the Bahmani Empire on the North and the Vijayanagar Empire on the South and was a mute witness to many ruthless and bloody wars. After Lingsugur, we left SH 19 and took a detour towards the National Highway 13 through Mudgal and Ilkal enroute Koppal. Mudgal, is a historical town which has a very large fort. This fort was significant as it lay under siege for long periods during the war between Bahmani and Vijayanagar kingdoms in the 15th Century.
The last major town on our journey was Koppal, a district headquarters, which is also the nodal point for visiting other historical sites of Karnataka like Badami, Hampi, Pattadakal or Bijapur. The whole drive from Gulbarga to Koppal covering about 320 KMs took about five hours. At Koppal Toll Gate, we exited NH 13 and took a left turn to reach the Hampi’s Boulders Resort, our home for the next two days. The drive from NH 13 to the resort located in Anegundi was about 12-13 KMs and took about 35-40 minutes. The landscape along this road is marked by rocky hills made up of boulders. These boulders date back millions of years and visitors get to see unique rock formations. During sunset, these boulders acquire an orange hue. The endless green paddy fields irrigated by the canals of the Tungabhadra dam, set in the background of the boulders make the landscape unique and picture perfect. Locals describe this area as the land of Kishkinta narrated in the Ramayana.
Hampi’s Boulders is an eco-friendly resort located on the banks of the Tungabhadra River and is a haven for nature lovers, and people in search of solitude. The resort which, known locally as Bobby Resort is about 20 years old and owned by Bobby, a wildlife enthusiast. The barren land around the resort has been converted into an eco-friendly oasis over a span of 20 years. The resort has 8 cottages with about 13-14 rooms. Electricity for the resort comes partly from a small hydro-electric turbine located on a man-made barrage, on a waterfall in the resort premises. An in-house farm caters to the requirement of vegetables,grains and spices. An artificial swamp is also built in the campus in order to provide the required humidity for the vegetation. The resort also boasts of a natural swimming pool with modern filtration technology. Wildlife in and around the resort consists of Leopards, Alligators, Otters, Lizards, Snakes and various species of exotic birds. Bobby is also experimenting with eco-friendly building technology and has constructed an entire cottage with rammed earth. This ingenious method costs one fifth of what is required for concrete construction, and also results in naturally cool rooms inside the building. The resort is substantially self-sustained and has been voted as one of the best eco-friendly resorts by the Trip Advisor travel portal.
The next day we visited Hampi which is about 20 KMs from the resort and located on the southern bank of the Tungabhadra river. Historically, Hampi was the capital of the Vijayanagar Empire which was established by two brothers, Bukka Raya and Harihara in 1343. The empire flourished for about 200 years and reached its zenith during the period of King Krishna Deva Raya. As the empire started declining, the capital was shifted to Chandragiri in Andhra Pradesh and Hampi was plundered and suffered neglect for centuries. The ruins of Hampi has an agglomeration of temples, markets and houses, all built in stone over the years at different periods. The main attractions in Hampi are the Virupaksha Temple, Vittelaswamy Temple, Hazara Rama, Lotus Mahal all of which depict the Dravidian Architecture. The Vittelaswamy Temple has musical pillars which resonate the musical notes of sa-re-ga-ma-pa when they are rapped. An interesting feature of Hampi is the Jain temples and caves which pre-date the Vijayanagar empire. Hampi has been identified by UNESCO as world heritage site for repair and restoration and it is hoped that it will regain its lost glory one day. Every November ‘Hampi Utsav’ is celebrated by the Government of Karnataka, an attempt to get world focus on the restoration of Hampi.
Hampi can also be reached from Bangalore as well as Mumbai. It is connected by rail and the nearest railway station is Hospet. Hampi hosts several good hotels and one of the best is the KSTDC Mayura Bhuvaneshwari hotel which hosted the former President of India, Dr. Pratibha Patil when she visited Hampi a few years back. A detailed visit to Hampi would require anywhere between several days to even weeks. Since weather conditions are quite harsh in summer, it would be better to avoid visiting Hampi during the months of March- May.
On the final day we visited the Tunga Bhadra dam in Hospet which is a multi-purpose dam for irrigation and electricity generation. The dam which was completed in 1953 is a source of prosperity for farmers in Koppal and Raichur Districts. . A panoramic view of the dam can be had from atop the Vaikunta Guest House. After the visit to TB Dam we came back to Gulburga by the same route, ie Koppal Toll Gate, Kushtagi, Ilkal, Mudgal, Lingsusugur, Shorapur, Shahpur and Jewargi and halted in Gulburga. The next day we left for Hyderabad to catch our flight back to Delhi. The brief Deccan Odyssey proved to be both interesting and informative. It gave our family a peek into the culture and cuisine of this unique land which is less explored. The trip to the Deccan plateau also showed us a different facet to India, exposed us to the differential development and living circumstances making it an enriching experience. At the end of the trip, as we boarded the plane, the only words that came to me were ‘Incredible India’.