The light breeze made the map flutter. I had placed the pointed tip of a geometrical compass on the city of Hyderabad, Telangana, India and the other arm holding the pencil was stretched out by about two hundred kilometres, the circle that got formed captured fascinating locations that have stood the ravages of time and warranted a visit for sure. Lofty structures as old as five hundred years or more would take a driver’s breath away who happened to have a pinch of love for history.
We had planned to spend a bright and a windy day in March to visit one of India’s many small towns that would take a traveler way back in time. I had already chalked out the route to travel to the historical town of Bidar. During those days, we had our trusted four-wheeler, the first generation Wagon R. She would be driving about one hundred fifteen kilometres northwest over NH65 to Zaheerabad, and then turn slight right and take NH14 to head further north by another thirty-three kilometres.
NH 65 is also known as the Hyderabad-Mumbai highway that has the distinction of connecting the two cities spaced by six hundred kilometres.
The roads in the state of Telengana, India are nothing short of absolute driver’s delight. Extremely smooth and a motorist can unleash the full power of the vehicle. We did just that. The country side was a blend of yellow and brown and unlike, the deep greenery that we have been seeing in the Gangetic delta area, of West Bengal, the road to Bidar ran through dry and parched lands. Stony and thorny, both the ground and the trees looked devoid of moisture. We overtook occasional trucks, that were taking a handful of factory workers to the nearby factories.
The sweetish pungent smell from the sugar factories that were in large numbers ran wild in the buffeting wind as we sliced through the morning air.
Into forty minutes, the road became desolate and the traffic thinned too. I stepped on the gas as 1100 cc engine changed its winning noise to a crescendo of raw power. We wanted to spend as much of the day at Bidar. We had planned to return by 4 pm in the afternoon.
So, the engine was put on a constant scream.
Even with the dryness around, we were presented with nature’s unique way of providing comfort to the dehydrated road users. Antidotes came in the form of ‘kakri’ or better known as Armenian cucumber. They are a variant of cucumber family, much slender in girth, with parallel ridges and have a light coat of fur on it. Green and full of water. It has the power of tingling the taste buds when salt and chilly powder are added to it.
We stopped by and took a ten minutes break to feast on it.
The highway passed through small hamlets that were selling crates laden with fruits. A dazzle of colors whistled past us. As opposed to fruits carried on the head by vendors in the big cities, we found small four-wheeled carts stacked up with various shades of fruits. Grapes, apples, pomegranate, and bananas neatly decorated the wooden tables.
Instead of heavy meals, these provided good alternatives and were rather inexpensive and healthy.
Near Mirzapur, after turning off Zaheerabad, the road became congested. All sorts of travel-ready people movers swarmed the road. The main beasts which flouted all the human-made road rules were small six feet long three-wheelers and carried luggage which ranged from packing cases, animals to human beings. They had a very irritating habit of suddenly changing directions without any indication.
The gyrating passengers had no fear at all of toppling over as the machines zigzagged their way through buses and bullock carts.
We were about ten kilometres from the old town of Bidar. Traffic snarls killed our plans for a fast departure. Mosques, madrasas (schools) and shops of diverse nature crowded on to the highway. We knew that our high-speed drive earlier did not really go in vain. We aligned our nose with a huge trailer being hauled by a tractor. The load she carried was several quintals of sugarcane for the nearby sugar factories. I tried to make a way between the trailer and a big fuel tanker. Gave up the idea of sneaking through them as the passage diminished.
Huge fuel bunkers could be seen in the distance where the tankers headed.
An Indian driver has to keep the reflexes absolutely razor sharp to prevent eventualities. The car becomes part of the driver’s body to keep it fully under control. The scenario on the highway changes every minute. The crunch of gears, swing of the steering wheel, and letting off the clutch merge seamlessly with every dissimilar movement the other driver makes. It is a mystery the cars miss each other. Travelling another four kilometres the road narrowed down and got onto a hump and entered a turn.
We saw the first glimpse of the outer perimeter wall of the Bidar fort. Although we did make a note of the history of this Deccan town, it seemed to be fair to hire a local guide to travel all along with us, showing and explaining the buildings, the fort for the next four hours.
Jamail, our tour guide took the co driver’s seat and started his excited banter. Bidar is known to have started its historic journey by being under the magnificent Mauryan empire. After the Mauryan dynasty, Satavahanas took over and ruled. Kadambas and Chalukyas of Badami came next, followed by Rashtrakutas who reigned Bidar for a couple of years. For a brief period after the Chalukyas, the conquest ridden ground of Bidar was controlled by sevunas of Devagiri. Even the Kakatiyas of Warangal had a stake here.
I have tried to take copious notes of what our guide told. Readers may feel free to validate the history of this area in greater details. It was fascinating to see the mix of cultures, and rulers that definitely shaped the character of this land and its people.
We were eager to find more and drove on.
The madarasa which was in ruins still looked very elegant and housed a mosque within its fence that ran all around. Only one tower could be seen standing. This building was designed and ran like a university and the students were exposed to subjects like Arabian and Persian studies and literature, astronomy, theology, mathematics, and philosophy. The building was designed under Persian influence. Living quarters could be seen where both the students and teachers stayed. A big ‘tartar’ dome sat in the middle of the structure.
Few areas still showed the unique colored tiles that had a great combination but broken and peeled off. Still, a section of the great library was visible which Jamail told contained over three thousand manuscripts. Huge crumbling blocks were seen strewn around the ground.Unfortunately, the building got a bad hit when an explosion in the olden times damaged a section which was pretty much evident. The best part of this madarasa as we heard from the guide was its foundation which had the metal lead that was layered with the masonry work to prevent the damp from impacting the glazed tiles on top.
We had more to see on our list, so eluded an exhaustive round and only concentrated on the history that was singular to the structure in front.
I captured the blue metal text display that the Archaeological Survey of India had placed in front. Mahmud Gawan seemed from what we recorded to be ahead of his times. He was a great educationalist, an able administrator and served his master, Mohammed Shah II well. He believed that the only success factor for a society was education and he built the madarasa as a result. However, unfortunately, he picked up enmity with few nobles of his time.
He was known to have been executed in the year 1481 AD by the king whom he served. A sad ending perhaps to a great personality.
We stood engrossed in the history of Bidar seeing the first monument. As the sun glared on, the old ruins of the madarasa took on a poignant look. One time, the structure was built with meticulous care which now stands alone depicting the story to its visitors. A single monument was able to contain such history, so what would be the others telling us? I knew we were standing on a historic place, I was able to hear the faint clanking of swords which meant, even more, was in store…
We got into the car and made our way towards the fort of Bidar.