We’ve been trying to figure out ways in which to reduce our carbon emissions without compromising too much on our love for travelling. And one of the ways we thought we could do that was to keep our short weekend jaunts local, so we wouldn’t need to burn too much fuel getting to where we wanted to go.
The first of our local weekend getaways was to the town of Bidar (pronounced ‘bee-der’). At a distance of about 150 km by road from Hyderabad, it was close enough to reach in a few hours, and far away enough to make it exciting. So after a little planning, we loaded up and headed out on a Friday morning for our weekend motorbike trip to Bidar.
Also read: Six great day trips from Hyderabad
Getting to Bidar
The plan was to hit the Hyderabad-Mumbai highway at BHEL, follow the highway for about 100 km to Zaheerabad and then turn off the highway for the last 50 km to Bidar. Theoretically, it should’ve taken us about three hours to get there. And we might have, if we had left earlier in the morning. As it was, we started off at around 8:30 AM, and ran head-on into rush hour traffic towards the edge of town. We thought it would ease up once we got to Patancheru, but no such luck. We cursed our way through the traffic to Sangareddy, where we stopped for a late—and frustrated—breakfast. We’d already been on the road for about two hours by then, but had only covered about 50 km.
If had left earlier in the morning, we might have made it in around three hours.
After Sangareddy, the traffic thinned out a bit, and we were able to make better time. The road was much better too. Riding over the well-laid four-lane highway, with the countryside stretching away on either side, did wonders for our spirits. Halfway around Zaheerabad, we turned off the highway towards Bidar as planned, only to discover that the road was completely shattered! Potholes and red dust were everywhere, and we started cursing again. Luckily that stretch didn’t last long, and we soon hit a much better road going in the same direction. It turns out, we had turned off too soon (there was even a signboard!), and that the main road to Bidar was actually at the end of the Zaheerabad bypass. Well, now we know!
An enjoyable last stretch
The last stretch turned out to be the most enjoyable part of our ride. The road was good, there were stretches with trees, and everything had a rural feel to it. We even stopped for a few minutes to eat green guavas and soak in the atmosphere. Half an hour later, we were greeted by the sight of a few white-painted tombs some distance from the road, and we knew we were approaching Bidar. We had to actually ride all the way through town, because our resort was a few kilometres beyond.
The town itself wasn’t very impressive, just the typical dusty, litter-strewn small Indian town. But it was also strewn with monuments, which would pop up unexpectedly and pleasantly surprise us. As we rode out the other side, we were looking forward to exploring it the next day.
The town was strewn with monuments that would pop up unexpectedly and surprise us.
Most of the road on the other side of Bidar was in a terrible state, though they were in the process of laying down some white-top road in patches. After a while, we had to turn off the main road and into the wilderness (for which we missed the turn-off the first time around). Finally, after about 20 minutes of bumping along some rough, dusty tracks and down a somewhat scary slope, we got to the Blackbuck Resort. It was about 1:00 PM and we had been on the road for about five hours.
The Blackbuck Resort
The resort turned out to be a kind of jungle retreat out in the middle of nowhere, run by the Karnataka state government’s eco-tourism division. It was an all-inclusive place, with something like 10 cottages distributed along the shore of a (currently dry) lake. Although it was a bit pricey, it was very peaceful and homely, surrounded by forest and the sounds of birds and monkeys. It was also the only alternative to the slightly iffy lodges clustered around the main bus stand in town. And because we were there on a Friday, we had the place totally to ourselves for the day.
After a basic but tasty lunch at the open-air dining hall, we took our customary post-prandial nap, and then set out to explore a bit. We made our way down to the lake (which was dry this year, we were told, because it had hardly rained) and along the shore to the low dam on the far side. We walked up and down there for a bit, and venturing out onto a slightly shaky jetty, before heading back as it grew dark.
Cocktails and dinner surrounded by the sounds of the forest
We didn’t feel like staying in our room, though, so we went back to the dining hall, wondering if we could score a drink before dinner. We were in luck; not only did we manage to get some rum and cola, we also got a plate of good old-fashioned pakoras (batter-fried vegetables) with it. Rum and pakoras surrounded by the sounds of the forest; what more could one ask for?
The friendly staff even played some wildlife documentaries on a projector screen to add to the atmosphere (though one of them was more of an ad film for the resort and its sister concerns). A while later, the staff trotted out another homely meal, after which we decided to turn in early to prepare for the next day’s adventure.
A day out and about in Bidar
The next morning, we discovered that a blackbuck safari and some sightseeing in town were included in our room cost. We were eager to start exploring the city, so we politely declined the safari and asked the driver to head into town instead. On the way, he showed us an alternative route to get to main road, and one which had some nice views of the plains below. We made a mental note to use that route when we were riding back home.
Hyderabad can trace its history back to Bahmani sultanate.
When we got to town, we first headed to Ashtoor. This was an area a little outside town to the east, with nothing much else to it except the Bahmani tombs. The Bahmanis were a dynasty of sultans who had established South India’s first sultanate in nearby Gulbarga, and later shifted the capital to Bidar. In fact, Hyderabad can trace its history back to the Bahmani sultanate: Sultan Quli Qutb-ul-Mulk, general in the Bahmani army and governor of Golconda, declared Golconda an independent kingdom; his grandson, Muhammed Quli, later founded the city of Hyderabad.
The tomb of Hazrat Khalilullah
On the way to see the Bahmani tombs, we discovered another tomb, set alone on a low hill overlooking the surrounding countryside. This turned out to be the tomb of a holy man called Hazrat Khalilullah, and was locally called chaukhandi (the tomb, not the holy man). It had an interesting octagonal shape, the only one besides that of Jamsheed Quli (the second Qutb Shahi sultan of Hyderabad) that I’ve seen. Maybe this one served as inspiration.
The ample grounds around Khalilullah’s tomb were grassy and green, with only a few locals come to pay their respects. There were a few other structures around—possibly tombs of important devotees—and we could see the Bahmani tombs off in the distance. The whole atmosphere was serene and peaceful, and it seemed like hardly anyone really came here. Upkeep wasn’t the greatest either, though, which we late discovered was par for the course all over Bidar.
The Bahmani tombs
After spending the better part of an hour at Khalilullah’s tomb, we drove a little further down the road the Bahmani (pronounced ‘beh-mni’) tombs. There were six major tombs, neatly laid out in a row, with a few smaller ones here and there. All were in a state of disrepair, with some evidence of half-hearted maintenance having been done a long time ago.
Each tomb was different, with its own defining features. The first one was that of Ahmed Shah (the ninth Bahmani sultan, who moved the capital of the kingdom from Gulbarga—now Kalaburagi—to Bidar). It wasn’t the most impressive from the outside, but the watchman (who seemed to have taken a liking to us) later invited us to take a look inside. We were gobsmacked! The interior of the tomb was richly painted, in colours that must have once been incredibly intense. There was even some calligraphy on the underside of the dome that was supposedly done in gold leaf.
We were gobsmacked by the richly painted interior of Ahmed Shah’s tomb!
The other tombs were all locked up, so we could only admire them from the outside. Of these, the more interesting ones were that of Alauddin Shah, with its remnants of intricate tilework; and that of Humayun Shah, with half of its dome missing, supposedly destroyed by lightning. Further down were the unfinished tomb of Nizamuddin Shah, and the strangely melted-looking one of Ahmed Shah II. Last of the major tombs was that of Mohammed Shah, with its interesting exterior rows of arches. The row ended with two smaller tombs, supposedly of later Bahmani sultans who had by then been turned into puppets by their prime ministers, the Baridis. More on those chaps later.
The massive Bidar fort in the midday heat
It was getting hot by the time we finished at Ashtoor and drove back into town to see the Bidar fort. So far, we’d hardly seen any other tourists, so we were taken aback at the number of people at the fort. It wasn’t very crowded, but there were more people than we’d have liked.
The first thing that struck us when we walked through the entrance gate in the red stone walls was the sense of scale. Whatever we’d seen of the fort from the outside hadn’t seemed too big, but even before we made our way to the Gumbad Darwaza (‘domed gate’) we changed our mind. The long approach causeway, with the triple-layered moat and the solid stone walls stretching away to either, told us the fort would be huge.
A slightly disappointing start
Beyond the Gumbad Darwaza, the first thing we noticed was an ancient, towering ficus tree that looked like it had been planted by the fort’s builders, over 500 years ago. We wanted to see the Rangeen Mahal (‘palace of colours’) next to it, but it turned out that it was locked. Ridiculously enough, if we wanted in, we would have to go looking for the fort’s curator and ask him for the key!
This turned out to be the case for a lot of the fort’s nicer sights, which was incredibly frustrating. After all, we didn’t know a place was locked until we got there, and trudging all the way back to get the key frankly wasn’t worth it. Especially because it was midday, and it was blazing hot, even though it was end-November!
We gave the locked Rangeen Mahal a pass, and explored the sprawling Hazar Kothri instead.
So we gave the Rangeen Mahal a pass, as well as the slightly ratty-looking ‘museum’, and explored the sprawling Hazar Kothri (‘thousand chambers’), a huge paved courtyard fringed by lots of interesting-looking but run-down rooms (a lot of them locked). There were even an old cannon lying in a corner. In the absence of information to the contrary, and self-contained as the area was, I would guess that these would’ve been the ladies’ quarters.
The gardens and the mosque
Further on was another of the fort’s more popular sights: the palace gardens and the Solah Khamba Masjid (’16-pillared mosque’). We were pleasantly surprised to see that the gardens were quite well-maintained. On the other hand, we were annoyed to find that the inside of the mosque was, again, cordoned off, so we had to be content with looking through the grill. Also, one of the security guards kept following us around and rattling off historical tidbits, probably to try and score a tip. Shaking him off took some doing.
A collection of tumbledown structures
Beyond this and further into the fort, all semblance of maintenance ceased. Tumbledown structures were scattered about, interspersed with grazing buffaloes, inviting us to explore them. Sadly, the Takht Mahal (the throne room), Diwan-e-Khas and Diwan-e-Aam (chambers for private and public audience, respectively) were also cordoned off! So all we could do was ramble about, seeing whatever we could. Behind the Takht Mahal was an interesting roofless pavilion, though, with tall arches and a nice view over the plains below.
By then we’d had enough. We were hungry and sweaty, and still had to see the local metalwork artisans and the Barid Shahi tombs, so we headed off for lunch. Lunch was at Rohit Restaurant, a homely little Punjabi place that was ‘the best restaurant in Bidar’ according to our driver. The food was quite good, I must admit, probably because it looked like it was actually run by a Punjabi family. This isn’t surprising if you consider Bidar—and especially the Gurdwara Nanak Jhira Sahib shrine—is a major pilgrimage centre for followers of Sikhism.
Watching Bidri artisans work their magic
After lunch, we headed into the old city to visit the local Bidri artisans. There’s lots of this black-and-silver metalwork available in Hyderabad, so we were curious to see how exactly it’s done. Our driver dropped us off at a workshop (he was needed back at the resort), and we spent some time talking to the artisans and watching them work.
It turns out that the base metal is zinc, into which designs are engraved and then filled with silver wire. The item is then buffed smooth, and then immersed in boiling mud made from soil from the Bidar fort! This turns the zinc black but leaves the silver shiny. A quick polish with some coconut oil, and the striking silver inlaid Bidriware item is ready.
While I was watching one elderly craftsman engrave a large flat zinc plate, I noticed another engraved plate lying on the floor next to him. Only this had a strange, wavy shape, and reminded me a bit of the body of an electric guitar. When I asked him, it turned out I was right; it was a plate that was going to decorate a guitar. I would’ve loved to see that guitar with the finished Bidri plate attached. I’m sure it would’ve looked incredible!
Ending the day at the Barid Shahi tombs
Our last stop before we headed back to the resort was the Barid Shahi park. This was where the Barid Shahi sultans (the successors of the Bahmani sultans, the first of whom was initially prime minister of the kingdom) lay buried. We’d seen this impressive-looking series of tombs when we first rode through Bidar, and were curious to see what they looked like. The reality was slightly disappointing.
Firstly, what looked like a huge necropolis from the road actually turned out to be a narrow park running parallel to it, squeezed between the road and some houses beyond. Secondly, the tombs were much smaller than the Bahmani tombs. And lastly, this really was a park, and a run-down one at that; the place was filled with locals taking their evening exercise and kids on school outings picnicking in the sparse grass.
This wasn’t really the end to our day of sightseeing that we were hoping for. We were especially annoyed when we realized that there was another vast garden-like area across the road, which contained the much larger tombs of the first few Barid Shahi sultans! By then, though, we were completely tuckered out, and decided to head back to our resort (in the auto rickshaw our driver had kindly arranged for us).
(Aside: I haven’t been able to find anything out about these tombs so far, so I haven’t given the pictures any captions. I’ll do so when I find out more.)
A late start on the way home
The next morning, we decided to take it easy. We hadn’t really explored the forest around the resort during the day, so we spent an hour rambling through the forest and communing with nature. After we spent as much time as we could breathing the free air, we reluctantly loaded up the bike and headed back home—this time using the scenic route our driver had shown us.
A few hours later, we were back on the outskirts of Hyderabad. This time, we decided to try using the service roads of the ORR (the outer ring road) instead of riding through the city. The route was definitely longer, but there was far less traffic (though the frequent speed breakers were annoying). We were also treated to the sight of long swathes of lentils that farmers were drying on the road. When we finally got home, we figured it had taken us as long as if we’d gone through the city, but with a lot less headache. Worth it.
Thus ended our weekend motorbike trip to Bidar, the dusty red city of the Bahmani and Barid Shahi sultans, and to which Hyderabad might just owe its existence. We hadn’t seen a few things—like the main Barid Shahi tombs and the ruins of the Mahmud Gawan madrassa—and we hadn’t explored the fort as much as we’d have liked to. But it had still been a fun trip. And there’s just enough left for us to plan on doing it again.
Top tips for a weekend motorbike trip to Bidar
- If you really want to explore Bidar, it might be worth it to plan to spend two or three days there.
- Visiting from Hyderabad? Leave really early to avoid traffic, or follow the outer ring road (ORR) to Patancheru. Remember that motorbikes aren’t allowed on the ORR itself, just on the service roads.
- Don’t take the first turn-off (the one with the sign that says ‘Bidar’!) from the Zaheerabad bypass road, because that road’s horrible. Instead, keep going and turn right under the flyover to get onto the good road to Bidar.
- The Blackbuck Resort is probably the only good place in Bidar for families to stay, despite being somewhat basic. It’s also a bit expensive, starting from about INR 7,500/- (about USD 105) per couple. Luckily, this includes all meals and quite a few activities, and its location in the middle of the forest is pretty great.
- If you’re staying at the Blackbuck Resort, prepare yourself for some bad stretches of road out from town. Also, the last few kilometres of track (yes, track) leading to the resort can get very bumpy.
- The turn-off from the road onto the track leading to the resort is easy to miss. Keep an eye out for wheel marks turning off the road.
- The publicity material for the Blackbuck Resort shows it being on the edge of a lake. While this is true, the lake only has water in it if it’s rained well that year. If the lack of water is a deal-breaker for you, you might want to call and check before booking.
- If you’re alone and/or you’d rather stay in town, there are a few basic lodges around the bus stand.
- Ashtoor (the Bahmani tombs and chaukhandi, that of Hazrat Khalilullah) is nice to visit in the mornings, and are almost completely empty of visitors. There’s no entry fee, even.
- At chaukhandi, you might be able to climb the stairs near the tomb’s entrance up to the open second level. If you can convince the caretaker to unlock the door. We didn’t try.
- At the Bahmani tombs, ask to see the inside of Ahmad Shah’s tomb. The fading paintwork is a very interesting sight in the gloom.
- If you want to visit the Bidar fort, I would recommend setting aside half a day. It’s not just that the fort is huge; it’s also because you might want to drag the custodian around to unlock the more interesting sights for you.
- If you’re on a motorcycle, try and convince the fort security to let you take it inside. Trudging around on foot in the heat isn’t so much fun, and we saw a few people zipping around on bikes inside.
- The Barid Shahi tombs are divided into two areas: the Barid Shahi park (or gardens) are a row of smallish tombs set in a narrow, unkempt park. There’s a nominal entry fee. Across the road are a few, more impressive, tombs and structures in a large, dry orchard/garden (which we couldn’t visit). There didn’t seem to be any entry fee.
Rohit Restaurant near the gurdwara is a nice, if basic, Punjabi restaurant if you feel like a homely vegetarian meal. Try the interesting and not-too-pungent green chillies pickled in mustard that they serve as an accompaniment.
Exploring Bidar is thirsty work. Make sure you bring your refillable water bottle along so you don’t have to buy water along the way.