Lost in the far northeast of Karnataka, BIDAR, 284km northeast of Bijapur, is nowadays a provincial backwater, better known for its fighter-pilot training base than the gently decaying monuments nearby. Yet the town, half of whose 140,000 population is still Muslim, has a gritty charm, with narrow red-dirt streets ending at arched gates and open vistas across the plains. Littered with tile-fronted tombs, rambling fortifications and old mosques, it merits a visit if you’re travelling between Hyderabad (150km east) and Bijapur, although you should expect little in the way of Western comforts, and lots of curious approaches from locals.
In 1424, following the break-up of the Bahmani dynasty into five rival factions, Ahmad Shah I shifted his court from Gulbarga to a less constricted site at Bidar. Revamping the town with a new fort, splendid palaces, mosques and ornamental gardens, the Bahmanis ruled from here until 1487, when the Barid Shahis took control. They were succeeded by the Adil Shahis from Bijapur, and later the Mughals under Aurangzeb, who annexed the region in 1656, before the nizam of Hyderabad acquired the territory in the early eighteenth century.
The heart of Bidar is its medieval old town, encircled by crenellated ramparts and eight imposing gateways (darwazas). This predominantly Muslim quarter holds many Bahmani-era mosques, havelis and khanqahs – “monasteries” set up by the local rulers for Muslim cleric-mystics and their disciples.