GULBARGA, 165km northeast of Bijapur, was the founding capital of the Bahmani dynasty and the region’s principal city before the court moved to Bidar in 1424. Later captured by the Adil Shahis and Mughals, it has remained a staunchly Muslim town, and bulbous onion domes and mosque minarets still soar prominently above its ramshackle concrete-box skyline. The town is also famous as the birthplace of the chishti, or saint, Hazrat Bandah Nawaz Gesu Daraz (1320–1422), whose tomb, situated next to one of India’s foremost Islamic theological colleges, is a major shrine.
In spite of Gulbarga’s religious and historical significance, its monuments pale in comparison with those at Bijapur, and even Bidar. Unless you’re particularly interested in medieval Muslim architecture, few are worth breaking a journey to see. The one exception is the tomb complex on the northeast edge of town, known as the Dargah. Approached via a broad bazaar, this marble-lined enclosure centres on the tomb of Hazrat Gesu Daraz, affectionately known to his devotees as Bandah Nawaz, or “the long-haired one who brings comfort to others”. The saint was spiritual mentor to the Bahmani rulers, and it was they who erected his beautiful double-storeyed mausoleum, now visited by hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims each year. Women are not allowed inside, and men must wear long trousers. The same applies to the neighbouring tomb, whose interior has retained its exquisite Persian paintings. The Dargah’s other important building, open to both sexes, is the madrasa, founded by Bandah Nawaz and enlarged during the two centuries after his death.
After mingling with the crowds at the Dargah, escape across town to Gulbarga’s deserted fort. Encircled by sixteen-metre-thick crenellated walls, fifteen watchtowers and an evil-smelling stagnant moat, the great citadel now lies in ruins behind the town’s large artificial lake. Its only surviving building is the beautiful fourteenth-century Jama Masjid. Thought to have been modelled by a Moorish architect on the great Spanish mosque of Cordoba, it is unique in India for having an entirely domed prayer hall.