Gol Gumbaz – A Reverberating Dome In Bijapur

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Bijapur is a city of domes. Wherever I went in the city, there was always a dome in sight. The most illustrious dome is, of course, Gol Gumbaz which stands proudly at one end of the city. Being the second largest dome in the world it invokes quite a bit of curiosity.

Landscape view of Gol Gumbaz
Landscape view of the historical monument

We reached Bijapur or Vijayapur as it is now called early morning and as luck would have it – our hotel was right next to the heritage monument. While checking in, I was trying to get hold of a city map. The manager pointed out the futility of it as he said the Gumbaz is 2 mins walk – just across. So after a quick breakfast, we walked to the big dome. Bijapur thankfully is still a horizontal city than a vertical one, so the domes stand out in the middle of big and small settlements.

Gol Gumbaz – second largest dome in the world

Frontal view of Gol Gumbaz
Frontal view of the heritage monument

We could see the dome as soon as we started walking but the tall walls prevented the view later as we walked right next to it. The city was still waking up and the sun had just started rising on the horizon. At the entry gate, my eyes got the full view of the dome for the first time. Two rows of trees were still trying hard to hide the structure behind them, but the dome is too high to let them do it meaningfully.

We buy the tickets and go through the demanding guides who tell us what is the use of seeing a monument without a guide. And finally, reach a little closer to the mega heritage structure. Now it is the Naqqarkhana turned museum that is blocking the view and coming between the Gol Gumbaz and me. Little did the architect of 17thCE know that one-day travelers with cameras would come. And the Naqqarkhana would not let them have wide-angle pictures? With a sigh, skirted the yet-to-open museum and proceeded to the other side to get a full view of the main monument.

It was a very simple yet immensely elegant building with minimal ornamentation and four minars or towers stuck on four corners. At first look, they looked like the Deepstambh or the lamp towers that you find in the temples of Maharashtra and Goa. The arched openings on each floor look amazing from the ground. They give exclusive views of the city when you are climbing them up.

Adil Shah's grave or tomb on the ground floor of Gol Gumbaz
Adil Shah’s grave or tomb on the ground floor

Gol Gumbaz a free-standing dome

We entered the monument to hear the chirping sounds of birds and to feel the empty space with a few tombs at the very bottom. You have to look up as much as your neck permits to see the dome from the inside. Interiors are rather plain, unlike some of the domes in Delhi that are painted. Engineering wise it is a feat that most engineers would be proud to have on their resume. A free-standing dome – standing tall for more than three and half centuries. The best place to read the vital statistics of the monument is on the ASI website. Soon we started hearing whistles and shouts from the whispering gallery on top. That gallery looks like a small railing from the bottom. After appreciating the carved wooden frame on top of Adil Shah’s grave, we moved towards the right front Minar to go on top.

Landscape view of Bijapur from atop a Minar
Landscape view of Bijapur from atop a Minar

Top view from Gol Gumbaz

You need a lot of physical endurance to climb the narrow, steep, and winding stairs of the monument. Thankfully after every story, there is a platform where you can regain your normal breathing. Also, appreciate the top view of the city from the arches on the hexagon of the Minar. What is interesting is that each arch offers a unique view and the view of adjacent arches has no overlap. As you keep going up the city keeps expanding before your eyes. By the time you reach the top, you can see most of it.

7-story Minar and the staircase view from atop the monument
7-story Minar and the staircase view from atop the monument

A guide on top showed me all the monuments I had on my list to see in Bijapur, most of them identified by – what else – their domes. You can also see the Bijapur fort walls around the heritage dome structure. This is probably the only place where you can see them from a perspective. Parakeets are flying all around adding a bit of color to otherwise drab walls.

Inside view of the reverberating dome at the top story
Inside view of the reverberating dome at the top story

Whispering Gallery

We entered the whispering gallery of Gol Gumbaz through an opening in one of the lotus petals carved around the dome. There is a small circular gallery where you can go around and see the monument top down. The acoustics of this gallery are well known – the slightest sound said to the walls can be heard across the dome. The shouts and shrills reverberate many times – some say up to 35+ times. However once the crowd builds up, it is impossible to count them. You can hear the sound as clearly outside the dome as inside. I was wondering – it is a tomb, where a dead family rests. Why would they build these acoustics – what was the purpose or it happens by default inside domes?

Inside bottom view from atop the 7th story of the dome
Inside bottom view from atop the 7th story of the dome

Museum

We came down and walked towards the museum that was now open. There are a couple of notable pieces in this museum that are spread over two stories – one is an intricately carved door of a temple and another is a Vijay Stambh or victory pillar from Mahakoota temple in Aihole. Other displays are nice too but it is a small museum and you do not need to spend too much time here.  There is also a mosque on the western side of the monument that is quite dwarfed by the height of this heritage structure.

The entrance door of the heritage monument
The entrance door of the heritage monument

Campus

After a quick tea at a canteen inside the campus, we walked around the lawns to meet many excavated pillars and carved stone idols lying around. We walked around the horse stables to come back to the gate to be pounded by Tonga wallahs who competed with each other to plan the rest of the itinerary for us. My camera and cap increased the rates quoted multi-fold.

Landscape view of the city of Domes from atop Gol Gumbaz
Landscape view of the city of Domes from atop

We came back in the evening to see if the monument is lit up as we had seen many floodlights all around it. But it was not. Incidentally, an ASI officer was standing there he blatantly refused that monument can be lit or was ever lit. When I asked him about the floodlights – he just walked away.

Time to explore

You need a good 3-4 hours to see the heritage monument unless you choose not to climb to the top in which case you can do it in less than an hour.

Recommend you to read the following travel blog posts.

Dome Hopping in Bijapur

Following the Tunnel at Ibrahim Rauza in Bijapur

Dandeli – Home of Malabar Pied Hornbill

Ancient Chalukyan Temples of Hubli

Badami, Aihole & Pattadakal – A Visual Treat

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