Gulbarga - Day 2
9 am: We are at Gulbarga bus station, waiting for a bus to a place called Nilogi; to see the ruined city of Firozabad, we presumably need to get down at a stop called 'Darga' and walk a few kilometers...
Late afternoon (writing from the Khwaja Banda Nawaz Darga, Gulbarga): Our bus leaves Gulbarga and progresses smoothly down the highway to Bangalore. After an hour of toordal fields, we get off at 'Firozabad Darga'. A small teashop and a deserted shack with the board "Tire Panjar & Repare"; that is all the civilization at this place. It is severely hot; the Darga enclosure offers relief in the form of a dense stand of neem trees. We ask a passerby: "How does one get to the palaces here?" He laughs: "Palace?! What do you mean?"
The teashop guy sounds more knowledgeable: He points at a mudpath branching off from the main highway. "A mile or so" he adds. We can't be sure since there is no trace of any wall or ruin to be seen from here. But lets see,...
We have walked for almost an hour from Darga. Scrub, then more scrub, the odd villager with a flock of goats, a bullock cart, that is all we have encountered. Our mud path hits a slightly wider mud path. We ponder the next course (left, right or return) when an old man approaches. He speaks urdu: "A little down the right-going path is our village. Just beyond is the old fort and ruins"
Another kilometer in the burning sun and our path hits a cluster of dwellings, all built with heaped stone slabs. A single, narrow trail winds among them; it is mercifully cooler here. We sense people staring at us. A lad asks us something in Kannada. On our failing to reply, comes the question in basic Hindi: "You, which village?". "Hyderabad", we say. Puzzlement, then silence.
Just beyond the houses we spy a stone arch, old and decrepit. Approaching, we see some walls, a couple of Bahmani style domed tombs,... But we can't quite reach them - crude thorny fences balk us; and vacant spaces among the ruins are under toordal cultivation.
A youngster - about the same age as Zafar he seems - approaches us. In my severely challenged Kannada, I ask him the way to 'Jama Masjid'. He says something which we couldnt make out a word of. Then he walks off, gesturing to follow him.
Walls on all sides, not even a pillar within - we come upon a mosque in such a state. Neem trees have grown inside near the western wall. The rest of the interior is again a toordal field. "My name is Sivakumar. This is our own cultivation" says the young chap, in Kannada even I could follow. He leads us up a precarious stone stairway to the top of the mosque wall. From here, we see a wider surrounding area. A spread of ruins, a big river (Bhima, it is) meandering past them... Not too far, rising to nearly 40 feet, stands an edifice with a mostly collapsed dome - ("Hiroshima town hall!" - Satish remarks) - must be what remains of the medieval royal palace.
We get down and walk around a bit and inspect some ruined - and awfully smelly - tombs. Toordal fields, thorn fences, heaps of stones, not even foot trails. Quite a labyrinth this place. But for Sivakumar, we would have had to leave without seeing a thing.
We were talking about Fatehpur Sikri, another 'ghost town', then the 'Roman Forum'. But those two are well-visited and well mapped places (and yes, expensive - you part with a solid fee to even enter them). Firozabad has yet to get the 'Protected Monument' board, routinely put up by our Archeology people before even most insignificant of monuments.
We note with a shudder that there is very little water left. Hurriedly taking leave of Sivakumar (must say, despite the hopelessness of the language situation, he could communicate quite a bit with us, conveying information and more importantly, an earthy camaraderie; he even initially refused a small tip we tried to hand over), we walk briskly back towards Darga stop.
We are in luck and don't have to wait much there. In hour we are in the city. We grab a bite and head for the Banda Nawaz darga, located in the eastern quarter. It is quite clear from a hundred meters off that we are entering a major center of pilgrimage. Crowds, rows of shops selling religious bric-a-brac. Near the main darga complex stand a row of seven domed tombs - the Haft Gumbad. We skip them.
We tiptoe our way, barefoot, along the white-hot stone floor of the darga enclosure; to our relief, the place has only a modest number of worshipers. The complex is elaborate - the saint's tomb, then tombs of his line of followers and relatives and several other buildings. A big arch with carvings of lions attacking elephants, pillared halls with Vijayanagar-style corbels... We encounter an old woman sitting in a shady corner, singing some sufi devotional lyrics with great fervor. As we pass her, she pauses and wishes us Khwaja's infinite grace. I get an inexplicable feeling she really means what she has just said.
Khwaja's tomb is quite big, done in Bahmani style; its interior has a remarkable air-cooling system. The inner surface of the crowning dome has beautiful decorative work with pieces of colored glass and stones. A metal partition surrounds the grave and devotees touch their forehead on it and stand in silent prayer. The grave itself is covered with a rich brocade strewn with rose petals. The fragrance of 'attar' is in the air. We sit in a corner, not too far from the Master's resting place, resting our own tired bones; I reach for my notebook....