Plenty, plenty to see in Bidar: the town is strewn with monuments. Surprisingly, these don't make big news in the travel books and websites. When they spoke of the Bidar fort, so lacklustre was the advance publicity, I quite thought it would turn out to be some set of paltry ruins. Nothing of the sort! 5.5 km of defensive walls, 37 bastions, 7 gates, dozens of palaces and gardens, in reasonably good repair. Then there is the Mahmud Gawan Madrassa, a medieval dormitory for scholars; the Barid Shahi tombs and the Bahmani tombs at Ashtur.
But Bidar is rather unequipped to live off its treasures. Autowallahs know little or nothing about their own history and worse, are unwilling to ply to the remoter areas. The one we engaged for a morning actually brought us back into town without taking us to the Ashtur tombs at all. We demanded an explanation and got it: apparently, 'wahan koi nahi jaata'.
'The Barid Shahi tombs, next to the bus station?' we asked. No one knew. 'Just take us to the bus station', we said. There the tombs were in the background, with only a kaccha road leading to them. Not a board or signpost, just a few lie-abouts and boys playing cricket within the broken down 16th century mosque. The whole town ambles around, careless and unconscious of history in its midst.
The last to rule Bidar were the Nizams of Hyderabad, and so after the republic was formed, its upkeep was given into the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, Hyderabad. The reorganisation of states didn't change that, and Bidar must've felt all the disadvantages of step-motherly treatment. It has recently been moved to ASI's Dharwar circle and already renovations are under way.
Folks in Bidar are very fond of bakery stuffs and there is an Iyengar bakery in every street. They're good and cheap as well - we tried to buy a bun and got six for five rupees. Come evening, men mill around for cakes, rolls and curry puffs, which are served on recycled newspaper. Paint in a ubiquitous stray dog sitting by, gaze unwaveringly on the nearest food item and you have the picture.
Remember we'd also said the population was mostly Muslim, so how come there are so many Iyengar bakeries? The full names supply the rest of the story - in fact, Hassan Iyengar Bakery and Khan Iyengar Bakery.
There's a famous Narasimha temple in Bidar. It's in a cave and the way to the deity is a little arduous - devotees are required to wade through water to get to the sanctum.
This shrine is supposed to be pretty munificent, even removing problems such as the Saade Saathi (which would have been dead useful about now). 'How deep?' I enquired, 'paani gardan tak aata kya?'. The 6-footer I was questioning shook his head reassuringly, tapped his chest and said, 'Nai, nai, chaati talak aata.' Hmm.
I actually considered it, wading through this pond with water tickling my nostrils just for the adventure of it. Then again, it's supposed to be infested with cockroaches and mice (ewwwwww!) and I'm not that brave. Plus, little matter of clothes - not one of my garments was I willing to sacrifice to ickky muddy waters. So no go, I shall have to go through my karma the conventional way.
I mentioned Bidri earlier? They use a zinc alloy as base metal, which is then inlaid with silver and blackened. The blackening process has a mystery attached - they use saltpeter and mud from the fort to make a bath. The finished piece is dunked in it and the mixture reacts chemically with the alloy. The effect is gorgeous - the zinc turns black, the silver doesn't. What it is that does the trick, no one knows.