While in Hyderabad, I made a side trip west to the old town of Bidar in Karnataka state so see the 15th-century Bidar Fort, full of grand palaces surrounded by elaborate defenses. An outer wall encloses the old part of town, while two inner walls, separated by moats cut into solid rock, protect the palaces and grand mosque at the center. Although in ruins, there’s enough left to get a feel for the medieval setting when the Bahmani kingdom ruled over much of southern India. The Rangin Mahal (Painted Palace) best recalls the grandeur of the past with remnants of colorful tile, mother-of-pearl inlays, and ornate woodwork. A guide led me into the eerie depths of the Tarkash Mahal (Turkish Palace) and scooped up a black substance, saying it was old gunpowder.

To invade Bidar Fort, one would have to scale three walls (two shown here) and cross these three moats cut into bedrock.

Inside Rangin Mahal at Bidar Fort

Rooftop of Solah Kumba (Sixteen-Pillared Mosque) viewed from the top of Tarkash Mahal

The public courtyard of Bidar Fort, from the top of Tarkash Mahal

Warangal & Palampet

Another bus ride took me to Warangal in the far north of Andhra Pradesh to see yet another fort and some temples. The Hindu Kakatiya kingdom reigned here from the late 12th to early 14th centuries, supporting Telugu arts and temple construction. Although the town’s fort lacked the grand scale and defenses of Golconda and Bidar, it had an intriguing ruin of a large Shiva temple with intricate carvings in a black stone. Time and vandals had badly worn most of the stonework, but somehow the four main gates stand almost perfectly preserved; present-day Warangal has adopted them as the town’s symbol. A nearby single-chambered stone palace building features a soaring ceiling and a collection of Hindu sculptures. In another part of town, the 1000-Pillared Temple dates from 1163 and has three equal-sized shrines, originally to the gods Shiva, Vishnu, and Surya with fine stonework, though only the Shiva shrine still had its deity. I was disappointed to find most of the 1000 pillars missing! Apparently they had been taken down for a reconstruction project. I had better luck with the Ramappa Temple, dating from 1234 and way out in the countryside at Palampet, 65 kilometers northeast of Warangal. Here hundreds of bare-breasted dancing beauties, frozen in stone, grace the pillars, door jambs, beams, and roof brackets of the well preserved temple. A large glossy stone Nandi, Shiva’s bull, faces the innermost sanctum where Shiva as a lingam is still worshipped. I spent hours admiring the sculptural work, which also includes gods, lions, and long rows of elephants.

Finely carved remnants of the Shiva temple in Warangal Fort. One of the four gates is in the distance.

Schoolgirls caress the Nandi in front of Ramappa Temple.

A shiny brass-covered Shiva lingam resides in the heart of Ramappa Temple, entered through this doorway covered in dancing figures.

Ecstatic dancers on a column in Ramappa Temple

Finger movements are important in classical Indian dance. This lady is helping to support the roof of Ramappa Temple.

Village life near Ramappa Temple still moves as the pace of an ox cart.

On to Bhopal