Every whisper is an echo here

Last Updated : 14 November 2011, 16:24 IST

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Upon reaching, I had to stir the watchman from his sleep to gain entry and broke into a sweat after climbing nine stories of a narrow stairway to reach its whispering gallery on top.

Compared to the Taj Mahal, Gol Gumbaz, a 17th-century monument is a simple building with four walls that enclose a huge hall with octagonal seven-storey towers at each of the corners. This basic structure is capped by an enormous dome, which is said to be the world’s second largest after St. Peter’s, Vatican City, Rome. Atop the hall, at the base of that 40-yard hemispherical Gumbaz dome, there is the four-yard wide gallery known as whispering gallery because the acoustics are such that any sound made is repeated ten times over. Some say your whisper echoes and comes back to you twelve times.

I wanted to do my own acoustic test at this medieval marvel. Still panting after 108 steep steps, I took out my match box, struck a match and along with the acrid smell of cordite and the sight of undulating flame upward from the stick held between my fingers, I clearly heard the sound of the snap once, then a second, third, fourth and fifth time.

Then suddenly it was bedlam. From the tranquil medieval mausoleum atmosphere, it was a sudden change to a cacophony of yells and screams and caterwauling, echoing over and over and merging with one another, as though souls were being tormented in an inferno.
I had been well advised to reach early. The hellish torment is a feature every single day at Gol Gumbaz. Bijapur’s hordes come visiting and no one waits to climb the narrow staircase up the south end tower to access the whispering gallery. Children and adults run amok.

Still at ground level, they don’t whisper to savour the unique acoustics. They crane their necks upward, cup their mouths and bellow from below, yell and scream. Many do it at the same time. Their loud sounds reverberate in a nerve jangling high decibel din.

A group of school children didn’t even wait to enter the Gumbaz and be under the dome. All excited, they were off their buses and already shouting while they were still out in the open as they ran.

By arriving at 6 am, waking the watchman for entry and rushing up those nine stories and at once lighting my match, I had just made it ahead of any other visitor.  Just made it by a – err – a whisper.

I can only confirm as follows: at Gol Gumbaz, the snap of your lit match can be heard echoing five (not ten) times across the hemispherical dome.

While in Bijapur...

You would need a week to relive the seventeenth century in this town which has so many intriguing and outstanding monuments. The Ibrahim Roza is as delicate as the Taj Mahal.

There are Asar Mahal, Gagan Mahal (sky palace), Anand Mahal, Jal Mandir (water temple,) Jami Masjid (mosque) and the unfinished and monumental Bara Kaman (twelve arches) tomb, open to the sky, with undressed basalt stone arches looking like Fountain Abbey near Ripon, the largest monastic ruin in England, and telling its own story of a megalomaniac project coming to a sad, premature end. Bijapur is on meter-gauge railway to the larger city of Sholapur (60 miles), which connects on broad gauge railway to Hyderabad, Poona, Bombay.

There are five buses to/from Bangalore (500 miles, 12 hours) and Hyderabad (10 hours).
Many hotels are on the arterial Station Road of Bijapur, and most have restaurants and bars. On Mahatma Gandhi Road, the state government’s Hotel Mayura Adil Shahi has an old-world ambience. The main shopping areas are on Mahatma Gandhi Road, Azad Road and New Market. Summer temperature goes up to 45 deg C. The best time to go is winter: December-January when the range is 20deg C- 30 deg C.

Published 14 November 2011, 16:24 IST

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