Once a Mughal bastion that later changed hands coming under the suzerainty of the Asaf Jahi dynasty, Aurangabad is a treasure trove for the history buff. It’s a destination that often loses out to the glamour of Mumbai and allure of Pune , but here the past is still present, evident in the many gates strewn around the city, it’s textile industry and much more. A long weekend, say about three days, is sufficient to criss cross the city and gaze at all that it has to offer.
Start by visiting the vast Daultabad fort on the Deogiri hills. this place is a brilliant example of military strategy applied in architecture. Archaelogoical evidence suggests that the area was occupied as early as 12th century when the Yadav king Bhillama, the fifth built it and was known as Devgiri.
Surrounded by deep moats and tunnel in the hillside to confuse the enemy the fort was thought to be impregnable. Constructed on the orders of Muhammad bin Tughlaq, who wanted to shift his capital from Delhi to the newly constructed Daulatabd. Another harebrained scheme in a long list of harebrained schemes, he went down in history as ‘the wisest fool’. A large number of canons are found all around the fort premises, some at the fort bastion and other important lookout points. The canons’ range varied from 1-3.5 kilometres. Two bronze canons made in Amsterdam too can be found here.
We recommend you start early morning when the sun is not beating down your back. There are also quite a few ruined palaces inside – one of the most famous being the ‘Chini Mahal’. It was once used as a prison and enjoys special mention in history. Abdul hasan Tanashah, the last powerful ruler of the Deccan was imprisoned here till his death in 1700AD on the orders of Aurangzeb.
The next place to drop in is ‘Bibi-ka Maqbara’. Often referred to as the poor man’s Taj, it’s design is strongly reminiscent of the much lavish Taj Mahal. Completed under Aurangzeb’s son Prince Azam Shah to commemorate his mother Rabia-ul-Durrani alias Dilras Ban Begum – Aurangzeb’s wife and Azam Shah’s mother. As with all Mughal structures, their love for nature, running water and laid out gardens echoes in this construct too. Designed to represent the heavenly abode of the departed, it borrows from Islamic descriptions of ‘jannat’. The dome as with the Taj is made of white marble and the surrounding platforms were used as the Diwan-e-amm, Diwan-e-khas and a mosque. A few paintings also date back to the days of the Nizam.
From the Bibi ka Maqbara, just about two kilometres away lie the Aurangabad caves. Though often overshadowed by the fame of Ajanta and Ellora, the Aurangabad caves have provided scholars with links to the latter two caves. Cave 3 is perhaps the best preserved of them all with incredible paintings and carvings , scrolls, panel of couples, tassels, flowers, geometrical designs.
If your feet are still willing to cooperate another monument worth visiting is the Suneri Mahal. Built in the 17th century by Pahad Singh, a chief from Bundelkhand, it’s a mixture of Rajasthani and Mughal architecture. It derives its name from the floral paintings that adorn it.
You will need an entire day to explore the Ajanta caves at a distance of 110 kilometres from the city. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it consists of Buddhist paintings and stone carvings depicting the Jataka tales. Totaling 26 caves in all, must see are cave no. 1, 2, 16, 17, 19 and 26. Entry charge for Ajanta Caves is Rs. 10 per person and if you ask for special lighting inside the caves to illuminate the frescoes there’s an additional charge of Rs5. Your second day visiting these caves will leave you with little time to explore much else. Cave no.4 is the largest unfinished monastery and consists of a verandah, a hypostylar hall, sanctum and a series of unfinished cells. It also has a perfectly preserved natural phenomenon occurring due to lava flow called ropy that can be seen on the ceiling.
Cave no.9 is the oldest chatyagriha belonging to the Hinayana sect of Buddhism and has been dated back to the 1st century BC. The exteriors are decorated with chaitya windows and figures of the Buddha. Inside there are two layers of painting, one dating back to the 1st century BC and the other to the 5-6 century AD. The walls depict figures of devotees proceeding to the pagoda and Lord Buddha.
The third day of your visit can be dedicated to visiting the Ellora caves-another World Heritage site. The biggest draw in Ellora is cave no-16, the largest carving of Kailash from a single stone. Other caves of note are 5, 10, 12, 21, 22, 29 and 32, while others have fallen victim to the ravages of time. Cave no5 has two halls and was possibly used as an assembly hall ad is the most impressive of all structures dating to the 7th century AD. The pillars of this massive structure are embellished with paintings and the sanctum sanctorum houses Lord Buddha in a preaching posture with two Bodhisattvas flanking him on either side.
Cave No 10 is a double stories structure serving twin purposes – monastery and cathedral is dedicated to the Buddhist sect. It’s most eye catching feature being its music gallery in the upper chamber. With its facade adorned with friezes of animals and couples. Once again, at the centre is Buddha depicted in a preaching posture surrounded by couples and flanked on either side by two Bodhisattvas.
Cave no 15 is a double storied structure with the upper floor being dedicated to Lord Shiva and the ‘Dasavatara Cave’ displays the numerous incarnations of Vishnu. Built around the 8th century AD, the entire complex is accessed through a rock-cut gateway leading to a courtyard. At the centre of the courtyard, is the Natya Mandapa. Tickets cost Rs. 10 per head.
On the way to Ellora make a pit stop at Aurangzeb’s cave as well. In stark contrast to the Bibi ka Maqbara, Aurangzeb’s resting place, adjoining a dargah is devoid of any lavishness just as the emperor wished it to be.
Once back from Ellora you can visit the 17th century Panchakki, a water mill within a dargah complex. An ingenious piece of engineering, it’s purpose was to grind the grains utilising the energy from the water brought down from the hills. Built on the orders of a noble under Asaf Jah, structures were added to it some 20 years later by one Jamil Beg Khan
Best time to Visit
As with most parts of India, the best time to visit would be post September when the sun has begun its descent towards the Southern Hemisphere.
Where to Stay
Visit ByeByeCity for stay options that cater to various budgets and accommodation requirements.
How to Reach
By Road- Mumbai is at a distance of 310 kilometres from Aurangabad and it’s a comfortable six hour drive.
By Air- If constricted for time, you could also fly to Aurangabad. Tickets are reasonable if booked at least a month in advance.
By Rail – Aurangabad is a major train station with connectivity to over 30 interstate trains.