October 26, 2016

Aurangabad- City of Gates

Standing right in front of Bibi Ka Maqbara, a visitor asks another who has just come out of the entrance, "Andhar kya hain?" (What is inside?). An absolutely absurd question I thought to myself frowning upon the the person who asked that. How much ever you architecturally compare this monument to Taj Mahal, or call it its twin, Bibi ka Maqbara frankly seems a poor cousin of the Taj. However, if you have come all the way till the monument, isn't it more sensible to go and see for yourself than pop than question to someone else? Aurangabad caves are another example where despite having rock cut architecture and sculptures, they are not even half as spectacular as the one in Ajanta and Ellora. Probably these are the reasons why Aurangabad despite being ruled and influenced by Mughals, Marathas and Nizams have for long remained under the shades of Ajanta and Ellora, and acts as a hub to both these places.

Named after the Mughal ruler, Aurangazeb, Aurangabad came into prominence during the fag end end of Mughal rule. Prior to the Mughals, Aurangabad was known as Khadki and Fatehnagar in the early 17th century. By mid 17th century it was taken over by the Mughals and renamed as Aurangabad. It later came under the rule of the Marathas during the late 18th century and then was  under the rule of the Nizam of Hyderabad during British Raj. It has now transformed itself into a bustling city with the remnants of its past rulers still standing out in its various corners.

Despite being a modern town with all the infrastructures and chaos, the remnants of the Mughal rule was quite evident in the form of massive gates as I road through the roads of Aurangabad. While travelling through the city, you are bound to cross at least one or two of these gates. Often referred to as the city of gates, Aurangabad had 52 of them built during the Mughal rule along with a fort wall. Of the 52 only 13 have survived the times of attacks and modernization, and most of these have been restored and maintained well. The prominent gates are Bhadkal gate, Delhi gate, Makai gate, Rangeen darwaza, Roshan gate and Paithan gate.

Rangen Darwaza
Delhi Gate
Makai Gate
Bhadkal Gate

Riding past the gates and the cantonment area, I was staring at the massive Daulatabad fort in the outskirts of the city early in the morning. A quick breakfast later, I walked into the stone pathways and broad stonewalls of Daulatabad fort. At a height of more than 200 meters, this massive fort built during the 12th century by the Yadava dynasty has the distinction of never being defeated in a battle. Also known as Devagiri fort, the charms and the prominence of the fort and Daulatabad made the eccentric king Muhammad bin Tughlaq shift his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad to have a better stronghold of the Deccan. Not only did he shift his capital, he forced the entire population to shift to Daulatabad, 1100 Kms away from Delhi. In a span of 2 years he again shifted his capital back to Delhi due to lack of water and other resources. Built on a conical hill, the fort's defense system made it one of the impregnable forts in Deccan during the medieval period. The fort has two moats, fortification with three walls, bastions at intervals, zigzag pathways and lofty gates with iron spikes. There are numerous dark passages which are tough to trespass. The fort also has residential areas, palaces, reservoirs, temple, mosques, stepped wells and all the requisites of a town. 

A barrage of canons welcomed me as I walked through the large entrance gates and arches. Bharat Mata temple is one of the first places of interest inside the fort. Chandminar, a tall structure with beautiful art works is a noteworthy creation here. Next to it is a mosque and a huge collection of sculptures unearthed. With an ascent, the steps led further past many doors with the accompaniment of beautiful vistas. A canon with a ram's head and engravings carved on it is another attraction here. Beyond this lies the moat and across the bridge is Andheri passage or Dark passage. Darkness engulfed with winding steps and flying bats as I walked into this passage. After a precarious walk, at the exit is a huge open area which offers a panoramic view of the town and the fort. Baara Daari, a meeting hall further up looked gorgeous as I walked up to it. However, upon entering it seemed like one of the most unkempt structures with paan stains splashed all over and engravings by visitors. The only positive about this monument was that the vistas look majestic from here. As I walked down, the number of visitors had gone up and so had the scorching sun. It took me a couple of hours to walk around and go deep into this magnificent fort's architecture and history.

Canons and large entry gates

Canon with ram's head

Aerial view as you walk up
Baara Daari

From the darkness of the fort I rode to the refreshing Panchaki, a marvelous medieval engineering at Baba Shah Musafir dargah. This is a 17th century watermill with a underground water system and an artificial waterfall which falls into a tank filled with fishes. The energy generated powered the mill to grind grains for visitors during hey days. The serene setting further enhances the charm of the place. 


Bibi Ka Maqbara stood bright and beautiful against the blue sky, albeit a pale shadow of the monument it is modelled on- Taj Mahal. The constant comparison with Taj has over a period of time taken the charm off this otherwise beautiful monument.  Built by Aurangazeb's son, Azam Shah, the monument is the mausoleum of Aurangazeb's wife, Dilras Bhanu Begum. Structured on a raised platform and similar in design to Taj Mahal, it has four minarets with intricate carvings on the structure and interiors. The tomb inside is placed at a lower ground level.  There is also a mosque next to the monument. I walked past a few noisy visitors to go around and soak in the beauty of the monument. A closer look revealed that the plasters on the minarets have begun to peel off due to the vagaries of nature over the years. Though similar is architecture and design to the Taj, Bibi Ka Maqbara is smaller in size, lacks the grandeur and is made of both marble and basalt. However, despite the shortcomings, Bibi Ka Maqbara or the Taj of Deccan (as it is sometimes referred) is definitely an impressive structure and is the first name that pops up when we talk about Aurangabad.

Works on its exterior

The tomb lies below the octagonal opening

A short ride away, I was at Khuldabad where the tomb of Aurangazeb, the Mughal emperor rests. As I walked in, two people (caretakers) walked up to take me around and share  the history behind the place. Located inside the dargah of Sheikh Zainuddin, his spiritual guru, Aurangazeb was buried here as per his wish. A very simple tomb strewn with flowers, it was covered in marble later by Lord Curzon, the Viceroy during British rule. I was told that Aurangazeb paid for his burial by stitching caps during his last few years. The tombs of his son and daughter-in-law are also located within the dargah.

Aurangazeb's tomb

Dargah of Sheikh Zainuddin

There are 12 rock cut caves in Aurangabad and all of them are Buddhist caves from the 6th and 7th century. Though it might not match up to the caves of Ajanta and Ellora, Aurangabad caves are definitely a wonderful creation of art with stupas and numerous carvings. Unfortunately, I had to miss out on these caves as the roads were blocked due to a local festival and also because of lack of time. Salim Ali lake and Grishneshwar temple are the other popular attractions in the city of gates. Both Ajanta and Ellora caves which are UNESCO world heritage sites can be visited by making Aurangabad the base.

Despite not being as spectacular as its more famous neighbours, Aurangabad has a medieval charm laced with Mughal structures and numerous stories woven around it to keep you enticed.


Aurangabad has its own airport and rail head
Pune- 230 Kms
Mumbai- 328 Kms
Ajanta caves- 96 Kms 
Ellora caves- 30 Kms

Food and Accommodation: 

Aurangabadi cuisine is a blend of both Mughalai and Hyderabadi cuisine. Naan Qalia (mutton dish with spices) and Tahri (biriyani) are must try dishes. 
Aurangabad has a wide range of stay options, from budget hotels to resorts which you can choose from. I stayed at Preetam hotel (0240 -6456665), a budget hotel near the railway station. It is quite good and recommended.

October 24, 2016

Ellora Caves- Rock Cut Temples and Monasteries

The cave temples of Ellora are an absolute celebration of brilliant art work. Dating to more than 1500 years, this UNESCO world heritage site is a combination of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain caves with stupendous display of  decorative art works carved on rocks. All the caves were built during the reign of Rashtrakuta and Yadava dynasty and were occupied by monks and pilgrims for prayers and meditation. While the Buddhist and Jain caves have works which spread a warmth of peace, the Hindu caves are embellished with dynamic scenes of gods and goddesses. This complex is also houses Kailash temple, believed to be the largest monolithic rock excavation in the world. Though remnants of paintings can be seen in a couple of caves, most of them have faded. However,  the archaeological department have tried their best to preserve the sculptures and carvings to an extent. Caves 1 to 12 are Buddhist caves, 13 to 29 are Hindu caves and 30 to 34 are Jain caves.

Referred to as Maharwada, Cave 5 is one of the largest caves in Ellora and has a unique architectural design. One of the important Buddhist caves, it has cells, chambers and sanctums with various sculptures of Buddha. Lined with broad pillars, the huge hall here was used by monks for various rituals. The inner sanctum has Buddha in a preaching posture.

Cave 9 has wonderful carvings on its exterior and is a monastery.

Cave 10 is the only Chaityagriha in Ellora and is one of the prominent Budhist caves. Apart from the beautiful exterior, this prayer hall has exquisite carvings inside. The carved stupa with  the shrine of seated Buddha with Bodhisattvas, the carved pillars and the ribbed ceiling are magnificent works of art. The upper floor has more sculptures and a music gallery. This cave is also known as the Vishwakarma cave due to influence of wooden architecture and intricate works.

Cave 11 is a three tiered Mahayana monastery with numerous carvings.

Popularly referred to as 'Ravan Ki Khai' due to the sculpture of Ravana shaking the Kailasa, Cave 14 has numerous sculptures on its side walls. It has a circumambulatory passage which displays more carvings. This was earlier a Buddhist vihara and was converted into a Hindu cave.

With numerous sculptures of various incarnations of Vishnu, Cave 15 is also known as Dasavatara cave. A flight of steps lead to this double-storey cave which has a natya mandapa (dance hall) and the main structure has numerous squarish plain pillars with a nandi. It has sculptures dedicated to Shiva also, the most prominent being Shiva in dance pose.

Cave 16 or Kailasnath cave temple is undoubtedly the most outstanding cave in Ellora and would leave you enthralled with its structure. It is one large monolithic basalt rock which has been chiselled 115 feet from top to bottom, and carved outside to inside. It is said that this creation took 150- 200 years in the making. Dedicated to Shiva, the temple has numerous carvings and sculptures both inside and on its exteriors. Some of the interesting sculptures are Parvati refusing to play the dice with her husband, Ravana sacrificing his nine heads, Vishnu covering the three worlds, Shiva leading his shy bride to bed etc. While there are numerous shrines here, a huge Shivlinga is the main one. The main hall with carved pillars have paintings on the ceiling, most of which have faded. An aerial view of the temple from the adjacent rock shows the magnificence of this exquisite and dynamic creation. It is also often referred to as the most engrossing single work of art in the country.

Known as Rameshwara cave, Cave 21 is one of the oldest Hindu caves. It has a huge hall with beautifully carved pillars and numerous sculptures from Hindu mythology.

Cave 29 is also referred to as Dhumar Lena and is known for its massive figure sculptures guarding the main shrine, shivlinga. There are numerous other sculptures carved on the side walls, pillars and the main hall. A seasonal waterfall over the cave further enhances its charm during the monsoons.

Also referred to as Indrasabha, Cave 32 is a double-storey cave dedicated to the Digambara sect of Jainism. Decorated with detailed sculptures of of Mahavira and other Jain deities, it has a huge hall with exquisitely carved pillars and intricate works on its walls and door frames. Apart from sculptures, the upper floor also has paintings.

  • Make Aurangabad your base to cover both Ellora and Ajanta caves.
  • The caves are open from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm and closed on Tuesdays.
  • After entering the premises, walk to your extreme right to visit the caves in chronological order.

30 Kms from Aurangabad (nearest rail head and airport)
100 Kms from Ajanta Caves
300 Kms from Mumbai
256 Kms from Pune 

Food & Accommodation:

There are a few small eateries near the entrance of the caves. Aurangabad has a wide range of hotels from budget to luxury to suit your needs.
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