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.
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|
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.
|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.