Aurangabad, on the Deccan Plateau in Maharashtra, gets its name from the Mughal king Aurangzeb who made the city his capital. Earlier it was called Khirki/Khadki and Fatehpur too as per historical records. Aurangabad also called the ‘City of Gates’. It is a gateway to architectural gems like UNESCO World Heritage Sites Ajanta and Ellora, as well as, other points of interest like Daulatabad known for its fort, Shirdi the frequented pilgrimage site and Paithan for its intricately woven Paithani sarees. It comes as no surprise that Aurangabad christened as ‘The Tourism Capital of Maharashtra’ with so many places of interest in its proximity.
With Christmas vacations, what better excuse then to set off on another journey for travel and exploration with the family. After breakfast, we began our 4 ½ hours road drive from Pune via Ahmednagar, which ended at Aurangabad. After checking into our hotel and a quick wash, we zipped off to see the attractions of Aurangabad. The historical city with its monuments, forts, palaces and caves, protected by exterior walls and gates, exudes an old-world charm that is reminiscent of its rich heritage of a bygone era.
The Bibi ka Maqbara also referred to as “Dakkhani Taj or Taj of Deccan” is a magnificent mausoleum and is inspired by the Taj Mahal of Agra. The mausoleum is in the centre of an enclosure. The pathway leading up to it are lined with trees, fountains and water channels. Open pavilions are on the three sides. As we entered the complex, we were awestruck at seeing a replica of the Taj Mahal. Our guide explained to us the history and details of the monument. A compare and contrast between The Taj and Bibi ka Maqbara would have fetched us full marks in an examination after hearing the details from the guide.
While the Taj Mahal was built by Shajahan in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, the Bibi Ka Maqbara was built by Azam Shah (Aurangzeb’s son and Shahjahan’s grandson) in memory of his mother Rabia -ul- Durani, also known as Dilras Banu Begum between 1651-1661 AD. The Bibi ka Maqbara is built on a raised platform with four minarets at the corners. The dome of the Maqbara is smaller than that of the Taj with minarets that are shorter.
The dome and the lower body of the structure are made in marble with intricate carvings while the middle portion is made of basaltic trap that is covered with plaster that mimics a marble finish. This was probably a cost-saving measure since marble was expensive, unlike the Taj which is entirely made of marble. While the Taj was built at a cost of 32 million rupees the Bibi ka Maqbara was built at a cost of Rs. 665,283 and 7 annas. Thus, the maqbara is often referred to as the ‘Poor Man’s Taj’. The tomb of the Mughal king’s mother rests inside the mausoleum. The light filtering through the gaps of intricate carvings and patterns provided a beautiful aura to the inside of the mausoleum.
The sun was now at the horizon as we left the Bibi ka Maqbara and headed to see the Panchakki or Watermill. It is an engineering marvel of how energy from the moving water, in underground pipes, rotates a sizeable grinding stone (chakki). The stone would ground the grains into flour that was fed to the pilgrims. Through a small opening, we could see the grinding stone and a fan which are functional even today. Located in the complex were a banyan tree more than 600 years old and a water tank. A mosque and several shops selling jazzy, colourful, artificial stone jewellery and artefacts were located inside the premises. It was now dark, and we hurried to our hotel where a Christmas Eve dinner awaited us.
The next day after breakfast, we headed to Daulatabad (City of Fortune) located 14 km. from Aurangabad. As we approached the town, we could see the majestic and imposing fort on top of a mountain peak. My guide book mentioned how this fort was once known as Deogiri, a hill of gods. This fort is also unique because it is a combination of ground and hill fort that is a rarity in India. This fort is impressive and stands out amongst several which we have seen due to its strategic design and planning as a defence against enemy attack. It is one of the impregnable forts that have moats (a deep, broad ditch filled with water), dark passages with its zig zag entrances to confuse the enemy. Arrangements of gates were also not opposite each other so that elephants of the enemy couldn’t barge in by breaking them down.
As we entered the fort, we saw the fortification walls called ramparts (kots). The first was Mahakot which has eight gates. A watchtower in the Mahakot had a balcony with three arches. On moving further, we saw a huge water tank called Hathi Haud (Elephant’s Tank) with steps on three sides leading to it. The water tank was a source of water for the township as well as the moats. We were prompted by our guide book to clap here as it produced an echo.
Near the Hathi Haud was the Bharat Mata Mandir. On entering the dome-shaped gate, we saw a vast courtyard whose peripheries had rows of carved pillars. The salient feature is the image of Bharat Mata which was installed after India got independence. From the courtyard, we could see the upper portions of the hill fort.
On exiting the temple, we saw a tall tower or minaret with three floors called the Chand Minar. It is 65-metre-high and is second in height to the Qutub Minar of Delhi. Earlier it was covered with glazed tiles imported from Persia, but now most have fallen with just a couple of them bearing testimony.
The minaret was from where the call for prayers (azaan)was given for faithful to assemble for namaz. Near the minar was the museum which had several historical pieces of idols and sculptures, that had been excavated, put on display.
After the Mahakot we now saw the next rampart, the Kalakot. Inside we saw a building which was the Chini Mahal or Chinese Palace. The reason it was so-called so was that in earlier times it was decorated with coloured tiles from China. It was used a prison for royal captives. Located close by was another building that was the abode of the royals called Nizamshahi Palace.
Near these palaces, we saw an elevated bastion on which rested a huge canon called Mendha Tope. A ram’s head at the rear end gives it the name. It could be rotated in all directions and was called the Qila-Shikan- Tope or fort-breaking canon.
The moat, which is an engineering marvel, was filled with water and had two bridges across it originally. In earlier times the bridges would be sunk into water infested with crocodiles thereby preventing the enemies from entering the fort. The rock around the moat was chiselled so smooth that even a slithering snake couldn’t scale the height forget enemy soldiers!
After crossing the moat, we passed an underground zig-zag passage and ascended a staircase. The Andhari or passage of darkness was designed to confuse the enemy and mislead them. Death was almost inevitable as the enemy couldn’t escape from diverse defence techniques used: like being pelted with stones, having scalding water or oil poured on them or running towards light only to realise that a fall in the moat was inevitable.
The Baradari is an octagonal palace located at the peak of the hill. It is so-called because of its 12 arch-shaped windows. It provided a panoramic view of the lower portions of the fort, as well as the town.
Ahead of the Baradari was the meditation cave of saint Janaradan Swami who meditated here and was blessed by darshan of Sri Dattatreya one of the Hindu Gods. The footprints of these holy personalities could be seen.
Right at the top of the fort were the Kala Pahad and Durga canons. By now, we were drained and tired after all that climbing. Water bottles were empty, and snacks gorged. Our only saviour was mint candies to suck on. It made us realise how difficult it must have been for the enemies to conquer this fort. There are forts, and there is Daulatabad! Simply invincible.
On descending the fort, we headed to the food stalls on the roadside and stuffed ourselves with water and whatever was available. What caught my fancy was the fresh fruits like guavas, figs, custard apple for which Daulatabad is known.
After leaving Daulatabad, we proceeded to Khuldabad, which is where we saw the tomb of the Mughal King Aurangzeb. It is located at the complex of a Dargah or shrine of Sufi saint Sheikh Zainuddin. As per his wishes, the tomb was built only with a few rupees that he had earned by stitching caps. Our guide mentioned that his tombstone is inscribed in Persian with the following lines,” No marble sheets should shield me from the sky as I lie there one with earth.” A marble jaali or screen was erected around his grave by Lord Curzon, but no roof covers it.
After leaving Khuldabad, we headed for Ellora. But that is another story.
Nearest Airport: Aurangabad, which is an architectural hub, has an airport.
Distances: Pune Aurangabad: 235 km
Mumbai Aurangabad: 327 km
Where to Stay: MTDC has a property which has decent accommodation. You can do a net search for accommodation as per budget.
This travelogue was first published in Corporate Tycoons Magazine, Jan 2017.