Did you know that Aurangabad (now renamed Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar) is known as the City of Gates? Or that it has its own version of the Taj Mahal? Discover all this and more in this mini guide to Aurangabad.
Ajanta and Ellora Caves
The UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Ajanta and Ellora Caves lie (respectively) 100km and 30km from Aurangabad. So, the city makes a great base to explore both sites. Ajanta has 29 Buddhist caves dating to between the 2nd century BC and 6th century AD. Ellora, on the other hand, comprises Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain religious centres spread over 34 caves dating between the 6th and 11th centuries AD. Both sites have remarkable rock-cut sculptures and paintings. Read more about these magnificent caves in my previous blog post.
Daulatabad Fort (also known as Devgiri) is a massive 11th-century citadel that stands on a high conical hill. Its three encircling walls with bastions, a moat, and a complex defense system made it one of the most powerful forts during the medieval period. It was a Yadava stronghold until Ala-ud-din Khilji invaded and captured it in 1296. Muhammad-bin-Tughluq shifted the Delhi Sultanate capital to Daulatabad in 1327 and it served as the capital of India until 1334. Most of the fort walls still stand although some of the palaces and other structures lie in ruins. What stands tall is the Chand Minar, a 30-metre-high minaret built by Sultan Ahmed Shah II in 1447. The fort is located 16 km northwest of Aurangabad, about halfway to Ellora Caves.
Bibi ka Maqbara
No guide to Aurangabad is complete without mentioning Bibi ka Maqbara. Known as the Taj of the Deccan, it is one of the city’s iconic monuments. Like his father Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal in memory of his wife, Aurangzeb too commissioned a mausoleum for his wife Rabia-ul-Daurani. However, it was his son Muhammad Azam Shah who eventually built the Bibi ka Maqbara in memory of his mother. Unlike the Taj Mahal, which is built of marble, Bibi ka Maqbara is made of limestone and plaster and is encased in marble, but the onion dome is all marble. In my opinion, the comparisons to the Taj Mahal do injustice to this monument, which has its own humble charm.
Attached to the dargah of Sufi saint Baba Shah Musafir, stands an ingenious medieval-era water mill. The panchakki dates to the 17th century and was designed to generate energy via water brought down from a mountain spring. The energy generated by the flowing water turns the large grinding stones of a flour mill. Watch it in action here.
With the adjoining reservoir, gardens, and fountains, the place makes for a peaceful stroll. There’s also a huge banyan tree at one end of the reservoir, supposedly 600 years old.
Gates of Aurangabad
Aurangabad has 52 gates that date back to medieval times; these mark entrances into the city. Pictured on the right is Bhadkal Gate, which is the biggest of them all. Malik Ambar established it in 1612 to commemorate his victory over the Mughals. The gate is also architecturally unique as India’s first column-structured building.
A couple of important temples stand within a short driving distance from Aurangabad. One of them is the Grishneshwar Jyotirlinga Temple. This is the twelfth Jyotirlinga and is an important pilgrimage site. The original temple was destroyed by the Mughals. It was rebuilt in the current form in the 18th century under the sponsorship of queen Ahilyabai Holkar. The other temple worth seeing is Bhadra Maruti Temple (pictured on the left) in Khuldabad. Here, the idol of Hanuman is portrayed in a reclining or sleeping posture. This is also a major pilgrimage centre and is particularly busy during Hanuman Jayanti and Ram Navami. Both temples are close to Ellora Caves (1-5km), so you can easily combine these sites.
Also in Khuldabad, stands the tomb of Aurangzeb. Unlike other decorative Mughal tombs, this one is rather plain. On his own direction, Aurangzeb was buried in an unmarked grave. Note that you cannot photograph the tomb (pictured on the right is the entrance).
I hope this guide to Aurangabad inspires you to pack your bags and visit this historical city. Read my previous blog post for more information on how to get there and where to stay.