Trip to the Historical City of Aurangabad

“An investment in travel is an investment in yourself”

                                                                                                                Mathew Karsten

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Sun Setting on the City

                   Aurangabad is also known as the “City of Gates”.There are 52 gates traversing the city.It is the 5th largest city of Maharashtra,India .The city was renamed several times from Khadki to Fatehnagar.In 1653 when the Mughal Prince Aurangzeb was appointed the viceroy of the Deccan for the second time,he made Fatehnagar his capital and renamed it as Aurangabad.Aurangabad is associated with the World Heritage Sites Ajanta &Ellora Caves.Besides visiting these caves, one can also visit the historic Daultabad Fort,Bibi ka Maqbra ,Aurangzeb’s Grave and PaanchChakki.

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One of the many gates of Aurangabad

Visiting a place which is close  to one’s place of residence somehow always gets on the back burner as one thinks it being close by can be visited anytime .Even though I have been living in Mumbai for last twenty five years, a trip to Aurangabad  somehow did not materialise. One evening my hubby just propped the idea and I immediately seized the offer and planned the trip. The city can be seen comfortably in two days, commencing the journey on a Friday and getting back by Sunday night.After a thorough research we found that travelling by AC Sleeper Bus was the best option as both the pickup and Drop points were very close to our home. Besides being convenient, we noticed that we would be   saving only one hour if we travelled by Air. Moreover the Bus drop and pick up points were very close to our hotel at Aurangabad. Accordingly I booked  AC Sleeper seats  by “Shreyas Skyline”.

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Ajanta Caves

                    The Sleeper seats are comfortable  much like the sleeper berths in trains,only the ride is a bit  bumpy.I made the mistake of booking lower berths where the effect of the bumps is more compared  to the upper berths which are not very high. So a tip here – book the upper berths – the climb is not much. I  booked our night stay in “Hotel Treebo Sonia”. We had a pleasant stay – The room was clean and  good, the staff were courteous and helpful and the tariff included a good filling breakfast. The facilities the Hotel offers can be checked on Booking.com. For sightseeing, I booked a cab online from “Aurangabad Taxi Stand.”They offer excellent services and I highly recommend availing their services.

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The paintings on the walls of the Ajanta Caves

                                We left around midnight and reached Aurangabad  around 07.00  in the morning  at the drop point Baba Petrol Pump where our driver was waiting for us. Since our check in time was 12  Noon, we decided to proceed directly to Ajanta Caves which is about 100 kms from Aurangabad.On the way we stopped at  “Hotel Sai” for freshening up (Washrooms are clean) and breakfast which was very reasonable.Alooparatha,masala Dosa tea and mineral water cost us only 120 bucks.After quieting our growling stomachs we resumed our journey to Ajanta Caves  and reached there at about  10AM.

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Paintings of Ajanta Caves

                    The caves are maintained by Archaelogical Survey of India and is a World Heritage Site. The entry tickets at the gate cost Rs 10 per head. From the parking point, one has to walk some distance to hop into the shuttle bus to the caves which cost Rs16 each.The shuttle buses are available at 15 minute intervals and drop the tourists at the entrance to the caves. Here again one has to buy cave entry tickets which cost Rs.30  per head.

                                                                         The Shaded Walkway                         

                         The walkway to the bus is shaded with trees and  a lot of greenery to soothe your eyes from the merciless rays of the sun.It took us about 2 ½ hours to see the caves. There are quite a few drinking water points and clean toilet facilities in the complex.You have to remove your shoes at the entrance of majority of the caves so it is advisable to wear  appropriate footwear which can easily be removed.It was lunch time by the time we finished seeing the caves.

                                                                  The Steps leading to the Caves

There are MTDC restaurants and many other restaurants inside the complex but on the advise of our driver,we decided to have lunch on the way  at  “SaiDham”.The cool neem breeze was soothing in the hot afternoon where we relished vegetarian thalis, chilled buttermilk  and water all  for a cool price of Rs 235(for 2 persons).

About Ajanta Caves  

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Starting point of Ajanta Caves

                 At the end of the seventh century Buddhism began to decline in the land of its origin and its shrines fell into desolation and ruins.For a thousand years  Ajanta lay buried in the jungle clad slopes of the western mountain range until in 1819 when it was accidently discovered  by an Englishman.

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The caves were built by Buddhist monks, artists and the people of the surrounding towns.Five of the caves 9,10,19,26 and 29 are chaityahalls(monastic halls of residence).The others are Viharas.(stupa monument halls meant for meditation and study).There are thirty caves  some of them unfinished – Sixteen contain mural paintings. The best work can be seen in caves 1,2,16,17and 19.The best sculptures are seen in caves1,4,17,19 and 24.Cave no 21-25 are incomplete and are not of much interest.

 

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                     The caves are excavated in a horse-shoe shaped rock surface about 76 m in height, overlooking a narrow stream known as the Waghora.

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The Waterfall at the Entrance of  The Caves

                These caves were a sort of retreat for the Buddhist monks during the monsoon  months when the heavy rain in these areas kept the monks safe in the caves, but secluded from the rest of the world. The central theme on the walls comes under two heads-narrative scenes from Buddha’s life and illustrations of Jataka fables.

 

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A Chaitya Hall

                     Wihin the framework of spirituality an entire pageant of contemporary life has been vividly covered.Depicted on these walls is the portraiture not only of Buddha and the Bodhisattavas but of a wide range of human beings in different  attitudes depicting  varied  emotions. The paintings on the ceiling are mainly of decorative patterns .They include geometric designs,floral and ornamental motifs,animals,birds,plants ,flying figures of celestial beings etc.

                      On the way back,we stopped to buy some Hemroo and Paithani bedcovers and sarees from “Paithani Weaving Centre”  opposite MGM College.We saw artisans weaving Paithani sarees ,which depending on the design, takes 4-6 months  to weave.We found the Shimroo bedcovers very good. Being handwoven, the prices are on the higher side.

We checked into our Hotel Treebo Sonia at about  5pm. It took us 6 hours to and fro and 2 ½ hours to see the caves.So, you have to set aside a day for  a visit to Ajanta Caves.

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               On the next day, the itinerary was Ghrishneswar temple,Ellora Caves,DaultabadFort and PaanchChakki. After breakfast and checking out of the hotel,we commenced our sightseeing  at 0900 am and the first stop was the Ghrishneswar temple.There are Twelve Jyotirlingas in India and one of them is that of Ghrishneswar temple situated near the Ellora Caves.There is a small entrance  leading to the courtyard of the temple.Half portion of the temple is of red sandstone while the other half appears to be of plaster.It contains a Shivling in front of which is the marble image of Goddess Parvati.

 

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Ellora Caves

               

                  Photography is prohibited inside the temple.So after leaving our camera and  mobiles in the government lockers outside the temple and buying  a basket of flowers,coconut and other puja offerings, we went inside the temple.Men have to remove all their upper wear and  go bare body inside the temple.W e were a bit disappointed with the chaos inside and were confused as there were no pujaris to help us as they were busy with “Abhlshek” ( a special puja conducted by the priests)charging  Rs 501 per person. They do not attend and ignore those devotees   offering flowers and coconut and we had to make our offerings ourselves. I find the scenario similar in most of the temples where the devotees are valued based on the offerings  they make. I suppose  God never wanted it this  way !!

      Ellora Caves is just 30 kms from Aurangabad.The cave temples of Ellora are the product of three religious systems –Buddhism,Hinduism and Jainism containing elaborate carvings of Gods and Goddesses.Each system had its own individual style of architecture and Ellora presents the varied styles side by side.The sculptural work too reveals the points of contrast.The excavations on a slopng hill side are spread over an area north to south of about two kms.Caves 1-12 making the southern series are Buddhist.The next sixteen are in the Brahamanical group. Caves 30-34 are of the Jain Group.The Buddhist caves are the earliest(500-700 A.D.)

 

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Brahamanical Cave (Ellora caves)

               

We reached the Ellora caves at 10 am and  took us about 30 mins from the hotel The entry ticket is Rs 30 each.There is a shuttle bus to ferry the tourists from the Entrance to caves 30-34 which is  about 10 mins run and  a km. At the northern  spur of the ridge are the Jain excavations.These excavations belong to the period between ninth and eleven centuries.

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Jain Cave(Ellora Cave)

                 After seeing the caves, we returned to the bus drop point, a wait of few minutes and the bus chugged in to take us to cave no 29 which is a Brahamanical cave. It is a massive structure dominated by a huge Shiva with eight arms at the verandah near the entrance. After spending some time on this stupendous cave we returned to the bus stop where we were picked up after a few minutes and dropped at the entry gate.Cave no 16 faces the entry gate, The entry to the cave has a beautiful well maintained garden.

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Cave no 16

Cave no 16 is celebrated as the Kailasha- Shiva’s mountain abode.It is by far best of all Ellora Caves. There are galleries depicting Shiva legends. The southern gallery  depicts Vishnu in various forms.The main hall  on the first floor has well decorated balconies.After coming out from cave 16, we walked to see caves 1-12 which were the Buddhist caves.After this we visited the Brahmanical caves 14- 20.To see the caves 21-28 we had to walk further .We could not see cave no 28 as the entrance to it was from the waterfall and the place being slippery was cordoned off.  It took us three and half hours to see the caves.Unlike  the Ajanta caves, there are no toilet or drinking water facilities or restaurants in the Ellora Caves complex. Only at a few Buddhist caves we had to remove our footwear.At the Brahmanical and Jain caves we were not asked to remove our footwear. We met many foreign tourists during our visit to both Ajanta &Ellora Caves.

                         It was 1.30 by the time we came out  and our next destination was to “Annapoorna” where we had  Andhra and Mahrahstrian thali.The food was very oily and not tasty.There was no difference in the contents of the two thalis except for a larger quantity of rice in the Andhra Thali 🙂

 

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Aurangzeb’s Tomb

 After lunch we visited Aurangzeb’s tomb.After spending some time there,we proceeded to Daultabad Fort.

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I am not sure of the distance from the main gate of the fort to the summit but as told by  our driver it is 6 kms up and down.I counted the steps which are 750 in all.Daultabad is famous in history as Mohammad bin Tughlaq of the Tughlaq dynasty shifted his capital from Delhi to Daultabad – to Delhi again causing immense hardships to the people.

The fort was built by the first Yadava king in 1187.The First gateway leads into the enclosure which has at the left a huge water tank and further up there is an ancient Hindu temple.Towards the right is the Chand Minar – a pillar of victory built by a king to commemorate  his conquest of .

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Chand Minar

Daultabad .The steps in the Chand Minar lead to ChiniMahal.The palace is now in ruins so are the other  constructions which once stood near the adjoining gate. A large Canon lies at the top of a round bastion.

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The Canon on top of the Bastion

Beyond this is the moat. There is only one entrance over the moat.Some parts of the upward climb are pitch dark.

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The Moat

            I   started the ascend  at 3pm and reached the top at 4.30 pm.On top one gets to see a cannon of Aurangzeb’s era and one also gets a picturesque view of the entire city.

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The Canon on top of the Fort

Thanks to  my mobile torch I could find my way because some parts of  the fort were pitch dark.There were many tourists climbing along with me.

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Dark Passage

                 I was particularly impressed by two tiny enthusiasts who wanted to continue but the parents were unwilling and finally  gave in to the kid’s demand I guess !  as I met them on my way down.

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I started the descend at 4.45 pm and reached the base at about 5.30 pm.

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The Walls of the Fort as Viewed from top of the Fort

          The climb up and down was indeed exhausting but that did not lessen my enthusiasm to visit rest of the places though we were dying for a cuppa we rushed to “Bibi ka Maqbra”(as the closing time is 6.30 pm ).The beautiful mausoleum of Aurangzeb’s wife constructed by his son prince Azam Shah.

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Bibi Ka Maqbra

It was modelled on the Taj Mahal.It is not well maintained now. The fountains leading to the mausoleum are nonfunctional.However the gardens are well maintained.We came out around 6.30 pm and rushed to our last stop the PanchChakki.It was dark by the time we reached the Panchchakki.

   

                                                                             Paanch Chakki

PanchChakki (water mill) takes its name from the mill which used to grind grain for the pilgrims.This monument located in Aurangabad, displays the scientific thought process put in medieval Indian architecture. The complex of PanchChakki had been a place of external abode of the great Sufi Saints who gathered in India in 12th Century A.D. The Panchakki, is a calm and peaceful place that visualizes the life that existed in the medieval period. Visitors having sensitive imagination may hear the beats of drum and the humming noise of the people moving around the complex. The tomb of Baba Shah Musafir and a prayer hall is also within the complex.

         The water flows down through clay pipes based on the Siphon System from a distance of 11 km. This marvelous water mill was designed to generate energy to turn the large grinding stone, serving as a flour mill.

The Panchakki with all its glories and enchantments has a unique place in the history.In fact it was the residence of popular saint “Baba Shah Musafir “. The Panchakki has its own underground water channel, having the source some where towards the North of the city about 8 Kms. away in the mountains. The construction of this water channel from the main source to the Panchakki was started during the life time of saint “Baba Shah Musafir “some time in the year 1624 A.D.

                The complete water channel is made up of earthen pipes finely lined up and at appropriate distances, masonry pillars are erected which serve as natural suction pumps to make the water flow through the pipes with force through the distance of 8 Kms. Finally, the water rises  ‘syphonically ” to a huge elevated masonry pillar from where it falls down into the main tank to make an attractive “Water Fall”.

    As at all tourist places, a few guides troubled us but we took one for just Rs 50 and he explained the place in great detail.

            It was 7pm by the time we came out and our return bus was at 9.30 pm .We were dying for a cup of tea and  our driver took us to Manmandir complex which has a restaurant and also was the pickup point of our bus Neeta travels picks up its passengers from this stop. The driver dropped our luggage in the restaurant and after bidding him adieu for his excellent services we settled down to have dinner as we were not very hungry we ordered grilled sandwiches and a bowl of soup.The food was okay and the rates pocket friendly and  the service was also good.we thereafter passed time watching the India –New Zealand  T 20 match on TV. The bus arrived in time and we settled on our berths but the comfortable beds were not of much comfort due to the bumpy ride and a wailing baby. I could not sleep  at all  through the night. we reached Nerul at 4.45 am to our relief we found  waiting autos  at the bus drop point from where we reached home at 5 am and crashed into our beds and soon fell asleep.

“Take only memories leave only footprints”

 

Travel Tips

By Air

Jet AirwaysAir India, and JetLite are the airlines that operate between Mumbai and Aurangabad. Every week, there are 35 flights from Mumbai to Aurangabad. Of this number, Jet Airways has 21, Air India has 7, and JetLite has 7. To avail of the best offers, you should book your tickets 30-45 days in advance.

By train

There are many trains to Aurangabad from Mumbai the common ones DevgiriExpress,TapovanExpress,Dadar-JalnaShatabdiExpress,Nandigram Express

By Bus

There are many Transport companies operating AC Sleeper Buses on this route.we booked Shreyas Skyline & Neeta Travels.We found  them good.

Hotels

There are budget Hotels as well 3 star ,4 star and 5 star hotels.For 5 star comfort you can choose Vivanta by Tajor Hotel Rama International.Lemon tree Hotel is a 4 star property.There are many 3 star hotels.we stayed in Hotel Treboo Sonia where our stay was comfortable, the staff was helpful  and courteous.

All places of tourist interests are open from 6 am – 6pm.Ajanta Caves are closed on Monday and Ellora Caves are closed on Tuesday. The Tourist season is September-April.But I would recommend November .The climate is just right for walking since one has to walk quite a bit for seeing both Ajanta ad Ellora Caves.

For sight seeing

We found Aurangabad Taxi  Stand.The driver was good and there are no hidden charges it is inclusive of parking charges.

 

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