Fascinated by ancient and medieval architecture? Aurangabad, also known as ‘the city of gates’ will serve as a treat to your eyes. Recently declared the ‘Tourism Capital of Maharashtra’, Aurangabad is an important hub in the state’s tourism sector with its close connection to significant tourist destinations such as caves of Ajanta and Ellora and the famous Mughal monument Bibi-ka-Maqbara, which have been declared ‘World Heritage Sites’ by UNESCO. Aurangabad, the heritage hub of Maharashtra, is better known as the ‘City of Gates’ with up to 52 towering Darwazas (Gates), majority of which were constructed by Aurangzeb during his over-stay in the Deccan. There are four main Darwazas leading into the city, which along with nine secondary darwazas also serve as the defence systems of the city. Although Marathi and Urdu are the principal languages of the city, they are spoken in Dakhni – Hyderabadi Urdu dialect. For that matter, Wali Dakhni, the first established poet to have composed a classical poem in Urdu was from Aurangabad. Other prominent poets from Aurangabad include Siraj Aurangabadi, Azad Bilgrami and Sikandar Ali Wajd. With a variety of cuisine and travel spots to choose from, Aurangabad is a city that welcomes people from around the globe to explore and discover the glorious past related to the city.
HISTORY AND CULTURE : AN ACCOUNT OF THE PAST
The history of Aurangabad, a city in Maharashtra dates back to 1610, when it was founded by Malik Ambar- the Prime Minister of Murtaza Nizam Shah of Ahmadnagar, on the site of a village called Kharki. Although Aurangabad laid low through most of the tumultuous history of medieval India, it only hit the spotlight when the last Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, made the city his capital from 1653 to 1707. In 1653 when Prince Aurangzeb was appointed the Viceroy of the Deccan for the second time, he made Fatehnagar his capital and entitled it Aurangabad. Later the emperor’s death caused the city to rapidly decline, but the brief period of glory saw the construction of some fascinating monuments, including a Taj Mahal replica (Bibi-qa-Maqbara), that still continues to draw a steady trickle of visitors. In conjunction with other historic relics such as the group of ancient Buddhist caves and Mughal relics, Aurangabad is indeed a good choice for a weekend excursion. But the real reason for traipsing here is because the town serves as an excellent base for exploring the World Heritage Sites of Ellora and Ajanta. The historical caves of Ajanta are situated at a distance of 6.5 kilometres from Fardapur, a village that is 101 kilometres in the Northern direction of Aurangabad and just 55 kilometres from Jalgaon.
The culture of Aurangabad city is heavily influenced by Hyderabad and this is the reason why it still retains its cultural flavour and charm. Its influence is also reflected in the language and cuisine of the locals. Aurangabadi local cuisine is a blend of Mughlai and Hyderabadi cuisine with an influence of the spices and herbs of the Marathwada region. Naan Qalia is a famed dish that is associated with Aurangabad in India; it is a concoction of mutton with a variety of spices. Tahri, another dish similar to pulao–biryani, is popular in Aurangabad and Marathwada. With so much to explore and delve in, there is plentiful evidence to conceive the fact on why Aurangabad was labelled once as a merchandising hub in the day of the silk route and how it still continues to be the centre of manufacturing in the modern times.
Aurangabad is best known for its old and historical houses and monuments. Globally known as a favourite destination because of its proximity to the Ajanta and Ellora caves, Aurangabad serves as a major tourist hub that offers a wide array of network services to visit some of the most important attractions around it. From the many places that you must visit in the city, the major one’s are:
- Bibi Ka Maqbara
Situated about 3 km from the city, the Aurangabad city is known for theBibi Ka Maqbara which is the burial mausoleum of EmperorAurangzeb’s wife- Dilras Banu Begum also known as Rabia-ud-Daurani. Bibi Ka Maqbara is an imitation of the Taj Mahal at Agra and because of its almost similar design, it is popularly known as the “Taj of the Deccan”. Standing at the centre of a huge enclosure engulfed by garden and lawns , the Bibi-ka-Maqbara is made of sandstone with plastered walls and four minarets at its corners. Open all days from 08:00 am to 08:00 pm, the entry fee for locals is Rs 10 and for foreign nationals it is Rs 250.
- Daulatabad Fort
The Daulatabad Fort located about 15 km on the North-West direction of Aurangabad was one of the most powerful forts during the medieval period. Built in the 12th century by theYadava Dynasty, it is a citadel that was never conquered by any military force. The British called it the “best fort of India”, due to its extraordinary military strength. Built on a 200 metre high conical hill, the fort can be visited with a nominal entry fee of 10 Rs for locals and 100 Rs for foreign nationals. The Daulatabad fort is open all days of the week from 09:00 am to 06:00 pm.
The chronicle of the hammer and chisel comes full circle at the World Heritage–listed Ellora cave temples, which are located 30 km away from Aurangabad. Showcasing the ancient Indian rock-cut architecture, these caves were chipped out laboriously through five centuries by the generations of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks. The Ellora Caves consist of 34 caves built between the 5th and 10th century CE under the patronage of Rashtrakuta Dynasty. Monasteries, chapels and temples- the caves served every purpose. One can visit Ellora cave on any day except Tuesday with a nominal charge of 10 Rs per person, and 250 Rs per foreign national.
- Ajanta caves
TheAjanta Cavesin Aurangabad district of Maharashtra state incorporate about 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which date from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 or 650 CE. The caves include paintings and sculptures of Buddhist religious art, with figures of the Buddha and depictions of the Jataka The site is a protected monument in the care of the Archaeological Survey of India, and since 1983, these Caves have also been included under the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visiting hours of Allura caves are from 08:00 am to 05:00 pm (except Mondays) with entry fee of Rs 10 per person for locals and Rs 250 for foreign nationals.
The garden complex of Panchakki, literally meaning ‘water wheel’, takes its name from the ancient hydromill which, in its day, was considered a marvel of engineering. A 17th century water mill situated at a distance of 1 km from the city, the Panchakki is famous for its underground water channel, and this channel culminates in a mesmerising ‘artificial’ waterfall that powers a mill. Baba Shah Muzaffar, a Sufi saint and spiritual guide to Aurangzeb, was also buried on this site. The beauty of the mosque housed in the inner enclosure is enhanced by a series of ‘dancing’ water fountains and can be experienced all days of the week from 07:00 am to 06:00 pm.
- Salim Ali Lake & Bird Sanctuary
Popularly known as Salim Ali Talab, this bird sanctuary is located in the Northern part of the city near Delhi Gate, opposite Himayat Bagh. During the Mughal period it was known as Khiziri Talab after which it was renamed after the great ornithologistand naturalist Salim Ali. The lake also has a bird Sanctuary and an additional garden that is maintained by the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation. Open all days of the week from 06:00 am to 06:00 pm, the entry fee for locals is Rs 10 and for foreign nationals it is Rs 100.
- Aurangabad Caves
Aurangabad Caves throw light on early Buddhist architecture and, above all, make for a quiet and peaceful outing. Carved out of the hillside in the 6th or 7th century AD, the 10 caves, comprising of two groups that are located 1km apart are all Buddhist. Open all days of the week to visit, the caves are located at about 2 km to the North of Bibi-qa-Maqbara with a entry fee of Rs 10 and Rs 100 for local and foreign nationals.
- Alamgir Dargah
The tomb of the last greatMughal emperor Aurangzeb is located in the village of Khuldabad, 24 km to the North-West in Aurangabad district. Not known by many, Khuldabad is where a number of historic figures lie interred, including Emperor Aurangzeb- the last of the Mughal greats. Alamgir Dargah is a holy shrine of the Muslims situated at Khuldabad. It is here that a robe, which is believed to have been worn by Prophet Mohammed is preserved. Open all days, the devotees come here in large numbers to pay their homage on the 12th day of the Islamic month Rabi-ul-Awwal, when the robe is taken out.
- Kailasa Temple
This astonishing temple, carved from solid rock, was built by King Krishna I in AD 760 to represent Mt Kailasa (Kailash), Shiva’s Himalayan abode. Kailasa, an engineering marvel was executed straight from the head with zero margin of error. Warmly welcoming everyone that visits the city, the temple houses several intricately carved panels depicting scenes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the adventures of Krishna.
Fairs and festivals in Aurangabad are celebrated by clinging on to its heritage. Folk dance and song performances set the mood of enthusiasm and zeal by exhibiting different colors of local culture. Some of the local festivals celebrated in the city are:
- Aurangabad Festival
Held in the month of December, this festival is the best way to get acquainted with the heritage, history and culture of Aurangabad. Displaying an exhibition of paperwork, bidri and himroo, the performances of classical, folk and modern dance and music add zeal to the surrounding.The festival has programmes that emphasize local art, culture, and heritage, through classical dance performances, popular songs, folk dances, Mushaira, Qawalli, and Ghazals. Other highlights of the festival are traditional bullock cart race, marathons, heritage walks and enticing competitions.
- Ajanta and Ellora Festivals
It is the festival of classical dance and music under the backdrop of the Ellora Caves. Organized by Maharashtra government, this festival showcases best talents from all over India. Celebrated in the month of March for four days, this festival showcases renowned artists and their respective talents in singing and dancing. These performances reveal the existence of culture and history in the heart of the local people. The masterpieces of native artisans are further highlighted in this festival. Apart from this, competitions like cookery, painting, mehendi and rangoli are also organized.
- Buddha Jayanti
Buddha Jayanti in the name of Buddha Festival is organised in Aurangabad city as an important and vital festival where religious processions are also taken out. Believing that the Buddha Festival shall spread the message of peace, prosperity, harmony & happiness in the society, the festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm and devotion.
- Paithan Festival
The fair is held usually in the month of March or April, whenever the Nath Sashti day falls. This fair is organized to pay a tribute to the great Maharashtrian Saint Eknath Maharaj and it generally lasts for a span of ten days. Along with fun and games trading of cotton, brass utensils, grain, bangles, fruits, copper utensils, horses, silk, cattle and brocade also takes place during these ten days.
- Ganesh Chaturthi
This is the most important festival in Maharashtra where the images of Ganpati are installed at public places which is followed by a ten-day long celebration. On the last day of celebration, the clay images are taken in a procession and immersed in the river. Celebrated by all, the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi is marked by a lot of fun and gaiety.
Dusshera, a festival celebrated for ten days, is more like a warm fair where people greet each other with offerings of ‘Apta’ leaves that symbolize good luck. Bhavani Temple in Karnapura locality of Aurangabad is visited by thousands of devotees on this day. Followed by Diwali- these festivals help create an ambience of pure bliss and serenity.
- Beware of the monkeys! You might see a lot of monkeys around temples. Keep track of them ensuring that you as well as your belongings are safe.
- You’ll be visiting a lot of caves, forts, temples, etc. that may be hard to identify when you return home. Before entering, take a photo of a sign with the name of the place so that it will help you recognize it later.
- Aurangabad has modest temperature with low humidity – neither too cold nor too hot, so the best time to visit Aurangabad would be between October and March, when the day temperature is around 26-32°C and at night as low as 10 °C which is pleasant and mostly dry- suitable for going out for sightseeing and roaming around the city.
- Plan a trip in advance as Aurangabad has a lot to explore and discover.
- Be familiar with the language spoken so that you avoid any sort of hustle-bustle while roaming in the city. People in Aurangabad converse in Marathi, Urdu, Hindi and English.
- Make a note of good restaurants and eating joints before you step out of your Hotel. Phone/calling code of Aurangabad is +91-240.