Aurangabad is a bustling industrial hub and metropolis in Maharashtra state in South India. The city can best be described as a gateway to a pair of India’s greatest historical treasures. Aurangabad is the perfect springboard for visitors to discover two of India’s most fabulous ancient World Heritage Sites, the Ajanta and the Ellora Caves.
Aurangabad’s original claim to fame is that the city was the capital of the Mughal Empire in India for over half a century between 1653 to 1707. The city was built on the orders of the sixth Great Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, who used it as a base for his conquest of South India and the Deccan territories.
During the days of its zenith, Aurangabad’s Mughal administrators built a number of attractions in the city which continue to interest international travelers to this day. The most prominent of these is the Bibi Ka Maqbara. A garden tomb with a striking resemblance to the Taj Mahal in Agra, the Bibi Ka Maqbara has been dubbed the “Poor Man’s Taj” and the “Deccani Taj” over the ages. The tomb was commissioned by Prince Azam Khan, the son of Aurangzeb, in memory of his mother and was intended to rival the beauty of the Taj Mahal. However due to the lack of finances available for the project, the Bibi Ka Maqbara ended up as an extremely scaled down, albeit, beautiful construct made out of a combination of marble and lime mortar. The monument while suffering from comparisons with the Taj Mahal nevertheless is an interesting garden tomb in its own right with a classical Mughal Charbagh setting.
While the caves at Ajanta and Ellora are clearly the most amazing tourist attraction near Aurangabad, there is another minor complex of ancient Buddhist caves within the city limits as well. The cave complex, called the Aurangabad Caves, is a set of Buddhist cave temples built in the 6th and 7th century. While not as grand as the Ajanta and Ellora Caves, the Aurangabad Caves are worth a visit and have a collection of interesting sculptures some of which have been carved on extremely suggestive themes.
Many visitors on a tour to Aurangabad choose to visit the city’s attractions as part of a single day trip. A regular feature of this city tour is the Pan-Chakki which is a Mughal era hydro-mill. The Pan-Chakkihas an ingenious system of underground water pipes that carries water from a distance of 6 kilometers to feed the mill. Also in the immediate periphery of the Pan-Chakki is the Dargah (shrine) of Aurangzeb’s spiritual advisor and Sufi saint Baba Shah Muzzafar. The Dargah is the sight of some interesting religious rituals and has a steady stream of devotees coming to pay their respects.
Many visitors to Aurangabad also make it a point to visit the city’s Shivaji Museum which focusses on the legendary rivalry between the Marathas and the Mughals. The Museum has interesting exhibits of armour, weaponry as well as a manuscript of the Quran hand-written by Emperor Aurangzeb himself.
Undoubtedly the high-point of any tour to Aurangabad is a trip to the Ajanta and Ellora Caves. Both locations are within an hour’s drive from Aurangabad and can be toured as day trips from the city.
Designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Ajanta and Ellora Caves are ancient complexes of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain Temples. The Ajanta Caves are significantly older and have a number of Buddhist temples. These temples boast some amazing fresco paintings. Ajanta has been dubbed the “Louvre of Ancient India” by many leading travel experts around the world.
Similarly the Ellora Caves are a combination of Hindu and Jain temples. The Ellora Caves are famous for the amazing rock carvings in its temples. The Ellora Caves comprise of 34 cave temples which were carved into the cliff face by an army of 7,000 craftsmen over a period of 150 years.
Best Time to Visit Aurangabad:
A popular time to tour Aurangabad is the traditional high tourist season between October and March. The weather is at its best and many of the popular festivals in the city occur during this timeframe.
Festivals in Aurangabad that have been the center of visitor interest include the traditional Hindu festivals of Ganesh Chaturthi as well as the Dussehra that are celebrated with considerable zeal in the city during October or November (dates are determined by calculations according to the traditional Hindu calendar).
Another local festival that is proving increasingly popular with foreign visitors is the Ajanta Ellora Aurangabad Festival that is organized every November. The festival features performances of dance, poetry and music as well as artistic traditions and handcrafts of Maharashtra.
How to get to Aurangabad:
Aurangabad is located in Maharashtra state towards the south of India. Aurangabad has a small domestic airport that offers good connecting flights to Mumbai which is the closest metropolitan city to Aurangabad.
For the foreign visitor, the most convenient way to take a tour of Aurangabad would be to fly to Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport which is a major aviation hub of India and offers convenient global connections.
While Aurangabad has not been aggressively promoted as a primary tourism destination in India, the city nonetheless attracts hordes of foreign visitors every year due to the presence of such globally acclaimed attractions such as Ajanta and Ellora in its immediate periphery. Aurangabad with its cultural monuments as well as Ajanta and Ellora is sure to interest fans of archaeology, world history, art, sculpture, culture, spirituality and mythology.
For fans of retail therapy, the must have souvenir from Aurangabad is clothing made out of Himroo fabric. Himroo is made of cotton, silk and silver thread. Local tailors can make any article of clothing to visitor specifications ranging from traditional saris to shirts and scarves at very short notice. For high spenders, there is always an option to graduate to the considerably pricier Kam Khaab textile form which is similar to Himroo however makes use of ornate brocades of silk and gold thread.
Aurangabad is also a great point for the visitor to indulge in some traditional Marathi cuisine. The city is home to a vibrant set of communities and this diversity is well represented in the number of culinary options that are available to the visitors on a tour of Aurangabad.
While Aurangabad is a laid back multi-cultural metropolis, many of the city’s attractions such as the Bibi Ka Maqbara and Dargah Baba Shah Muzzafar are local shrines and require visitors to cover arms, legs and shoulders while visiting the premises.
Also trips to the magnificent caves temples at Ajanta and Ellora are full day tours with considerable walking on uneven terrain between the many attractions on site. Therefore visitors should wear comfortable shoes and take adequate precautions against bright sunlight.