If it is the old Aurangabad, a sleeping giant amidst the stir and buzz of the modern world that you seek to find, brace yourself for the unexpected - a highly progressive and industrialized city with very sophisticated industries - pharmaceuticals, steel recycling, booming breweries, and automobile and automobile parts industry, an IT hub, malls, high rises, multiplexes and pizzerias.
But yet, an old world still lures you…
A city whose history reflected in its monuments and ancient ruins seem like the conglomerate possession of a tolerant God, a city named after a Mughal ruler known for his staunch faith and fanatical dominance apparent in the 52 gates he placed as sentinels around its periphery; home of the world heritage sites Ajanta and Ellora where Tantric Buddhist iconography and design flourished alongside Jain and Hindu faith; a window to the world overlooking the ancient trade route to the Deccan and beyond; woven fabrics and metal inlay work rich in gold, silver and bronze; gigantic forts, muqbaras and a water mill futuristic for its time…
The old melting pot of cultures is also a potpourri of the old and new...the once sleeping giant is only clothed anew.
Located north of Maharashtra state in western India, Aurangabad is situated 403 km from Mumbai. Surrounded by hills and situated on the banks of the river Kham it is known for its ancient historical monuments and natural beauty.
The ideal season to visit is between October to March, but the monsoon months from July to September are also highly recommended.
How to Get There
The main airport is situated 10 km east of Aurangabad city. Daily domestic flights to Mumbai and evening flights to Delhi via Udaipur and Jaipur are chartered by leading airlines
Aurangabad is accessible via Hyderabad, Secunderabad, Mumbai and New Delhi. Regular trains are available on the South Central Railway line.
Aurangabad is well connected to the major cities of the rest of the state and the roads are very good.
To Pune - 214 km
To Nasik - 218 km
To Indore - 402 km
To Mumbai - 403 km
The history of the region begins with the collective rule of several tribes in the ancient period before the Mauryans. They were all brought under one unified rule by the Satvahanas in 230 B.C undeterred up until 230 A.D. The successive rule of the Satvahanas and Rashtrakutas established a glorious period of Buddhist religion and art. Their participation in the Greco-roman markets was ground breaking. They made known the distinctiveness of the spices of the region and the silk weave of the Paithani saris- hence opening up the trade routes. The trade routes in a sense were the birth and beginning of the excavated cave temples, the seats of learning and spiritual repose, created by monks and priests who were wayfarers on this route - two of which are the famed heritage sites Ajanta and Ellora. Paithan or Prathisthana was linked with ports and harbors such as Amravati, Pataliputra etc. The second period of prosperity was marked by the rule of the Yadava Dynasty. They made Devagiri their capital and erected an enormous fort in the region. Their rule crumbled definitively with the invasion of Allaudin Khilji who established Islamic rule in the area. In 1610 a local nobleman Malik Ambar founded Aurangabad on the site of a village named Khirki meaning ‘window’, “implying window to the Deccan”. His son Fateh Khan who succeeded him named the city Fatehpur in 1626. It is in 1653 in the rule of the last great Mughal ruler Aurangzeb that the city was named Aurangabad meaning ‘built by the throne’. The other renowned Muslim rulers were the great Mughal king Mohammed Tughlaq who shifted his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad and the Nizam of Hyderabad who ruled till 1948 until the region was unified by the state of Maharashtra.
3km from the city is the mausoleum of Rabia-ud-Durrani, Aurangzeb’s wife. Given its similarity in appearance to ‘the marble vision’ Taj Mahal it is also called the ‘Mini Taj’ or ‘Baby Taj’. Bibi-ka-Makbara literally means ‘mausoleum or grave of the mother’, and was built in 1660 by Azam Shah, Aurangzeb’s son whose desire was that the maqbara eternalizing the memory of his mother would be as monumental as the Taj. Aurangzeb was not in favour of such a lavish display and was convinced by his son only after much debate. Unlike the pristine white Rajasthani marble edifice of the Taj, only the onion dome of the Bibi-ka-Makbara is marble and the rest plaster. In comparison to the ageless sheen of marble the plaster does render the Maqbara lack luster and is perhaps why it is also referred to as the ‘poor man’s Taj’. The experience of visiting the Maqbara is very different from that of the Taj - the absences of jostling, queuing crowds allow you to enjoy the Mughal gardens, its axial ponds, fountains and pavilions. The archeological museum situated behind the mausoleum is worth a visit. Gazing at the stark Deccan landscape surrounding the Maqbara one cannot help but meditate on the distinctiveness of the Muqbara.
30km northwest lies one of the two World Heritage sites situated in the Aurangabad vicinity- the cave temples of Ellora. Ellora was once a much frequented hill town called Verul where traders, wayfaring pilgrims and priests rested enroute to the western ports. The caves cleaved out of rock here in the Charanadari hill were initially chaityas and viharas of the Buddhist faith and soon pilgrims and priests other faiths, Jain and Hindu carved rock temples and monasteries to commemorate their faiths. These were times of religious tolerance and wellbeing around the 7th century when the Chalukyas ruled the Deccan region. The metaphor of design in rock at Ellora, both sculptures and paintings are earthy conveying mysticism and magic characteristic of the Vajrayana school of Buddhist thought. There are 34 caves in Ellora - 12 Mahayana Buddhist caves, 17 Hindu caves of a later time and lastly 5 caves of the Jain faith.
Sit a spell and ponder the simplicity and devotion that cut these caves into rock – bare handsand basic tools painstakingly fashion a construct three storeys high from solid rock, leveling floors and smoothening surfaces.
Situated a negligible distance away from the Ellora caves is the Kailash or Ghrishneshwar temple. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, a very popular deity, the temple attracts a stream of daily worshippers. The temples importance is added to by the fact this is one of the Jyotirlinga sites or sites where Shiva appeared as a column of light. Lord Shiva is fervently worshipped at these auspicious sights.
The second of the two World Heritage Sites in Maharashtra, Ajanta is situated northeast of Aurangabad. The ancient caves date back to the 2nd century B.C and like the caves at Ellora mark a spot on the Deccan trade route. They are cut into the rock face at the curve of the gorge in the Inhyadri hills (amidst the Sahyadri hills). The location was probably chosen for its view of the waterfall at the gorge head that inspired serenity and undisturbed meditation for the monks and priests who created the space.
Imagine the famous Ajanta caves were once hidden, and their art unknown to the world. In 1819 a group of British officers on a tiger hunt trailing their prey found themselves gazing at the beast against a backdrop of magnificently carved rock face and made one of the most valuable archeological discoveries of our time. Yet initially the discovery of the Ajanta caves proved disastrous with explorers and scholars beheading the sculptures and carrying them off to place them in museums until prohibitions and wire gates were put in place to preserve the caves.
The caves display characteristics of both the Mahayana and later Hinayana schools of art - one that expressed devotion symbolically and the other that idolized and worshipped forms. The sculpture and paintings are detailed and sophisticated, elaborate and decorative. The various births of the Buddha are depicted in fascinating detail creating an artistic illumination of the life of Buddha.
City of Gates
Aurangabad is also called the City of Gates. Aurangzeb built 52 gates and laid them out like watchdogs at significant points along the boundary to contain the city and keep out the devouring Maratha warriors. The most famous of these gates today are probably the Paithan Gate and the Roshan gate.
Panchakki or ‘water wheel’ is a 17th century water mill - an amazing feat of engineering conceived and built by Malik Ambar. The wheel is driven by water brought through earthen pipes from a river in the mountains almost 7 km away. The function of the wheel was to generate energy that was used to grind grains at the nearby mill for the pilgrims, disciples of saints and the army. The movement of the wheel creates an artificial waterfall pleasing to the eye. A saint much revered by Aurangzeb was laid to rest here and the surrounding gardens, dancing fountains and fish tanks served to beautify his memorial.
The Aurangabad caves are situated in two separate locations in the hills 5 km from city. Built in the 6th and 7th century the caves display Tantric influences in their design and iconography. Photo opportunities abound as the view of the city from this vantage is beautiful, particularly of the Bibi ka Maqbara.
A walled town, it houses the graves of more than 1000 saints. Thus termed a Karbala town it is of great importance to the Deccan Muslims. It is in Khuladabad that Aurangzeb was buried. His tomb is simple, a symbol of his staunch faith and among other things piety. The inscription in Persian on his tomb reads ‘no marble sheets should shield me from the sky as I lie there one with the earth’.
Devgiri or ‘abode of the gods’ a former Hindu stronghold was renamed Daulatabad by the Mughal ruler Mohammed Tughlaq, considered an eccentric by some and a visionary by others. Daulatabad which literally means ‘city of fortune’ is situated 13 km from Aurangabad. The 12th century fortress atop a hill originally built by the Yadava dynasty was Tughlaq’s impenetrable fortress when he shifted his capital from Delhi to occupy and rule from the fort. The fort is magnificent and boasts secret escape routes and defenses.
50 km from Aurangabad is former Prathisthana called Paithan today. Paithan is known for Jayakwadi Dam, a visual treat to the tourist and avid bird watchers alike; Sant Dnyaneshwar Udyan, a garden imitative of the Brindavan Gardens of Mysore; a museum with a fascinating collection of art; and the tomb of the great Maharashtrian saint Eknaath. Last but not the least it is also the home town of Paithani saris, woven on wooden looms usually by women in vivid blues and magentas, interspersed with gold thread. The Pathani weaving tradition is more than 2000 years old. Interestingly the proximity of the Ajanta caves is apparent in the influence of Buddhist motifs for example the inclusion of the lotus motif etc. These much coveted saris are known for there authentic gold zari work.
Mention of Paithani saris bring to mind the other amazing fabrics in Aurangabad Mashru and Himroo, made of cotton yet lustrous with a satin sheen. Legend has it that Mohammed Tuglaq introduced Himroo weaving in Aurangabad during his historic shift of capital.
Pariyon ka Talab
'Fairies' Lake' or Pariyon ka Talab is unusual for its stage like platform resembling the ancient Roman Amphitheatres.
Bani Begum Gardens
Another ornate Mughal tomb, the garden elaborate with characteristic fluted pillars and fountains of varying design houses the tomb of one of Aurangzeb’s queens and is named after the wife of one of his sons.
Situated 25 km from the city proper, Mhaismal is a picturesque hill station enroute to the Ellora caves where the ancient Girijamata temple houses an idol identical to the image of the Lord Balaji at the temple in Tirupathi.
At a considerable distance of 155 km is one of the 5 largest natural craters in the world. It is said that it was formed by the impact of a meteorite almost 50,000 years ago. At its base is a breath taking lake fed by perennial streams flowing into the crater for over a thousand years. Around the lake are 12th-13th century temples endowed with beautiful rock carvings.
A sanctuary situated 65 km from Aurangabad in the Sahyadri hills, it is impressive in its diversity of flora and fauna. It is known for its sloth bear habitat and is an excellent spot for bird watching.
Situated near Daulatabad, Kaghzipura was where the first handmade paper in India was made introduced by the Mongol invaders. It is said that the Holy Quran was first printed on this paper.
Where to Stay