So you’ve got to get to work on Monday and you think you can’t travel? Think again! It can’t always be about exotic locales and beautiful beaches now can it? Here is what you could do if you’ve got just two days and two wheels.
225 kilometres from Pune and about 425 from Mumbai along State Highway 60 lies Aurangabad. It is a city which is fast transforming into a metro but still manages to cling on to some of its true old world charm. It serves as a base for tourists travelling to see the Ajanta and Ellora caves which are a major ‘to do’ on everybody’s travel lists and are close to the city.
This article however, is not about the clichéd caves. Yes Ajanta is beautiful and Ellora is nice too but frankly, you need a lot of time on your hands if you want to cover just the two cave clusters. If you do have time on your side, make sure you cover them as well.
Apart from the famous caves, Aurangabad is host to a few other interesting avenues for travellers as well. To start with the ‘Bibi Ka Maqbara’ is a Mughal example of a son’s love for his mother and is often referred to as the ‘Taj of Deccan’ as it strongly resembles the Taj Mahal at Agra. Yet, there is much that sets it apart.
The Bibi Ka Maqbara.
The good part is that entry is open to the monument all day, from sunrise till 10 pm. No food or eats are allowed into the premises but there are ample options for street grub right outside the entrance, as with most tourist attractions. May I suggest some Nimbu Pani (Lime water) and soda before you start the tour.
It is smaller in size compared to the real Taj. Plus, it’s not just marble that has gone into building the Maqbara. Unlike the Taj Mahal, Plaster of Paris (PoP) is a major building material used in the construction of the Maqbara apart from marble.
As one walks onto the stone tiles which make up the pathways just while entering the front arch of the entrance gate, a sense of déjà vu takes over for a split second. For those who have seen the Taj Mahal that is. If you have a camera in your hand, you will probably end up being a part of the crowd trying to capture the classic middle of the arch shot.
Cliche’ or not, click it!
Stepping into the cool shade of the arch, one gets a full view of the Maqbara standing tall with all its opulence. One hundred rupees is what it will cost for a 7 minute snippet about the Bibi Ka Maqbara from a registered guide. The narration will tell you all that a tourist needs to know about the Maqbara and the stories behind it. You are also welcome to ask your guide all the questions you want to.
For those who have 5 minutes, watch this video:
Walking around in the lawns at the Bibi Ka Maqbara, one feels peace. The quiet is broken only by the distant chatter of tourists flocking to check out the Dargaah and intermittent whistles by the security guards. Not to forget the chirping birds.
Apart from ogling at the imposing white Maqbara standing bang in the middle of the premises, there is not much to do here. Sitting in the shade or watching the sunset while the time flies is something a lot of people come here to do. During the sunset, the game of lights played out on the white marble dome and minarets is worth watching. As the sun makes a dash for the horizon, colours of the sky have a magical effect on the white monument. It has to be seen to be believed. Much like the Real Taj.
After the Bibi Ka Maqbara and its lightness, spend the second day doing some hard core cardio. Climb the Daulatabad Fort, right to the top. Although it is a relatively small fort according to some, it has a very colourful lineage.
Originally known as Deogiri Fort, the famous Mughal ruler Mohammed-Bin-Tughlak renamed it Daulatabad when he shifted his capital from Delhi to Deogiri. Yes! There was a short period of time when Deogiri was the Capital of India. After which it became the capital of the Deccan region of India, thanks to Aurangzeb.
Also open from sunrise till evening, The Daulatabad Fort is one which is not overwhelming to the naked eye. One has to scratch the surface and blow away the dust to find some semblance of the history here. And only then, does the real beauty of this outpost in the hills get to you.
In over seven hundred year of existence, this fort has seen the rise and fall of over 8 kingdoms. I won’t spoil the entire mystery now, do some research for yourself!
More than seven hundred steps make up the mini trek up to the top of the Fort. Right from the start, as I entered the fort walls, what hit me was, the textures here. From the mammoth gate and its brass work to the wide flooring and numerous pillars at the Bharat Mata Mandir. My god was this place beautiful, that to under the mid-day sun.
Depth of field Nirvana! Daulatabad Fort.
The pillars at Bharat Mata Mandir. Daulatabad Fort.
This is a place where, as you go along reading about the various lines of defence and security measures in place, you find yourself marvelling at the meticulous planning and techniques adopted for building this fort. Even the hill on which the fort stands has been chiselled to make scaling the 200 meter height impossible.
An impressive cannon park greets you as you walk a little further in from the main entrance. Also, all over the fort are present many bastions, equipped with heavy cannons. The condition of the fort here is not very good but it’s not all that bad either. It was built to last. Many considered it to be invincible.
Great travellers like Ibn-e-batuta, Therenott and even Tavernier have graced this post.
An orange-ish tower is what will probably be the first to catch your attention as you approach the fort. Known as the Chand Minar, it is mighty tall and resembles the Qutab Minar at Delhi in many ways. Entry in to this monument is closed.
Chand Minar at Daulatabad Fort.
The cannons here are in splendid nick. (‘Tope‘ meaning cannon) The Mendha Tope and the Durga Tope are a sight to behold. Engravings on the Mendha Cannon christen it as the Qila-Shikan-Tope or the Fort Breaking Cannon.
The Fort breaking cannon.
As you puff your way upwards you will suddenly come across a dark dingy entrance. Known as the Andheri or the dark passage, its primary role as a line of defence was to baffle the incoming enemy and disorient him. As one ventures in, the smell of bat droppings is overwhelming. Make sure you carry a strong flash light. Zigzagging your way through you will come in to some light where one feels the dark walk is over but it is not. You enter the darkness a second time if you want to reach the top. You will have to brave bats at close range and don’t forget to cover your head!
Ready for the darkness!
Out and in light, moving further up, one comes across a few temples and meditating caves/shrines. These places have interesting stories behind them. We stopped and spoke to the only caretaker here. Listen to Rukmani bai tell you what she knows about the history of this fort.
Watch the video: (Duration: 10 Mins)
From the top, the view is panoramic, to say the least. Here, looking on, one can truly understand the placement of the cannon bastions and appreciate how effective they must have been in their day. This is not the biggest fort neither the most beautiful one but there is a lot more to a place than beauty and size. The Daulatabad fort has a soul to it. Look at it as a trek or a mere tourist destination, it is sure to involve you.
Especially for photography, the Bibi ka Maqbara and the Daulatabad Fort offer the opportunity for a photographer to go out of her/his comfort zone and push the boundaries of basics.
Speaking of which I should mention that the Bibi Ka Maqbara is managed by the Maharashtra state tourism department here and they have a couple of really funny (bordering on stupid) regulations once you’re in here. For instance, you can walk through the metal detector and into the premises with your camera and tripod but you cannot use the tripod or ‘stand’ as they call it. Also, as I mentioned earlier, no eats are allowed on to the lawns but when there, it’s easy to notice empty packets and wrappers strewn around on the grass (purpose defeated).
How can I not tell you where in Aurangabad do you get the real grub? I don’t know how.
So here goes. The food scene in Aurangabad comes alive after dark. In the day it’s your usual didley piddley restos along the road and all that. But if you’re serious about your food, head to the Taj Residency here. Order the Tom Yum Soup and sit pretty, this soup tastes awesome if you’re the kind who likes his twang.
Come dusk and the shutters roll up all over Aurangabad but nowhere more than at Boti Lane (Pronounced Booty). It is Aurangabad’s very own khau galli. Vegetarians beware! ‘Boti’ is the Urdu word for a tender piece of meat and that is all what you will find here.
Booty (Boti) Lane. Aurangabad.
Take a stroll along this alley and all you see are bright lights hovering over big dishes of pre-cooked Chicken 65 pieces and long skewers of Tandoori Chicken legs. Not to overlook, the beef here is some of the best I have ever had the good fortune of tasting. There is something about street food which gets all of us salivating, don’t you think?
‘Haath gaadis’ or ‘Thelaas’ or push carts as they are called make up one side of the street. The aromas in a place such as this can make you want to breathe double time and I mean that in a good way. We picked ourselves a cart and asked for seekh kebabs to be brought to us.
Served with two stems of mint leaves and a couple of lemon quarters, set beside a mini bowl of mint and curd chutney, they looked divine under the darkness mixed milky light of the street. Melt in your mouth texture of the meat coupled with the slightly watery, silk like feel of the chutney tripled with the lime mixed raw onion makes for a great early evening snack. Round 2 please!
For bike rides, food is essential. Not in a survival kind of way but in the way that one loves it. Be it healthy/unhealthy, simple/complex – whatever it is that floats your boat. Eat!
Guess what?! It’s Sunday night! Time to ride home and greet the grind. Chop chop!