Aurangabad, commonly used as a base for a visit to the World Heritage Sites of Ajanta and Ellora is seeped in medieval history. Named for Aurangzeb, the last of the great Mughal Emperors, Aurangabad acquired plenty of monuments and a rich culture as its heritage from the middle ages. The one single factor that determined Aurangabad's role in the history of medieval India is its location.
So strategic is its location at the cross roads of north and south India, that Mohammed-bin-Tughlak and Aurangzeb, two powerful kings attempted to translocate their capital from Delhi to Aurangabad. Their vision was clear, from Aurangabad, they would be better able to control both northern and southern regions of their empires. The fact they failed should not be attributed to the inherent flaws in their scheme as it should on the less evident fact that their empires were crumbling.
Under Aurangzeb, Aurangabad became the seat of the powerful Mughal Empire for a short while. His predecessors prefered Agra, Delhi or Lahore - all in the north, and Aurangzeb's move was not unopposed. But the autocratic Emperor's will prevailed. The Mughal court moved to Aurangabad and remained there till the his death. Built during his years in Aurangabad were such architectural gems as the Bibi-ka-Maqbara, a mausoleum with a marked resemblance to the Taj Mahal and a medieval watermill. Aurangabad became a thriving industrial centre with many fine academic institutions. Its textiles became much sought after and even today, the weavers of Aurangabad produce fine textiles like pathani, himroo and kimkhwab.
But Aurangabad's crowning glory is undoubtedly the famous Buddhist caves at Ajanta & the magnificent rock temples of Ellora. Built between 200 BC and 650 AD, the viharas and chaityas at Ajanta are masterpieces as are the incredibly ornate temples carved out of hard rock at Ellora.
Aurangabad is famous for its woven Himroo shawls, Mashru and Kimkhab weaves. The fabulous Paithani sarees tempt most women, as to the wide range of semi precious stones available in rough, polished and jewellery form. Agate in particular is available in a variety of forms and sizes. Bidri ware, and old coins dating back to the Mughal period are also available.
The climate of Aurangabad is temperate with moderate winters in the months of November-February and hot summers from April through to June. This southwestern monsoon arrives here by end June-September and the city receives a moderate amount of rainfall though the surrounding region varies from arid to semi arid to fertile.
Ajanta Caves: The world heritage Ajanta caves are one of the few historical and architectural marvels of India. It was discovered accidentally during the 19th century by a group of British officers who were on a tiger hunt. These caves are located deep within the Sahyadri hills above the Waghora. They describe the story of Lord Buddha and Buddhism religion that prevailed here during 200 BC to 650 AD.
Ellora Caves: The Ellora cave temples are regarded as the World heritage sites of India. They are situated just 30 kilometers northwest of Aurangabad. It can be easily reached from the nearby major towns. There are almost 34 monasteries and temples that date back from 600 to 1000 AD. The temples of Ellora are dedicated to Brahmanism, Jainism, and Buddhism. The cave temples here have some superior carvings on the stone depicting the legends related to Lord Shiva.
Daulatabad Fort: The exquisite Daulatabad fort is located just 13 kilometers from Aurangabad on the way to Ellora, makes an excellent travel excursion from Aurangabad. The fort was built during the 12th century by king Bhillama of Yadav dynasty. It is situated on a pyramid shaped hill making it a major attraction here. According to the locals here, the Daulatabad fortress was earlier known as 'Devgiri'. Later the name was changed to Daulatabad by Mohammed Bin Tughlaq, Sultan of Delhi.
Bibi ka Makbara, Aurangabad
Dnyaneshwar Garden, Paithan
Ajanta Cave, Aurangabad
Attractions and Places to Visit in Aurangabad
The most famous monument in Aurangabad is the Bibi ka Maqbara , the mausoleum of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb's queen. Inspired the Taj Mahal, it was built as the final resting place of Begum Rabi'a Daurani. Close to the begum's tomb is the unmarked grave of her devoted nurse. A poor replica of the Taj, it was designed and built by Ata Ullah whose name is engraved on its door. But some questions remain unanswered - was it built for the Emperor's first wife or his second?
A couple of km north of the Bibi ka Maqbara is a cluster of nine rock cut Buddhist caves which date back to the 4 th - 8 th century when the Vakatakas and Chalukyas ruled over the region. They are categorized into eastern and western caves but all belong to the Mahayana Vihara type except the 4 th one, which is a chaitya or prayer hall of the Hinayana sect of Buddhism. The 6 th is the most intriguing as it has a Ganesha (a Hindu god). They have their own story to tell and are certainly worth a visit .
The Panchakki is an interesting water-powered flourmill built in the 17 th century, an engineering masterpiece of its day. The water is pumped from a reservoir 6 km away into a tank, that today houses entire shoals of khol fish. It lies in the same complex as a memorial to the Sufi saint Baba Shah Muzaffar, Aurangzeb's spiritual guide.
There are a number of important tourist spots just beyond the city limits of Aurangabad- the Buddhist Caves at Ajanta, the rock temples of Ellora, the caves at Pithalkhora, the fortress of Daulatabad , Paithan , famed for its woven masterpieces, the pilgrim centre of Grishneshwar and Khuldabad , the final resting place of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.
Without a doubt, the rock-cut monuments at Ajanta and Ellora are the prime attraction for people visiting Aurangabad. Both these architectural marvels figure on the World Heritage list. Ajanta lies 99 km northeast, about two hours away by road, while Ellora is much closer, just 30 km to the northwest. Both places have dining and boarding facilities for overnight stops.
How to Reach Aurangabad
By Air Aurangabad airport is 10 km east of the city and is connected by daily flights to Mumbai and Delhi via Udaipur and Jaipur. Taxis and auto rickshaws are available outside the airport or you could have a rented car meet you on arrival.
By Train Aurangabad is not located on the main route but some trains do stop here. However, Manmad, 113km northwest of Aurangabad is the closest junction for major trains from across the country. There are two direct trains to/from Mumbai as well as a daily train to Hyderabad in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. Other direct connections are to Delhi (1395 km) and one, every five days to Amritsar via Delhi. Local trains, taxis and buses connect the two places.
By Road You can easily drive in as Aurangabad is well connected by road to the towns and cities around it. State Roadways buses and private bus companies connect Aurangabad from Pune (5 hours), Nashik (5 hours) Indore. Overnight luxury buses connect Aurangabad from Mumbai (12 hours) via Pune or Manmad.
Ellora is connected by regular bus service to Aurangabad, the trip takes around 45 minutes. There are four morning buses to Ajanta (3 hours) and an hourly bus service to the town of Jalgaon via Ajanta. The main taxi stand is near the bus stand from where one can hire taxis to Ellora and the fortress of Daulatabad.