The caves of Ajanta and Ellora, famous for their exquisite paintings and sculptures are a big draw for tourists all times of the year. These caves are proof of the rich architectural capabilities of our ancestors. Many travellers make the world over make a trip to Aurangabad which makes for an ideal pit stop to visit Ellora (30 km, 40 min, Closed on Tuesdays) and Ajanta (102 km, 2 hours, Closed on Mondays). Accommodation is available at the MTDC run properties near both the caves, but better comfortable choices (including Vivanta by the Taj) are available at Aurangabad. But in a rush to visit these two sites, many travellers skip a the other prominent places that merit a visit. Those sites are not as old as the caves but they complete the historical narrative of how the region came about.
Here’s our top three places to visit when on the Ajanta-Ellora trip
Imagine yourself to be the lead character of a video game. The protagonist with 3 lives and 100 % health, armed with a sword and a shield, standing in front of the mighty gates of Daulatabad fort. Your objective – to raise the flag of your kingdom on the peak. But the route to the top isn’t easy. You have to pass through confusing gates, lock out chambers, a maze of stone, vats of boiling water and oil and boulders falling your way and through Andheri – or the dark passageway which will ensure that you end up in the moat filled with crocodiles. In short, your mission in all likelihood will fail and you will never win this game.
However, if you are a visitor then your guide will take you around the maze and you will capture the summit within a few minutes or hours (depending upon how fast you climb the steps leading to the peak) The climb however, is worthwhile and the peak rewards you with commanding views of the surrounding hills. The entire fort is a fine example of strategic architecture built to ward off attacks of any force. Make sure to hire a guide from the ticket counter who will show you around and narrate the exciting history of the fort.
Bibi ka Maqbara
The Taj Mahal of the Deccan is clearly no match to the real thing but here’s the deal. If you visit it in the late evening hours, when most of the tourists have left it alone, you sense the true charm of this grand mausoleum built belonging to Rabia-ul-Daurani alias Dilras Banu Begum, the wife of the Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb (1658-1707 A.D.). It is believed to be constructed by Prince Azam Shah in memory of his mother between 1651 and 1661 A.D
It remains open to visitors until 10 pm and an evening visit is most recommended, especially if you are in a group. If you have visited either of the caves in the daytime, then not having noisy tourists around is a luxury. Spend time walking about the minarets or sit quietly and imagine the young prince Azam Shah marching up the steps, to pay his respects to his late mother. A more detailed note on its architecture is available on the ASI website.
Worthy of mention is the geniusly designed “Panchakki” or a water mill that once helped grind over 500 kilos of wheat which was used to feed the pilgrims visiting the sufi saint – Baba Musafir Shah.
The Valley of Saints is one of the most revered places of Aurangabad. For it is the resting place of countless Sufi saints belonging to the Chisti order and also of the last Mughal Emperor – Aurangzeb. Alamgir’s simple tomb which he funded himself by stitching skull caps and selling handwritten copies of the Quran is in stark contrast to the personality of Aurangazeb that we are accustomed to. Khuldabad is a quiet spot and is not touristy at all. Ladies aren’t allowed to enter any of the dargahs of the saints but can visit the tombs of the Royal Family (Aurangzeb’s son – Azam Shah and his wife lie very close). The founder of the city – Malik Ambar is buried not far away and one must devote at least a couple of hours to explore this small but peaceful town.
Planning your visit
Basing yourself in Aurangabad is a good idea as it is well connected to all major cities by road, rail and also by air.
Getting to Aurangabad from Mumbai/Nasik
By Road, we recommend the Bombay-Nashik-Aurangabad route via Niphad. It takes about 6-8 hours depending upon traffic and type of vehicle. Road conditions upto Vaijapur after Niphad are good but they deteriorate as we inch towards Aurangabad.
By Rail: The Devgiri Express is the best.
Day 1: Arrive early morning into A’bad and head to Ellora, post lunch head back towards Aurangabad and visit Khuldabad en route and by late afternoon visit Daulatabad to catch a spectacular sunset from the peak. Spend your evening at Biwi Ka Maqbara or save it for the next morning.
Day 2: Depart for Ajanta (2 hours). At the Parking Lot, you can buy some supplies and head down to the shuttle bus stand. Private vehicles are banned for 3 km and these buses are comfortable (₹ 15 – Non AC, ₹ 20- AC, 5-7 minutes). The only eatery at the caves is the MTDC run restaurant that serves good food but service is understandably slow. Spend about 3-5 hours at the caves and then return to Aurangabad. If you reach before 6 PM, you can even visit the Aurangabad caves or spend time by the Salim Ali Lake and Bird Sanctuary before starting for your return journey to Bombay, Pune or Nasik.
Guides: Ministry of Tourism approved tourist guides are available at Ellora, Ajanta and Daulatabad. Most of them are well trained to speak in English, Hindi and Marathi. We recommend them but if you are on a tight budget then you buy two guidebooks (simply titled Ajanta and Ellora ₹ 60) published by the ASI as part of their World Heritage Series at the ticket counters and go on a self guided tour. These two books are detailed and provide a good understanding of the places.
Getting Around: We highly recommend hiring a taxi for the two days of your visit. Expect to pay about ₹. 2500 (AC, Indica) for the two days of travel. State transport buses aren’t reliable and the India tourism department does run a day tour to both Ellora and Ajanta, it isn’t very flexible and hence not recommended. For those on a budget, you might get an Autorickshaw for the entire sight seeing too.
So here it is, our guide to making your weekend trip to Aurangabad a most memorable one! If you need help planning a roadtrip for you, call us up on 09820023362!
Photos by Nitin John, Niraja Bhagat, Sukanya Sutar, Wikipedia
Text by: Rushikesh Kulkarni