Aurangabad, one of the fastest-growing cities in Asia, is the tourism capital of the Indian state Maharashtra. Named after Aurangzeb, the last emperor of the Mughal dynasty in India, Aurangabad is especially famous as a stopover between the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Ajanta and Ellora caves. But, the beautiful city in the northern part of Maharashtra has more to it than that. The quaint medieval city of Aurangabad offers a fascinating peek into a glorious past through a rich array of diverse historical sights along with a vibrant present enhanced by untainted cultural heritage. Visiting Aurangabad from Mumbai or Pune can be the perfect day trip, and here are some of the must-have experiences in the city.
Bibi Ka Maqbara is the beautiful mausoleum of Dilras Banu Begum, commissioned by her husband, Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, in 1660. The mausoleum was built in the characteristic Mughal style with the edifice standing tall in the middle of a Persian-style garden layout called the Charbagh. The monument has four soaring minarets, an onion dome, and white-marble latticework. Its obvious resemblance with the Taj Mahal, possibly the finest instance of Mughal architecture, has earned the former the sobriquet, the Dakkhani Taj or the Taj of the Deccan. Incidentally, the Bibi Ka Maqbara was designed by Ustad Ata-Ullah, who was the son of the chief designer of the Taj Mahal. The stunning monument remains open from 8 AM to 6 PM.
Next on your itinerary should be the Aurangabad caves. Located only 2 km north of the Bibi Ka Maqbara, these are 12 Buddhist caves cut out in the basalt rock of the Sihaychal Hills between the 6th and 8th century. These caves were used as viharas (refuge of wandering Buddhist monks) and have intricate carvings on their walls. The Aurangabad caves are often said to be the missing link between the Ajanta and Ellora caves but are unfortunately overlooked more often than not. These caves are of immense archaeological importance and also provide a beautiful panoramic view of the city of Aurangabad. You can take a tour of the caves anytime between 9 AM and 5 PM.
Located only 15 km away from the main city of Aurangabad, the Daulatabad Fort dates back to the 12th century. It was built on a 200-meter conical hill and was designed with several concentric boundaries that made it impregnable. The ancient fort is an architectural marvel that stands tall in the middle of lush green hills and is often dubbed as one of the seven wonders of Maharashtra.
You have to hike around 750 steps to reach the top of the fort where you will find the Chini Mahal, a beautiful castle. And even though only mere patches of the blue-colored glazed and enamelled tiles of the castle remain today, those are enough to give you a glimpse of the exquisite ancient Indian craftsmanship. En route to the top, the view of a verdant Aurangabad will surely mesmerise you. The hike will take almost 2 hours and given that there are no amenities around, don’t forget to carry some food and water with you. The fort remains open for visitors from 8 AM to 7 PM. Pro tip: try not to carry too much stuff in your hands as the monkeys here are known to instantly take a liking to whatever the visitors bring along!
The foodie in you will be happy to know that there is a good deal of Persian influences in the food at Aurangabad due to the city being under the Mughal rule for a prolonged period. In between visiting the historical sites of the city, visit Shahgunj and Roshan Gate for your fix of Aurangabad’s special dishes. You must try the sheermal (traditional flatbread infused with saffron), the naan qalia (naan- a type of flatbread, qalia- mutton slow-cooked in an aromatic, spicy gravy) and the mawa jalebis (flour pretzels stuffed with dried whole milk, deep-fried and soaked in sugar syrup).
Your trip to Aurangabad won’t be complete without some retail therapy. The city is famous for its Paithani and Himroo fabrics. While Paithani is a rich, painstakingly handwoven silk fabric, Himroo is a blend of silk and cotton and is characterised by Persian design elements. These two indigenous fabrics carry a legacy of more than 2000 years! Visit the Himroo Factory near Zaffar Gate , Paithani Weaving Centre, Nirula Bazar and Gul Mandi, to shop for the finest weaves!
You can easily reach Aurangabad from Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur or Nashik, through the national and state highways. Both private and state-run buses are regular on all these routes and so are cab services. There are also two direct trains to Aurangabad from Mumbai and one daily train to Aurangabad from Hyderabad. Aurangabad has its own airport as well. The Chikkalthana Airport welcomes flights from major Indian cities such as Mumbai, New Delhi and Hyderabad. The best way to travel when in the city is by booking a cab or an auto-rickshaw for the day. The weather in Aurangabad remains moderately comfortable from October to March and so that is when most people visit the city. However, if you do not find the monsoons to be particularly bothersome, I will suggest visiting the city during the rains to enjoy the dazzling greenery in all its glory.
Do you know that Aurangabad is known as the ‘City of Gates’ owing to the 52 gates scattered across the city? Unfortunately, only 13 of those gates have stood the test of time. If you can manage to squeeze in some time, you can visit the Bhadkal Gate. The historical city is strewn with hidden gems like this and can take you by surprise at every turn. If you are in the western part of India, particularly Maharashtra, and find yourself able to afford a day, visit Aurangabad to get introduced to a fascinating slice of Indian history.
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