Aurangabad: The gateway to India’s ancient treasures
The arrival by air into Aurangabad gives the impression of this being a rather unremarkable destination; a bustling city surrounded by hot and dusty arid land. How looks can be deceptive! Aurangabad is the base from which to explore many of India’s ancient treasures – the famous Ellora and Ajanta Caves and the mighty Daulatabad Fort. Once a major Mughal centre, as the gateway to the Deccan, Aurangabad got its modern name from the last great ruler, Aurangzeb, whose modest tomb is another site well worth visiting, nestled deep within the Muslim quarter of the city.
Having explored the many famous forts of Rajasthan, I thought I had seen it all. However Daulatabad is like something out of a film or a fairy-tale; the epitome of the mediaeval battleground with industrial size cannons, fake doors and booby traps, all towered over by the impressive Chand Minar, or ‘Moon Tower.’ The views over the surrounding hills are splendid and local tourists add splashes of colour to the landscape, while friendly monkeys pose for photos on crumbling courtyard walls.
We visited the Ellora caves as they opened, at sunrise, with not a soul for company apart from a few temple monkeys. First on the list was the show-stopping Kailasa Temple, a marvel of architecture and carving – the entire temple ‘structure’ was actually carved out of the rock by dedicated Hindu artists between the 8th – 9th centuries. Kailasa has to be one of the most impressive temples in India. To have it completely to yourself (a rare feat) we recommend staying at the simple but clean Hotel Kailas which faces the hotel complex – this will mean you arrive hours before the crowds coming from Aurangabad.
The Ellora Cave complex comprises 33 different cave temples, and are Hindu, Jain and Buddhist. We had a wonderful experience in Cave 10, Vishwakarma, where our guide explained how the Buddhist monks carved the rock in certain ways to create atmospheric acoustics – along with an audio example!
Although the Ellora cave complex is undeniably impressive, for my Ajanta was the crown jewel of the sightseeing we did while in Aurangabad, and actually the entire trip. Sculpture, including ancient sculpture, is prevalent nearly everywhere you go in India. However, what Ajanta offers, other than a stunning location and impressive rock carving, is an array of some of the most beautiful historic Indian paintings. Historians believe that India’s harsh climate is to blame for the lack of painting dating from ancient times. This makes the Ajanta cave complex, protected by nature for nearly a thousand years, a rare wonder. Colourful scenes in multiples caves show both religious scenes but also fantastic snapshots of daily life – demonstrating that human nature hasn’t changed an awful lot in over a millennium. We approached the complex form the viewing point which I would recommend to everyone as the location of the caves, carved out of cliffs along the bend in a river, and is as impressive as that which lies within it.
The Vivanta by Taj is a leafy lush base from which to explore this cultural rich area – we loved the green lawns, expansive poolside and airy marble corridors. Aurangabad was a perfect place to end our cultural touring on a real high – this is the place to come for show stopping historical sites, when you think you’ve seen the best that India has to offer.
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