This Maharashtrian town Aurangabad offers visitors a taste of authentic India.
If you want to see the Taj Mahal, the chances of getting an uninterrupted snapshot of the iconic monument are slim. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Expand your horizons a little, and visit Aurangabad, which has history, culture and delicious food in spades – without hundreds of tourists to get in your way. The most striking attraction in town is the Bibi Ka Maqbara, the younger sister of the Taj Mahal. It was constructed by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (the town’s namesake) for his beloved wife.
Emperor Aurangzeb took inspiration from the Taj – his mother’s tomb – and ran with it. The white marble construction is the very image of elegance, and the interior carvings are even more intricate than those of the Taj Mahal – though the Bibi Ka Maqbara is more a diamond in the rough than its more famous sibling.
There’s also the 17th-century Soneri Mahal, or ‘Golden Palace’. It’s now a museum, where you can explore the area’s history, and admire ancient Hindu and Jain statues. It also hosts the annual Ellora Caves Festival (check to see if it’s running post-Coronavirus), where artists, musicians and dancers revive the opulence the Soneri Mahal once possessed.
Built during the 6-7th century, the rock-cut Ajanta Caves overlook Aurangabad. They were built over two centuries, and hark back to the early days of Buddhism in India. That they were preserved points to the growing importance of Buddhism, and economic prosperity in the region. This prosperity climaxes in breathtaking architectural brilliance 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) northwest of Aurangabad, at Ellora.
The Ellora Caves are a UNESCO World Heritage Site consisting of 34 Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples. Ellora is where you’ll find the Kailasa temple, the largest single monolithic rock excavation in the world. The Ellora caves were built over four centuries (600-1000 BC), with carvers working their way down through the soil. For people interested in religion, culture and especially architecture, the caves near Aurangabad are a must. With Lord Vishnu as a man-lion battling a demon, the ten-headed demon king Ravana, and several carvings of Lord Shiva, you’ll find much visual stimulation.
Booking a taxi tour for the day would be the quickest and most convenient option.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
November to February, as the temperature will be cooler.
Fly into the local airport from most of India’s major cities, or take a train into town from Mumbai, Pune and many more.