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Bibi ka Maqbara
Gateway to History
... Aurangabad has some of India's finest monuments

Sanjay Singh Badnor

Aurangabad, as you know, is the gateway of an unusually rich group of Buddhist, Hindu, Jain and Islamic monuments, that have been built by several dynasties over the ages and have existed side by side. Alongside Agra, Goa, Jaipur, Khajuraho and Udaipur, Aurangabad has been a firm favourite on the international tourist's itinerary for decades.

On my way to this historically relevant city, I barely make it to my early morning flight from the Indira Gandhi airport, New Delhi. The ideal time to visit this city and the Deccan plateau is winter, when it is wreathed in a post-monsoon green cover.

Bibi ka MaqbaraAs the aircraft makes its descent, I am able to spot the city's single most prominent landmark -- the Bibi Ka Maqbara, sometimes referred to as the poor man's Taj Mahal. Though it is an inferior replica of the Taj, it is the only totem of Mughal architecture in the Deccan plateau. The Bibi Ka Maqbara, built in 1679 AD, was a tribute by Aurangzeb's son, Prince Azam Shah, to his mother, Begum Rabia Durrani.

Aurangabad is located almost 410 km northeast of Bombay and is situated on the northern part of the elevated Deccan plateau in the region known as Marathwada, in the state of Maharashtra. The city, which has been inhabited since the stone ages, has a 2000-year- old recorded history of artistic activity.

Bibi ka MaqbaraAurangabad was founded in 1610 AD, on the site of a village named Khirkee by Malik Ambar, an ex-slave and later prime minister at the court of Murtaza Nizam Shah II. When Prince Aurangzeb became viceroy of the Deccan in 1653, he made the city his capital and renamed it Aurangabad. Though present day Aurangabad is a city of little distinction, it is easy to see that imperial Aurangabad must have been a marvellous place to live in.

Aurangabad has now become a major industrial hub, thanks to which a variety of accommodation is available.

I decide to check in at Welcomgroup's Hotel Rama International, one of the best hotels in the city. Barely a few kilometres from the airport, yet close to the city centre, the Rama International was, I found, the ideal place to stay. After a bit of rest, I set off on the first of my sightseeing jaunts -- and there were to be many, given that in the neighbourhood of Aurangabad there are enough monuments, mosques, forts, temple, caves to keep a keen sightseer busy for a few months -- to Daulatabad fort, 13 km from Aurangabad.

School kids queue up to enter Daulatabad Fort Constructed by Bhillama, a Yadava ruler, in the 12th century, this startlingly huge fortress is situated on a pyramid-shaped hill. It suddenly pops out of the horizon, in the midst of the tranquil undulating green Deccan countryside. Its slippery pathways, spiked gates, massive cannons, gigantic walls, deep moats and dungeons are a remarkable sight.

Mohammed bin Tughlaq, that eccentric sultan of Delhi, was so impressed with this fort that he made it his capital -- Daulatabad -- The City of Fortune. He also made the entire population of Delhi walk 1,100 km to the new capital. Predictably when they arrived, their numbers were considerably diminished. Seventeen years later, when prosperity never arrived at The City of Fortune, the sultan made them march all the way back to Delhi.

A proper exploration of the Daulatabad fort -- the various chambers, citadels, the labyrinth of pathways and tunnels -- would take days and would be a lesson on a very cruel period of Indian history... There are rooms where kings were imprisoned for more than a decade and finally liquidated in unmentionable ways... And a peculiar and horrific defence system for intruders -- if there were any intruders, they must have been from a very brave stock... And mosques with stolen Hindu pillars...

The hill, on which the fort stands, was originally known as Devagiri or 'the hill of the gods'. As luck would have it, a long religious procession began to pour out from the fort just as I reached its base. Scores of men and women attired in traditional Maharashtrian dress added a sudden dash of colour to the grey facade.

A religious procession at Daulatabad FortThe climb to the fort's summit is exhilarating, provided the weather is cool, for one can get superb views of the surrounding countryside. You can also see the Chand Minar (an imposing victory tower built in 1435 AD), the massive six-meter long cannon and the blue tiled Chand Palace.

Close to Daulatabad is the virtually grassed-over Khuldabad, the final resting place of the last great Mughal Emperor, Aurangzeb among others. A simple affair, it pales in comparison to the Taj Mahal or even to that of his own consort's tomb, the Bibi ka Maqbara. The old town of strange-domed crumbling tombs lies on the outskirts of the existing Muslim settlement and is quite forgotten.

Photographs by Sanjay Singh Badnor


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