Though not a tourist hotspot like Kerala or Rajasthan, Maharashtra still remains a fascinating place to be explored. That is because of the sheer diversity of the state. Of course being the birthplace of Shivaji , and the home land of the Marathas , it is a delight for the historically minded. From the Peshwa stronghold of Pune to the forts of Raigad, Purandar and Sinhagad , one can feel the Maratha spirit. For those who love the outdoors, you have those wonderful unspoilt beaches on the Konkan coast or the cool climes of Matheran, Mahabaleshwar and Lonavala. If you are the religious minded type, the holy towns of Nasik, Shirdi, Pandharpur beckon you.
One such famous place in Maharashtra is the city of Aurangabad . Aurangabad named after Mughal emperor Aurangzeb was originally called Khirkee . Founded in 1610 by Malik Ambar, Prime Minister of Ahmednagar , it was named as Fatehpura for some time. During Aurangzeb’s rule he used the city as a base for his military campaigns, lived there till his death in 1707. It later became a part of Hyderabad under the Nizam and the area around it was referred to as Marathwada. After Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur it is the most important city in Maharashtra, and is an educational hub, being the location of B.R.Ambedkar Marathwada University .It is also a commercial center in Maharashtra, with companies like Videocon, Siemens, Skoda, Pepsi, Bajaj setting up shop there. Flanked by the Sahayadri hills, the city is often used as a base for the famous World Heritage sites of Ajanta and Ellora .
The most magnificent attraction in Aurangabad is the fort of Daulatabad , around 20 miles from the city. The fort stands on a conical hill about 200 m high, it was originally called Devagiri and founded by the Yadavas in 1187 . It was later captured by Allaudin Khilji and Malik Kafur . In 1327 it became famous as the place where Mohd Bin Tughlaq shifted the entire capital from Delhi . He renamed it as Daulatabad , and marched the entire population of Delhi to Daulatabad , and when he found it was not suitable, again abandoned the city and marched back to Delhi. Many people had to pay a heavy price for this foolish misadventure. Till 1526, this fort was under the Bahmani Sultans of Gulbarga . Later it changed hands between the Mughals and the Nizam Shahi dynasty of Ahmednagar . After Aurangzeb’s death it became part of the Nizam of Hyderabad’s kingdom.
One of the more prominent landmarks in the fort is the Chand Minar a 210ft high tower covered with Persian tiles and erected by Alauddin Bahmani to commemorate the capture of the fort. But what is fascinating about the fort is it’s security system. With multiple layers of defence and a number of booby traps, the fort has one of the most advanced security mechanism. I know describing this could make this review a bit too long, but I feel, this is something I could not leave out.
The Security Mechanism
As the armies approached the fort, it has a zig zag entrance, primarily designed to slow down the approach and confuse them. The main door has huge spikes, primarily to deter, elephants from breaking inside, as was the practice in those days. When the armies break through the door and enter inside, the approach is pretty steep, and covered with cobble stones, to make the horses trip, and from cubby holes, the defending soldiers would often pour boiling water or hot oil on the invaders.
As the armies enter further into the fort, the soldiers are confronted with a narrow drawbridge which can be drawn back. Once it is done, the invading army finds itself virtually helpless, as it covers a deep moat, which is pretty wide. Even if the soldiers do cross the bridge, you have a huge cannon, rotating at 360, firing continuously at the invaders. Now the soldiers cross all the hurdles, and then enter the courtyard of the main building.
This is where the most formidable obstacle is encountered. A tunnel is seen, and as the soldiers enter it, its pitch dark, and in fact it’s a Bhul Bhulaiya( maze). This maze is a network of secret tunnels, false passages, and is pitch dark. I vividly remember when we visited this place, the guide took us in, and after some time the mashaal was put off. Pitch darkness, and totally scary. Now as the soldiers get lost inside the maze, the defenders shut off all escape routes, and fill it up with smoke.
The soldiers die of suffocation or as the soldiers grope for fresh breath, they see a light. Assuming it to be an exit route, they go along it, only to find it’s a ramp leading straight to the moat. No way out literally here. Some soldiers who did find the exit routes, were welcomed with a guillotine placed, there. As soon as the soldier comes out of the tunnel, the guillotine drops and off with the head. I remember when the entire tour party, was silent for some time after visiting this place. Truly one of the greatest structures and one of the most advanced security mechanisms you would ever see. Aurangabad is worth a visit for just this fort alone.
But apart from these , the city itself has other famous attractions too.
Bibi Ka Maqbara – Often nicknamed as a poor man’s Taj Mahal , due to the resemblance to it. In a way this is a monument of love, but that of a son towards his mother. It was built by Prince Azam Shah , the son of Aurangzeb, in 1660 as a tribute to his mother Dilras Bano Begum . It does share a lot with the Taj, with it’s intricate designs, motifs and the Mughal style gardens.But while the Taj is entirely built out of pure marble, this is only partially built with marble. The dome is smaller than the Taj. Yet this building has a beauty of it’s own, though again not well maintained.
Khuldabad – This town is often called the Valley of Saints , due to the fact that in the 14th century, several Sufi saints choose to reside here. On the way to Daulatabad it is the place where Aurangzeb is buried. A very simple, modest structure keeping in mood with Aurangzeb’s austere lifestyle.
Panchakki : One of the more interesting sights. Built in early 17th century by a Sufi saint Baba Shah Musafir . This is one of the most fascinating works of engineering you can see. It was primarily a sort of grinding mill, powered by water, to grind the wheat for the saints residing there. The actual source of the water is around 11 km away from the city which was supplied by wonderfully intricate system of earthen pipes, that supplied the water. The water then rises for 8 km through a series of masonry pillars that provide the suction force. These in turn lead to the final pillar, from where it falls to the main cistern leading to a water fall. This energy is used to turn the huge grinding stone, and as the legend, goes no one went away hungry from this place. This is one of the greatest works of engineering in history.
Aurangabad is accessible from all major cities by road, rail and air. People from South, are advised to travel to Hyderabad, from where it is much closer. The city can be used as a base for visiting Ajanta and Ellora, as well as the above sights. It has a wide variety of a hotels ranging from the luxurious to modest. If you are on a budget you could opt for the MTDC guest house near the railway station. The advantage is the MTDC tours to Ajanta and Ellora operate from here. For shopping, you get the famous Paithani sarees here, and if you need to unwind, you do have some good theaters and multiplexes. So do visit this place during the winter, because the summer is quite hot.