Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The in's and out's of Aurangabad

This is my latest attempt at a travelogue and I hope that it would prove to be a useful outline to those who wish to make a trip to Aurangabad.

The Gist :

Places of Interest : Aurangabad, Ajanta caves,Ellora caves and Shirdi

Duration of the trip: Two - Three days

Total Travel distance:
Aurangabad - Ajanta 120 Kms.
Aurangabad - Ellora 20Kms.
Aurangabad - Shirdi 135Kms.

Estimated cost (for a group of 6): Rs.9000-11000.

Season : late August to early Feb.

The Plot :

The first thing that one must decide on before embarking on such trips is the total duration of the trip. It becomes very crucial when it comes to micro-management of time spent at each of the spots. Ideally I would recommend three days for this particular trip, though with good time management and a light-weight photography, one can wrap it up in two days. In case you plan to visit Shirdi too, then I would suggest you make that as the starting point of the trip. As mentioned, the travel from Shirdi to Aurangabad would take around 2 1/2 to 3 hours and its best to spend rest of the day at Ajintha. Ellora being very close to the city, you can take a shot between the city tour and Ellora within a day. The second option that you can choose (though personally I would prefer the former) is to visit Ajintha and a part of the city on day 1 and Ellora, Daulatabad fort and Shirdi on the second day.

The Pinions :

Ajintha :

This place is a heaven for the art lovers, and I can tell you for sure that patrons of old-age paintings wont be disappointed at all. Ajintha caves are located at a distance of 120 Km from Aurangabad, the easiest means to get there is by engaging a cab or through the Maharashtra Govt. Tourism bus facility. Cabs can go only upto the parking lot(4 Km from the actual caves), from where you have take the buses provided by the Tourism dept that takes you right upto the mouth of the caves. Please take your cameras along with you as only videography is prohibited, you could very well use digi-cams without flashes and take as many pictures as you want. Also make sure that you engage a guide (charges were Rs.450) without which it would be more than the 'lost in the fair' situation for most of us.

There are around 10-11 caves that are of prime interest, as the guide would tell you. Each one of them have some Jatak tale painted on the walls. The first cave contains the two famous pcitures "Bodhisattva
Padmapani" and the "Bodhisattva Vajrapani", each resplendent in its own beauty. They are both '3-D' enabled and so are many of the paintings on the roofs. Another piece of art that shouldnt be missed is a painting which has real pearls embedded in it. There are also some caves which were the dormitories of the artists who are also great Buddhist saints. Given sufficient time, patience and love for art, Ajintha takes almost an entire day to be admired.

Do's :
  • Take your camera inside the arena without fail. Photography along the exteriors are allowed.
  • Take food and rations without fail.
  • Take ample quantity of water.
  • Ideal visiting time :9 AM - 5:30 PM
Dont's :
  • Dont buy food from the vendors, there is a serious ignorance of hygiene.
Ellora :

Ellora, a perfect complement of Ajintha is purely a sculptors heaven. Located close to the city of Aurangabad (20 Km), it provides the facility to be visited at any time of the day. Ellora comprises of around 16 completed caves among which the last is the most beautiful. It gives you the impression as if you were in one of the traditional south indian temple. You can find statues of almost every God in our ancient mythology. Any statue that you look at is of the highest quality and of pristine beauty. That's least expected considering the fact that three-four generations of people have worked on a single piece of carving. Such is the intensity with which one has to enjoy these great works. Each of the cave contains either a statue of Buddha or a stupa according to the traditions of Mahayana and Hinayana tradition.

Do's :

  • Ensure that you take your camera along with you.
  • The place is very peaceful, you may even want to enjoy the silence and solitude in there.
  • visit as many caves as possible. You may find each to be differently oriented.
  • Ideal visiting time :8 AM - 5:30 PM
Dont's :
  • Avoid taking a guide there, you may be ushered into hurry.
  • Avoid venturing into certain dark corners of the cave. It could be a health hazard. (Experience speaks ppl :P )
Daulatabad Fort:

"Appearances are deceptive" goes well for the Daulatabad Fort, which lies on the way to Ellora caves and so is often the sacrificial goat for the extra time we spend at Ellora. To begin with the disclaimers, this fort isnt so easy to climb as it looks. So if you are not game for a tough climb, please choose to admire this fort from below :D . For the more adventurous, this fort could provide you a mini-trekking with all the dangers associated with it. There are umpteen locations in the fort where you would fancy taking photographs. The very construction of the fort with its cascaded structuring gives you an idea of the theme of the fort. The minaret, the biggie cassock cannons and the bhool-bhulaiyya enthralls the on-looker with their queer uniqueness. The climb goes around in a circular path around and unfortunately there are no short-cuts, the fort was meant to be in-accessible and in-accessible it remains. It is constructed in such a way that at any point of time the wall is too steep and high to climb and thus forcing everybody to use the path laid out. The top durbar looks ridiculously simple considering the climb and effort it took to reach up. There are no ornamental works, no dance halls, no rooms.. just a simple courtyard where the air gushes in magically from nowhere. After the climb, you feel intoxicated by the cool wind that blows refreshingly into you. Sitting in this place, you can easily drift off into timelessness. You will be too tired to offer any kind of resistance that you naturally begin to enjoy everything and nothing, slipping into a state of nothingness. Perhaps this could be the reason why ppl of olden days worked themselves to tiredness....

Do's :
  • Forget to take water at your own peril. In case you are visiting during summer, you might even manage to casualize yourself from dehydration. So remember to carry ample supply of water.
  • Go during the day time. You cannot go to the fort after sunset.
  • Ideal visiting time :7 AM - 9:30 AM
  • Don't take heavy food before you climb.
  • Don't try to take a single shot at the climb, take periodical rest if you feel tired. You wont enjoy rest of the trip if you break your back.
  • Don't hurry through the dark sections of the climb. The stone tracks are very smooth and slippery due to periodical wear and tear.

Unfortunately, I couldnt spend much time at shirdi as it was the last point of our journey. Nevertheless we managed to take a shot at the temple. It was extremely lucky for us that we could make darshan under an hour because it usually takes more than two hours even during off-seasons. The temple itself is worth visiting and would take around an hour to see. Since there are sufficient bus services from Shirdi, it could well act as the staring point or the terminal point for you trip.

Other places :

Apart from these major locations, Aurangabad houses a replica of Taj Mahal which is a definite place to be visited. Apart from that you have Panchakki, Aurangazeb's tomb and Grishneshwar temple (one of the jyothirlingas). All of these are fairly closely located and can be visited after the dark.

Tips :

* Please ensure that you get some lodging on your own. There are quite a number of lodges that are available at a little distance from Aurangabad bus station. Try inquiring at a few places so that you get a fair idea of the rentals.

* Even for the local sight-seeing its profitable to get a cab/jeep from one of the travels near the bus station. You could actually get one at a reasonable rate if you are adept at the art of haggling.

The entire trip will be full of fun and frolic if you can go as a group of 5-8 . Its wholesome fun to travel around the cross section of Maharashtra where the culture is quite different from that we see in southern states. It will be a glide to travel this part of the country if we make elaborate planning and take a mental note of the approach route. I am sure that this post will provide you an outline for planning a trip on your own.. so get going guys,.. and happy travelling...