Of Ancient Caves and Mausoleums

Of Ancient Caves and Mausoleums
The Bibi ka Maqbara towers above the sprawl of Aurangabad, Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

From Buddhist caves to grand Mughal monuments, Aurangabad has it all.

OT Staff
June 12 , 2021
10 Min Read

The old wrinkles of a bygone era enhance the youthful flush of the tourist-driven economy in Aurangabad which acts as the gateway to Ajanta-Ellora, like the rambling fort wall of the city or the sun-bleached dargahs that promise to be keepers of more of the prodigious history that sustains this city.

The important tourist sites in the town are: the Bibi ka Maqbara, an elegant structure, locally called the twin of Taj Mahal; Panchakki, which is a water wheel and Daulatabad, a coveted stronghold of its times.

Things to See and Do

Ducks pass with Bibi ka Maqbara in the background

Bibi Ka Maqbara

The iconic Taj Mahal might be seemingly unique, but its legendary status has ensured that people have tried to replicate it over the years. While a Bangladeshi filmmaker made one close to Dhaka in 2008 and a postman in Bulandshahr recently built a mini-Taj to commemorate his wife, one of the earliest attempts was in the 17th century. It is believed that Bibi ka Maqbara (literally ‘tomb of the lady’) was built to outshine the Taj Mahal, but due to budgetary constraints and opposition from emperor Aurangzeb, it ended up being a mere shadow of the original. Despite this, the monument, also known as the Dakkhani Taj (Taj of the Deccan) or the poor person’s Taj, is worth seeing in its own right. 

Set in a Mughal charbagh garden enclosure, the mausoleum is crowned with an onion-shaped dome and has four minars (towers) surrounding it. There is a mosque as well on the plinth, which was a later addition by the Nizam of Hyderabad. As in other Mughal monuments, there is a canal lined with ornamental shrubs running along the approach path. However, unlike the Taj, only some parts are built of marble while the rest is made of a high quality plaster. Thus, the structure has an ersatz marble-like appearance and lacks the whiteness and sheen of its predecessor.

Read: BucketList2021: The Painted Havelis of Mandawa

The mausoleum is set in a Mughal charbagh enclosure

The mausoleum was built for Rabia-ul Daurani, who was also known as Dilras Banu Begum, the third wife of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, by her son Azam Shah. It was constructed between 1551-61 CE with marble brought from mines near Jaipur. 

While Azam Shah wanted to raise a grand structure, Aurangzeb refused to spend lavishly. He blocked the movement of construction materials from Rajasthan until a compromise was reached and only the dome was built of marble. According to contemporary accounts, the construction cost more than Rs6,00,000. Comparisons to the Taj notwithstanding, the tomb is a grand structure and once you see it, you’ll know why it is emblematic of Aurangabad. 

More about Taj Mahal's doppelganger here.

Sunehri Mahal

Inside the campus of the BR Ambedkar Marathwada University is Sunehri Mahal (literally ‘golden palace’). The palace was so called because of the golden paintings which embellished its interiors. Built by Paharsingh, a chieftain from Bundelkhand who accompanied Aurangzeb on his Deccan invasions, in 1652 CE at a cost of Rs50,000, the palace was later sold to the Nizam of Hyderabad. It is a two-storey edifice set in a lush garden against the Satara mountain range. The lawn is surrounded by an enclosure studded with arches and has an imposing gateway at its entrance. The first floor of the palace, accessible by two narrow staircases, has been turned into a museum. There are nine galleries with a variety of exhibits like sculptures, weapons, paintings and utensils. 


Don't miss the Baba Shah Musafir dargah near Panchakki

A marvel of medieval engineering in India, the Panchakki is a water mill that draws water from an underg-round canal 6km to the north of the city. Water travels through earthen pipes to collect in a reservoir where it is raised to a height and discharged, akin to a waterfall, into a large reservoir below. This action is used to run a mill adjacent to the tank. It is said that the mill could earlier grind flour on its own, without any human effort. 

The Panchakki was built in 1744 to commemorate Baba Shah Musafir, a renowned saint who moved here from Bukhara. His tomb is part of the same complex as the water mill and draws a large number of devotees. There is also a library in the compound which has an astound-ing collection of 2,500 books and manuscripts on history, jurisprudence, medicine, religion and philosophy in Persian, Urdu as well as Arabic. The library is supposed to have earlier housed 1,00,000 books but many were moved to Hyderabad for administrative reasons. 

Shivaji Museum

The Shivaji Museum was founded by the Municipal Corporation of Aurangabad to commemorate the first Maratha leader Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. It has a superb collection of coins, weapons, clothes, armours as well as memorabilia related to the emperor. Some of its famous exhibits include Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s hand-written copy of the Koran, a 400-year-old sari and a 500-year-old war suit. It is located near Nehru Bal Udyan.

Entry is ticketed. Timings 10.30am–6pm. Photography is not permitted.  

Read: Did You Know About the Museum of Memories in Ladakh

Salim Ali Sarovar

The lake hosts a lot of migratory birds

The Salim Ali Sarovar is an oasis of tranquility amid urban chaos. Historically known as Khizri Talaab, it was renamed Salim Ali Sarovar in honour of the pioneering ornithologist who  studied the avian biodiversity of the country and promoted conservation. The lake has been redeveloped in the past decade and now it has facilities for boating and a 60-ft-tall tower for birdwatching. While human activity has led to a drop in the number of birds inhabiting the lake, it still hosts a significant avian population, including many migratory birds. 

City Gates

Aurangabad is surrounded by remnants of buttressed walls and bastions. The fortification is still evident in the numerous gates found across the city, giving it the moniker ‘city of gates’. It is said that originally there were 52 gates, of which at least 13 are still extant. 

Some of the more significant gates are Makai Darwaza, Mahmood Darwaza, Islam Darawaza, Bhadkal Darawaza and Delhi Darwaza. The Bhadkal Darwaza was built by Malik Ambar in 1612 CE to commemorate his victory against the Mughals.

Pir Ismail Mausoleum

Pir Ismael was the tutor of Aurangzeb. His tomb is built in a picturesque garden, in which you can also find many cisterns and fountains. The tomb is primarily built in the Mughal style, but has flourishes of Pathan architecture too. It is a square structure with domed pavilions at the corners. The entrance of the tomb complex is through a gate with a grand pointed archway and rooftop pavilions.

Aurangabad Caves

Although not as spectacular as the caverns at Ajanta and Ellora, the Aurangabad Caves on the outskirts of the city are worth a visit, especially for history enthusiasts. Carved along a hillside at a height of 70m, the 12 caves are divided into three groups – cave numbers 1 to 5 comprise the first group. The second group, consisting of cave numbers 6 to 9, is 500m to its east. A kilometre further to the east is the third group comprising of caves 10 to 12. They are largely unfinished and devoid of ornamentation. 

Read: 6 Incredible Holy Caves of Sikkim

Buddha in Parinirvana with four-armed Avalokitesvara, Cave 9

The caves were excavated between the 3rd and 7th century CE and are fine examples of Buddhist architecture. The influence of Tantric Buddhism is visible in the carvings in these caves – especially in Cave number 7 which features images of scantily-clad lovers. The rocks of the hill are not strong enough to with-stand excavation work and many have collapsed or developed cracks. As a result, construction in some caves was abandoned midway. The caves offer views of the Bibi ka Maqbara and Sunehri Mahal. They are located 2km north of Bibi ka Maqbara and can easily be reached by an autorickshaw from the city. 

Goga Baba Hill

A part of the same mountain range as the Aurangabad Caves, the Goga Baba Hill is named after a temple at the summit, which is dedicated to Goga Baba. Not much is known about the hermit or the eponymous temple. The peak can be ascended by a short trek and offers sweeping vistas of the city. There is a temple dedicated to a goddess on a neighbouring hill as well.


Apart from the restaurants at the hotels, which serve great multi-cuisine fare, there are plenty of standalone restaurants in Aurangabad. Green Leaf serves good vegetarian Gujarati as well as Punjabi cuisine in decent surroundings.  For sumptuous, traditional and authentic vegetarian thalis, Bhoj and That Baat are the choices. The best butter chicken can be eaten at Foodwala’s Tandoor Restaurant and Bar. They serve good Chinese too. For great ambience and delectable Italian, Mexican, Indian and Chinese food, head for Madhuban Garden Restaurant on Beed Bypass. Not to be missed is Kream n Krunch for great pan-Asian cuisine. There is also Tara Pan Centre for an amazing variety of pan. It is a must-visit if you are in Aurangabad.

Getting There

Air Chikalthana Airport, Aurangabad. Connected with Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad. 

Rail Aurangabad Station, with direct trains to Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Hyderabad and many other cities

Road From Mumbai, there are two routes to Aurangabad, via Nashik and via Pune. The latter is longer but faster. Bus There are regular ST buses from Pune and Nashik and overnight services from Indore and Mumbai. MSRTC and private operators also offer luxury overnight buses from Mumbai 

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