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Maharashtra: Places to Visit - I


Gateway of India

Aurangabad

Aurangabad, named after the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, is the gateway to the World Heritage Sites of Ajanta and Ellora. Lying along the right bank of the Kham River, the city is the district headquarters, which offers visitors all the modern comforts and amenities. There are three museums housing the art treasures of the region namely the Sunheri Mahal Museum, the University Museum and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Museum. A visit to the pleasant confines of the Bani Begum Gardens will be rejuvenating.

Aurangabad is located 388km from Mumbai. Aurangabad has a domestic airport connecting Mumbai, Pune and other cities to it. The city is connected by good paved roads and rail to other parts of the state.

Bibi - ka - Maqbara

Bibi-ka-Maqbara, Aurangabad

Bibi Ka Maqbara is the mausoleum of Dilras Banu begum, the queen of Aurangaseb. Built in 1679 in the centre of a garden, the Maqbara is a poor imitation of the Taj Mahal. While the Taj is lavished with fine quality of marble and exuberant with a variety of arabesque and fine inlay work, the Maqbara has fine stucco work. It is worthwhile to visit the Maqbara and it is most atmospheric at night when floodlit.

Panchakki

Panchakki, meaning water wheel, is a calm and peaceful place that visualizes the life that existed in the medieval period. The complex of Panchakki had been a place of external abode of the great Sufi Saints who flocked to India in 12th century AD. The Muslim Sufi Saint Baba Shah Musafir is buried here. Panchakki takes its name from the water mill built in the early 17th century which was considered an engineering marvel at that time. The mill was driven by water and used to grind grain for pilgrims. The water flows down through earthen pipes from a river at a distance of 10km.

Aurangabad Caves

Carved out of the hillside around 6th and 7th century AD, these Buddhist caves are located about 2km north of Bibi-ka-Maqbara. There are ten caves in all; caves one to five forming the western group, while one km away, caves six to ten form the eastern group. Cave 4 of the western group is the oldest and is a Hinayana chaitya. Other caves in this group are viharas. Cave 3 is square and has 12 ornate columns. The eastern group of caves has sculptures of women with exotic hair styles and ornamentation. To the left of cave 7 there is a huge sculpture of praying Bodhisatwa.

Around Aurangabad

Ajanta

by By Meister des Mahâjanaka Jâtaka [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In 1819, a group of tiger hunting British army officers discovered a series of carved caves those were used as monsoon retreats or varshavasas by Buddhist monks. Altogether there are thirty caves and these caves were continuously occupied from 200 BC to 650 AD. Of the thirty caves, five are chaityas or temples and the rest are viharas or monasteries.

The Ajanta caves were built in two phases, separated from each other by four hundred years. These architectural phases coincide with the two schools of Buddhist thought, the older Hinayana sect where the Buddha was represented only in symbols and the later Mahayana sect where Buddha was represented in human form.

The more prominent Hinayana caves are chaitya caves 9 and 10 and vihara caves 8, 12, 13 and 15. The sculpted figures in these caves are dressed and coiffed in a manner reminiscent of the stupas at Sanchi and Barhut, indicating that they date back to the first or second century BC.

The Mahayana chaityas are in caves 19 and 26 while others are monasteries. A path of modern construction connects the caves, but in ancient times, each cave was accessed from the riverfront by individual staircases.

The sculptures and paintings in the caves detail the Buddha's life as well as the lives of Buddha in his previous births. Court scenes, street scenes, cameos of domestic life and even animal and bird studies are painted on the walls of these caves.

Ellora

Kailash Temple, Ellora

The cave temples of Ellora in the lap the Chamadari hills, lay 30km north-west of Aurangabad. Carved into the sides of a basaltic hill, the site also lay on a trade route that connected Paithan with other parts of northern and eastern India. Like Ajanta, Ellora was never lost; and is referred to in the travel accounts of the Arab and the European travellers who visited India during 9th and 10th century AD.

The Ellora caves, 34 in number, are the finest specimens of cave temple architecture. They house elaborate facades and exquisitely adorned interiors. These structures represent the three faiths of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. The 12 caves to the south are Buddhist; the 17 caves in the middle are dedicated to Hinduism, while the 5 caves to the north are Jain. The Buddhist caves were carved during 6th and 9th century AD and the Hindu caves were hewed during 7th and 10th century AD, while the Jain temples belong to 8th and 12th century AD.

The sculptures in the Buddhist caves accurately convey the nobility, grace and serenity inherent in Buddha. Caves 6 and 10 have images from both Buddhist and Hindu faith. Cave 10 dedicated to Vishwakarma is a Chaitya and a Vihara with a seated Buddha placed in the stupa. Its two-storey structure has a colourful pageant of dwarfs, dancing and making music.

The Kailasa temple in Cave 16, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is an architectural wonder, the entire structure having been carved out of a monolith. This mountain-abode of Lord Shiva is, perhaps, the world's largest monolith. The gateway, pavilion, assembly hall, sanctum and tower, all are carved out of a single rock. Though Gigantic, it remains one of the most delicate and intricate ancient works of art.

The Jain caves are about a mile away from the Kailasa temple. The cave 32, the two-storey Indrasabha temple with a courtyard, houses a beautiful shrine adorned with fine carvings of a lotus flower on the roof, and a yakshi on a lion under a mango tree. Caves 32 and 34 contain grand statues of Parasnath. The other Jain caves house images of Tirthankaras, and one of them, has a seated figure of Mahavira as well.

Daulatabad

Daulatabad Fort By Jonathanawhite at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Rising over 600 ft above the Deccan plain, the fort at Daulatabad, once known as Devgiri, was the capital of Yadavas. In the 13th century, Mohammed bin Tughlak, the Sultan of Delhi, made it his capital and renamed it Daulatabad, or City of Fortune. It is one of the best preserved forts of medieval times, virtually unaltered. Its defence systems comprised fortifications of double and even triple rows of massive walls. The most notable structures at Daulatabad are the Chand Minar, Jami Masjid and royal palaces. The Jami Masjid was a mosque built by the Khilji ruler of Delhi, Qutub-ud-din Mubarak. The palaces consist of spacious halls, pavilions and courtyards. Daulatabad can be accessed by private taxi or by the local bus that runs between Aurangabad and Ellora.

Khuldabad

In the 14th century, several Sufi saints of the Chishti order chose to settle in Khuldabad. The dargah of Moinuddin Chishti, the spiritual guide of Aurangzeb, is within this sacred complex. The austere emperor himself rests nearby, in a simple grave in striking contrast to the grand mausoleums of his predecessors. Khuldabad can be accessed by road.

Anwa Temple

A Shiva temple built in the 12th century, and consists of a sanctuary and a mandapa with decorated pillars, stands in the village of Anwa, 10 kms east of Golegaon. The niches have exquisitely sculpted images of Vishnu, Ganesha and other deities. Located on the main road leading from Aurangabad to the Ajanta Caves, Anwa Temple can be reached by taking a well-marked diversion at Golegaon. Private car or taxi is probably the best mode of transport.

Pitalkhora Caves

Pitalkhora Caves, consists thirteen Buddhist excavations from the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD, are located about 40 km north-west of Ellora. These caves, cut into the side of a secluded ravine, are mainly viharas and they form the largest group of Hinayana Buddhist structures in Maharashtra. Pitalkhora is best accessed by road from Aurangabad.

Lonar Crater

The village of Lonar is situated about 170km from Aurangabad. Over 30,000 years ago, a meteorite struck the area creating the world's largest impact crater in basaltic rock. Botanists have recently discovered vegetation life forms, not found anywhere else on this planet, in the lake that formed in the crater. There are many small temples along the shore, which are constructed in the Hemadpanti style. Visitors will encounter with migrant and resident birds like peafowl, peacocks, kingfishers, orioles and minivets in the crater. Lonar can be accessed by road from Aurangabad.

Paithan

Paithan is famous for the beautiful Paithani saris that are prized by all Indian women. The town is also famous for the Dnyaneshwar Udyan, which is the largest garden in Maharashtra, and a museum with a good collection of art work. The Jaikwadi Dam nearby is a bird-watchers delight. 51km south of Aurangabad, Paithan can be best accessed by road from Aurangabad.

Kolhapur

Kolhapur is a city with a rich cultural, historical and mythical past. A peek into the past reveals that Kolhapur has lived through the regimes of various rulers from the mythical past to the modern age. The magnificent temples of Kolhapur were built during the periods of the Satavahanas and the Shilaharas. The Marathas controlled this area from 1700 to 1849, and in 1849 Kolhapur changed hands to the British.

In 1945, archaeological excavations close to a hill named Brahmagiri on the banks of the river Panchaganga revealed the existence of an ancient town dating back to the Roman times. Today, Kolhapur combines its artistic past with a dynamic present and is a modern, industrial city. Kolhapur is located about 450km from Mumbai and can be accessed by Road and rail. The nearest airport is Goa.

Maharaja's Palace

The Maharaja's new palace, designed in Indo-Saracenic style and built in 1881, houses the Shahaji Chatrapati Museum. The palace has an array of old maharaja's possessions of his cloths, hunting photos, silver elephant saddles , trophies of his passion for hunting those include variety of stuffed animals, animal skins, and other articles with animal parts.

Mahalaxmi Temple

This exquisitely carved temple attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over India and is an important spiritual centre. The temple is dedicated to Mahalaxmi or Amba Bai. The temple complex has artistically sculpted structures and has shrines of other deities. The Chalukya ruler, Karandev initiated the construction of this temple in the 7th century AD.

Around Kolhapur

Panhala

Panhala is the largest of all Deccan forts. Built during AD 1178-1209, it was the seat of the Shilahara dynasty. Since AD 1190 it was held successively by the Yadavas and Bahamanis. The history of Panhala Fort is also the history of the Marathas. This is one of the few forts in which Shivaji stayed more than a year. Three double-walled gates guard the entry to the fort. Inside the fort is the huge granary, Amberkhana, said to contain 50,000 mounds of corn poured into it from symmetrical gaps in the ceiling. The nearest railhead is Kolhapur cant. Panhala is 20km from Kolhapur and 428km from Mumbai, by road.