Forts are meant to enforce suzerainty and served as the last line of defence in the event of an attack. Hence, the design of a fort makes for interesting study.
Now, some forts had to be built in regions that would perpetually face a threat from enemies because they might be located at the gateway to a lucrative resource or a fertile region. One such fort was Devagiri or Daulatabad, near Aurangabad in Maharashtra.
The location and design of this fort (Image courtesy: Anupam G) is simply astounding.
While it is popular in Maharashtra and nearby areas, not many outside know about the fort or its interesting fortifications. That is partly because the fort has been overshadowed by the Ajanta and Ellora caves.
Art in cavity: Ajanta and Ellora caves
Though India has several examples of cave architecture and dwellings, Ajanta and Ellora near Aurangabad are the most popular ones. Both comprise a series of caves and are World Heritage sites. While all the caves may look the same, some of the techniques used during construction and the contents of the caves are awe-inspiring.
For example, the Kailash temple in Ellora was carved out of single rock and is considered an architectural marvel. Workers started work from the top of the rock and carved out the temple downwards.
In Ajanta, the location of the caves is breath-taking — they were carved into a gorge, which is in the shape of a horse shoe.
To understand the secrets of these wonderful caves, it is best to requisition the services of a certified guide, of which there are many at the two sites.
Their glamour is such that they put the other interesting places nearby in the shade.
But my initial foray to the central part of Maharashtra was to visit Devagiri or Daulatabad fort. I am a fan of forts.
Devagiri or Daulatabad fort
The fort was built on a rock. The slopes were gradually removed so that enemies were faced only with a steep wall. The enemies had no choice but to take the only way up, which was through a narrow gangway.
The fortification included a moat and a dark passage. Oh yea, the passage is what drew me to the fort. You learn the meaning of the phrase pitch dark firsthand. It is just as people say — so dark, you can’t see you own hand. Go on…try this one.
The moment I came out of the fort, I was texting friends asking if they had heard of this fort? If they had been to this fort? And, what was their experience inside the passage?
And if you are counting on the torch or light in your smartphone, all the best. I would definitely want to know if it succeeded in dispelling the darkness in the passage.
The guardians of the fort would wait at vantage points with tubs of hot oil, which would be emptied on unsuspecting enemies.
There were other tactics and fortifications. This definitely was one of the most secure forts in India south of the Vindhyas. In fact, for several years, Devagiri was the safe deposit box for the revenue and wealth collected from south India and nearby areas by various rulers. This was also the reason for several attacks on the fort over the years.
Devagiri is definitely one of the best designed forts in the Indian sub-continent. This one is for aficionados.
The fort is about 15 kilometres from Aurangabad, on the route to Ellora. The place is packed on weekends, but on other days, you can be the king.
You want to do a dare (can you venture into the passage?), this is the place.
Be prepared for a hard trek. The route up is steep. You need to be fit to make this trek. Best to wear light cotton clothes. Carry a hat and sun glasses. Put on your most comfortable shoes. Carry water bottles, one may not suffice.
This trek is as good as climbing a hill, except that this rock has got embellishments.
But, if you are afraid of dark places, don’t bother to trek up cos you have to pass that dreaded tunnel to reach the top.
There are other tourist attractions you could visit.
Tomb of Aurangzeb
The tombs of the most well-known Mughal rulers are landmarks. Each is considered an example of Mughal architecture. Except that of Aurangzeb. He was buried in an unmarked grave near the dargah of his spiritual guide Sheikh Zainuddin. This was done as per his wishes. The embellishments came much later.
The dargah is in Khuldabad, which is about 20 kilometres from Aurangabad, on the route to Ellora.
Bibi ka Maqbara
Though his tomb is modest by Mughal standards, Aurangzeb did not spare any expense when it came to that of his wife. But lacking taste in architecture and due to his propensity for thrift, the result — Bibi ka Maqbara — is often called the poor man’s Taj Mahal. One look at the structure and you will know why.
This landmark is in Aurangabad.
Lonar meteorite crater
Lonar village hosts a lake that was created by the impact of a meteor. This crater is one-of-its-kind in India. The Lonal lake seems to have been made by scooping earth from the countryside. It is an aberration in an otherwise flat terrain.
There is a path leading to the centre of the lake. The colour of the water is fascinating.
This lake is about 150 kilometres from Aurangabad. There is nothing else of interest on this route. You better carry some food and water along. Food options are close to nil at the lake. You could stop in one of the town on the way for a snack or a meal.
There is accommodation near the lake, but it is very basic. Besides, there really is no reason to stay overnight. Unless you enjoy solitude or hope to see a meteor drop by.
One of the engineering marvels built a few centuries ago. A water stream is used to run a mill that grinds grains. It was meant to feed the pilgrims who visited Aurangabad in ancient times.
Attractions close to Aurangabad
Ellora – 30 km
Khuldabad – 20 km
Devagiri or Daulatabad fort – 15 km
Ajanta – 100 km
Lonar – 150 km
While it is possible to visit Ajanta and Ellora on one day, you won’t get to see much at either place because they are in different directions from Aurangabad. Plan to stay for at least two days in Aurangabad. Ideally, visit Ellora and Ajanta as early in the day as possible to avoid the rush of tourists later, especially if you are visiting on a weekend. Lonar requires a separate day and you might want to hire a cab.
If you opted for a self-drive, you might enjoy the drive to Ajanta and Lonar, which are again in different directions.
Getting to Aurangabad
Aurangabad has an airport. Most major airlines have flights to Aurangabad, but when I checked, the number of flights is limited. You should take the direct flight to Aurangabad if you get a good price on return tickets. This will save a lot of time that you would otherwise be spending on the road.
The city is connected by train, but it is not a popular route. Also, the number of trains is limited. If you don’t have a reserved ticket, you are in for a lot of struggle to get inside the General coach. I went by bus. While returning, I decided to try the train. A very bad move. I wasted about two hours waiting for the train, which was running late and packed. I had to go back and catch a bus.
One of the options is to get to Pune by flight, train or bus, and then board a bus to Aurangabad. MSRTC has frequent buses to Aurangabad. I tried the MSRTC app and it is a good way to make a reservation. However, I believe the reservation works only in case of the luxury buses, by which I mean the Volvo services.
Even otherwise, the MSRTC app is helpful by letting you know the schedule of buses, which is good enough unless you are travelling on weekends.
Alternatively, you could get to Pune and rent a self-drive vehicle. Aurangabad is about 250 kilometres from Pune.
While in Aurangabad, MSRTC has frequent bus services to Ajanta and Ellora. If you are not pressed for time, you really don’t have to hire a cab.
But a guide, you must hire. Guides are available in each of the tourist spots, except Lonar.
Places to stay
There are plenty of options. Besides being a base for tourism-related activities, the city is an industrial hub and a thriving business centre. You can choose from a variety of hotels in Aurangabad. Book early if you plan to visit on weekends.
One of the things to try is the mutton dishes.
Time to visit
October to February. The adventurous ones can try June to September too.
The summer is harsh in these places.