Updated: Jun 21, 2021
The city that never sleeps, Mumbai! Whether you put up in the starry town of glitz and glamour or you’re just visiting like I do every now and then, it is inevitable to want to take a break from the fast paced life Mumbai has to offer. Whenever one looks for weekend trips from Mumbai, the results are dominated by the usual Lonavla, Pune, Goa, Alibaug, Mahabaleshwar and so on.
My brother and I backpack a lot and the last time I was visiting him, we were all set to spend the long weekend in Panchgani, but when our favorite hostel was sold out for the weekend, the history nerds in us reminded us of the historical city of Aurangabad. Surrounded by UNESCO World Heritage sites and historical monuments, Aurangabad is nothing short of a paradise for the history buff. Well, I think you can already guess that we had a wonderful time there and were more than happy that this last minute change worked so well for us.
Besides the illustrious Ajanta & Ellora Caves, the city has numerous interesting avenues to explore which I found out through the locals. Historically, there were 52 gates in the city of Aurangabad thus, rightly awarding it the name ‘City of Gates’. Aurangabad, the city named after and by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, was recently named the tourism capital of Maharashtra and you’ll soon find out why!
How to Get There:
Located 350 kilometers away from Mumbai, it is fairly easy to reach Aurangabad. There are various options including flights, trains, taxis and buses.
Since our trip was planned last minute, we chose the overnight Bus, booked through Redbus.in. Redbus Website/App usually offers great last minute options and there are so many buses that it is not difficult to find a seat. However, I would still suggest that you book at least 48 hours prior to your journey. Talking about the journey itself, we were pleasantly surprised by how convenient buses are while traveling around Mumbai. In the north we seldom find sleeper buses but these were super comfortable! With more than decent bunk beds and stops present all over Mumbai we caught the bus at walking distance from our home. The bus journey costs around Rs. 2000-2500 per person for a two way ticket, booked separately through the app.
Where to Stay:
Aurangabad being the tourism hub of Maharashtra, there are numerous comfortable hotels in the city. But since we prefer hostels, we decided to stay in Zostel Aurangabad. It was our second time staying in a Zostel property.
Bunking in hostels comes with added benefits! Not only do you save on your cost of stay, you end up making new friends from all over the world! Zostel is located near the city centre and costs around Rs. 500 - Rs. 700 per person, per night. Zostel Aurangabad offers a simple breakfast spread comprising cereal, milk, fruits and a local dish for Rs. 100 per person.
How long to Stay:
Contrary to the popular belief, there is A LOT to see in Aurangabad. Even though, you can cover the Heritage Sites in 2 days, I would suggest you spend a minimum of 3-4 days in the city to truly get to know the history and culture it has to offer.
What to do:
Like I mentioned before, there’s a lot to explore in Aurangabad, so here’s a 3 day itinerary for you to make it simple.
Ajanta & Ellora Caves are both located at a good distance from the main city so I’d suggest you get done with the local attractions on the first day of your visit. Allocate one entire day for local attractions which include:
A) Bibi Ka Maqbara: Also known as the Mini Taj Mahal because it looks like the replica of Taj, only 10-15 times smaller. It was built in the memory of Dilras Banu Begum, Aurangzeb's Chief Wife & Queen. This spot is rarely crowded but to avoid Aurangabad heat and get the perfect shots, visit around 7-8 AM.
B) Aurangabad Caves: Located right outside the city, Aurangabad Caves are 12 rock cut Buddhist Caves, which people usually miss out on! In the excitement for Ajanta & Ellora it is easy to overlook these beautiful caves located on a hill that looks over the entire Aurangabad city. Nestled in the heart of lush green hills right outside the main city, Aurangabad Caves offer a mystic aura because of the architecture and iconography with an evident tantric influence. The location of these rock-cut caves also offers a spectacular panoramic view of the city and Bibi ka Maqbara.
C) Daulatabad Fort: This spot is a total two for one deal! Chand Minar is located within the Daulatabad fort and both have the most intriguing history. Built during the Yadava Dynasty in the 9th century, it was annexed in 1308 by the infamous Alauddin Khalji. Although, the fort is built with numerous advantages to the kingdom making it next to impossible to annex. Intriguing how Khalji did it, isn't it? Don't miss out on it!
If you start early, it's quite easy to cover all three locations in the same day.
Ajanta Caves: Ajanta and Ellora are two different sites altogether and I know they're mentioned together since time unknown but it can be quite confusing for visitors who haven't read in advance. Ajanta is a 3 hour drive from the city of Aurangabad, so it is advised you keep an entire day allocated to exploring Ajanta. Trust me, it'll be worth every penny and second! Ajanta Caves are located at the most scenic site you can ever imagine. The internet tells you that it takes 2-3 hours to thoroughly cover the entire stretch but we took 5 because we didn't want to leave!
The experience begins with a beautiful drive to a location quite literally in the middle of nowhere. This is followed by a small bus trip through the scenic Marashtrian forest cover to the main Ajanta site. Ajanta Caves are 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments which date from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 CE. The caves include paintings and rock-cut sculptures described as among the finest surviving examples of ancient Indian art, particularly expressive paintings that present emotions through gesture, pose and form. According to UNESCO, these are masterpieces of Buddhist religious art that influenced the Indian art that followed.
6 hours of drive and 4 hours of walking around, I’m sure you won’t have the strength to explore more on the same day, so keep the evenings for a laid back dinner and walk around the city.
Pro Tip: It can get extremely humid and there’s a lot of walking and climbing involved, so wear breathable outfits. Drink a lot of water and slap on tons of sunscreen!
Located an hour long scenic drive away from the main city, Ellora caves are where you will find the most 'instagrammable' structures! The entrance is at Cave 16, which is the colossal and ever so magnificent single rock cut Kailasa Temple. This temple is an architectural marvel because it is a) gigantic b) carved out of a single rock and c) built in the 8th Century! You'll have to visit it to believe it!
There are over 100 caves at the site, all excavated from the basalt cliffs in the Charanandri Hills, 34 of which are open to public. These consist of 12 Buddhist (caves 1–12), 17 Hindu (caves 13–29) and 5 Jain (caves 30–34) caves, each group representing deities and mythologies prevalent in the 1st millennium CE, as well as monasteries of each respective religion. They were built close to one another and illustrate the religious harmony that existed in ancient India.
There's so much more Aurangabad has to offer that I can go on about, like the spicy Marathi way of cooking curries! Oh so Delicious! This has been one of my most fulfilling trips in India and I recommend it to everyone asking me for places to travel within the country!