The woman priest at Daulatabad Fort

It is mid-morning on a December day in 2013 at Daulatabad Fort. I have been climbing for about an hour or so in an attempt to reach the top of the hill Fort, pausing only to take photographs or sips of water to keep myself hydrated. It has been a never-ending climb; every time I think I have negotiated the final set of steps and reached the top, another set appears almost as if by magic ! It doesn’t help that the access way is built in such a way that only part of the route is visible !

Daullatabad FortWhen I spot a dome as I negotiate yet another set of steps (see photo on the left), I think I have reached the summit. I am so happy and relieved that I run up the “last” few steps.

But no ! Another set of stairs looms ahead ! I am so breathless and winded by then that I can’t even cuss in frustration.

Ganesh Temple, Daulatabad FortI decide to take a longer break before resuming with the climb and move to the shade of some trees. I notice a middle-aged woman sweeping the area outside the domed structure.

Before I can ask her about the structure, I get distracted by the antics of a squirrel, and then by the requests of a group of school children who want their photographs taken, when they see my camera.

“Would you like some water? It is from a spring close by and very refreshing, ” a soft voice asks.

It is the woman who had been sweeping earlier and she is holding a bottle of water. Even though I have water, I don’t want to offend her by saying no. The water is as refreshing as the woman promised and surprisingly sweet as well.

“What is this?” I ask, pointing towards the domed structure.

“It’s a Ganesha Temple.”

“I saw you cleaning the temple and its premises. Are you the caretaker?”

“I guess you could call me that. But locally, I am known as this temple’s priest.” Continue reading

Aurangzeb’s tomb at Khuldabad

Fanatic, religious zealot, intolerant, temple destroyer, orthodox, ruthless, insecure, unscrupulous, treacherous, impetuous, brother killer… are just some of the words that come to my mind for Abul Muzaffar Muhi-ud-Din Mohammad Aurangzeb, better known as Aurangzeb Alamgir, the 6th Mughal emperor, or just Aurangzeb.

As the Emperor of Mughal India, Aurangzeb ruled for nearly 50 years, much of it with public opinion against him due to many discriminatory measures against the Hindus, like imposition of the jizyah, differential taxation for Hindus, etc.. In fact, such display of Islāmic orthodoxy by Aurangzeb gave strength and purpose to the resistance movements of the Marathas, the Jats, the Bundelas and the Sikhs. His constant wars to consolidate or expand territory nearly bankrupted the royal treasuries. When he died in 1707, he left a crumbling empire, a corrupt and inefficient administration, a demoralised army, and alienated subjects.

And yet…

Aurangzeb never used the Royal Treasury for his personal expenses. Instead, he used the money he earned from making caps (sold anonymously in the market) and copying the Quran. He saved the money earned from this to pay for an open-air grave at Khuldabad, located about 27 km from Aurangabad.

The grave I’m standing before on that December evening in 2013 with all these thoughts running around in my mind, and some more.

Aurangzeb, Tomb, Grave, Khuldabad, Mughal Emperor

Aurangzeb’s open-air grave

Continue reading

The Ellora Caves: A showcase for Indian sculptural art

You know what they say about saving the best for the last? Well, Ellora Caves doesn’t believe in that !

The first thing that visitors to Ellora Caves see after entering the complex is its most famous monument right in front of them. It is the monument that writers have written paeans about, the monument that is a photographer’s delight, the monument that leaves visitors awestruck, and the monument that everyone knows as Kailasa Temple, but is officially known as Cave 16.

When I walked in after buying my entry ticket and saw the richly carved entrance to the cave, familiar from so many photographs, I actually rubbed my eyes in disbelief !

Ellora Caves, Sculptures, Indian Art, Aurangabad, UNESCO World Heritage Site

The entrance to the Kailasa Temple or Cave 16

My impulse was to explore Kailasa first, but better sense prevailed. Tempting as it was to explore Cave 16, I decided to begin with Cave 1, which was a short distance away. It turned out to be a good decision for if I had explored the Kailasa Temple first, I would probably not have seen any of the other 33 caves at Ellora!

Once again, as it happened at the Ajanta Caves and then at Daulatabad Fort, no guides were available when I Ellora Caves at noon, one day in December 2013. There was also no literature on Ellora available at the ticket office. But, as I found out later, the information boards placed outside each cave provided adequate information.

Continue reading

The Fort at Daulatabad

The first thing I noticed when I arrived at Daulatabad Fort that December morning in 2013 was this slender, terracotta pink minaret rising above the walls of the Fort. And a pale silhouette of the moon nestled next to it. Needless to say, it was quite a sight and one that I will never forget. It was only later that I found out how lucky I was to have seen both the moon and the minaret together, for the tower is called Chand Minar or moon tower.

Daulatabad Fort, Forts of Maharashtra, Chand Minar, Travel, Incredible India

The ‘chand’ and the minar :)

I had arrived early at Daulatabad Fort, so early that the only company I had for some time were the sweepers cleaning the Fort and some security guards. Even the guides were not there ! According to the ticket clerk, the guides were scheduled to arrive an hour later, just before the first busload of tourists were expected to descend upon the Fort. Therefore, in the absence of any guide or any available literature on the Fort at the ticket office, I relied on the couple of information boards put up at the Fort to guide me.

It was an interesting experience to just meander through the Fort at my pace and spend a wonderful morning at a place that has not got the attention it deserves. Continue reading

Ajanta Caves: Where all the fine arts converge

The world-famous, rock-cut Ajanta Caves is one of those places where background reading or research doesn’t help. At least, it didn’t help me.

Prior to visiting the caves in December 2013, I had read up on the best time to visit, the must see paintings in the caves, etc., but my first look at the Ajanta Caves spread out before me like an arc, and I forgot all that I had read. So, when I walked into Cave 1 and saw the shimmering painting of Bodhisattva Padmapani (see photo below), I was surprised and delighted. Arguably, the best known Ajanta painting, I was as surprised and delighted as the 3 villagers who were standing next to me, and who had perhaps neither seen a picture nor read anything about the Ajanta cave paintings before.

Ajanta Caves, Buddhist paintings, Murals

Bodhisattva Padmapani

The Ajanta Caves is also one of those places, which has been very difficult to write about. More than a year and countless drafts later, I finally wrote this post — my nth attempt. I have written it with the full knowledge that it does not do justice to what I saw and experienced. Hopefully, the photographs in this post will try to convey what my words cannot. Continue reading

Aurangabad: Rock-cut caves, Bibi ka Maqbara, Panchakki

“Do you want to go left first or right?” the auto-rickshaw driver asks me as we approach a T-junction.

“I don’t know. Whichever takes me to Aurangabad Caves“, I reply, a little confused by the question.

“Both turns will take you to the Caves. Part of the Caves is on the left and part is on the right. I asked since you have to begin somewhere.”

“Umm… in that case, take the left.”

About 10 minutes later, I’m at the foot of a flight of steps that will lead me to the Westernmost part of the Aurangabad Caves.

Aurangabad Caves, Aurangabad, Buddhist Rock Cut Caves

I have very carefully stowed the entry ticket away in my backpack as I will need it to visit the other, Eastern, set of Aurangabad Caves, which is over a kilometre away according to the ticket clerk. There aren’t too many visitors around on that pleasantly warm December afternoon of 2013. The few who are there are Buddhist devotees dressed in white and carrying offerings of white flowers. The climb is an easy one and I reach the entrance to the first of the Caves in no time. Continue reading