Through the corridors of history

Daulatabad, along with neighbouring Ellora and Khuldabad, are part of an interesting tourist circuit of Maharashtra
Through the corridors of history

I have become a lover of footnotes, and of footpaths. Of marginal roads that branch off from the rumbling juggernaut of the high-ways of national history, and disappear into the uncleared undergrowth of the past forgotten, ignored, unconsidered.
I am in love with this brief aside to a long and involved tale of royal intrigue in Delhi and Gujarat. Sometime in 1307, in the time of Alauddin Khilji, an army from Delhi camped on the banks of a river, a farsang from Devagiri, now known as Daulatabad. Three or four hundred Turkish soldiers asked, and were granted permission, to see the famous temples of Ellora.
Almost exactly seven centuries later, as one of a few thousand people visiting the stunning rock-hewn shrines of Ellora daily, I wish that these soldiers were remembered somewhere. There aren&rsquot many places in the world, I would think, with records of their first tourists going back 700 years. Why should the &lsquohistory&rsquo of a place not include the breathless presence of all those who have gaped at it over the centuries Why should the history of Ellora, as told in the signage and the guidebooks, not tell us that, in a letter recording a visit to Khuldabad, Daulatabad and Ellora, Aurangzeb described the Kailash Temple as &ldquoone of the wonders of the work of the true transcendent Artisan&rdquo
To get a true sense of what Aurangzeb was talking about, you have to climb a steep footpath up the cliff side into which the Ellora caves are cut. As you walk up the side of the cliff suddenly you are level with the top of the very inaptly labelled &lsquoCave 16&rsquo, the Kailash Nath temple. It is breathtaking when seen from ground level, with its monumental proportions and exquisite, alive carving. You can feel Ravana&rsquos 10 heads screaming with the effort of trying to shake Mount Kailash. But you can also get thrown by the women in burqas posing with him. But from on top, the people and their clamour echoing in the carved spaces a hundred feet below fades away, and there is nothing to distract you from the awesome magnitude of what&rsquos been achieved here &mdash in panoramic wide angle top down view.
The Kailash Nath temple is an almost complete paradigm shift from the 15 caves that come before it. It is sculpture on a gigantic scale. From the top, many thousands of tonnes of basalt rock were removed and the remains chiselled into the exquisite beauty of this, the largest monolithic structure in the world. What is even more remarkable is that though it is said to have been started in the reign of the Rashtrakuta King, Krishna I (756-774), the vision was carried forward over a hundred and fifty years till its final adjective crunching execution.
The footpath carries on, along the top of the cliff, a shortcut from the village of Ellora/Verul to the walled town of Khuldabad, where Aurangzeb lies buried. As you walk along, through scenery of rolling hills and no tourists, you come to a group of dark stone tombs gathered on a grassy plain, on the edge of a cliff. The grandest of them all, with the most exquisitely carved jaalis, is that of Malik Ambar.
Malik Ambar was a habshi, an Ethiopian slave brought to India via the slave markets of Baghdad to serve the Deccan sultanate of Ahmednagar. In time he rose to become the leader of the resistance to the Mughals. Eighty years before Shivaji, his soldiers called him Peshwa. He never lost a battle. Today, he lies completely ignored, his tomb an echo chamber amplifying the cricket game played by its side.
It is only appropriate to pay homage to him before proceeding to the mazaar of Aurangzeb, in the compound of the dargah of Shaikh Zainuddin, in the time-stopped town of Khuldabad. He lies buried in a simple earthen grave, with a tulsi plant growing out of it. A blind man recites his litany. This is the only place where Aurangzeb found peace. Towards the end of his life, he could already foresee the end of Empire, the fighting among his sons &mdash &lsquoyak anar, sad beemar&rsquo is attributed to him in these last days, still master of the pithy Persianism.
Khuldabad. Abode of heaven. Also known as Karbala, the valley of the saints, for the sheer density of 14th-century sufi shrines here. Including that of Zainunddin, the Aakhri Khwaja, the last disciple in a long line of sufis, all disciples of Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi, all spread out on the road between Delhi and Daulatabad, as travelled by Mohammad bin Tughlak when he transferred his capital and his subjects. The sufis came south with him, and though the stories say that he marched all the people back again, the sufis stayed back. Here, in the abode of heaven, this still peaceful place, 10 kilometres short of the abandoned city of Daulatabad. Zainuddin, Burhanuddin Gharib, Zar Zari Zar Baksh...
This has to be sacred ground. Khuldabad is less than two kilometres away from the caves of Ellora, sacred to Buddhists, Jains and Hindus. Where Tibetan refugees still tie white scarves around the hands of seated Buddha idols in long abandoned monasteries. And Daulatabad, before Mohummad bin Tughlak made it the abode of wealth, was Devagiri, the hill of the gods.
&lsquo...Wall upon wall, battlement upon battlement, black, immeasurably strong, mountain of iron, gate of steel, tower of adamant...&rsquo
When Daulatabad first heaves into view, it&rsquos very hard not to think of Tolkien&rsquos description of Sauron&rsquos Dark Tower.  Three massive rings of fortification, black basalt rock thrusting teeth into the sky. A slender tower almost as tall as the Qutub Minar. A conical hill 200 metres tall, with its sides cut sheer to fall away into a massive moat excavated out of the rock, a feat of engineering on the same vertiginous scale as Ellora.  Once past the moat, you reach the Andhari, the only way up to the top of the fort, a dark tunnelled labyrinth where the only illumination is torches, and where the defenders could pour everything from pitch to boiling oil on those who had managed to get this far. And then a hard steep climb up up up, long and steep enough to be a pilgrimage. On top, finally, where a cannon sits on the very pinnacle of the hill of the gods, with many, many Kims astride it, and cellphones ringing.
The first time I came here the monsoon rains had just begun, and I trudged up alone through the drizzly afternoon, all alone at what seemed to be the end of the world. The walls that once surrounded a whole bustling city stretched all the way to the rain green hills around. But the city itself was gone, reduced to the stalls selling guavas to the tourists at the base of the fort.
How long does it take to build a city How little does it take for it to disappear Even with the raucous chatter of school kids all around, being atop Daulatabad Fort induces deep melancholy. There is a scene in Tughlak where Girish Karnad imagines Mohammad bin talking to a young soldier guarding the battlements of this fort at night, and lamenting that his world had grown old, and bereft of beauty and possibilities. Tughlak&rsquos empire broke apart when the Bahmani dynasty of the Deccan seceded. Then Daulatabad became part of the sultanate of Ahmadnagar, defended by Malik Ambar. After his death it was captured by Shah Jehan, then it became part of the Nizam&rsquos dominions, with a brief two year interregnum under the Marathas. Even the most impregnable of forts can&rsquot save you from being laid low by politics and treachery.
There is a mosque at the base of the fort, built by Qutbuddin Mubarak Khilji in 1318, when he conquered Devagiri and annexed it to the Sultanate of Delhi. The mosque is said to have been built on the remains of a Jain temple. On the 17th of September, 1948, immediately after the accession of the Hyderabad Nizam Shahi to the Indian state, an idol of Bharat Mata was installed in the central mihrab of the mosque, a year before the idol of Ram Lalla was placed inside the mosque at Ayodhya. A pujari blesses those who visit the eight-armed idol, remarkably like an idol of Durga, bearing a sword and a snake and a bowl of fire.
It feels like a desecration of this sacred ground. My country doesn&rsquot need to be worshipped through revenge for historical wrongs, whether real or imagined. I bow my head to &ldquoMother India&rdquo, sadness welling in my heart. I ring the bell, rubbing the tika from my forehead. I walk out into the courtyard, the broken stunted pillars are rows of sundials, casting long shadows in the sun, marking the passing of time. I yearn with what cannot be nostalgia &mdash for I have never known what I know I have lost. I yearn to know the innocence of being an incidental tourist at Ellora, circa 1307.

The information

Getting there
By air Indian flies from Mumbai and Delhi to Aurangabad (fares as low as Rs 2,300 one-way on economy class, full-fare Rs 9,735).
By rail There are trains from Mumbai (Tapovan Express leaves at 6 10am and arrives at 1 30pm Rs 1,379 on CC) and Delhi (Amritsar Express leaves at 1 35pm and arrives at 11 25am Rs 1,793 on 2A).
By road There are regular state transport buses from Pune and Nasik and overnight services from Indore and Mumbai. MSRTC and MTDC (022-22026713, 22027762 offer luxury overnight buses from Mumbai.
Daulatabad is 14km from Aurangabad and Khuldabad is 25km away. Ellora lies 28km to the northwest of Aurangabad. The MSRTC runs daily buses that leave Aurangabad at 8am. The last bus returns from Ellora at around 7pm. The MSRTC offers a tour of Ellora, which includes sightseeing in Aurangabad and Daulatabad as well for Rs 86. The ITDC offers the same tour for Rs 140. The tours start from the MTDC Holiday Resort (0240-2331513) and stop at major hotels.

Where to stay
To visit Daulatabad and Khuladabad, you will have to be based out of Aurangabad.
Luxury hotels Ambassador Ajanta (Rs 2,500-6,000 0240-2485211-13) is located near the airport on the Chikalthana-Jalna Road. The Taj Residency (Rs 2,500-5,500 2381106-10) is located on the Harsool Road. Welcomehotel Rama International (Rs 2,300-4,500 2485441-44) even has a mini-golf course. Quality Inn The Meadows (Rs 2,000-8,500 2677412-21) has non-smoking rooms, activities for kids and pick-ups and drops.
Mid-price hotels MTDC&rsquos Holiday Resort (Rs 750-1,000 2331513) is located near the railway station. Amarpreet (Rs 1,099-3,000 2332522) is located on Jalna Road, but offers limited services.
Budget hotels Natraj (Rs 200 2324260) is located on Station Road. Hotel Raviraj (Rs 475-725 2352124-5) is centrally located.
If you choose to stay at Ellora, Hotel Kailash (Rs 700-1,200 02437-244446/543) is your best option. They have self-contained cottages and rooms facing the caves. The Vijay Rock Art Gallery (Rs 250-350 02437-244552, 0240-2358032) offers basic facilities.

What to see & do
Daulatabad Within the fort there is the 100ft high, pink minaret, Chandminar and the Jama Masjid. The mosque is well preserved and has 106 pillars plundered from Hindu and Jain temples. Apart from these, there are the tunnels in the main citadel, Bala Kot. But the passages are pitch-dark and a guide will be necessary. The fort is open from sunrise to sunset. The entry fee is Rs 5. Still cameras are free but there is a fee of Rs 25 for video cameras.
Khuldabad Sights include the tomb of Malik Ambar and Aurangazeb&rsquos grave. The Mughal emperor is buried in the courtyard of the Alamgir Dargah. The Robe of the Prophet is said to lie in this building. It is revealed to the public once a year, on the 12th day of the Islamic month of Rabi-ul-Awal. The 14th-century Dargah of Sayeed Burhan-ud-din is across the road from the Alamgir Dargah and is said to contain hair from the Prophet&rsquos beard.
Ellora The Buddhist caves, numbered 1-12, are the oldest and date back to 500-750 AD. The Hindu caves numbered 13-29, date between 600 and 870 AD. But the oldest cave, number 13, is in ruins. Caves 30-34 are Jain caves and date back to 800 AD and the late 10th century. Of these, Cave 5 is the largest and grandest single-storied cave. Cave 6 has two of Ellora&rsquos most finely sculpted figures. The Hindu caves are more dynamic than the restrained Buddhist caves. Cave 15 has a sculpture of Shiva in the Nataraja form. Cave 25 has a striking frieze of the sun god, Surya, who is shown hurtling in his chariot towards dawn. But of all the caves it is the Kailash cave that is the most striking. The Jain caves are much smaller, but have extremely detailed work. Tourists can visit the caves from sunrise to sunset the entry fee is Rs 10.
Aurangabad There are many interesting sights like Bibi ka Maqbara and the Paan Chakki. The Aurangabad Caves, though not as spectacular as Ellora, are still worth a visit.
Ajanta Ajanta is just 104km from Aurangabad. The caves contain some of India&rsquos most sophisticated ancient paintings. The first caves date back to the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. The lush paintings, inspired by the jatakas, are rich in their detailing.
Shopping Aurangabad is famous for its brocades. The hand-woven Himroo shawls are made of silk and cotton threads and are extremely soft. They cost between Rs 200-1,000. You can get bidriware, which is a smooth dark brass work with intricate designs inlaid on its glossy surface. You can also get exquisite but expensive Paithani saris at the State Weaving Centre at Paithan (52km from Aurangabad). They can take between one month to a year to weave and can set you back by Rs 8,000 to Rs 50,000.

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