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What to See in Aurangabad: A First-Timer’s Guide

As someone who loves to explore offbeat destinations in India, Aurangabad has long been on my bucket list. Known as a prominent Buddhist site and home to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Ajanta and Ellora caves, Aurangabad offers much more than just ancient monuments to visitors.

On my recent trip there, I packed in a diverse range of experiences - from soul-stirring sunrises to finger-licking local cuisine. Here is my personalized guide on the top attractions and experiences for first-timers in Aurangabad.

Feel dwarfed among the towering gates of Bibi ka Maqbara

No trip to Aurangabad is complete without a visit to the captivating Bibi ka Maqbara. Known as the Mini Taj Mahal of the Deccan, this 17th-century Mughal-era monument leaves you awe-struck with its imposing white marble domes and intricate jali screens.

As you enter through the lofty entrance gate standing over 30 feet tall, you can’t help but feel dwarfed walking in the manicured gardens with imposing fountains leading up to the mausoleum.

What to See in Aurangabad

Don’t miss witnessing the structure glistening in the golden glow of sunset. For history buffs, the light and sound show in the evenings brings alive the story of this Taj built by Aurangzeb for his wife, Dilras Banu Begum.

Ancient Buddhist Caves of Ajanta

A UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to 200 BC, Ajanta Caves gave me goosebumps with some of the finest surviving examples of ancient Indian art. The 30 caves carved into a steep rock face above the Waghora River depict richly painted murals and sculptures narrating the Jataka tales of Buddha’s previous incarnations.

What to See in Aurangabad

As you walk inside this pitch-dark cave with a flashlight, stories of Buddha’s teachings come alive in an explosion of vivid colors even after centuries. Standing with my head craned staring at the ceiling in Cave 16 housing the largest single Buddha statue left me awestruck realizing how advanced our ancestors were so many millennia ago.


Marvel at the stone-cut temples of Ellora

The culminating highlight of my trip was exploring the mindboggling Ellora caves, another UNESCO World Heritage Site located just 30 km from Aurangabad.

Unlike Ajanta, the 34 Ellora caves were excavated out of the vertical face of the Charanandri hills between the 6th and 10th centuries. I was blown away wandering through Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist cave temples modeled on the iconic structural forms of these religions.

Particularly surreal was witnessing the imposing four-storied Kailash temple carved out of a single rock - depicting Mt. Kailash, the mythical abode of Lord Shiva. The sculpture work manifesting scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata will leave any art lover satiated.

Shop for Himroo shawls close to the source

Beyond just monuments and art, Aurangabad offers the perfect chance to discover dying handicrafts unique to this region. In particular, Himroo shawls and saris made of cotton, silk, and metallic threads stand out as an authentic art form to shop for in Aurangabad.

Trace it back to its point of origin by exploring the century-old Himroo weaving centers and witnessing deft-fingered craftsmen create threads of magic on traditional looms.

You’ll be spoilt for choice from stoles, shawls, and saris to even fabric rolls. Don’t forget to haggle!

Savour lip-smacking local cuisine

No first-timer’s guide to Aurangabad would be complete without experiencing the explosion of flavors in traditional Marathi cuisine available locally. Be sure not to miss out on fiery Kolhapuri chicken, zesty Solkadhi, and nutritious Jowar Bhakri flatbreads washed down with creamy Mattha.

For dessert, sample Aurangabad's iconic Naivedya offering milk-based sweets like Gud Chakli and Kunda laddoo handed down for generations. Wash it all down with hot cups of cutting chai or Irani chai popular in old cafes here. Not only will you come back with a happy stomach, but also recipes to cherish.


Conclusion

Though largely overlooked by tourists making a beeline for Ajanta and Ellora, Aurangabad offers far beyond just ancient sites. Get a glimpse into rich living heritage and local flavors while also discovering your own solace wandering the sights at your own pace.

As Aurangabad rapidly expands, now is the chance to experience this hidden gem before it joins the tourist mainstream. Go beyond the Taj replica and lose yourself in this multi-faceted city full of delightful secrets waiting to be uncovered.

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