Aurangabad - A Historical City - Part II
After visiting Ajanta Caves and Paithani Saree Town - Yeola, we moved to see some unseen places around Aurangabad.
Day 4 :
Lonar, I had heard of this meteorite lake town few years ago & wanted to visit this place for a long time. There are very few lakes formed by meteorite fall on earth & Lonar is one of them. Lonar also happens to the largest lake formed in Basalt Rock and is the fifth largest lake formed due to meteorite fall in the world. This salt water lake has a mean diameter of 1.2 kms and it is about 137 meters below the crater rim. The meteor crater rim is about 1.8 kms in diameter. So for these reasons we included the Lonar Lake itinerary in our Aurangabad trip. When we were planning our trip we noticed another town by name Sindkhed Raja which is the birth Place of Jijabai - mother of Shivaji Maharaj and immediately decided to include it in our itinerary. The distance from Aurangabad to Sindkhed Raja is 90 kms and Lonar is another 50 kms ahead of Sindkhed Raja.
As we had to travel around 300 kms in a day it was better we leave as early as possible. Our travel started by 07:30 hours after having our buffet breakfast in the hotel. Our first halt was at Jijau Srushti near Sindkhed Raja.
Sindkhed Raja - Buldhana District :
At 10:00 hours in the morning, we reached outskirts of Sindkhed Raja where Jijau Srushti (a hall and a place to remember the great lady) was developed by the locals. A statue of Jijabai has been erected in her memory along with the statue of Shivaji Maharaj.
In Sindhkhed Raja there is a Fortified Wada of Raje Lakhuji Jadhavrao. Raje Lakhuji Jadhavrao is the father of Jijabai. There is an entry fee of Rs. 5/- for this historical monument. Presently, this historical monument is undergoing repairs and renovations under the supervision of ASI. But overall, the wada is beautifully built. Once inside the wada there are couple of rooms which goes towards the steps which in turn lead to huge open area where there is a room which is kept as birthplace of Jijabai. Inside there is an idol of Baal Shivaji sitting on Jijabai's lap. After paying our respects we proceeded towards Lonar.
Crater Lake, Lonar :
This alkaline lake which is caused due to the meteorite fall is situated in Buldhana district, Maharashtra. This area was ruled by various dynasties like the Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Yadavas, etc. During the reign of the Yadavas, Hemadaripanth, a minister in the court of Yadavas built around 20 odd temples around this lake. Some of which are still worshiped by the locals. Hemadripanth had a different style of building temples which is famous in Deccan and is called as Hemadpanthi Temples. We can see biodiversity around the Lonar lake.
At the entrance gate, we were asked to fill the register maintained by the local authorities who count the number of tourists visiting the lake. After walking about 100 meters from the gate you reach the natural springs which is also called as a Sita Naahni. Around Sita Naahni, there are a few temples but in dilapidated condition. In order to get a closer look at the lake we climbed down about 100 steps. Before visiting the lake we stopped to see the Shukracharya mandir on the way. It is also called the school by Sage Shukracharya. The circular Sabhamandap of this temple has no roof and it is said that Shukracharya used to perform Yadnyas and study Astronomy here. The hill on which this temple stands is called Bhasmachi Tekadi.
After leaving the Shukracharya temple and as we move toward the lake, there is a Forest department post for collecting entry fee (Rs. 20/- per person) to the lake. After a walk of 15-20 minutes in dense vegetation we reached the lake. Even though it was December and 2019 had good rains allover India, Buldhana being a drought affected area has resulted in this lake being dried up. As per the latest news Lonar lake is more dried up and it has turned pink in colour. For more information follow this link - https://news.yahoo.com/indian-lake-turns-pink-leaving-124427904.html.
According to the 2010 research, this lake is about 5 lakh 70 thousand years old. The crater was formed after a comet or an Asteroid hit the area at the speed of approximately 20 kms per second. The ecosystem of the lake has two distinct water regions in the lake that don’t mix with each other. The outer region of the lake is neutral while the inner region of the lake is alkaline and the salinity level or the PH level is the highest & the litmus paper when dipped in the lake water turns purple or dark blue which has resulted in a unique and diverse flora & fauna around here. The soil around this lake has absorbed the minerals from the meteorite in the lake & the soil gets stuck to the magnet as if they are particles of iron. Even the compass goes crazy & shows different directions here. There is no life in this Lake due to the extreme salinity levels and algae floats over the lake. No one dares to take a dip inside the lake. However, some locals consider the water as having medicinal value and go for swim.
Among the 20 odd temples built around Lonar lake, Shri. Kamalji devi temple is still worshiped and devotees visit this temple everyday to pray to this local deity. The other Hemadhpanthi temples are in a dilapidated condition. In Lonar apart from this famous lake one must take time to visit the Daityasudan Mandir. This temple is at a distance of 15 minutes drive from the lake.
Daityasudan Temple :
The Daityasudan temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu & has been built during the reign of Chalukya dynasty. This temple is more than 1000 years old & has wonderful erotic carvings which resemble the carvings at Khajuraho. The idol of lord Vishnu is made of metal in a standing posture. This sanctum of the temple is pretty dark & the carvings inside can be viewed only with the help of a torch light. The present idol was made by Bhosale's of Nagpur as this temple was destroyed by the Muslims during that era. The temple was later on rebuilt during the Peshwa era & some part of the temple is now in bricks & one can distinctly see the Muslim architecture in the brick work at the entrance of the temple.
Tip for Food: Please choose your Restaurants along the road carefully.
Now, we had entered into the last leg of our Aurangabad trip. As per the itinerary what remains is the most sacred temple in Aurangabad- the Ghrushneshwar Temple, Verul Caves (Ellora) and Unconquerable fort of Yadav dynasty - Devgiri a.k.a Daulatabad.
Day 5 :
Our day started by checking out of the hotel as this was the last day we had to spend in Aurangabad before we catch the Nandigram Express at night. From the hotel, we proceeded to Ghrushneshwar temple which is one of the 12 Jyotirlings in India. After paying our respects we moved to the famous Verul Caves.
Tip: The devotees are not allowed to carry mobiles and leather goods inside the temple. There are lockers kept for safe keeping of mobiles. However, it is advisable to keep your phones in the car to proceed for darshan in groups.
Verul / Ellora Caves :
The Verul caves are located at 25 kms from Aurangabad. Of the all caves at Verul only 34 caves are open for public. There are 12 Buddhist caves, 17 Hindu caves and 5 Jain caves. The Verul caves were built during the Rashtrakuta dynasty. The famous among the Verul caves is the Kailash temple (Cave 16). This megalith temple is carved from a rock cliff face is considered one of the most remarkable cave temples in the world because of its size, architecture and sculptural treatment. Kailash temple is known for its vertical excavation that is started at the top of original rock and excavated downward. (Ajanta Caves are horizontal cut caves)
The Kailash Temple was constructed during the reign of Rashtrakuta King Krishna I in 760 A.D. The Multi-storied Temple was built to resemble Mount Kailash which is the abode of Lord Shiva.
The construction of this Monolith temple required precision and hard work. It is beyond imagination how approx. 2 lakh tons of stone was excavated by hammer and chisel to build this huge monolith temple. It is said that three huge trenches were bored into the sheer cliff face, before the temple could begin to take shape and its remarkable sculptural decoration could be added. The archaeologists had calculated that it would have taken more than a hundred years to finish the temple construction. However, in reality it is said that it took only 18 years to complete it and this was an unbelievable feat.
This Multi storied Temple is in a form of chariot and the main sanctum of Lord Shiva is on the upper floor. The temple is in the center of the rock and is surrounded by the Galleries where the different stories of Gods are carved in the walls.
The temple houses several intricately carved panels, depicting scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Also worth admiring are the immense monolithic pillars that stand in the courtyard, flanking the entrance on both sides and gallery at the entrance that has 10 giant and fabulous panels depicting the different avatars (incarnations of a deity) of Lord Vishnu (Dash-avatar).
Some of the Panels like that of Ravan trying to lift the Kailash, Goddess Lakshmi sitting in Lotus Flower in a lake, Ardhanari Nateshwar, Narshimha killing Hiranyakashyapu, Vishnu in Kshirsargar along with Brahma, flying Yakshas, etc. are beautifully carved and sometimes we get a feeling that the statues are alive.
What is more disturbing is that in 1682, Aurangzeb had made an attempt to vandalize the Kailash Temple though he destroyed the idol in the temple to prevent any worship here. He could not completely destroy this monolith structure. For this task he sent over 100,000 soldiers especially to destroy Kailash Temple; and were able to disfigure some of the important panels in the temple. We wonder, why has he destroyed this beautiful monument as it was a center of worship for Hindus?
We also visited the other caves & the wall panels in the other Caves are also beautiful and less vandalized. The Panels of Lord Ganesh eating Modaks, Varaha avatar, Nataraj pose, Lord Shiva Dancing and the other devi and devatas watching him dance, etc. are a must watch.
We had been almost 2-3 hours in around Verul and before leaving we had to attempt the unconquerable Devgiri before we bid adieu to Aurangabad and hence, with heavy heart we decided to leave from Verul Caves and proceed to Deogiri Fort.
Tip : Advisable to spare a full day at Verul Caves.
Devgiri / Daulatabad Fort :
This hill fortress of Devgiri stands about 200 meters high from its base. The Yadava rulers have taken all the necessary steps to make this fort an impregnable one. As we entered the fort we have to pay the entry fees of Rs. 10/- per person for Indian citizens and Rs. 100/- per person for foreign citizens. After entering the first gate, we see lot of canons kept, originally this would have been the devdi (place for soldiers to stay). There after we passed through the second gate of the fort and enter a huge open area & the most striking feature is the Chand Minar and Chini Mahal on the right, on the left the various canons found on the fort have been displayed. Some of the canons have some artistic designs.
Moving ahead, we proceed towards the main area of the fort. On the way there are some fortifications and dilapidated structures. We can also see a Moat (Khandak) filled with water around the hill. There is also a bridge to crossover the Moat. After crossing the bridge we saw a lot of people gathered on a circular structure & we proceeded to see what was kept on the circular structure. On climbing the circular structure we found that it was the famous Mendha Tofh (Canon) which attracted this huge crowd. The canon has a head of a sheep at the end giving it the name Mendha.
Now the climb begins which is followed by the dark passage or the ‘Bhulbhulayya’ made to confuse the enemy & this is one of the defenses of the fort. This dark passage is a very narrow climb and only two persons can climb together & is pitch dark. After climbing this passage, we reach the Balekilla of the fort, which has the Diwan-e-Khas and the palatial structures around it. From this structure you can see all the surrounding areas and the fortifications of the fort which go for kilometres together.
TIP for water : Irrespective of the season carry enough water when you are climbing this hill fort.
After climbing down the fort, we were exhausted but happy to have visited a historical and a World Heritage site. But our trip to Aurangabad was still not complete as there are few more places like the Aurangabad caves, the museum, Bibi Ka Maqbara, Pan Chakki, Gautala Sanctuary and Antur fort which we will plan to visit during our next excursion in this region. Now it was time to say good bye to this historical city 😃.
How to reach Aurangabad :
By train - Tapovan Express, Devagiri Express, Nandigram Express, Jan Shatabdi Express, etc. By Airport : Mumbai to Aurangabad is 1 hr 5 minutes flight
By road to Aurangabad :
Mumbai via Pune - 367 Kms
Mumbai via Nashik – 360 kms
Pune - 236 Kms
Nashik - 177 kms
Aurangabad has rickshaws & local buses as public transport system. One has to negotiate with the Rickshaw driver before hiring one.