Aurangabad was not originally in the schedule for the journey. With the inclusion of Jabalpur in the itinerary I decided on Aurangabad as a break of journey point and also since my nephew is stationed here. However, when I was told that the trip to Aurangabad from Nagpur will consume all of 12 hours and that the roads are not so good, I permitted certain misgivings to take shelter in my mind. I wondered if it was a good idea to take the route and if I was putting additional stress on the car, which has so far been at its best behavior. Taking heed of the preparatory warnings I mentally prepared for 12 hours over pot holed roads as I set out close to 7 am from the Nagpur ORH. Within the city I lost my way a couple of times. That is how strong I am with navigation. But what the heck – I have travelled close to 20,000 kms this way and I have loved it. I must say one thing about seeking directions from people on the road – they are so forthcoming and helpful; you find people getting off their cycles, parking their bikes, coming out of their shops, switching off their mobiles, lowering the car windows, emptying their gobs of distasteful red liquids, while at the same time surveying the baggage in the car and the registration of the car. After a combination of a few of the above I finally managed to hit the road to Amaravati.
The first hour on the road I covered 85 kms and I prayed that the rest of the 11 hours pass off as well as the first did. On the road to Akola I hit a fork on the road and I took the left. I stopped by a Highway Patrol further up the road and sought to clarify if I am on the right road to Akola. While telling me that I am not, the policeman was good enough to ask if I am headed for Akola or if my destination is any other. When I told him that I am en route to Aurangabad he said that it would be better for me to take the route via Karanja since it is less congested and the road condition is bad. He further said that the Akola route will delay me considerably. I took the suggestion of the kind policeman and thanked him for it during the entire trip to Aurangabad. The condition of the tolled State Highway maintained by the MSRDCL was really good and I made good time. The relief from not having to spend 12 hours over bad roads showed in the speed I drove at. I reached Aurangabad city before 2 pm. The distance was a tad less than 500 kms and much less than the 750 kms told to me in Nagpur.
I stopped for lunch in the city and reached the ORH near the Aurangabad railway station. My batch mate Arvind Kumar is the Divisional Railway Manager in Nanded and Aurangabad is within its jurisdiction. He had allotted a very spacious and newly constructed suite in the ORH and deputed the Station Manager Jhakre to assist me with the local sightseeing. Since time was not adequate for a visit to the Ellora Caves we settled for Bibi Ka Maqbara and Panchakki. The former is a take on the Taj and is a son’s memorial for his mother. Azam Khan, the son of Aurangzeb, built the Bibi ka Maqbara in 1679. Much of the structure is completed in Lime and Mortar with the father objecting to his son squandering the coffers of the State. The proposed grandeur of the mausoleum can be visualized by the layout of the complex. Unfortunately the gardens and the fountains are not maintained and the place looks a bit run down. However, there is no dearth of tourists. The Queen’s grave is littered by the tourists by throwing the entrance tickets into the enclosure from the top.
The Panchakki complex stands near one of the 52 gates of the capital city of Aurangzeb. The bridge from the gate is now close to 400 years old and is still robust. The Waghore River flowed under the bridge in the past; this is now a dirty sewer. The water that flows into the Panchakki complex comes from Jatwada and is carried by earthen pipes over three filterations. It is considered a marvel of engineering and the fact that it is still functional goes to prove it. Some of the water is used to fill a huge tank in the complex, below which is a hall used to serve food for destitutes and fakirs. The water keeps the hall cool throughout the year. This part of the complex is almost dilapidated. The rest of the water operates a hydro-mill to grind grain, which was used for the feeding of the poor. The hydro-mill is operational too. Between the Hall and the hydro-mill is a huge banyan tree that is more than 400 years old. The water from the mouth of the Panchakki falls into a fish filled tank, which is dirty and unclean. Thus, potable water is contaminated and spoilt, which could have been piped for use by the community in the immediate vicinity of the complex. The complex also houses the Dargahs of two Sufi saints, uncle and nephew; the former was the spiritual guide of the Emperor.
As mentioned, my nephew Joe was one of the reasons for choosing Aurangabad as a stopover destination. He has been with the prestigious Vaccor Group for the past five years. Dinner was fixed up at his place and I landed up without missing a step thanks to Jhakre. As I entered Joe’s flat his daughter, Catherine, started a howl that lasted nearly 15 minutes. I am certain that the sight of the fictional Santa in flesh and blood must have scared her. After the initial scare she settled down and we became the best of friends over the next couple of hours. Chappatis with excellent Chicken Curry and superb Ghee Rice disappeared into a shamelessly bottomless pit. The desert, which had a dash of Rum and plenty of Milkmaid in it, was the ideal dish to wind up the calorie intake of the day. I did an Oliver Twist and was presented the entire dish in which the desert was made!