The objective is to pen-down my experiences of an unplanned solo trip from Kochi to Aurangabad. Most of the historical descriptions below are taken from a brochure that I got from Aurangabad railway station information counter.
The historic city of Aurangabad, on the Deccan Plateau, has many tourist attractions and could easily stand on its own charm without being overshadowed by the world-famous Ajanta and Ellora caves nearby.
Founded in 1610 on the site of a village called Khirki by Malik Ambar, the prime minister of Murtuza Nizam Shah II, this city was renamed Fatehpur after Nizam’s son Fateh Khan succeeded the throne in 1626. When Prince Aurangzeb became Viceory of the Deccan in 1653, he made the city his capital and re-christened it Aurangabad.
Travelling is not a competitive event. The best way to have a successful journey is to travel without any success criteria, that helps to have a relaxed mind and provides opportunity to explore things as and when it arrives.
For me, opportunity to travel is an opportunity to meditate. The free time I get in bus and train is a perfect juncture to contemplate about my thoughts and actions. It helps me to rejuvenate and overcome the feeling of being abandoned and isolated in this crowded world.
Travelling to different places gives opportunity to meet different people, culture, geography, food habits and new learnings which would eventually lead to new beginnings.
How to reach Aurangabad from Kochi?
As I’m from Kochi (a city in Kerala state, India) and started my trip from there, I thought the following information would be helpful for those who plan to travel from Kochi. The cost effective way to travel to Aurangabad from Kochi is by train, but (un)fortunately there is no direct train from Kochi to Aurangabad. Yet I would consider that to be an opportunity to visit more places.
Train No: 12617 – MANGALA LDWEEP – will help to start your journey from Ernakulam Jn (ERS) railway station and reach up to Manmad Jn (MMR) railway station. Aurangabad is only ~118 KM away from Manmad Jn. You will get plethora of buses and trains from Manmad Jn to Aurangabad. Manmad Jn is like Shornur Jn railway station in Kerala where trains will stop for relatively longer period to change engines, fill up necessary supplies etc…
Since I had an unplanned trip and tried to book ticket at last moment, there was no ticket available in Mangala Ldweep express. I travelled up to Panvel (PNVL) in a train and realized that there is no connecting train from Panvel to Aurangabad. As per the information received from Panvel station, I booked a ticket from Thane (TNE) to Aurangabad. There are enough suburban trains from Panvel (PNVL) to Thane (TNE) or Panvel (PNVL) to Mumbai CST (CSTM). Trains to Aurangabad starts/passes through Thane and Mumbai CST stations. Distance from Thane to Aurangabad is ~315KM.
If you have good company of friends or relatives, it is worth considering driving from Kochi to Aurangabad which is ~1597 KM away.
If you are not constrained by budget, you can consider the option of travelling through air.
Accommodation facilities in Aurangabad
There are hotels near to Aurangabad central bus stand and railway station. Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has a guest house ~ around a KM away from railway station. When I enquired, the guest house office informed me that the rent is Rs.1000/= per day and from their tone, it seemed negotiable. There are decent hotel rooms available from Rs.500/= for double occupation and Rs.400/= for single occupation per day. You can try your luck/skill in bargaining for reduced rates.
I reached Aurangabad railway station by around 12:30 AM and got a bed in the railway station dormitory facility, which was decent enough to spend few hours of night. It cost only Rs.50/= for that night. For the second day, I took a room near to bus stand that cost Rs.400/=.
Food options in Aurangabad
I saw many restaurants with ‘Pure Veg’ board in Aurangabad. All types of food are available in restaurants, among which, Rajasthani or Punjabi thali meals are common, which cost between Rs.100 to Rs.150. I didn’t see restaurant prominently displaying non-vegetarian items in restaurants. As non-vegetarian food is not mandatory for me, I didn’t bother too.
Travel in Aurangabad
You may need at least two days to visit different places in Aurangabad. One day for Ajanta and next day for Ellora and other nearby places in Aurangabad. MTDC has air-conditioned Volvo low floor buses to Ajanta and Ellora. You can avail the service of taxi cars to visit different places depends on your customized needs. You will get MTDC bus from the central bus stand. The drivers of these MTDC buses are very friendly and they explain historic value of each places in English/Hindi/Marathi. There are local buses and other conducted trips available to various locations.
The charge in MTDC buses varies depends on the crowd. When I travelled the in the bus to Ajanta, there were only 9 passengers in the bus and it cost Rs.720/= and to Ellora and other prominent places in Aurangabad, there were only 5 passengers in the bus and it cost Rs.280/=
A taxi driver I contacted demanded Rs.1500/= for Ajanta and Rs.1200/= for Ellora and other prominent near-by places in Aurangabad. If you are going as a group, taking taxi might be economical too.
Places to visit in Aurangabad
Ajanta is located about 107 KM from Aurangabad city. Dating from 200 BC, these caves were excavated in two distinct phases and reportedly took more than 800 years to complete. They comprise of Chaityas (shrines) dedicated to Lord Buddha and Viharas (monasteries) used by Buddhist monks for meditation. The paintings and sculptures depict incidents from the life of the Buddha and various Buddhist divinities, with the Jataka tales, illustrating stories of Bodhisattva, being the most famous.
There were not enough lights inside caves and, my old mobile camera didn’t perform a good job inside the caves. The cave ceilings and pillars have colourful paintings; some of them are three dimensional. One of the caves has explanation on how those colours were created; there were no chemicals used in those colours and those were made with natural materials. Even though the paintings have damages due to old age, it is heartening to understand that tourism department has taken sufficient steps to protect the remaining.
Ajanta will be closed on all Monday’s for maintenance work and visitors are allowed from 09:00 AM to 05:30 PM on rest of the days.
Ellora is about 30 KM from Aurangabad, known for their Buddhist, Jain and Hindu cultural influences. There are 34 caves containing shrines, monasteries and temples. The Buddhist caves were carved during the period 200 BC to 600 AD. These were followed by the Hindu caves (500 – 900 AD), and finally the Jain caves (800 – 1000 AD)
The Kailash Temple at Ellora is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is the greatest monolithic sculpture in the world. It is caved from a single, mammoth rock. Ellora will be closed on all Tuesday’s for the maintenance purposes and visitors are allowed from 09:00 AM to 05:30 PM on rest of the days.
Daulatabad is about 15 KM from Aurangabad, on the way towards Ellora Caves, is the hill fortress of Daulatabad. Once known as Devgiri, meaning Hill of Gods, this magnificent 12th century fortress was the capital of the Yadava rulers. It was renamed Daulatabad (City of Fortune) in the 14th century by Mohammed Tughlaq, Sultan of Delhi, and forcibily moved the entire population of Delhi for two years before it was abandoned for lack of water and Tughluq was constantly known for shifting the capital from Delhi to Devagiri and Devagiri to Delhi.
Bibi-Ka-Maqbara: In 1679, Aurangzeb’s son built the inspiringly beautiful Bibi-Ka-Maqbara as a tribute to his mother, Begum Rabia-ud-Durani. It is a replica of the Taj Mahal of Agra, the only piece of Mughal architecture on the Deccan built towards the end of the Mughal Era in India.
- On the first day morning at Aurangabad, I walked to the MTDC guest house which is one KM away from railway station and enquired about the MTDC bus service to Ajanta. The response was not so promising, ‘you can wait here, bus may come at 08:00 AM’. By the time a taxi cab driver waiting at the gate came inside and tried to convince me to travel in taxi than MTDC bus to Ajanta. Though I didn’t travel in taxi considering the additional expenses it can generate, I promised him that I will use his taxi whenever I visit Aurangabad next time with family.
I was really fascinated by his persuasive skills; though it was impromptu, he used a well- defined structure in his speech to convince a potential customer. He started with the advantages of travelling in taxi than a bus – trip can be customized and can be stopped at any view point to take photos, I can spend sufficient time in each locations and no need to wait for other passengers.
I informed him that the expense to travel in taxi was high and since I came alone, it is a luxury for me to travel in a taxi.
After hearing that reply, he started talking about his problems – as there are very less tourists in this season, he didn’t have trip for last four days. He needs to pay EMI (Equal Monthly Instalments) for his car loan and also have to take care of household expenses. Government has recently given permits to 60 more tourist taxi cabs in the city and that increased the competition. He was ready to reduce taxi charge to a bit and provided a cost break-up structure. As per that, he will get only Rs.400/= by end of the day which I also felt is reasonable for his effort. He showed his ID card given by tourism department to gain the confidence of a potential customer.
Since I don’t have a plan in my wildest dreams to travel in a cab, I was hesitant to his arguments. He realised it quickly and informed me that the bus might have cancelled for today as it is already 08:15 AM. He also informed that the bus was cancelled its trip 4 days in the last week due to not insufficient number of travellers. He emphasised on the problems that I may encounter if I still wait for the bus.
He advised, ‘it is not prudent to waste time by waiting for the bus’. He also educated me on how successful people take quick decisions based on situations (that prompted me to revisit few of my life situations and I silently agreed with him that I’m lacking that quick decision making skills).
At the end I informed him that if MTDC bus is not available, I will go to bus stand and will take local bus from there. He explained the drawback of such a plan as Ajanta is spread over ~5 KMs, local bus will not help to see all the places in Ajanta. He suggested me to find ways to reduce expenses at other places to compensate any additional expenses that may needed for a taxi trip to Ajanta. I wondered, how quickly he was coming with solutions for the problems. By the time he might have realized the mean character of his potential customer, he decided to temporarily end the persuasive effort and gave his visiting card to call him if needed.
He used information, emotion, historical data, and plausible risk mitigation plans in a credible way which is essential for a persuasive speech. I learned a lot from him.
I waited there till 08:30 AM and once again enquired about the MTDC personal available at the counter and he explained he didn’t have any control over the bus. Since nobody is picking phone at the other end, he cannot comment on the availability of bus.
I took a shared auto and went to Aurangabad central bus stand. The MTDC to Ajanta was waiting at bus stand. While entering in to the almost empty bus, I felt guilty for not agreeing with the taxi driver. I comforted myself that if I get an opportunity to visit Aurangabad again, I will travel in his taxi. I kept his visiting card safe. But I know, that might not solve his current problems.
2. Next day, on the way to Ellora, we were only five passengers in the MTDC bus. The other four passengers came together for the trip were friends. Later I understood that they are working in Bangalore at a LED bulb manufacturing factory and their hometown is at AndhraPradesh. I joined with them and amazed by the way they treated me. Within no time, they started considering me as one among them and whenever they were buying eatables or water bottles they bought one for me too. When I tried to repay, the answer I got was, ‘Friendship is above everything’ which was an eye-opener for me. While it was time to part, we had tea together (during they allowed me to pay the bill) and we exchanged WhatsApp numbers to be in touch.
3. From Aurangabad I took a bus to Shirdhi which is just Rs.140/= away from Aurangabad in an ordinary MSRTC bus. Morning I went to the temple and as expected it was crowded, I stood ~ 3 hours in the queue and reached near to the idol of worship. An individual standing near to the idol by controlling the crowed showed some mercy towards me by inviting me to stand near to him and he was pushing others out as quickly as possible. After a minute he held my hand and informed the priest to perform a Pooja for me which I declined. He was not ready to leave me without performing the Pooja. As I had a similar experience in Puri temple, I realized the need to pay ‘dakshina’ after performing Pooja and informed him that, I didn’t need any Pooja and forced to release my hand and marched towards exit door of the temple. While walking out, I was thinking about the reason for holding only my hand and allowing others to go. Only reason I could think was, others were holding some Pooja materials such as flowers in their hand, but my hands were empty.
4. As I was walking towards Shirdi railway station (1.5 km walk from the main road), I saw an elderly person wearing traditional Maratha white pants, shirt and a Gandhi cap waiting for me on the side of an empty narrow road. I gave a casual look but he smiled at me as if we know each other for years. I couldn’t resist and smiled back. I looked at him from foot to head and felt he was tired and was returning after working in mud. He resembles Anna Hazare at a glance.
He greeted me and informed that he was waiting for me (in Marathi). I was surprised and informed him that I know only Hindi (which I doubt, but in unavoidable circumstances I’m accustomed with such lies). He informed, he is from a nearby village and not so comfortable with Hindi language which gave me more confidence to talk in Hindi.
His name is Sampath (which means prosperity or wealth in Malayalam) but he talked about his poverty. He has four daughters and wife at home. He came to Shirdi to get a job but didn’t get any for today. He also informed me that he used to earn Rs.150/= per day if gets a job. He showed his tired pants as an evidence of his poverty. When I started quizzing him with my broken Hindi, he invited me to his village and house to stay for a day. Initially I believed all those but as conversation progressed he told, he has to spend Rs.30/= for train to reach his house. That means Rs.60/= per day for train which I felt odd for a person earning Rs.150/= per day. I didn’t dig much and asked him about his expectation from me. He asked if I can give him Rs. 20 or 30, that will help him to go back to his village. I thought about the difficulty of washing my black pants and asked him about the need for wearing white dress while going for work but he educated me about the tradition and pride in wearing white dresses. I saw lot of elderly Maharashtrian gentlemen wearing the white dress and Gandhi cap while travelling in train, which is the symbol of a proud Maharashtrian.
By the time we reached railway station, I gave him Rs.xx/= and took a selfie with him. After receiving the amount he wished all the very best for my kids and informed me to convey his regards to all in my family.