KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
There are a lot of similarities between the city of Aurangabad and Edmonton, our hometown in Canada. They have the same size population and while Aurangabad is very hot in the summer, Edmonton is very cold in the winter. Both cities are a little bit off the beaten track but each serves as a jumping off point for some interesting tourist sights. Edmonton has long been known as the 'Gateway to the North' and is on the Yellowhead highway leading to Jasper National Park. Aurangabad is the gateway to the world-famous caves paintings/sculptures at Ajanta and Ellora.
For many years we have wanted to visit the caves but getting to Aurangabad was not an easy task. The city is not on a main railroad line and to travel from Mumbai or Nagpur requires a transfer from one train to another with a long wait in a small station, often in the middle of the night. Travel by road is long and tedious and was never a good option when we came to India with little time to spare for sightseeing. While there was an airport in Aurangabad in the past, there were few flights and the cost was prohibitive. This time we found the airfare very reasonable as private airlines have entered the market and flights in India have become an affordable option. Aurangabad has become the most visited city in central Maharashtra because of the caves. Most tourists travel in groups and fly in and out of the city.
The flight from Mumbai was in the evening so we decided to book a hotel room in advance. This is something we rarely do, as we like to see the room before we agree to stay in a hotel. With my sensitivities to odours and Anil's preference for modern bathrooms, we are prepared to hunt for a place to sleep once we arrive at our destination. However, it would be relatively late to begin the hotel search with an evening arrival so we took a chance and booked a hotel on the internet. The photos of the building and the room looked promising so we decided, for once, to take a chance.
The flight was comfortable although it did leave an hour late. There were few people flying on this route so the plane was a turbo-prop, a little noisy but very comfortable otherwise. These planes fly at lower altitudes so we were able to see the landscape below. Once we flew over the Western Ghat range and reached the Deccan plateau, we were surprised to see how desolate the region appeared from the air. As we rode into the city in a taxi, we were pleasantly surprised to see relatively wide, clean streets and little traffic. It was nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai and breathe fresh air once again.
As we pulled up to our hotel, I was alarmed to see a building not at all like the one in the photograph on the internet. It was then I remembered that the picture was an architectural drawing, not an actual photograph. We entered the lobby and it was clear that the hotel was undergoing renovations and was a VERY LONG way from being complete. My good mood vanished in a flash and Anil had to deal with a very grumpy wife. It didn't seem there was much we could do as we had already paid for two nights and so we checked in and took the elevator to our room on the third floor.
There had been a half-hearted attempt to renovate our room, but it was way below our expectations for the price we had paid. Anil was most unhappy with the bathroom and we sorely regretted booking the hotel for two nights. The sheets on the beds and the towels in the bathroom looked like they had seen way more visitors than they were ever meant to accommodate. I told Anil that I was experiencing serious culture shock, as if I had never been to Asia before, but vowed to speak to the manager in the morning about our feeling that we had been duped by the way the hotel was presented on the net.
The next morning, we walked a couple of blocks down the street to a South Indian restaurant for idly/dosa and after fortifying ourselves with a good breakfast, we headed back to the hotel to speak to the manager. When I told him that I would never have stayed at his hotel if I had walked in off the street, he asked us how he could satisfy us and not have us leave unhappy. He suggested upgrading us to a better room, but I was doubtful that anything in the building would be acceptable. Anil went off to have a look and as it turned out, he was shown a newly renovated room that looked like the picture that had led us to choose the hotel in the first place. The manger offered to give us the room as the same rate as the unacceptable room and although the halls were ghastly, we ended up extending our stay to four days. Every day the manager went out of his way to make sure we were content, and for the most part, we were in the end.
Aurangabad is named after the Emperor Aurangzeb who ruled from 1658 - 1707. He was the last of the great Mughals. He is famous for imprisoning his father, Shah Jahan (the builder of the Taj Mahal) and warring with his brothers to become Emperor. There are two or three historic sites in the city itself but the only one we made time for was the Bibi-Ka-Maqbara. This is often referred to as the 'poor man's Taj Mahal' and was built for Aurangzeb's wife Rabia-ud-Daurani. The entire tomb and surrounding garden are symmetrical, unlike the Taj Mahal that has its symmetry truncated by its location along the banks of the Jamuna River.
When we arrived at the tomb, Anil went to purchase the tickets while I waited in the shade. He asked the female ticket seller for two 'foreigner' tickets for Rs 100 each. She then told him that he would have to purchase a ticket for himself if he was planning to accompany the foreigners. When he told her that one 'foreigner' ticket was for his use, she was puzzled and remarked that he spoke very good Hindi. When he told her, he was born in India but lives in Canada, she insisted he purchase a 'local' ticket for Rs 5. Anil is used to obeying strong-minded women so he gave in and smiled to himself as he walked over to me to tell me about this unusual occurrence.
The tomb was quite lovely and there were few other visitors at that hour of the afternoon. There are some wonderful architectural features in the structure and we were happy to see that restoration has begun to preserve the monument. The workers were in slow gear during the heat of the afternoon, but I have to admit that I wouldn't have had a great deal of energy to plaster walls or erect scaffolding if it were up to me to do the work.
Our four nights stay in Aurangabad gave us three full days of sightseeing and then we had the morning to ourselves before our afternoon flight to Udaipur in Rajasthan. We used that time to catch up on emails and work on the journal. Then it was off to the airport for our flight with Kingfisher Airlines. We were surprised to learn that they did not yet have authorization to use the electronic scanning machines to screen checked luggage so our bags were searched by hand. All was as it should be and the security staff commented on how neat our suitcases were. I told them that this was our twenty-fifth flight in the past twenty-five weeks so we should be good at packing.
Editor's Note: Lessons in 'suitcase packing' can be arranged. It should take you a lot less than the 25 weeks I needed.