The Taj Mahal, with a Difference (1 of 2) – Aurangabad not Agra …

The “Poor Man’s Taj” – a full replica of Agra’s Taj Mahal – can be found in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, Western India.

The plan was to see the popular Ajantha and Ellora caves, instead Lubna Kably and Big Foot ended up seeing the ‘Taj Mahal’ in Aurangabad. And this was no mirage. Read on to know more about the replica of Agra’s Taj.

“Aurangabad is just 388 kilometers away from Mumbai and the train journey will be most comfortable.” Based on these words of assurance from all and sundry, a friend and I boarded the train.

Well, the best laid plans of men… The train had just pulled out of the outskirts of Mumbai, and there we were, in the middle of nowhere, stranded for nearly six whole hours. Most of the passengers were those headed for work or on business trips, and almost all of them jumped off the train to try their luck to hitch a ride to their destinations.

That just left a handful of us in the compartment. Sitting opposite us was a retired British bureaucrat. I do think that bureaucrats all over the world are alike. And retired ones are worse; they have lots of stories to narrate, God! I did not want to listen to any of them.

But Big Foot, let us call my friend that (since she has threatened to sue me if I use her real name), listened in rapture. No wonder; she is a good journalist. The fact that we were in the middle of nowhere and that I was frantically trying to convince her to jump down and trek, hitch a ride on a truck, climb up a bullock-cart, do anything except just sit in the train compartment – had absolutely no effect.

So while Mr. B (I think it is prudent not to mention his name) narrated his experience in the Ministry of Coal (I am sure he said Coal) and in the Ministry of Finance and Big Foot held on to every word, I spent my time pretending to be an origami artist (and used her scribbling pad). All I ended up making were umpteen paper boats. Journalist’s scribbling pads sure have multi-purpose utility!

Suddenly the one-sided conversation by Mr. B, seemed interesting. He was not headed for the usual tourist destination – the Ajantha and Ellora caves – as we were. (The history of Buddhism in India can be seen in intricate carvings on the walls of the Ajanta caves; these date back to the era between 200 BC to AD 600. The Ellora caves contain impressive carvings in rock of Lord Siva, a Hindu god.).

Mr. B was actually going to visit the “Taj Mahal”. The Taj? Here in Aurangabad, Maharashtra, Western India. “The guy is bonkers,” I thought. Agra, in Uttar Pradesh, North India, where this wonder of the world is situated, was miles and miles away. Or perhaps Mr. B had boarded the wrong train. Or had we?

I frantically pulled out my train ticket and checked and rechecked with the ticket collector that we were on the right track. Big Foot sniggered at my discomfort. But, Mr. B proved to be a kind soul. He pulled out a thick file containing news clippings, photocopies from historical books, old faded yellowing pictures and what-not. He and Mrs. B. had seen the “Taj Mahal of Aurangabad” in the 1960s, while he was posted for a brief period in Bombay (now renamed as Mumbai) and was not rich enough to travel up to Agra. Now he wanted to see it again. Sheer sentiment drove him to Aurangabad and not to Agra. I really began to develop a soft corner for this retired bureaucrat.

It was late evening when we staggered out at Aurangabad Railway station. Our original plan was to hike down to the caves, and stay in a hotel nearby. But, now all we could manage was to walk opposite to the MTDC (Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation’s) hotel. Clean rooms, but without any view and a bit claustrophobic, is my view of this hotel. But it sure is in a convenient location. Imagine being able to rush back to catch your train at the very last minute – heaven! Especially if you are travelling with Big Foot and find that you have to rush back to the Hotel just because she has left behind something important, like the tickets or passports.

Mr. B, who was staying at the swanky 5-star hotels, exchanged his e-mail address and actually gave us precise directions on how to reach the “Taj Mahal”.

One of the hallways, leading out in the garden.

A Visit to the Bibi Ka Makbara
Big Foot is not used to early mornings. Journalists tend to start their day as late as 11 am, lucky folks! But since my curiosity was aroused, it had to be an early morning start. We found out that private taxis travel to the “Bibi Ka Makbara,” as the “Poor Man’s Taj” is called, but for a “price”. Still we decided to splurge, and promptly booked one.

So early morning, next day, Big Foot was first dragged out of her bed and then dragged out of the taxi cab. It was amazing. Built way back in 1679 by Emperor Aurangzeb’s son as a tribute to his mother, Rabia Durani, Bibi Ka Makbara is an exact replica of India’s famous tourist attraction, the Taj Mahal.

Bibi Ka Makbara has a central dome, surrounded by four smaller domes and four minarets. Four taller minarets surround this central structure. We learnt that it is called the Poor Man’s Taj Mahal because it is not entirely built of marble but also of limestone. To my untrained eyes, it seemed that it was entirely built of marble.

A mosque within the premise is silent. Sad, that the government has not appointed a muezzin to call out for prayers; else it would have added that extra touch of authenticity to a regal surrounding. The octagonal burial chamber within the main structure is built of marble, and it has some really intricate carvings and rich tapestries. For some strange reason, we did not venture to step in and see it. I guess a grave, whether it is in the open or amidst marble splendor, does make one feel a trifle sad, a tad philosophical. Instead we strolled the grounds, admiring the latticework and the general peace and quiet, broken by the screech of the brightly colored green parrots.

And then it happened. Big Foot (rather I should call her sleepy head) walked straight into the pool. Yes: the pathway leading up to the Bibi Ka Makbara actually has fountains and pools on both sides of the walkway.

I could not but help laugh. And I knew that I should not have. While I continued to saunter among the well-laid-out pathways, clicked away at everything in sight and imagined myself to be a princess in the Moghul era, Big Foot had run off in the taxi. Fortunately, I managed to hitch a ride on a tourist bus, which was headed back to the railway station.

After a heavy lunch – greasy paneer (cottage cheese), curry with butter naan (a sort of bread), downed with Coke (Coke is found anywhere and everywhere on this planet, isn’t it?) Big Foot was full of plans.

She wanted to see the grave of the Emperor Aurangzeb. While I was dreaming away on the lawns of the Bibi Ka Makbara, she had done a lot of fact finding. It was taxi-time again.

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04 May 2010

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