The autorickshaw driver who’d taken me around Aurangabad to see that city’s underwhelming monuments offered to take me on a day trip to see Daulatabad Fort and Khuldabad, as well as Ellora Caves. The price was reasonable, and he seemed a pleasant enough chap – chatty, but not too pushy – so I accepted. Besides, it was a lot easier than trying to catch buses between all of the places.
I met Sulim at 0830 outside Ashish’s apartment. He’d turned up in a different autorickshaw from the one he’d had the previous day, a pimped-up model with padded pleather upholstery, a black/blue/yellow/purple paint job, and two Jaguar and two Chevrolet emblems attached to various places. On the way out of the estate he asked me if I liked music. Thinking he might put some classic Indian pop or Bollywood music on, I said yes. A few seconds later and thumping, screeching techno was blasting out of the massive stereo system at full volume. It was quite unpleasant, with my head right next to the speakers, and I don’t suppose the residents of the quiet estate enjoyed it much either. I told him to turn it off.
Daulatabad Fort was reasonably interesting, but I’d definitely reached Fort Saturation Point now, and it couldn’t compete with Kumbhalgarh or Chittaurgarh. The most impressive thing from a distance is the way the builders (the 11th century Yadavas, who called it Deogiri) have cut away the hillside to leave a sheer 50m cliff face all around. Inside the fort, mildly diverting features include a mosque converted into a Hindu temple, the big, pink, phallic Victory Tower (it would be good if you could go inside and climb to the top, but it’s dilapidated and sealed off), and the Mendha Tope or Ram’s Head Cannon. Is it sad that I get quite excited about unusual artillery pieces I encounter on my travels? Or that I knew, as soon as I saw them, that the ornamental cannons outside the police headquarters in Bikaner were RML 2.5 inch Mountain Guns? Don’t answer: I already know.
The next part of the fort was the Andheri, or ‘Dark Passage’. The route up from the lower levels to the fortifications at the top goes underground and through a twisting path, in total darkness, with a confusing mixture of corners, dips, tiny steps, huge steps, and at one point, a wrong turning which apparently drops you straight into the moat. It was designed to confound and rout attackers who didn’t know the way. Sulim advised me to pay a guide to walk me through it, but that wasn’t necessary: I had a torch. With light, it was easy enough to get through.
There was a strange smell in the tunnel, and some noises from above. I looked up and saw why. I never knew bats had a distinctive smell, but I do now. I was still looking up at them, fascinated, when one of the fort’s workers came past me, saying “come, this way!” ‘helpfully’ gesturing up the stairs. Can’t you see I want to look at the bats, man? I stayed where I was, but a few seconds later, he reappeared, saying “come, come!” Look, you’re totally ruining this whole bat experience, dude. A firm, “I’m ok, go away and stop bothering me,” got rid of him. Maybe he was expecting baksheesh, or maybe he just being nice. Either way, the sanctity of the bat cave had been spoiled, and I moved on.
At the top, the palace built for Emperor Shah Jahan, though dating from the 17th century, looks like a 1920s seafront cafe, that wouldn’t look out of place in Margate or Llandudno, and is just as run down. Right at the top, there’s a lookout tower, which gives great 360° views, after you’ve eventually found the correct path up to it, or heaved yourself up an 8 foot wall instead.
Back down at the bottom, I found Sulim hanging out with his autorickshaw mates, showing them videos on his phone of an even more pimped-up auto, with a spring-loaded retractable roof. We set off for our next destination, Ellora.