You may not have been there, but you’ve definitely heard about it or seen photographs. Bill Clinton paid a visit here, as does almost every person who visits India. It is the epitome of ever-lasting love: the Taj Mahal in Agra. But did you know that you could find another Taj Mahal in India?
After a visit to Aurangabad, just a few hours away from the bustling city of Mumbai, I no longer turn up my nose at replicas. It is in Aurangabad that I set my eyes on the lesser-known “Mini-Taj” or Bibi Ka Maqbara, which translates as “Tomb of the Lady.”
During an overnight ride in an air-conditioned coach on the Express train, which departs daily from Mumbai, I learned about the existence of this monument from a co-passenger. Let’s call him Mr. Branch. He was a very shy gentleman and surely would not have approved of his true name being used here.
Keeping up with the manners of the Underground Rail, in true Brit style, Mr. Branch was an elderly retired English bureaucrat maintaining a stiff upper lip and avoiding eye contact with his fellow passengers. But a sudden lurch led to his spilling some coffee — a few drops landed on my shirt — and it was just enough to break the ice. Taking full advantage of the moment, I asked him about the black and white photos that he was looking at over and over again. There he was: Mr. Branch as a young man holding hands with a pretty lady in front of the Taj Mahal. At least I thought it was the Taj Mahal.
“No. It is the Mini-Taj and that is where I am headed,” he chuckled. So far, I thought that Aurangabad was just the site of the renowned Ajanta and Ellora caves, the main tourist attraction in this region. Both cave complexes have been World Heritage Sites since 1983.
Murals in the group of about 30 Ajanta Caves span a period of 800 years and provide insight into the life of Buddha and the Buddhist culture. Ellora consists of 34 caverns decorated with sculptures depicting the Hindu religion and culture. The works of art are believed to have been carved between 350-700 AD. The Kailas Temple found in one of these caves is chiseled by hand from a single massive rock.
The caves were the reason I had taken this trip. But I was so intrigued by the Mini-Taj that I decided to accompany my new friend and make Bibi Ka Maqbara my first stop at Aurangabad.
For Mr. Branch, this trip was his way of paying homage to his late wife. They had visited the Mini-Taj during their first year of marriage, while Mr. Branch was posted in Colonial Bombay. To relive old memories he was visiting India again after a lapse of 50-odd years.
Both the famous Taj Mahal in Agra in north-central India, and the lesser-known Bibi Ka Makbara, are monuments of love. The original is the final resting ground of Mumtaz Mahal. Her husband, Emperor Shah Jahan, had it constructed until his favorite wife passed away in 1629. The Mini-Taj is a tribute to a mother. Prince Azam Khan, son of the Mugal Emperor Aurangzeb, built the Bibi Ka Maqbara in 1679 to honor his mother Rabia Durani. He modeled it on the original Taj Mahal.
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