Ellora is impressive, but so is another sight around Aurangabad, the mighty Daultabad Fort. Always a sucker for a good fort, I stopped off at Daultabad on the way back from Ellora, and I wasn't disappointed. Soaring from the desert plains is a mountain that forms the perfect natural defence, with sheer cliff walls petering out into a hilly crown that makes an excellent setting for a fortress. But even though the fort is a wonderful sight and provides great views of the surrounding desert hills, it's the story behind Daultabad that gives it an atmosphere all of its own.
The original fortress in Daultabad was built in the 12th century AD by the Hindu rulers of the Deccan, but in 1308 it fell into the hands of the Muslims. It must have caught the eye of the conquerors because Mohammed Tughlaq, the Sultan of Delhi, decided to move his capital from Delhi to Daultabad. In a display of madness that even modern India has trouble matching, he marched his entire population 1100km south to his new city, even taking the old and unwell; not surprisingly, thousands of his subjects died on the way. Undeterred by this unfortunate experience, he eventually realised that the blistering heat of the desert wasn't quite his cup of tea after all, because 17 years later he marched them all the way back to Delhi, again creating a severe dent in the population levels. I bet he was popular with his subjects... well, those who were left, anyway.
The fort, however, has stood the test of time remarkably well. The ruins sit atop a huge hill, surveying the land for miles around, and even with the proliferation of nattering tourists it retains its atmosphere of ancient and turbulent times, combining ancient Hindu and Islamic architecture into one gorgeous sight.
Along with Ellora, it makes Aurangabad an essential stop on the way north.