How to go – Overnight train from Mumbai to Aurangabad . Car from Aurangabad to Ajanta and Ellora
Where to stay – We stayed at Hotel Shree Maya in Aurangabad , recommended by LP. The MTDC resort was also recommended in quite a few blogs
When to go – Summer definitely to be avoided. March was a bit hot but not unbearable. Set aside two days as it gets tiring to cover in one day.
What to do – Ajanta , Ellora. Aurangabad has its own delights like Daulatabad Fort, Biwi ka Maqbara.
Handy hints – (a) Wear easily removable footwear since you have to remove them at most caves. Sneakers can be a pain (b) carry a torch to see the paintings better.
How to go – Overnight train from Mumbai to Aurangabad . Car from Aurangabad to Ajanta and Ellora
Friday night of the Holi weekend, four of us caught the 9 p.m. train to Aurangabad, our base camp. We were in second sleeper compartments, which during the course of the night, morphed into a general compartment. Passengers without reservations seemed to have no compunction about boarding, and were more than a little surprised to see the berths occupied by people trying to get some sleep. Undeterred, they just sat everyone’s feet and made themselves at home by starting loud and long conversations. By the time the train reached our station at 4 a.m., all of us had given up on sleep and were just glad to be off.
Aurangabad lay in darkness thanks to a power cut and it was pouring. When we reached our hotel, we had one torchlight between the four of us to get ready. By 7.15 we were all out, looking dishevelled and sleepy.
Our spirits, however, finally began to rise when we hit the well maintained road to Ajanta. The landscape was quite stark thanks to the season. Bare trees adorned the barren lands and did not move much in the cool breeze. I sat in the front, plugged in my ipod and let the music and scenery engulf me. The others slept in the back of the car.
Our first stop was Ajanta. The friendly tourism department had come up with an interesting method of accessing the place involving buying tickets at various points, walking through shopping centres, boarding buses and what not. Lest you thought that there was only Ajanta to see, you could feel reassured that there was an entire maze thrown in for free. By the time we actually saw the caves, we were an hour behind our schedule.
There were 30 caves in Ajanta and not all of them were worth seeing unless you were a student of history/architecture etc. We decided to be sensible and hire a guide. Which was easier said than done because everyone had had the same idea and there were none on hire for love or money. Eventually we did find one for both the love and money. He was a very effeminate and effusive man in his late 40s and had already been engaged by another group. But clearly Sri’s charms were irresistible and he took us on. Sri was not amused.
Ajanta’s caves were created from a volcanic rock face sometime from 3rd century BC to 7th century AD. They were used as temples and also as residences for wandering Buddhist monks. Given the long timelines, the caves depicted both key forms of Buddhism – Mahayana and Hinayana. The more lowkey Hinayana form does not believe in depicting Buddha directly, but rather through symbols like lotuses, Stupas and elephants. The Mahayana form is a lot more gregarious on the other hand and has lovely sculptures of Buddha. The fact that caves were dug so long ago with relatively primitive implements was impressive in itself. The paintings and the carvings were the icing on the cake. Sadly a lot of the paintings were not very clear and to protect them from further damage there was not much lighting in most caves. (Note - Carrying a torchlight along will be handy).
Our guide quickly led us through the key caves. The last cave we saw had a carving of a prone Buddha, depicting him as dead. It also had a Stupa and a statue of Buddha, showing a combination of both forms of Buddhism. A lovely finish to a crescendo set in stone.
Given the tight timeline, there was no time to linger and explore the other caves for any unexpected discoveries. Instead, we wound our way back through the maze and jumped into our waiting car to go to Ellora.
Ellora was a good two hours away from Ajanta, through a shortcut that did not touch Aurangabad. In the afternoon sun, the journey was the exact length to catch a nap and then nibble at snacks. We arrived at Ellora, tired but revived.
Ellora, unlike Ajanta , had caves from three religions –Buddhism (built between 500 – 600 AD), Hinduism (from 900 AD) and Jainism (800 – 1000 AD). Also, unlike Ajanta which was carved into the flat mountain face and was almost midway between the river below and the hilltop above, the Ellora caves were closer to the ground, made from a sloping rock face. By far the most impressive was the famous Cave 16, housing the Kailashanath Temple. The carving of the temple began from the top and as the rocks were dug further and further, the whole temple came into existence. Apparently about 2 million tons of rock were dug out and a space 107 feet, 276 long and 154 feet wide emerged. The monolith that was left was then chiseled to create the larger than life carvings of shapely gods and goddess, animals and mythical creatures. It was truly an architectural feat. Our guide was equally smitten, despite having been here for about 2 years. A very academic looking chap, he had spent a few years in a 9 to 5 job and had then moved into this line. We compared views on the architecture of South Indian temples and learnt about the history of Ellora. Then we sat for a while in one of the temples and watched the bright blue sky through the stone courtyard, a view that probably had been seen by the monks of yore.
Our plan had also included a quick dash to Daulatabad Fort. When we finished at five though, it became pretty obvious that we had neither the time nor the energy to cover more places and headed back to the hotel for a wash.
The hotel looked much better in the warm glow of electricity. We lounged around in the restaurant, playing Scrabble and eating dinner till it was time to get back to the station. I was on the upper berth. I was really tired. I knew that ours was the last stop. With conditions so perfect it was a matter of minutes before I floated into a deep drooling slumber, dreaming of masons and monks.
1. For once, I had a holiday that was the right combination of relaxed and busy. Met up with just enough people, ate tons, chatted with parents and read two and half novels (One Agatha Christie, one chicklit and part of ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’)
2. I woke up to a decent general newspaper everyday. God, how do I put up with TOI
3. No worries on what to do with leftover food, when to get the washing done and if there are enough groceries in the fridge
6. Timed the trip really well – had been away long enough to look forward to Chennai but was not back so early that I would feel terribly, miserably home sick after getting back to Mumbai
7. Managed to attend a birthday party and met up with people I would not have had the time meet otherwise
8. I sat and listened to a long pitch on why an insurance policy scheme is good for me and felt all grown up and responsible (Or perhaps the other way to look at it is – insurance? On a holiday? Loser. )
9. Had a nice girly afternoon with three friends, eating brownies and discussing life, love and make up
10. had time to slow down and think…but not too much
My bai (maid servant/cook) called at 2 p.m. Invariably at 2 p.m. I am doing one of the following
- looking up various news sites
- returning from a post lunch walk
It is a rare day that I end up in a work meeting and usually bai coincides her calls with these meetings. While I have the choice of not taking her calls, reality has taught me that excusing myself for five minutes may save me the trouble of finding no dinner at home. So I excused myself and sidled up to the farthest corner of the 30 ft by 15 ft room.
Bai (conversation happened in Hindi) – what vegetables should I cook? Shall I make potatoes?
Me – There is beetroot in the fridge. Why don’t you make that?
Bai – Oh. I don’t know how to make it. Can you teach me?
Me – (what! What? What!?) – hmmm. Alright. You need to cut it into small pieces and cook it.
I can already see myself mired in an entirely unproductive conversation. I don’t know how to cook beetroot either. I just remember the way my mom used to make it, the end product was grated and had some seasoning. I don’t know how to say ‘grate’ in Hindi.
Me – Please cut it into small pieces. Really small pieces. Use that thing for cutting into small pieces
By now my other two colleagues who had been in a deep discussion on what pricing they are likely to get for syndicating a loan, look up fascinated. Clearly I am proving to be a good diversion in a busy day.
Me – well, actually just cook it anyway you think is appropriate
I want the conversation to end.
Bai (persisting) – but you tell me how to make it. I don’t want you to waste it
Me – no I will eat whatever you make.
I put the phone down.
At dinner I ate every last piece of the beetroot. It turned out to be surprisingly decent. Unfortunately she forgot to put salt and spices in the dal as a result of all the focus on the beetroot. So I have had to waste a lot of it. But I ate the beetroot and that is what counts.
Was very good because I discovered
1. my friend P can really tell a funny story. We have only met in large gatherings and she is usually very quiet in these, letting her husband S do all the talking. S & P were in Mumbai and had come over to my house in the evening. It was one of those perfect hanging out sessions. We all stuffed our faces, then sat and chatted about various things, watching the sky turn pink and grey over the vast sea while P had me in splits with the story of their travel to Mumbai.
2. Mumbai’s lungs, the Aarey Gardens at Goregaon. Went for a walk with a friend, without expecting too much. It turned out to be 1000 hectares wide, with small roads crisscrossing the wilderness. Infact in some parts you can’t hear the traffic anymore, only the birds.
3. how to get Picassa to stop speaking to me in Hindi. Blogger, Mail, Orkut and sundry applications owned by Google operate in English for me. For some mysterious reason, the minute I log into Picassa it is all in Hindi. The struggle to change the settings has been going on in random 2 minute frustrated sessions over a couple of weeks but yes! I cracked it.