Pune -> Sinhgad -> Pune -> Lavasa -> Ajanta -> Ellora -> Aurangabad ->Mumbai
Continued from here
We headed off that night to the bus that would take us to Fardapur- and the Ajanta caves. We didn’t expect the morning to be eventful but when we were dropped at 5 am at the village of Fardapur and the car didn’t reach us from the hotel to pick us up after repeated calls to them, we decided it would be. We had enquiries made by everyone except the hotel staff – villagers, caretaker of the MTDC resort (that we couldn’t reach during our booking time, or we’d have booked that) while we waited there. A broken AC, no hot water, no working phones in the room or the reception, and many miseries followed us at the hotel that I’d rather not describe further to avoid it sounding depressing.
After passing through a group of annoying vendors yelling out their store names and screaming at us to come buy their wares we managed to take the bus to the caves. The caves are simply breath-taking.
We crossed the first cave where a guy offered his one-cave-guide services, while we watched another gentleman guiding a person from Burma who was audio-recording him. We finally approached the duo in the 2nd cave and continued to visit caves with him for the rest of the day and 34 caves.
The first cave undoubtedly had the calmest and most beautiful image of Buddha or maybe because it was the first, it has its own charm. Across the caves , the paintings on the ceilings and the walls had stories from Jataka tales(instant childhood reminders), Buddha’s life and that of the other saints. The process of creating the caves themselves by removing layers of the basalt rock sounded fascinating. The paintings were made with limestone, coal and lapis for different colors. There were roughly 2 types of caves. 1 with individual units for monks to live/meditate and the other like a temple of sorts with a roof that enhanced the sounds of chanting.
We had to take off our footwear at many caves and I was glad I hadn’t worn laced up shoes. Mercifully there was also drinking water available around the place.
There was much to see other than the caves too. A couple of viewpoints and a park where one could choose to eat. However as we were wondering which direction to head, a guard suggested a waterfall in the premises! After a climb over a few bumpy rocks, we got to the gushing sound and the misty freshness of an earnest waterfall breaking through the stubborn mountains. The roaring waterfall fell into a placid pool that further trickled down into a clear stream.
Anand, who initially wanted to go to the viewpoint uphill also decided to instead relax a while after clicking his photos of course. A thaali meal at the MTDC hotel later, we happened to bump into the same guy who had initially shown us the way in and who continued to insist we visit his store. Memories of those yelling storekeepers ensured we had no such interest and we instead asked him the way to the Ajanta caves museum next door. He did take us to a hard-to-find exit while insisting we visit his store. Filled with guilt we headed out with no intention to return!
The Ajanta museum itself was quite a surprise. It was spacious, filled with info and short videos and replicas of the actual caves. It was in fact, a fantastic option for people who didn’t want to walk in the heat within the actual Ajanta caves. It had a lot of staff who were helpful and eager to help in the wide space. The only drawback perhaps that we were already quite tired after walking in Ajanta so we couldn’t give it as much time as we’d have wished otherwise. Seeing the effort put into sketches of costumes, jewellery, weapons of the people of the time was however quite a treat.
Aurangabad – Day 1
On our return to the hotel, we crashed and slept the evening away in exhaustion. We decided to take the bus to Ellora the next day. After a breakfast at the nearby eatery, we headed off in the most rickety bus I’d ever been in , to Aurangabad. We could almost sense every nut and bolt in the bus, but it was still strangely comfortable with enough leg space. 3 hours later, we reached the bus station from where we took a rick to our oh-so-comfortable hotel room.
It took all of our determination to drag ourselves out of its comfort to head back into the sun for more walking at Ellora. We managed to freshen up, have a meal and headed back to the bus station, despite the offer of our hotel guy to spend Rs.1500 on a taxi. We landed there at 3pm. There was no time for a leisurely walk exploring as the place closed by 6pm. The next day was a Tuesday when caves are closed for visitors, hence this was our only chance. So we optimised based on a very useful article that suggested must-visits based on time one had, on the archaeological survey of India site. This floor plan also helps.
Cave 16, the Kailash temple right at the entrance was undoubtedly the most breath-taking. A huge, detailed, monolithic, gorgeous structure carved out from top-down an entire temple with several areas, it was hard to fathom where they’d have started and which great mind had the courage to envision such a work of art.
We optimised on time by visiting the rest of the caves as suggested on the site to view “representative art of Buddhism, Brahmanism, and Jainism”. The caves suggested on Buddhism were similar to the ones in Ajanta. And the ones of Hindu like style were similar to other temples we’d visited before but were still interesting. Just as we eagerly headed to the last bit, we realised the pathway to the next set of caves was blocked with thorns! There was a gorgeous waterfall between the last cave(29?) such that the water from there would have sprinkled on those walking along the path. Would have been quite a blissful experience but it wasn’t our day 😦 .
The only way now was by road and quite a walk. With our shared distaste at arguing with auto-rickshaws and their unreasonable demands, we decided it was a walking trip for us. Was not too sunny and only a couple of km but it was slightly uphill, so not the easiest of walks either. Thankfully, we had refreshments and we both had some water and ice-candy and were all set for the Jain caves. We also found a guide who took us all through the connected set of Jain caves while regaling us with their stories. The cave 32 with the Indra sabha and the thirthankaras at the entrance, especially the familiar Gomateshwara (made familiar to us by trips to Shravanabelegola and our history books) were placed amidst quite lovely artwork on the upper floor of the cave.
We headed off to the exit determined to take a bus back to Aurangabad. There was also a lady at the bus stop with us. After 3 buses passed by without stopping, we began to question our choice of transport only to have the next one stop. Apparently, the lady was an employee at the caves and knew the bus driver since she took the bus daily, we were lucky enough to be there then, and managed to head off to Aurangabad. We got a seat quickly enough ; me, initially on some sort of extension to the bus seat where the bus conductor could take a nap!