Well I wasn’t sure if we had refreshed and recovered fully during our stay in Pune but we soon descended into the “other side” of India once we had left the city and were sat on our bus on the way to Aurangabad. It was only a journey of about 250km but once again was going to take over five hours but at least this time we were in the relative luxury of an air conditioned bus! The trip was pretty uneventful and we eventually arrived at Aurangabad which was to be our base for the next couple of nights while we visited the caves of Ajanta and Ellora.
Aurangabad itself is a city of about 1.25 million and seems to sit in the middle of a hot dustbowl. It wasn’t much to look at and we didn’t really see any sights or restaurants on the way to our hotel. In fact we didn’t see much of anything. We had only picked this place as it was an easy base to visit the caves by bus and so we recovered from our journey, got something to eat and went to bed.
The next morning we woke early and caught a local bus for two hours to get to Ajanta Caves. We thought there would be a few more tourists doing the same as us but once again we were on our own. This of course means that we tend to get lots of attention from the locals and once again ended up having a fantastic conversation with a young guy who was about to start his training to be a doctor. It was interesting as he was from a village area but was also trying to embrace “modern India.” We are finding more and more that there is quite a divide between the haves and the have nots and on local buses we see both. For instance while the young doctor and I were connecting on our smart phones another lady was asking me for money. I can’t help but get the feeling that a lot of people in this country are going to get left behind the more some make the huge leaps forwards.
Still the journey passed quickly and we were soon dropped off at the side of the road near the entrance to the Ajanta Caves. We were there as the gates were opening so didn’t get completely mobbed by the hawkers but one guy helped us through the markets to the bus and in return we promised to stop at his shop on the way back.
A second short bus ride later we bought our tickets and ascended the stairs to the valley where the caves were located. As we topped the stairs we entered a horseshoe shaped valley and around the outside of the bend it was clear to see a number of caves carved into the side of the cliff. In fact there were 30 caves carved into the rock all built between the2nd century BC and 6th century AD. They are called caves but really they are temples carved into the rock.
The first temple we entered was almost the most impressive. It was huge and fairly poorly lit but the walls and columns were all painted depicting various Buddhist scenes. It was difficult to comprehend how the whole temple we were looking at was all carved into the rock. It was all one singular piece which made the carvings even more impressive.
We spent the next 4 hours walking around the caves entering each and every one and they were all absolutely mindblowingly impressive. We had to keep reminding ourselves that these were all carved out of the rock and the details in the carvings on the wall were so intricate in their design it all seemed unbelievable. There couldn’t have been any mistakes made when they were building these caves and apart from the paintings the temples have remained in a very good state of repair. The paintings unfortunately have not survived so well but the couple of caves where they remain the effect is spectacular and we could only imagine what they would all have looked like when painted.
Not only was the sight itself impressive but there were hardly any other tourists here at all. We saw three other westerners and while there were more Indian tourists we often had caves to enjoy to ourselves which was fantastic. Considering how many people reside in India, the most densely populated country on Earth, it’s quite strange to be able to enjoy so many of the great sights without many people around. We certainly aren’t complaining.
Having walked the entire length of the caves we felt we should climb the inside of the horseshoe to get a view of the whole site. By this stage it was really heating up but it was a dry dusty heat so for me it was pretty bearable and we soon made our way to the summit. At the top we were indeed rewarded by a great view of the valley and as we cooled ourselves in the shade a local farmer approached us and started chatting. His English was great and he was really informative in telling us about the place and we also had a good chat about his farming practice. Like many conversations it eventually came around to him wanting to sell us something. We have tried to give some money as we travel around but don’t tend to give to beggars but this guy was nice and so we bought some trinkets (basically rocks) off of him. I obviously overpaid as he then invited us to his daughter’s wedding next year!! Still he was a nice guy and we were happy to help him out.
Cash flow must be pretty bad for these guys when the tourist season is sparse. We noticed this again when we finally returned to the entrance some 5 or 6 hours after we had left and our man who had helped us in the morning actually met us off the bus! We had to respect how hard he had worked to get us to buy something so again we thought we would help him out with a couple of purchases…we now need a mantle piece to put all these objects on!
The journey back to Aurangabad again involved plenty of chats with people on the bus and the conductor summoned us to the front so we could sit and have a chat. Again it was interesting to chat about different cultures. He was very open about his arranged marriage and was very amused that in 13 years of being with Sarah we hadn’t had any children. I thought at one stage that he thought we must have been doing something wrong!! He was also very intrigued that we had our own car back in Australia and used it everyday to get to work! I have to admit that I am very much enjoying the chats we get to have travelling around. Sure some are fairly basic but others are really interesting and result in a much more in depth understanding of the Indian culture. So far I have to admit that I am definitely falling in love with the place and especially the people. T
Our first view of the Caves stretching out around the cliff.
A couple of shots showing the layout of the individual Caves carved like houses next to each other on a street.
Inside a lot of the Caves followed a similar design with an antechamber containing a statue of Buddha at the rear and carved columns lining the cave.
The combination of carvings and paintings was amazing.
The 2000 year old paintings were incredible.
Other Caves hadn’t retained their paintwork but the sheer size of them was still very impressive.
Buddha carved in all his different meditation and teaching poses.
The entrances to some of the Caves were amazingly intricate.
We had to keep remembering that these were all carved out of the cliff, so they are all one piece of rock! No mistakes.
We haven’t got pictures of all 30 Caves but most of them were this amazing we were truly stunned as to what we were seeing.
The detail is unbelievable.
The entire Ajanta Caves.