I've traveled from Mumbai to Aurangabad to visit the magnificent Ellora and Ajanta caves. I took the overnight sleeper train from Mumbai which arrived at 4am. This is now the third time I've had a 4am arrival on the sleeper train and arriving at such an unearthly hour is no longer beginning to bother me as much. And all because of my new alarm clock ... planned power outages at 6am in order to load shed during the hottest time of year, when everyone if electricity-guzzling with AC. The damn snooze button does not work either. At ten past six I am wide awake in a sweat ... time for the day to begin ...
Ledise and Gints, welcome to the toilets near Ajanta.
Ellora and Ajanta are quite a trek, nestled up in the northern part of the Maharashtra state, a sometimes desolate, hot, and dry place, that is, until the monsoon hits in June. Its littered with lots of small hillocks, forts, mosques and small Hindu temples centered around several small towns and villages. It is here that from the 2nd century BC, a community of Buddhist monks set up shop in the cliffs of Ajanta and later on, in Ellora.
These guys were ambitious. At Ajanta they chiseled out some 28 caves to use as monasteries and places of worship or meditation. Each being in the region of 50m x 50m, some bigger, it must have been a humongous effort to excavate and then carve to the perfection that they have achieved in many of the caves. There must have been a massive crew to support the monks and it must have taken a long time to excavate the massive amount of rock required. To finish it off they sculptured the pillars, doorways, windows and shrines to Buddha. Finally they decorated the walls with amazing paintings, that have survived to this day and rate as the finest art to have survived from an ancient civilization. The paintings are exquisite and have been fortunate to survive this long, primarily as Ajanta was abandoned around the eighth century AD and, with its cliffside location, in a remote gorge, it remained relatively untouched until it was 'rediscovered' by a British party in the early 19th century. I was impressed, but even more so when i visited Ellora.
Whilst in Ellora I was struck by the sheer number of caves and the vast volume of rock that has been excavated. In all, some 34 caves, a mix of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist were carved from Volcanic rock. All the caves are monolithic (I did not see a single bit of block-work), a fine testament to the attention to detail and the lack of errors in the work. And it was a serious amount of excavation, all with by chisel and hammer. Its just hard to fathom. In just one temple, the Kailash Temple, the amount of rock probably exceeds the total volume of a number of Welsh caves I regularly visit, such as Eglwys Faen. And then there is the exquisite sculptures, which are unbelievably prolific in all the various caves, but unlike Ajanta, Ellora has had many sculptures defaced due to the influence of Muslim faith in the thirteenth century. I recommend a visit to everyone.
For the past day I've traveled with a fine chap from France, who is coming to the end of his six month stay in India. He's had a bit of a rough ride; Amongst many things, he had to haul up in Varanasi for two weeks to be treated for Rabies after being bitten by a dog while he was wondering the streets at 1am. Prior to this he got really sick after drinking tap water. He now only drinks bottled water, but he's the only traveler I've met, who's been brave enough to go near tap water. But then he's a hard chap, while he was in Lima, Peru, he caught dengue fever (who needs repellent and a mossy net hey ?) and then was then robbed of his possessions on a late night Lima City bus by some guy brandishing a syringe of blood.
Traveling in Maharashtra state is very different to traveling I have done in the south of India. English is not used frequently and there is a resurgence of the Marathi language. Shops and road signs are in Marathi and that means I can't find a internet cafe, unless I know what 'Internet' it looks like in Marathi script or I find someone who speak enough English. I am sure this is a taster of rural China to come later in my trip.
While here, I bought some sunscreen. I am always a little suspect of cheap and shoddy branded sun-cream, as, not surprisingly, I don't really want to get burnt with some fake suncream in a tourist joint that does not have return business. So I opted for a bottle of L'Oreal. All seemed fine until I studied the label in a little more detail:
Looks real ? How many problems can you spot ? To check your answers against mine, click here.
Tonight I'm off to Ahmenabad in Gujarat, and then shortly on to Rajasthan. I'm currently hauled up in Jalgon waiting for my Train to Gudjarat. Without wanting to turn this blog into a literary of commercial product placements or even endorsements (L'Oreal suncream excluded), I promised to plug the hotel I'm staying in for a late checkout . Its the Plaza Hotel in Jalagon. Its very nice. The nicest 300 Rupee place in India so-far. I thoroughly recommend it, especially for a late checkout.