Ajanta & Ellora - A journey to the rich past

India's civilization dates way back to thousands of years, way before the modern date system was invented. India is a country, which was flourishing in terms of economy, culture, literature, arts and prosperity, when entire Europe was in dark age, when USA was yet to be found and Australia was yet to be colonized. India, was then a leader in education system, economics and trade. India, the land of rich literature, scientists and philosophers, India, the land of seekers, religions and devotees. There are many Indias within India. One such India, is the land of architects and architecture.

This story is about the journey to the glorious pages of Indian history, to the prosperous era and rich past, a story of man made structures of a nearly impossible architecture, even modern day architects, with all their extremely advanced equipment, cannot make. It is a journey to the place of importance in history of India, an important city of Mughal and pre Mughal era, the journey to the the lands of Rashtrakoots. Journey to the land of last strong Mughal emperor. A journey to Ellora and Ajanta, a journey to Aurangabad.

The Plan
We have shifted to Pune few months ago and were still exploring nearby places, around Pune. Pune and nearby places are more beautiful during rainy season. Since it was February, and rain was four months away, we planned to explore places little far from Pune. 

Ajanta and Ellora were shortlisted. These historical monuments were in our school syllabus, mentioned in just one paragraph, even lesser than that. You can say, they were just mentioned. Lately, we saw these caves in some documentaries made in USA and India and also read about them. The more we explored about these caves, the more we were attracted towards them.

We planned to visit, before summers, because the summer will be less ideal to explore these rocky caves. We searched hotels, finalized Hotel Kailas, which is located just beside the Ellora caves. We were all set.

The Journey and "Izzittema"
I and my wife, we both are now expert in beating the city traffic and planning the departure perfectly. On February 23rd 2018, we started our 3 days exploration at around 5 AM, when we hit the road. Before 5:30 we were on the highways.  NH27. We were early, but after half an hour, the highway looked busy, a lot of vehicles carrying some kind of pilgrims were moving in the same direction, we were in.

We thought, most of the people wearing whites and some of them skull caps, are going to visit Shirdi, a famous religious place. Sai Baba, is revered equally by Hindus and Muslims. We thought, the rush will reduce after Ahmednagar. We crossed Ahmednagar by 8:00 AM.

However, instead of decreasing, the rush increased. On various places, people volunteered to keep the traffic moving. But, the toll booths were badly jammed. One of the toll booth took 30 minutes. We realized, all the pilgrims were just men. On one of the jams, I asked volunteers about the rabble, they confirmed about some kind of Muslim's religious gathering, called Izzittama, near Aurangabad. They expected more than 4 million people from all over the world, to gather over the three day's of the program. It was both good and bad for us. Good, that we will have company all the way, which in case of vehicle emergency could be useful, and bad, because the heavy traffic will continue till Aurangabad and may be, when back.

Post Ahmednagar, the traffic remained moving at good pace. Thanks to the volunteers at crucial places. We reached Aurangabad around 10 AM. Considering the traffic and the delays, we reached way before time.

Aurangabad already had summer. We asked for room changed to cottage, comparatively cooler and better A/C. Luckily, we got it without hiccups and of choice, the cottage facing the hills with Ellora Caves. WOW. We dumped our bags in the hotel room and rushed to see the beauty, just opposite to our hotel. In fact, the parking of Ellora caves were farther than the Hotel Kailas.

Day 1 - The Ellora Caves & Kailasa Temple
If India is considered rich in heritage, Ellora caves could be the sole reason for it. Ellora caves are UNESCO World Heritage Site, rightly so.  We got our tickets. I realized, the ticket prices for Indians and Foreigners had huge difference, not of my liking. Anyway, we proceeded inside, ducking away from a lot of guides, who approached us, due to our attire, they thought we were foreigners. Our research work, was instrumental in exploring site without a guide.

As planned, we directly went to the best among the caves, cave# 16, The Kailasa Temple, a huge temple built by carving just a single rock, top down, during Rashtrakoot era, between 753 to 773 CE. Even with the current engineering, tools and technology, one cannot imagine and build a flawless masterpiece like it, that too by just carving a single rock. Forget about building it in merely 18 years. Building it today by just hand held tools, is next to impossible. One single mistake and the entire work is gone. It combines three important aspects of architecture, Imagination, Engineering and implementation flawlessly. It was just mesmerizing to see this masterpiece. I am still awestruck... Hats off to the Engineers, Artists of Rashtrakoot Era.

Ellora caves consists of over 100 caves, but only 34 are open for visitors, these caves are associated with a number for easy reference. There are caves of three religions, Buddhist (#1 to #12), Hindu (#13 - #29) and Jain (#30 - #34). Hindu and Buddhist caves were built during Rashtrakoot's rule whereas, Jain caves were built during Yadava's rule. As expected, the Kailasa Temple, cave # 16 was the best.

After 3 hours of exploration of caves, photography and walking up and down the cave, added with the heat, we ran out of energy and needed something to quench. Luckily, we got a vendor selling lemon-water outside the caves.

Tired enough, we went back to hotel, to have some rest and plan for next day. We enjoyed our evening with tea and snacks, overlooking the caves, which may have been inhabited once, but now has an opening and closing time.

Day 2 - Ajanta Caves
We enjoyed the morning tea too, overlooking the caves. However, was feeling tired enough to cancel another 99 KM drive to Ajanta.

But reluctantly, we got ready and started around 9:15 or 9:30 AM. Later we realised, it was a wise decision.

If the roads to Ellora were smooth as butter, the drive from Ellora to Ajanta was bumpy. The roads were wide, but badly maintained. The plan to develop the road was evident thou. However, it was disappointing to see the condition of road connecting two world heritage sites.

Google GPS, did something wrong and we followed it blindly, when we left the state highway, crossing lonely villages and reached a dead end.

The dead end had a huge parking lot, a guesthouse kind of structure, no washrooms open for visitors. We thought, we reached at the wrong place, until we realised, we are on the top of the hill overlooking beautiful Ajanta caves.

Adjacent to the view point, there are huge and wide stairs, which takes you down to the caves. The traditional way was to go on the other side of the hill, park your vehicle and take bus ride for around 4KM. Where we parked, it was 25 to 30 KM drive back to go by the orthodox way.

We chose unorthodox way and decided to go down through stairs. I have already practiced a lot, since last one month by using stairs at both office and home, to remain fit enough to trek in these stoney
monuments. After few metres down, the wide stairs made of concrete disappeared. But it was still safe to go below. The view was awesome. There is small view point in between too. Then for few metres down, you'll get another set of stairs, little narrow than earlier one. It is steep, but safe, and takes you to the feet of Ajanta caves, where you will be greeted by security and ticketing staffs.

Ajanta caves, just like Ellora, were mesmerizing, inviting and soothing. The heat had no impact on the visitors, mostly foreigners. After exploring all the caves, we took the waterfall route to come back to the stairs.

A young villager was selling fresh lemonade, we were too thirsty and ran out of water. Not sure about the cash, we asked him about the lemonade. He offered it for free. I wondered, if a rich businessman can offer anything free to a poor. Luckily, we had enough to pay him. He offered organic lemons and insisted to keep them, for free. On the way we met one more honest idol sellers. Purchased few, before starting the ascent back to the top.

It took 20 minutes to go down, but more than 40 minutes to get up. We met some pilgrims of "Izzettama" too, on the view point. We got back to car and rushed back to hotel, 99 KMs away. Has lunch midway, nothing great. Reached hotel by 4 PM, to enjoy the evening, overlooking Ellora caves with evening tea, from the hotel premises.

Day 3 - A Bonus
Shani Signapur
A good trip often end by a pleasant surprise or  a bonus, Shani-Signapur was in news over last few years, obviously for wrong reasons. If the women were not allowed again, I would have dropped the plan, because I cannot visit a god's place without my better half.

The Shani-Signapur's system was nothing different than any of the famous temples of India. Long queues, local thugs and a lot of man made customs. Shani Shignapur is one of its kind and visit was satisfying.

Earlier we missed the opportunity to visit one of the twelve Jyotirlingas thou. The Grishneshwar Temple was just a few steps away from our hotel in Ellora.

The drive back was easy and we reached home before sunset. These three days were tiring but great, experience enhancing and above all satisfying. The Kailasa stood out among all the places we visited.


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