Friday, 5 February 2016

Ajanta & Ellora - Caves Expedition

It was in the middle of November 2015 that I realized that there is a long weekend coming up in January 2016 (Saturday – Sunday – Monday take leave – Tuesday, 26 Jan, Republic Day). The next step was to think of a place to go. I whatsapped my friends and asked their idea for a four day weekend trip to Aurangabad, and OMG everyone said yes!!!

I just couldn’t believe this so before anyone gives it a second thought I had booked the train tickets. We decided to go by Devagiri Express which starts from CST at 21:10 and reaches Aurangabad the next morning at 04:10. It was waitlisted 7 onwards. All of us assumed that there is still lot of time for the journey date and the ticket will get confirmed.

Our return journey was booked on Nandigram Express which starts from Nagpur, reaches Aurangabad at 21:35 and reaches CST the next morning at 5:30 am.

We had to leave for Aurangabad on 22 January night but by 21st January our train tickets were still waitlisted. So we divided our group into two – 3 people (Satish, Suneela, Shree (3 year old kid) and Nikhil) booked an AC sleeper Bus boarding at Dadar at 22:00 and reaching Aurangabad at 7:00 am the next morning. The bus is a good option as it is comfortable and there are lot more choices available among bus operators.

Rest of us (Kiran, Mani, Pramod, Nikita and me) were supposed to travel by train, hoping and praying for our train tickets to get confirmed. Out of the five berths four got confirmed around 10:30 am on the journey date and the fifth got confirmed in the evening when the chart got confirmed. Wheee!!! What a relief.

We all took our modes of transportation and headed for Aurangabad on 22 Jan late evening. Nikita had packed sandwiches and parathas for us which we had in the train while the bus group had their dinner at Pritam Dhaba in Dadar east.


Aurangabad Station at 04:32 am
Aurangabad Station at 04:32 am
Our train was on time, and we reached Aurangabad around 4:00 in the morning. It was cold and a little foggy. We had booked a cab for our four day travel in and around Aurangabad and our cab driver, Atul had come to the station to pick us up and drop us at our hotel. We had already booked Hotel Raviraj for our stay in Aurangabad, the best part of the hotel being 24 hours check in.

Our hotel was around 1.5 kms away from the station and in no time we had checked in. Once in the room we didn’t sleep; rather we all had a warm cup of tea and were busy watching TV and chit chatting. We all started getting ready for the day and by 8:00 am the bus gang had also joined us. Now all of us were excited to take a tour of Ajanta Caves. After a very lengthy breakfast (2 hours), we headed for Ajanta Caves.
Paintings at Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad
Paintings at Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad
Aurangabad, is largely known for Ajanta and Ellora caves. Both the caves are outside the Aurangabad city – Ajanta being around 2.5 hours drive and Ellora – an hour drive from the city.

Once dropped at the entrance of Ajanta, you have to walk through the small souvenirs shops (kinda like a flea market) to catch a bus which will take you to Ajanta Caves. The bus ride is of 4 kms and it drops us at the main ticket counter. A walk of about 10 mins and we were in front of Cave No. 1.

There are only a handful of caves worth seeing in Ajanta – Caves 1 & 2 have remnants of beautiful paintings done on the walls & ceiling. The paintings are in poor shape and the caves are faintly lit. It is recommended to carry a torch with you in order to appreciate the intricate paintings and sculptures. Also, flash photography is prohibited.
Ajanta Caves
The best of all is Cave no. 26 which showcases the Buddha in a sleeping posture (depicting the posture in which he left the world). Ajanta caves largely reflect glimpses of Buddhism. The caves majorly revolve around the life of Buddha – his birth, his enlightenment and his nirvana.
Sleeping Buddha, Ajanta Caves
Sleeping Buddha - Cave 26, Ajanta Caves
Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad

Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad
Sculptures at Ajanta Caves
If you do not have the time or the energy to see all the caves then you can see Cave no 1, 2, 10, 16, 17, 19 and 26 and ignore the rest.

While I was walking back, I wondered what made the Buddhist monks abandon Ajanta. Some caves were half finished, some barely started. What happened at that time that they just disappeared? Was there a war? Were they forced out?

The next day we decided to start our day with Shiva’s blessing – Grishneshwar Temple. Grishneshwar Temple is the last jyotilinga – 12 holy and sacred abode of Lord Shiva and is about one km away from Ellora Caves. The road from the parking lot leading to the temple is lined with small shops selling pooja articles etc.

Mobile phones and cameras are not allowed inside the temple premises so I cannot show you pictures of the temple other than the top structure of the temple which we took from far. There was a queue to enter the temple which was moving at a good pace. The temple has a big complex which is clean and well maintained. Since Nikita had a plaster in her foot, she got an immediate entry in the temple (I escorted her inside ;)), while the rest of us followed the queue.

Grishneshwar Temple
Grishneshwar Temple - 12th Jyotilinga
One strange thing about the temple is that men have to take off all clothes from their upper torso (that is their shirt/t-shirt and innerwear) before entering the temple. No idea why.

Once out of the temple, there will be loads of small kids begging for money saying that they have to buy notebook. Please be very careful, because if you give money to one kid, the other kids will hound you and will drive you mad.

Our next stop of the day was the much talked about - Ellora Caves. Ellora Caves is a UNESCO World Heritage site and consists of 34 caves – Buddhist, Hindu and Jain.

The first cave that we saw in Ellora was Cave no 16, known as Kailash Temple (the home of Lord Shiva). I was thunderstruck with this cave, completely unprepared for its magnitude, intricacy of its carvings and its architecture. This was the most beautiful structure I have seen till now.

I am at a loss of words to describe the magnificence of Kailash. This cave was carved out of a rock and took around 200 years (10 generations) to be made. The vision of the sculptors was such that they carved the cave starting from the roof and worked their way downwards. There are sculptures depicting stories from the great Hindu epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. There is a huge Shivling on the first storey of Kailash Cave.


Kailash, Cave 16, Ellora Caves

Kailash, Cave 16, Ellora Caves

Kailash, Cave 16, Ellora Caves
Kailash, Cave 16, Ellora Caves
After this, we took a bus and went to the Cave no 32, 33 and 34 which are the Jain Caves. Cave 32 is a double storey cave and has some beautiful carvings of Lord Mahavira. It is tough to appreciate any carvings after seeing the Kailash though. There is a large size elephant standing on the right side of the entrance of the cave. The first storey of this cave is like an assembly hall and has some really detailed and exquisite carvings.

We tried chanting “OM” in these caves and what we heard and what we felt gave us goose bums. The chants had an echoing sound within the stone walls. I could only imagine the spiritual experience the people chanting in these caves would have felt.


Cave 32 - Ellora Caves
Cave 32 - Ellora Caves
Jain Caves - Cave 32 at Ellora Caves
Jain Caves - Cave 32 at Ellora Caves
Our last stop at Ellora was Cave no 10, which had a magnanimous Buddha statue (sitting cross legged posture). The watchman of the cave told us that the ribbed ceiling represents the rib cage of the human body and the stupa represents the mind. In olden times, travelers & monks used to come to this cave to rest & meditate. The first storey of the cave had a provision for seating musicians who would play relaxing & soothing music in the background.


Cave 10, Ellora Caves
Cave 10, Ellora Caves
The next thing that I wanted to do was climb the hill near the Kailash cave and have a look at Kailash from the top. The way to the top of the hill is barricaded but I still went through and found myself spell bound when I saw the view from the top. The aerial view of Kailash is as beautiful as the cave itself.


Aerial View of Kailash, Cave 16, Ellora Caves
Aerial View of Kailash, Cave 16, Ellora Caves
It may take a full day to see all the caves and the sun can be quite harsh. But you can feel the cool as soon you enter any cave. The caves are beautiful and leave you speechless. No words can do justice to them. They are beyond the limits of words and imagination. If the caves at Ajanta were all about paintings and murals, the caves at Ellora were all about sculptures.

These caves makes you think how people in that era can make just beautiful sculptures with just chisel and hammer at their disposal, when there was no electricity, when there was no mode of transportation. It made me wonder how they managed to carve so much out of such hard rock with almost nothing at their disposal. Clearly, they were much advanced then what we are now.     

Next, we stopped over a temple called Bhadra Maruti Temple, Khuldabad. As the name suggests it is a Hanuman Temple (the most ardent devotee of Lord Rama) where the Lord is in sleeping position. It was not crowded at all and therefore we had a very good darshan with no one pushing from behind.


Bhadra Maruti Temple, Khuldabad
Bhadra Maruti Temple, Khuldabad
Our last stop for the day was at a Paithani Saree shop where we first went to the weaving area. As it was Sunday and way past 6:00 pm, the weaving section was closed for the day. We could just see the machinery used to make the very famous Paithani Sarees and Himroo weaves. One of the members of the shop was kind enough to show us the weaving center and explain the process. We then went to the shop for some shopping but came out empty handed (as we didn’t like anything much). The price for Paithani Sarees starts from Rs. 6,000 and can go upto Rs. 3 Lacs. Himroo Sarees in this shop started from Rs. 1,750.


Paithani - Hand weaving
Paithani - Hand Weaving

I will write about my Day 3 & 4 in my next blog where I saw Daulatabad Fort and a Hill station called Mhaismal