Aurangabad: Ellora and Ajantha Caves

We were really flying by the seat of our pants when we arrived in Aurangabad, having done next to no research about the caves and how to get there.

When we arrived the night before, a quick Google search let us know that Ajanta Caves were closed on Mondays, which made our decision about which to see first much simpler. While we had no real idea of how we were going to get there, we set out in search of breakfast.

A luck would have it, our transport found us. As we we wandered the streets, a tuk tuk driver approached us, asking if we were going to the caves. As usual, I ginored him and kept walking, while Zev asked questions. He quoted us the low end of the price bracket that we'd read online as being 'right', so Zev snapped him up. He showed us to a good breakfast place, and waited while we ate.

Ellora Caves

Ellora Caves were roughly a 28km drive out of the city, so it took close to an hour on the tuk tuk. Part of the reason for the slow commute was that there was a huge Muslim fesitval on, with visitors from all over the world coming to town. In hindsight, we were lucky to have been able to find a room at such short notice - apparently most of the accommodation in the town was booked out.

Eventually we arrived, Sanjay told us where he'd wait, and we entered the complex.

Ellora is home to 34 cave temples, built during the 6th to 8th centuries AD. There are 12 Buddhist temples, 17 Hindu temples, and 5 Jain temples, illustrating the spirit of tolerance that was characteristic of ancient India (and largely still seems to be the case today).

The caves were constructed by digging into the mountainside and removing thousands of tons of rock, leaving only the temple structures behind. The most remarkable aspect of the caves is their sculptures - huge stone buddhas and animals are carved out of the cliff face everywhere you turn.

We spent a pleasant 3.5 hours wandering through the temples. The site is large, so even though it was busy, you were never overwhelmed by crowds. As we wandered further from the main entrance towards the most recently created Jain temples, we got a little lost in the hills in search of the last of the temples, but the heat got the better of us and we returned to the main entrance, grateful to see a vendor selling frozen bottles of water.

By far the most stunning temple was the Kailasanatha Temple, carved out of 85,000 cubic metres of rock. Two large stone elephants (who have seen better days) flank the entranceway, and the second storey affords great views out over the countryside. The only detraction was the constant requests for selfies, or worse, the people who would just take photos of us without asking first. Maybe I'm a grinch, but I can't stand it.

Feeling suitably exhausted by all our exploring, we stopped for a brief late lunch, before Sanjay dropped us off at Daulatabad Fort, a medieval fortress. In the 12th Century, Daulatabad was the capital of the Hindu kingdoms. The hill itself was the site of the citadel, which was thought to be impenetrable. Sadly, this was incorrect, and the citadel was captured in 1308AD.

In a throwback to our time in Napyitaw, Myanmar, the ruler of India briefly decided to move the captial to Daulatabad in 1338. He forced everyone to move from Delhi, before changing his mind and making everyone move back.

The climb to the top was pretty arduous after a day out in the sun, and it took us close to an hour at a snail's pace. We were rewarded with stunning views out over the countryside in the low evening light. More importantly however were the screeds of squirrels, who eventually ate out of my hands. We had some fun snapping shots of them eating the biscuits we were feeding them, before calling it a day and heading back to Sanjay.

No fort photos, just squirrels

Once we were back in town, Sanjay took us for chai near our hotel, and we agreed to hire him for the next 2 days to take us around.

Ajanta Caves

We were up bright and early the next day, ready for the long 104km journey to Ajanta Caves. Sanjay picked us up at 0730, and we stopped for breakfast on the way out. Our drive out was entertaining in itself. We passed lots of lorries filled with men presumably commuting to work, and as we followed, a fight broke out on one in front of us. I was fairly certain one of the men was going to get thrown off the back of a moving lorry. Later, when we passed them again, the men had been separated, and all was well again.

Chronologically, Ajanta Caves come before Ellora Caves, dating between 200AD to 650BC. The caves here are all Buddhist, and are famous more for their paintings than their sculptures.

After paying our entrance fee, we were ushered onto a bus which takes you the 4km from the carpark to the caves. From there, it's a reasonably steep climb up (what felt like) lots of steps to the caves. Luckily, if you're not feeling up for it, you can hire a palanquin, and some nice men will carry you around. On the day we were there, there was a large Japanese group, some of whom were being carried around. All I could think was that if they drop you, it's a long way to fall...

Ajanta was much busier than Ellora, or maybe it just felt that way because it was smaller, so it was a less enjoyable experience. The caves are kept dimly lit to preserve the paintings, but that makes them difficult to see and appreciate. 

Despite the challenges, Ajanta was still very much a worthwhile visit. A couple of hours was long enough to see all the caves, and we headed back to Sanjay and hit the road. We both fell asleep in the tuk tuk on the way back, even after we stopped for lunch to refuel. By the time we got back into town, it was late afternoon, and we were shattered!

Back on the train back to Mumbai

On our last day in Aurangabad, our train didn't leave until 2.30pm, so Sanjay suggested that he take us to see some local sites. 

We stopped at Panchakki, which was a watermill used for grinding corn. It was a strange place, with a big pool in the centre surrounded by stalls. We walked around the outside to poke our noses in to look at a wholly underwhelming grinder, before leaving, wondering what the hell we had just paid to see.

From there, we headed to Bibi-ka-Maqbara, or the 'mini-taj' as it's known locally. Built in 1679AD in memory of his wife, it is modelled on the Taj Mahal, but is made largely with plaster rather than marble. It was still strikingly beautiful, and made us excited to see the real thing in Agra.

Next, Sanjay took us to complete our cave tour. We went to Aurangabad Caves. These were less impressive than Ellora and Ajanta, but they offered nice views over the coutryside and were far FAR less crowded. 

After a stop for lunch, we had our real highlight for the day - Sanjay invited us to his house for chai. We got to meet his wife, and he gave us a tour of their apartment. As we were leaving, we met his kids getting off the bus from school. It was a really nice way to finish off our three days together.

Back at the train station, we got back on our train, slightly less crowded than our train ride in. I had the delight of spending the next 6 hours in a middle seat, next to a man who had little to no concept of personal space boundaries. He chewed noisily with his mouth open. He took firm ownership of the shared armrest and spent most of his time trying to encroach more into my seat space. At one point, he had his bare foot on my foot rest. He wriggled constantly, bumping into me at every available opportunity. When he finished eating, he picked his teeth with a credit card, then took out a tube of medicated cream and liberally applied it to his feet (which I remind you, were on my foot rest not long before). He spent the whole train ride picking his nose and inspecting in, then, when it started to bleed from the trauma of all the knuckles he'd shoved up there, took to blowing it into a hankie before opening it to look at it, and touch what he'd just blown out. I mean trains are great, seriously..

We were both tired and relieved when we arrived back in Mumbai. We'd booked a place close to the airport to stay, as we knew we were arriving late and flying out early the next day to return to Goa for a frisbee tournament.

We found a taxi and the fun began. After about 5 minutes, he pulled over and stopped on a bridge, but we couldn't see why. Soon, we started going again, seemingly on the scenic route. About 10 minutes later, he stopped again. This time, I was tired and pissed off, so I leaned over the seat to see what he was doing, and still couldn't figure it out. Then he asked Zev to hold his torch for him. The torch light revealed that the entire dashboard was basically loose wires, and he was trying to rewire the car, I think so that he could get his lights working. We both hit the roof, and told him that if he didn't get us to our hotel soon, we were getting out and not paying him. Soon, he drove straight past our turn off, despite assuring us repeatedly that he knew where he was going. We had to give him very firm directions to get us back to the right place. Even when we arrived outside, he still wouldn't stop the cab, insisting that he 'couldn't stop there', and needed to turn around - all while the meter was running of course. In the end, I just opened the door, and he finally stopped moving. As I grabbed the bags out of the boot, Zev argued with him over the price, pointing out that he'd drive us 2.5kms out of the way, so we weren't paying the meter price. When Zev gave him the cash, he ripped one of the notes, then said he wouldn't take it because it was ripped. We swapped the note for a fresh one, and as he ripped that one too, walked off into our hotel while mentally flipping him the bird. Sure enough as soon as we walked in the door, I realised I'd left my canvas bag in the car. It didn't have anything irreplaceable in it (other than my cap and drink bottle, it only contained food), but I was still so angry about the shitty taxi driver that I drifted off to sleep hoping that he choked on all our delicious snacks... Not very zen at all!!

Depsite that negative experience, our hotel gave us free transfers to the airport the following morning, and the flight went smoothly, so balance was restored to the universe once more. We were really excited to see our new friends from Bangalore, and see what the Indian ultimate frisbee community had to offer!

Lots of love,
S & Z