||[Mar. 24th, 2017|03:50 pm]
The taxi picked us up outside the hotel at 8am. The drive to Ellora lasted just half an hour and it was really interesting, climbing out of Aurangabad up steep winding roads, past gorges, valleys and forts. I love these kind of drives.|
Ellora has 34 Buddhist, Hindu and Jain caves carved out of the rock, similar to Ajanta. We paid the entrance fee of 250 rupees and walked straight towards Ellora's undoubted highlight...
Kailasa Temple was built in 760AD and is the worlds largest monolithic sculpture, taking 7000 labourers 200 years to complete, painstakingly carving out over 200,000 tonnes of rock to create a temple that represented Mount Kailasa, Shiva's Himalayan home.
We walked inside and I was awe-struck by the size and sheer drama of the place.
The first thing I noticed were the tall rockfaces towering above, further highlighting the incredible feat of carving Kailasa out of the hillside. The centrepiece is a massive multi-layered structure with stairways, shrines and walkways, decorated with scenes from Ramayana. It looked like a movie set. On the upper deck are Jain temples carved with statues, including some rather erotic ones of male and female figures cavorting. Tsk. In the courtyard below in perfect symmetry are two tall columns also carved from the rock where they stand. The courtyard is surrounded by dark galleries, dank with the smell of bat urine.
I've been lucky to see some amazing places like Angkor Wat, Bagan or Borobudur, but this topped them all. Wow. It was amazing to think that it was all sculpted from rock. Nothing was built. Imagine the care to make sure they didn't remove any rock that needed to remain in place. It was a 200 year project with zero margin for error.
But we didn't get long to admire it. We were inspecting a life-size sculpture of an elephant in the corner when a group of old Indian women approached and politely asked for a photo with Jessica and I. We obliged. First a group shot, then individual shots with all six women resplendent in colourful saris. By this time, a group of other people had gathered and were taking pics on their phones. "Selfie please?" asked a man, putting his arm around us before we had chance to answer. We posed for more and more photos and the crowd in front of us got bigger and bigger. There were more than 50 people at one point with multiple cameras clicking. I didn't know where to look.
It was fun at first and I'm always happy to oblige on my travels as I suspect it's their way of experiencing different cultures but I found it funny. Here they were entering this majestic temple, one of the most amazing engineering feats imaginable, and almost everyone made a beeline straight for us when they entered like we were the main attraction. As Jessica and I posed for our umpteenth group selfie I whispered from the side of my mouth "are we ever going to get chance to see the temple??" After a while an attendant came over and shooed everyone away from us, perhaps through sympathy or perhaps because the crowd was causing an obstruction near the entrance. Jessica and I quickly circumnavigated our way to a quieter part of the temple.
After exploring - and posing for numerous other photos - we took a path to the right of the temple up the hillside, which gave great views over Kailasa. The scale and ambition of the project was even more impressive, tourists just colourful dots down below. Interestingly Kailasa was carved downwards, not from the front of the hill, which meant it was never necessary to use scaffolding.
I snapped lots of photos but in doing so, we wandered off track. We followed the brow of the hill, past lots of cactus planets, assuming it would lead back down to the temples but the trail soon disappeared which meant Jessica and I had to do some impromptu rock-climbing back down to terra firma. We felt like Indiana Jones and Lara Croft when we got back to ground level.
Ellora has many more cave temples to explore. Although these were built 800 years later than those in Ajanta and didn't boast the same level of decoration inside, I found them more interesting and varied to explore. Light flooded inside too, which made them easier to admire.
Cave 5 was massive inside, pillars stretching in to the darkness. The rows of stone benches indicate that this may once have been an assembly hall. Cave 10 is a beautiful monastery. A guide was demonstrating the acoustics of the place to a group of Indian tourists, his chants echoing around the tall domed ceiling. Cave 12 is a three storey cave that from the front resembled a multi-storey car-park! It was far more impressive inside though. A man guided us around for ten minutes, leading us past rows of statues to a huge Buddha at the far end. Excitingly he ducked us down a dark hidden passage behind it and pointed out murals with his torch. We gave him a tip for his troubles.
A young woman in a beautiful glimmering green sari handed me her baby daughter and asked if I'd mind posing for a photo. The baby looked a bit bewildered.
The heat was immense. Not only was it approaching midday but the rock absorbed the sunshine, making it even hotter. Our water bottles quickly emptied. Unusually for Asia, there weren't many people selling things. A few people walked past selling tour books, a few kids sold postcards and another man was selling carved items, but no-one was selling drinks. Or ice-creams even. A missed opportunity.
The caves were more derelict north of Kailasa and despite the fact that 'temple fatigue' was beginning to set in, impressive nonetheless. We saw large groups of langur monkeys and a strange red dragonfly darting around a pool of water at one of the temples. By now Jessica and I were very thirsty, very hot and low on energy, so we decided to get some lunch. We found a place on the main street and devoured some fried rice and noodles, gulping down our drinks. A Chinese tour group took up five tables and three maroon-robed monks sipped tea nearby.
Our driver then took us to Bibi Ka Maqbara ('Tomb of the Lady') which is Aurangabad's very own version of the Taj Mahal. A prince called Azam Khan conceived the whole building in white marble, just like the Taj Mahal, as a mausoleum for his mother, but was thwarted by his frugal father who didn't want to drain the state coffers. So while the building looks strikingly similar from a distance, it is finished in lime mortar up close.
Jessica and I posed for photos on Bibi's very own Princess Di bench and then got talking to a South African couple as we walked towards the mausoleum. They told us about their time in Mumbai and said that Elephanta Island wasn't worth visiting, so we didn't miss out. We would have talked with them more but three Indian men wanted a selfie. We entered the mausoleum on to an octagonal walkway and the tomb below was covered in a blanket of coins and notes.
A few minutes later Jessica and I were sat on some steps in the shade, gulping down water, when I noticed a group of three girls and a boy edging closer nearby, mobile phones clutched in hands, obviously wanting a selfie with us but too shy to ask. They were nervously giggling and glancing over.
"Would you like a selfie?" I asked and they all came over with a spring in their step and posed for various pictures on the steps. We should start charging!
When planning this trip I would have loved to organise for Jessica to visit Agra, to see the Taj Mahal in its spine-tingling glory, but it is just too far away from the beaches we plan to end the trip. So it was nice that she got to visit Aurangabad's version.
When we got back to the taxi we asked our driver to take us back to the hotel. He seemed surprised as the days itinerary was also meant to include a visit to a water mill and also Daulatabad, a hilltop fortress. The latter in particular seemed fascinating. The sultan of Delhi marched the entire population of Delhi to Daulatabad ('City of Fortune') in 1328 to populate it as the capital but a water crisis forced him to march the weary inhabitants all the way back not long afterwards! I bet he was popular. The fort is 5 kilometers long and it's possible to climb Devagiri ('Hill of the Gods'), through spike-studded doors which prevent charging elephants, and up a pitch-black cave in which you need a flame-bearing guide to lead you up further.
It sounded like hard work though and our feet were already screaming submission. Plus the time was already 4pm and we had things to do, so we asked to be taken back to our hotel. He seemed pleased as it meant an early finish.
Back at the hotel I needed to organise how to get to Hampi, our next port-of-call. I had researched this at length prior to the trip and there was no easy answer. There are no flights, or direct trains or buses. If we were willing to backtrack seven hours to Mumbai, we could get a flight to Bengaluru and then a six hour train to Hampi, all of which would take about 24 hours. By far the quickest solution would be by road (approximately 12 hours). I asked at reception whether it was possible to take a bus to Solapur (a major city halfway between Aurangabad and Hampi) but he tapped on his keyboard and confirmed there are no direct buses. We therefore had no other option than to hire a taxi. The price was 14,000 rupees (over £140) but bear in mind that any other route we decided to take would cost in excess of £100 and take at least twice the time. Taking a taxi would mean reaching Hampi in the quickest way possible so we wouldn't lose a day of our holiday. It would also be the most comfortable way to travel as we could ask the driver to stop whenever we liked and break the journey down in to bite-size chunks (not so much for us, but for the poor driver!). We paid the money and the taxi was booked for early tomorrow morning.
We also had a few chores we needed to do. Jessica wanted to buy a few items from a chemist (hand gels, tissues) and I bought myself some suntan lotion. Alongside the street a man ground sugar cane. We also needed to withdraw money from an ATM. At one point two little girls ran up to us and said "hello". When we said hello in return, they said "goodbye" and ran away laughing.
By the time we got back to our hotel the sun was setting. We ate again at the excellent hotel restaurant. There were other good dining options only a short rickshaw ride away but we'd both enjoyed our meal so much on the first night, we decided there was no need to venture out. Plus it was important to eat somewhere we could trust with a huge day of travel ahead tomorrow. I had palak paneer again, one of my favourites, mopped up with paratha.
The taxi was picking us up at 6am tomorrow morning, so we had an early night. As I dozed off I reflected that I had really enjoyed my time in Aurangabad, visiting the stunning caves of Ajanta and Ellora. I could quite easily have stayed here longer, exploring some of the places nearby. I'd read about Lonar Meteor Crater about three or four hours away, which has a diameter of over 1km. Sadly we didn't have time. I'd love to be one of those people who travels for a few years, for whom time is no object.