Our hopes of catching a good sleep in the train are at first dubious when we see that a big loud group of teenagers are sharing the coach with us. For the first hour or so, they play loud music with their phones and keep teasing one of their friends, a very kind boy. We commented among us it looked a bit cruel to the poor guy. In the end, I could not resist but say something out loud: Sorry if I’m wrong, but since I boarded this train, do you realize you’ve done nothing but laugh at him? Give him a break. Suddenly, they all look ashamed and start to apologize. The other guy seems relieved and says that it is ok and knows that, down deep, they have good hearts.
I clearly acted as a party-pooper, because they remained calm during the next hours and we all could rest. When they fall asleep, I speak a little to the kind boy. He says he knows his friends actually appreciate him, even if he is the target of innocent jokes sometimes, and that they make him feel special. He is very smart and we have a short but deep conversation. In the morning, the boys explain they belong to a cricket juvenile league representing Delhi and are coming back from the final, which they have won. They even take out their trophy from its box. No wonder they were so excited 🙂
We’ve made some math of the days and the places we still need to visit before leaving for Japan, and to make it happen we have to create a hectic plan that will have us sleeping many nights on transportation and leave little margin to extend our stay anywhere. Since we are moving towards the desert, the weather is unexorably hot, so we’re glad we have A/C in the train.
Our path moves towards the Ellora and Ajanta caves, two beautiful archaelogical sites in the state of Maharastra. Both complexes contain a great number of temples excavated directly from the rock, with a mixture of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain creations coexisting with each other, and as usual, with so many layers of sculptures and detail it looks almost impossible to believe they could be made almost so perfectly (and I mean they are not perfect because if you pay a bit of attention, you can spot, for example, some columns not being exactly aligned). The most impressive fact is that they were carved from top to bottom, which left 0 error margin to their creators (imagine being a worker there and making a fatal mistake that would ruin the entire building… No pressure!).
Ellora is our favorite of the two. The metal box (aka bus) ride from Jalgaon traverses many rural areas and lasts 3 hours on dusty narrow roads where trucks pass buses and buses pass trucks. A very kind man greets us at the ticket gate and offers some cheap accommodation for the night. We chat for a while and he agrees to wait for us by the end of our visit to drive us in his tuc tuc to his hotel.
Ellora has 34 caves, so with just half day we need to stick to the most important ones. We start with cave 16 with its Hindu Kailasanatha temple. Just… Wow. The main structure is quite tall and is surrounded by small caves with shrines, sculpted gates with elephants, and so many other decorations. Did I mention all was impressively carved from top to bottom in just one huge piece of natural rock? There are several levels and even some stairs in the exterior from which you can get a glimpse of the whole “cave”.
It’s so magnificent that we take our time to explore this one; then we get out of the spell and hurry to the other most important ones.
At closing time they kick us out and we meet our host. We are hesitating a bit because he is offering to drive us everywhere for free, as the hotel is on the far side of town. And he is selling his hotel as clean, comfortable and too cheap to be true. What’s the catch? We decide to give him an opportunity, he seems honest just looking for a living.
The hotel is indeed a little far. It is in a small village surrounded by crops, hens, a mosque whose prayer can be clearly heard and a small unnofficial dumpster visible from our room. Actually, it’s not that bad for Indian standards. We go have dinner at his cousin’s brand new restaurant; so new, only one option is on the menu. Our host even drives Filip to buy some beer, and after dinner they take us back to the room.
In the morning, the tuc tuc is waiting at sharp meeting time. We all go for a last visit to Ellora before breakfast. The early time gives us a nice sunrise light and all the caves for ourselves, some monkeys, the noisy morning birds and even a nice stray dog that follows us for some minutes.
This time we climb the hill to be able to see the entire big cave from above. Once up, intrepidly leaning out over the border of the rock gives an unique sensation of depth and magnitude. The complex is really an incredible piece of art. It makes us stay there for almost an hour.
Once ready to go down, our rickshaw drives us to the farthest caves of the area. The first one of them inevitably steals almost two hours of our time for awing admiration. It consists of two complexes connected on the upper level by a tunnel, both carved on the rock with amazing details in the columns and walls.
Finally we take the rickshaw for the last cave—not so detailed but bigger than the previous ones—before quieting our stomachs with breakfast and going to the bus stop for Ajanta.
Ajanta has 30 caves and is more famous for its paintings than for its sculptures. They date from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 or 650 CE, but are very well preserved. Maybe it is the exhaustion, or maybe it is the heat, but even though they’re incredible, too, we like Ellora better. Again, we need to hurry and visit the best known caves, take a short bus ride back to Jalgaon and run retrieve our lugagge. Don’t want to miss our train to Rajhastan!