India – Ellora and Ajanta

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 🙂

The cricket team!

The cricket team!

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 caves

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”.

From the entrance, a pillar also carved in one piece welcomes visitors.

From the entrance, a pillar also carved in one piece welcomes visitors.

On the right side, a gallery of columns also carved on the same rock.

On the right side, a gallery of columns also carved on the same rock.

Perfect imitation, you can't tell which one is the statue...

Perfect imitation, you can’t tell which one is the statue…

HDR view from the gallery of columns.

HDR view from the gallery of columns.

View from inside the column gallery, quite impressive.

View from inside the column gallery, quite impressive.

The place is full of green parrots.

The place is full of green parrots.

Structures on the top level of the temple.

Structures on the top level of the temple.

View of the left side from the top.

View of the left side from the top.

View of the right side from the top.

View of the right side from the top.

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.

Another carved cave. The sun is too strong here.

Another carved cave. The sun is too strong here.

Another less detailed cave that was used as a main hall for monks.

Another less detailed cave that was used as a main hall for monks.

Sunset light at the end of the small caves, showing all the multiple entrances.

Sunset light at the end of the small caves, showing all the multiple entrances.

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.

Entrance of Ellora at sunrise. All the monkeys are way active now that there are not many people.

Entrance of Ellora at sunrise. All the monkeys are way active now that there are not many people.

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.

View of the main cave, this time from up the hill where it displays all in one impressive piece of stone carving.

View of the main cave, this time from up the hill where it displays all in one impressive piece of stone carving.

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.

Another carved cave after a rickshaw drive.

Another carved cave after a rickshaw drive.

These caves have some levels and tunnels that connect each other.

These caves have some levels and tunnels that connect each other.

Chamber with carved pillars. One of our favorite. The place is so impressive that we spend some time here just contemplating.

Chamber with carved pillars. One of our favorite. The place is so impressive that we spend some time here just contemplating.

Another impressive chamber of pillars with a Buddha in the central room.

Another impressive chamber of pillars with a Buddha in the central room.

Detail of one of the sculptures on the wall.

Detail of one of the sculptures on the wall.

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.

Outside the caves, this view.

Outside the caves, this view.

Sculpted walls of the last cave we visit. Hey! Check where you put your hands! ;)

Sculpted walls of the last cave we visit. Hey! Check where you put your hands! 😉

The last cave has less details in the columns but it is way bigger.

The last cave has less details in the columns but it is way bigger.

Ajanta caves

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!

First cave, with so low light and no tripod allowed.

First cave, with so low light and no tripod allowed.

Details of the paintings still preserved.

Details of the paintings still preserved.

View of all the cave area from the beginning. The heat is overwhelming.

View of all the cave area from the beginning. The heat is overwhelming.

Another cave with details of the rock on the top and bottom.

Another cave with details of the rock on the top and bottom.

Multiple Buddhas can be found at the center of each carved cave.

Multiple Buddhas can be found at the center of each carved cave.

I find this rock detail with the yellow light interesting.

I find this rock detail with the yellow light interesting.

Detail of a sculpture on the wall.

Detail of a sculpture on the wall.

This particular stupa can be seen in two caves of Ajanta.

This particular stupa can be seen in two caves of Ajanta.

At the top of some pillars, some sculpted men do as if they are supporting the roof above them.

At the top of some pillars, some sculpted men do as if they are supporting the roof above them.

Some other sculptures on top of the pillars.

Some other sculptures on top of the pillars.

Picture of one nicely illuminated cave from the floor with amazing paintings still preserved.

Picture of one nicely illuminated cave from the floor with amazing paintings still preserved.

A cave with a similar structure of the one we saw in Ellora.

A cave with a similar structure of the one we saw in Ellora.

Another nicely illuminated Buddha.

Another nicely illuminated Buddha.

And yet another nicely illuminated cave.

And yet another nicely illuminated cave.

Almost at the end, at cave 26, there is a carving of the reclining Buddha—representing his moment of death

Almost at the end, at cave 26, there is a carving of the reclining Buddha—representing his moment of death

The last cave external walls are also beautifully carved.

The last cave external walls are also beautifully carved.

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