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Ajanta, Ellora, and Daulatabad

By Anamika Mukherjee

The third week of January had a national holiday plum in the middle of the week. We decided to make it a long weekend – a very long weekend, in fact – by taking two days off each end of the week. With nine days in hand, we set off for the famous Ajanta and Ellora caves, in Maharashtra.

These two groups of caves, about 100 km from each other, were cut out of the rock and carved, sculpted and painted into glorious Buddhist, Jain, and Brahminical temples over a span of 800 years, from about the second century BC to the sixth century AD. The caves at Ajanta were worked on in two distinct periods. Caves 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 30 were excavated between 200 BC and 200 AD. The other caves were excavated during 400-600 AD. Thereafter, the caves were abandoned, many still incomplete, and faded from human memory. They were rediscovered in 1819 by a British hunting party. Since then, they have acquired importance as a historical and artistic treasure, and now attract tourists like moths to a candle. The caves at Ellora, on the other hand, were always known and some of them were even added as late as 1100 AD. The Ellora caves, therefore, covers a greater distance in both time and space, compared to Ajanta.

Getting There

We left Bangalore heading for the first stop on our route, Hyderabad, on a Friday night when a zealous evangelist (whose name is not important) was creating chaos in the city by denouncing idol worship, promising to cure the ailing and purportedly converting the masses under the guise of praying for India. These combined factors had a huge number of people turning towards him in hope and prayer, and an even greater number turning against him and urging him to go away.

In this unrest, offices in the city closed early and we were sent home by 2.30, which should have been a good thing (in general, I have nothing against being sent home from work in the middle of the afternoon) but it also created a degree of suspense regarding catching our bus and getting out of the city. Our route passed right by the great open space where this prayer/conversion meeting was to be held.

Of course, our bus was to leave only after 10 pm, so we hoped that by then it might be all over, but how vain was that hope! At 10.30 we were caught in a swarming mass of humanity, steering all manner of vehicles including ambulances and wheelchairs towards the venue. Our exit road was blocked by traffic police trying to keep traffic flowing – without any noticeable success. We spent 2 hours parked in a side lane, waiting for the mess to clear and the road to open. Kudos to our driver for being one of the first to nose his way into the head of the long line of waiting vehicles and get on to the exit road, but it still took a very long time before we succeeded in crawling past the crowd and hitting the open road.

I was one of the few who spent this time watching a Bollywood blockbuster on the video – a quite commendable effort on my part, as our seats were one row from the last and I had to peer over a large number of heads to catch intermittent glimpses of the screen. I fell asleep somewhat after 1 a.m., and awoke at 7 with a growing sense of irritation. Even in my early morning dreams I had been aware that I was in a bus and it was not moving. And, what’s more, that we were in the middle of nowhere, with no apparent reason for stopping. “Why are we stopped?” I asked the man in front, rather peevishly, as though it were his fault. “Traffic jam,” he replied defensively. As though that made any sense. How could there be a traffic jam here, in the middle of nowhere with open fields on both sides? But a traffic jam it was, caused by an accident – quite a spectacular accident, resulting in 3 dramatically asymmetrical trucks lying on various parts of the road, as we saw much later on. It took another 2 hours for the long line of traffic to crawl past the spectacular destruction, effectively turning what should have been a mere 10-hour bus journey into a 14-hour marathon.

We reached Hyderabad at noon and the first thing we did was to gobble Hyderabadi biryani at Paradise. After that, due to some last minute changes in our itinerary (which had been extraordinarily unstable for this trip, despite planning well in advance, or maybe because of it) we spent the next several hours returning various bus and train tickets and buying fresh ones. At last we had tickets for most of the legs of our journey, so we squeezed in a quick trip to the Qutab Shahi tombs close to the Golconda fort. And then, before you could say “Off we go again,” we were rushing to catch the bus for another 12-hour journey, this time to Aurangabad.

We reported at the travel agent’s where we had earlier bought the bus ticket and he sent a small kid with us to show us where to catch the bus. Because this kid had more confidence than knowledge, he led us astray, resulting in frantic phone calls (paying roaming and STD charges!) and agitated (some would say acrimonious) conversations before we found the bus and got on. No sooner had we done so, than Amit disembarked and went sprinting off to buy some water and snacks to consume on the bus, leaving me wondering what to do if the bus were to leave before he returned. Luckily, it didn’t. The journey was fairly uneventful, but for the break for dinner at a small highway dhaba, where we had a welcome dinner of dal, roti and scrambled eggs (dhaba-style) served by highly efficient and energetic young boys, at a rickety plastic table under the stars. I ventured to use the ladies toilet after dinner; the “gents toilet” was not marked – presumably the open countryside does not require this label. The toilet was pleasantly clean and dry – at least it appeared so under the light of the moon: there was no electric light and no ceiling.

We slept soundly on the bus and awoke in Aurangabad at 6 a.m.

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Aurangabad on the Map

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Comments and information welcome. Write to anamika dot mukherjee at amukherjeeworld dot net
Copyright 2008 Amit and Anamika Mukherjee. All rights reserved.