A Mukherjee World View


Return to Ellora Caves

After lunch, we returned to the Ellora caves. We headed for the Jaina caves at the far end. These are numbered 30-34 and the five of them are bunched up together away from the rest of the caves. Cave 30 is hidden a short distance up the hill, accessed by a steep flight of steps (which, misleadingly, looks like it is going nowhere) next to Cave 31, which itself is a little uphill of the other Jaina caves. Cave 30 is known as the Chhota Kailash – it has a plan similar to the Kailasha, being separated from the surrounding hill and then hewn from the orphaned block of stone. It is much smaller, though, and is unfinished, and as such is written off by most tourists and brochures as being unworthy of attention. I found it charming in its secluded, sad, and incomplete solitude. I walked all around the narrow channel at the back, thrilling in the oppressive weight of the unfinished rock all around me. In places the rock wall was a dirty white, as though a waterfall found its way down there, and there were some puddles in the depressions of the rock floor. The few patches of grass looked soft and squelchy too. In the rainy season, this cave might spend much time partially flooded. That would also be kind of charming, I thought.

We returned to Cave 31, which was also very alluringly tucked away in a cosy nook of rock, hidden to the casual viewer. It was small and unfinished, with only a few pillars carved out of the rough stone blocks.

Cave 32 is known as the Indra Sabha cave and is the most famous of the Jaina caves. A small group of tourists was just entering it, so we went to Cave 34 first, which was deserted. There was a staircase just off the entrance hall and I climbed up it almost absent-mindedly, leaving Amit in the depths of 34. The stairs led, to my surprise, up to unseen halls and staircases I had not suspected, and thence, after a short passage brought me to the top storey of Cave 32. These pillared halls were breathtakingly beautiful, softly carved and glowing softly like warm gold in the late afternoon sunlight. There was a sense of peace and quietude here that was not to be found in the crowds milling around Kailasha or any of the more central caves.

At last we walked back down the tarred road, towards the Brahminical caves. Cave 29 was a short diversion away, but we wanted to be back at Kailasha and adjacent caves to take advantage of the burnishing light of sunset to get a few good pictures, so we skipped this for the moment, intending to come back to it the next day. I did take a short detour to caves 20-27, to see whether they were worth coming back to and also to investigate the possibility of taking a shortcut over the hill to cave 29. It looked difficult: the path from 27 to 29 was around a curving cliff face with an exceedingly narrow track that looked a bit tricky for a mountain goat and pretty well impossible for big, clumsy-footed me. This path would pass behind a waterfall in the rainy season, which might be slippery and exciting, but right now it was slippery and dry.

I rejoined Amit and we headed back to Kailasha and spent a leisurely 90 minutes photographing the exteriors of the caves. We lingered outside the caves till past 6 when we were shooed away by the guards and guides, who wanted to shut up and go home. Though entry is free to all caves except Kailasha, all the caves are part of a fenced in enclosure and, short of breaching this defense or attempting a heroic trek across the hill from some distant point, there’s no way to access (or exit!) the caves except during the open hours.

The next day being Tuesday, the caves would be closed. Which meant we would have to leave our rendezvous with cave 29 to another trip. That was a pity, but at least Ajanta would be open (it is closed on Mondays) so we could go there tomorrow.

The evening passed quickly in the company of a bottle of beer and some snacks. We dined at a roadside stall, avoiding our own hotel’s dining hall, which was quite busy, and retired to bed welcoming sleep punctuated by exciting dreams of sculpted caves and evil, subterranean passages.

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