Back in December, we took a few days to go to the famous Ajanta and Ellora caves in Maharastra (the same state Mumbai is in, about 6 hours away). Unfortunately, in order to visit the caves the best place to stay is in the city of Aurangabad, which is really not a very nice place. There are very few good hotel options and it seemed that the few affordable places with good reviews were booked so we ended up in a pretty depressing place (this was after we switched hotels) near the local cinema.
The first day we headed out to Ajanta, which is the farther of the two, about 2 hours outside of Aurangabad. Ajanta is a group of 29 Buddhist caves built in 200 and 600 BCE. They were accidentally rediscovered in 1819 by British officer who was hunting a tiger (ah, those were the days). They are pretty much all in a row, and some are more impressive than others, with large Buddhas and stupas inside. My favorite was the one with giant reclining Buddha on one side.
The second day we decided to do a kind of package deal where a driver took us to the Ellora caves first, and then a few other small sites. We ended up in a van with an Indian family–parents and a son who was around 10. We felt bad for intruding on their family vacation, but they were very nice and friendly, offering to explain several things to us.
Ellora has 34 caves built between 500 and 1000 BCE, and they are varying religious origins: Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist, and they are more spread out.
After seeing a few of the Jain caves, we went to Ellora’s main attraction: the Kailasa Temple. It’s actually not really a cave in the traditional sense and was in fact carved out of one single rock, starting from the top and working their way down–it is even multi-storied. This is extremely impressive when you see just how enormous Kailasa is (according to Wikipedia it is double the size of the Parthenon). We decided to get a guide to show us around and gain some insight into the various carvings. Our guide was an older gentleman who used to be a teacher, which became quite obvious when he scolded us for not paying attention or standing in the wrong place! But he was very knowledgable and we learned a lot about the Indu gods and their marriages.
After Ellora the driver took us on a whirlwind tour of Aurangabad’s other offerings, which include a special kind of weaving (both paithani and himroo). We saw some beautiful hand-woven textiles, but they were all above our price range. Next, we went to the Ghrishneshwar Temple. We wouldn’t have been necessarily interested in this temple, but the Indian family was quite excited to visit and explained to us that it was there because it is believed that when Shiva destroyed Jyotirlinga he divided her into 12 pieces that dropped to the earth and this temple is one of 12 in the world where a piece of her is believed to have fallen. The most fascinating part of it all for us was that the men had to remove their shirts (still not sure why!) as they walked in to the inner part of the temple. So Manor joined the gaggle of Indians, along with the father and son from our tour and removed his shirt to walk through.
Next we went to the Daulatabad Fort, a gorgeous old fort atop a mountain. It was great fun to explore; there is even a secret underground passage, but it was full of bats so we stayed out! There were tons of schoolchildren around and we soon learned that before Christmas vacation all the school take the kids on field trips. We got a lot of photo requests from giggly young school girls and boys…
…who seemed to follow us to Aurangabad’s big attraction: the Mini Taj aka Bibi-ka-Maqbara, the burial place of Aurangzeb’s wife, Rabia-ud-Durrani. It is an imitation of the Taj, hence the title Mini Taj. It’s lovely, but after seeing the actual Taj, I can say it’s not that exciting.
We got back to our hotel around 7 pm and had a lot of time to kill before our midnight train. After dinner we decided to see a movie at the local cinema, which turned out to be the latest Mission Impossible movie. In Hindi. We actually had virtually no problem following the simple plot and had a lot of fun as the crowd of young Indian men hooted and hollered at various times. It was also fun watching Hindi words come out of Tom Cruise’s mouth!