Friday, June 19, 2009

Ajanta Caves

Day 4: 28th January 2005 - Ajanta Caves
We took the morning local bus to Ajanta, which is about 100 odd kilometers away from Aurangabad. There is no permission for local buses to go to Ajanta Caves, they all have to stop a few kilometers away at a place called T-Point, from where we need to take a special government bus. Special because it is pollution free, quite luxurious, and provides you with first indication that you are visiting something extraordinary. The whole region is plastic free zone, thank God for a change, emphasizing the importance given to preserving this place.

Ajanta is a collection of rock cut cave monuments, some of which dates back to the second century BC, containing painting and sculptures which quite rightly considered as masterpieces.
The series of caves are actually residences and prayer halls for monks called Vihara’s and Chaitya grihas. The caves had beautiful sculptures of Buddha in various pose, divided in to two phases called Hinayana and Mahayana.

Some of them have paintings on the walls and the ceiling, which are worn out by time and use, but have enough left for us imagine and admire the beauty and grandeur in its prime.

After seeing the monuments, it would not be difficult for anyone to comprehend why this place was not discovered for ages. The caves/Viharas are built on the insides of a steep ravine, almost in the shape of a horseshoe, more then 30 feet down from top of the mountain, and about 35 to 100 feet above the stream, making it literally impossible for any one to see the caves, unless they climb the surrounding mountain in the midst of wilderness and see from the top. If ever there could be a place completely at peace, lost in the silence of the woods, safe from the interventions of other human beings, this was it.

The three of us stood stunned when we saw the beautiful arrangement of the caves, and tried to think how difficult it was probably to construct these, people had to dangle down perhaps tied to ropes and then carve, foot holes and the little paths where they could stand and continue shaping the marvel, in the middle of vertical gorge. We so badly wanted to capture the series of the caves that my friend Deepsy tried climbing few meters on a slippery slope to record the video of the full caves, only to receive a stern warning from the alert security men.

A small hill right in the centre of the caves and a stream (I guess you will find only if there is enough rainfall) completes the elements for a perfect picture. There is small bridge connecting the caves and the hill in the centre, and if you climb to the top of the hill you will probably get the best view of the caves, and what a sight it was to be surrounded by vertical slopes of the bigger mountain, with the beautiful caves and decorated entrances to many a masterpieces.

The most notable difference between the caves in Ellora and Ajanta are that the Ajanta caves have spectacular paintings mostly depicting the life and teachings of Buddha. Apart from the facts that these caves are primarily Viharas, and are older than the Ellora caves and understandingly the finish of the carvings are coarser then the Ellora caves, which also has caves of Hinduism and Jainism.

It takes 3 hours to see the caves for any casual visitor, and if you are slightly interested you could spend about 6 hours here. We left the caves by around 5:30, a little nervous about the transport system in these region and a bit unsure of the frequency of buses or any other modes of travel to reach Jalgoan, at distance of about 60 kilometers from Ajanta, though our train was to due to depart from Jalgoan only after 11 PM. No complaints though, as we reached Jalgoan after a relaxing journey and had sufficient time to enjoy a few mugs of beer, and relish the incomparable images of Ajanta etched in our memories, before boarding the train.

Day 1: 25th January 2005 - Introduction
Day 2: 26th January 2005 - Hyderabad (Charminar, Golconda fort, Birla mandir)
Day 3: 27th January 2005 - Aurangabad (Ellora, Daulatabad Fort, Biwi ka Maqbara)
Day 5: 29th January 2005 - Bhopal and Sanchi
Day 6: 30th January 2005 - Bhopal, Bhimbetka and Bhojpur

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