Ajanta Ellora could as well be the most hyped tourist destination in India. But let me assure you ... the hype is not for nothing. I can safely say that this site could be among the top 5 well maintained tourists places in India (infact, I found this maintained better than the Taj!)


Factfile

Let me begin this travelogue with how to get there from Bombay, how to get back and where to stay. Ajanta and Ellora are two cave complexes near Aurangabad, Maharashtra. Its an overnight journey to Aurangabad from Bombay by road (roughly 8 hours). We took a bus from Bombay at 10 pm and reached Aurangabad at about 7 am. The fare is Rs. 350 for a semi-sleeper bus. You can find a similar bus for the return journey from Aurangabad to Bombay. Staying at Aurangabad is also easy. There are a lot of very cheap hotels around the bus stand (Rs. 100-250 per night). We took a room that was clean, had attached bathroom and a colour TV for Rs. 250 per night. If you are rich and in mood of splurging some money, you can try the Tourism department guest house (Rs. 750-1500 per night). Day 1 was spent seeing the Ellora caves till afternoon and some sightseeing in Aurangabad in the evening. On day 2, we visited Ajanta caves till afternoon, and again some sightseeing in Aurangabad in the evening.

The Ellora cave complex is just 20 kms from Aurangabad. You can take the local transport (kali-peeli) to get to Ellora and back. Should cost you Rs. 30 per head. Ajanta is a bit far off. Its about 100 kms from Aurangabad. We took the 'luxury tour' by India Tourism Department. It included a bus trip from Aurangabad to Ajanta and back and a professional guide. I think Rs. 350 per head was worth the money for this. There is this funda of Ellora facing the west and Ajanta facing the east. So they say a good time to visit Ellora is in the afternoon till dusk and for Ajanta, its sunrise to afternoon. However, I could not make out any such thing. I went to both the places between 10 am and 3 pm and found it pretty OK.

On that note, this is a very very hot place in the summers and it is not advised that you be here in May-June. The heat will simply blow your mind off and you may fall down with a sun-stroke. I guess this place would look most lovely in the monsoons. Winters would not be a bad time again.


History

Now a bit of history (what I could gather from 'good' guides, books and internet). The Ellora caves are a series of 34 caves built by monks of three religions. Caves 1-12 are buddhist caves; caves 16-30 are hindu caves; and the last ones are jain caves. They were built between 6th and 12th century AD, I believe. The biggest and the most spectacular of them is cave 16, a shiva temple etched in a single rock. This also happens to be the biggest monolith cave in the world. One look at it and you are awed by its gigantic size and grandeur.

Ajanta caves are a series of 30 buddist caves. They were built between 2nd and 7th century AD. However, they remained undiscovered till about 1850 (I forget the exact year) when an English soldier in the army of Nizam of Hyderabad accidently bumped into them. Very close to Ajanta is the town Khuldabad. This is the place where Aurangazeb, the great moghul emperor, spent his final days fighting to conquer the deccan. Aurangazeb's grave lies in this town ... an open grave with a little plant over it. Unlike his ancestors, there is no magnificient monument or mausoleum over it. Aurangazeb was a man of simplicity and did not believe in spending public treasury for personal uses. There is also the Daulatabad fort in the vicinity (which we could not visit).

Aurangabad is a historic town, with moghul influences speaking from every wall and archway on the road. There is the Bibi-ka-Maghbara (called the Taj of the deccan) to see, Panchakki (a water mill) and other mosques and streets. Aurangazeb's son, heavily influenced by the mausoleum of his grand parents Mumtaj Mahal and Shah Jahan (the Taj Mahal of Agra), built the Bibi-ka-Maghbara for his mother. One can see the distinct style of Moghul architecture and the vivid inspiration from Taj, especially the four minarets, in this monument.


Photography

Needless to say, I enjoy photography and I enjoy travelling. And the fun multiplies a zillion times when I can club both :-). At these places, while most of it is routine travel / tourist photography, you need to keep one a few things in mind. The Ajanta caves are extremely dark and have very little light. Also, no flash photography is allowed inside the caves. So you will find very good use to your fast 50mm f/1.8 lens and the ISO 800 of your digi SLR. Dont even think of using flash. Your camera might be confiscated. But even if it is not, you are causing huge damage to the invaluable paintings of Ajanta.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, you may find good light in Ajanta if you make it early in the morning (Ajanta caves face east). And the dusk at Ellora would be lovely if you can manage to stay till evening (Ellora caves face west). However, I did not try this out as I was at both places in afternoon. You are also likely to find some good streets shots (if thats your area of interest) in Khuldabad. Its a weathered town that has nothing to speak of now, but did see some glorious past.


So that was another short tour. And with D70 and Jassi around, it can never be short of fun. We did not do an economy mode travel this time and ended up spending Rs. 1400 per person for the trip. But I guess thats OK. You cant travel cheap all the time ;-)



Tags: India

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