Existing Member?

Travel Blog If it feels good - DO IT!!

Captain Caveman and the mini Taj Mahal

INDIA | Thursday, 23 July 2009 | Views [5342] | Comments [1]

Expecting the unexpected and prepared for anything I was in Mumbai's hectic CST station a full two hours before the train was scheduled to leave. I plonked my conspicuous rucksack down in the middle of the station and sat on it, joining the crowds laughing and joking as they sat on the floor and kept an eye on the station indicator. I watched the world go by, still too different to properly take in or understand.

A half an hour before the departure the platform was annouced so I made may way up it, passing a waiting room for passengers with reservations. So that was where I was supposed to wait. Learning all the time! The trains are huge in every sense, long, this one had 30 or more carriages and about 4m wide, enough for a 6ft sleeping person, a corridor and a seat across. I found my carriage and my berth and was quite impressed. 2 AC is bunkbed style with sheets and covers, AC, a reading light and is relatively clean. All good.

Unsure what to do with my rucksack (I couldn't be expected to bunk with it surely!) I slung it under the lower bunk and climbed up to mine.

I started to prepare the bed the other people in the section arrived. I politely greeted them with Namaste  and was grunted at in return by a mustachioed man with a pot belly across from me. The Sikh below me at least smiled as he reverently removed his turban and placed it carefully on the middle shelf. The train departed on time and everyone fell asleep within minutes. Except for me, of course. I was happy to read but eventually got tired and gave it a go.

It was initially the noises and constant toing and froing which kept me awake. Ear plugs to the rescue. Then it was a general paranoia about my rucksack below. I reasoned that it is such a hefty beast I would surely hear if someone tried to grab it. Then paranoia about missing my stop – they don't make announcements (that would be annoying all night) and you can't see out from the upper berth. But again I reasoned that the train was not going to be early so as long as I set my alarm it would be ok. But finally the thing that kept me awake was the ear shattering snoring of my unfriendly mustachioed companion accompanied by his thunderous sleeping farts. I didn't think people could fart that loud at all, never mind asleep. The only way I know he was asleep is because the snoring didn't pause for the farts. I gave up and read again till 4am when we arrived at Aurangabad.

I had a booking at the Shree Maya hotel and although it was close to the station had asked for a pick up when I booked. A man identified me quickly enough (being the only gora or whitey) and took me to the hotel. The staff were all asleep on the floor of reception when I got there. After the usual passport shenanigans I  was shown to my room which was once again not very clean but I was too tired to care.

I slept through the longest solar eclipse of the century. I didn't feel bad because it wasn't visible in Aurangabad and even if it was the persistent rain would have ruined it anyway. I did catch the best of it on the TV though. Including the poor kids who had been buried up to their necks in sand by their parents hoping that doing so during the eclipse would cure their ailments. Poor kids looked not only miserable but embarrassed – I could imagine them thinking “Wow the lads are really going to take the mick out of me in school tomorrow”. But of course, they probably don't go to school.

I had some breakfast and chai and then went back to my room. I wasn't going to leave until I had some sort of plan. It wasn't too bad at all actually -  I took a thematic approach and it soon became clear that everything I wanted to do was up North. The Goan beach or backwaters of Kerala didn't appeal very much in this weather so Goa and Kerala would not be on the list.

Content with this I could go straight to execution. I had given myself a few days to have a look around Aurangabad itself and take in the Elora and Ajanta cave systems. I didn't want to get too hectic on such little sleep so settled for a city tour during the day. The hotel manager arranged a giude/rickshaw driver to take me. He introduced me to Nazir, a friendly, heavy set  guy with a ready smile and we were off in the auto rickshaw.

No new MOT here I'm afraid – it's identical to a tuk-tuk. The rains had ceased for now, a good sign.

First up was Pan Chaki an attractive set of medieval buildings and a mosque centred around a water mill which allowed gravity to do some of the work giving the peons a rest.

Kids sheltered from the rain under an enormous 500 year old Banyan tree. Aurangabad was originally a walled town named after the last great Mughal, Aurangzeb who built his citadel here.

The rain started again on the way up to Aurangabad caves in the hills overlooking the city. I've been quite surpised at the temperature since I got here – more often than not I'm actually regretting wearing shorts as the wind whips the rain into the back of Nazir's rickshaw and into my face.

The caves themselves date mostly from the fourth century AD and consist of various decorated and pillared rooms cut into the stone where people came to worship. Images of the Buddha are prominent although   Hindu deities feature in the later one. For the most part they're surrounded by austere little meditation chambers where the devout and monks lived and hopefully found whatever they were looking for. They are interesting and provide a great view of the city below but when it started raining and waterfalls started sprouting from the cliff face I had no trouble leaving.

Nazir took me on a drive back into the old party city. A rickshaw drive is a great way to see a place, up close and  personal. Traffic jams caused by cows chewing the cud in the middle of the street. Mysterious Muslim ladies in purdah doing their shopping.

Shops with every conceivable shape and size of guady bangle. Beef shops proudly displaying their wares in the shop window. The amount of flies freely getting involved with the meat was all I needed to see to convince me that vegetarianism was the way to go in India.

We stopped at the city chowk, a warren like maze of streets and the commercial heart of the city. It was great to wander around and soak up the atmosphere (and some more rain). The streets are organised by trade, so you'll have a street full of fabrics beside one of metalware and a third of jewellery. Gaudy jewellery has a big market here – some shops somehow specialise in imitation jewellery. How honest of them.

I wanted a light sheet to use as an all purpose cloth/bedsheet/towel so I found myself of cloth street perusing the shops. A gregarious group of men asked me a few questions, which country etc. and we ended up talking about Ireland recent prowess in cricket, the national sport (not that I know anything about it I might add!). I bought a sheet and they offered me some chai. We kept chatting and more and more people joined the group to stare and listen. It was quite fun – they were a friendly bunch. One of them wanted some Irish coins but all I had to offer was a Singapore Dollar. He seemed quite happy the alternative and in order to reciprocate, gave me a handkerchief. It was new by the way, it's not as if he gave me the snotty rag out of his pocket!

Afterwards we made for Bibi ka Maqbara which is a bit like a poor man's Taj Mahal. It was modelled on the more famous mausoleum in Agra but is only half the size, widely agreed not to be not as beautiful and completed for, it's said one three hundredth the price.

It's the mausoleum of Aurangzeb's wife and is set in a series of interconnected gardens. I'm sure a stroll around would be delightful in the dry season but the heavy rain put a bit of a dampener of things. When you get up close you can see that marble was used only for the bottom of the building and the top parts are grubby and in need of repair. But seeing as I will be saving Agra for another trip, it had to do.

The rain was starting to not only get to me but also worry me. If it stayed like this for the whole trip I would struggle to keep important things like my laptop and guidebook dry. I asked Nazir if it would be possible to buy zip lock bags in the city. Of course, he took me to plastic ware street where a shop specialised specifically in zip lock bags. I love it! He dropped me off at a good veggie restaurant near the hotel. I returned there for some chai and blogging. I didn't finish the second cup as it smelt unmistakably of  human excrement. You really have to watch things in India.

Mosquitos prevented me from getting a decent night's sleep but I had arranged for Nazir to pick me up at 8. It was pissing rain again – even more miserable than the previous day. A dank fog lay across the whole town and as we drove out of it and to higher ground it got worse. The first stop of the tour was the Deogiri fort in Daulatabad. It's a huge imposing structure surrounded by multiple rings of defences. It was built in the twelfth century and in its hey day served as the capital of a wide area. Despite the history (which I was fast discovering that I knew less than nothing about) it was totally miserable wandering about in the fog. There wasn't a sinner anywhere and it's enormous. A cloud hung over what I suspected what was the main fort itself but I wasn't sure so I kept approaching whatever the cloud was hiding. A victory tower loomed into sight and I suspect I was on the right track. More battlements and bridges and a moat. The defences of the palace are impressive. The moat was once home to crocodiles and other nasties who would happily gobble up any attackers who fell in.

When I got into the fort itself a man with a torch offered to take me through the dark entry tunnel with a flaming torch. Anything to get out of the rain! The passage, the only way into the fort is set with all sorts of traps to befuddle and then maim or kill the unaware. At one point the passage splits in two then joins back together, a simple way to get attackers to kill each other. All the while the ground is very uneven making it tough going even with a torch. 

I kept marching upwards into the mist, thinking that there must be something at the top.

An octagonal palace.

Further above a grave and finally an old cannon, some chipmunks and the odd frog.

I made a silent request to the weather to do me a favour and lay off for a while at the top. Miraculously, it did and there were great views on the way down.

I was feeling better for it too – not so chilly! The better weather seemed to have brought more visitors (Indian) and residents (monkey) to the entrance.

After a pitstop for some petrol poured through a funnel we made for Ellora caves, the main reason I was in town. On the way Nazir was free with information about his culture and society and his life. He has 4 children, his eldest girl having just been married. I congratulated him but it seemed a mixed blessing for him. He had to sell his rickshaw for the dowry. This aspect of Indian society is quite alien to me. I asked him if he was religious.. he replied “Yes sir, I am communist!” He goes to the mosque, to the Hindu temple and to party meetings, covering all his bases. Very smart.

The Ellora caves are very impressive. But there are over thirty indiviual caves so I had my work cut out.

I started at number one, the oldest, Buddhist cave and worked my way up through more and more ornate caves.

Then the Hindu ones begin and the imagery changes to their deities although Buddha features strongly thoughout. I have to admit that Hinduism, along with Indian history is completely new to me so I can't say that I understood what I was looking at.

The Jewel in the crown is cave 16, a hindu temple carved straight from the cliff. They started at the top and worked their way down over what must have been centuries to complete a mammoth ornately carved temple which is suppsoed to represent Mount Kailasa, the home of Siva, the oxymoronic God of creation and destruction. My amateur photography does no justice to the sight itself.

The rain had been on and off but it really started to come down in sheets when I had finished with “cave” 16. 5 hours of  temples in the rain had taken its toll so when I looked at the last few later caves, this time of the Jain faith (not sure what that is yet exactly but hey) my heart wasn't in it. What had been a trickle when I started the visit had become a cascading torrent, flooding the area below. It was time to move on.

On the way back to town we made some interesting stops. The first was at a very ancient and important Hindu temple. I entered and in order to go in to the shrine I had to take off my top. I looked on, bare-chested as devotees poured coconut milk into a brass cup which then overflowed onto offerings of flowers and rice. Not an iota of a clue as to what all this meant but I was delighted to get my first bindi, the distinctive mark on the forehead. Mine wasn't a red dot as I had expected, more of an orangey smudge.

After lunch we went into Rauza so I could visit Aurangzeb's tomb. Nazir warned me not to give anyone any money and only to visit the main tomb, not the others. It was a very simple affair, unlike anything he had built but a blind guy started hassling me for baksheesh (a backhander/tip) so I feigned an inability  to understand English and scarpered. Being Argentinean can have its uses!

The last stop was at Himroo Sarees  a famous factory shop where they make what Nazir told me were they use handlooms to make the best sarees in India. It was a shame that there was no-one working at the time but the looms were quite impressive to behold even when silent.

Some of the sarees are inlaid with gold and silver, takes months and even years to make and can cost up to 50,000 rupees, about the same price as a good second hand rickshaw. They were beautiful but the salesman was quite pushy and I didn't really warm to the place. I'm not target market of course.

My original plan had been to get a bus up to Ajanta that evening for the other set of caves. After 2 days of caves, forts, more caves and temples I wasn't enamoured with that prospect. I felt like Captain Caveman. For a few days now I had been starting to get that familiar itchy feeling in my ear – the sign of an infection coming on. I hadn't really slept that much either. I needed a rest and for someone to look in my ear. I changed the plan – I would skip Ajanta and make for Jalgoan which was the closest rail connection from where I could start heading north. And I could see about a doctor.

I had become friends with Nazir and I was sad to say goodbye to him. It felt as though he was Prabaker to my Shantaram, explaining what I was seeing, being generous with his humour and knowledge. He took me to the bus station, found a seat for me and even found a place for my rucksack which was not on the roof I was glad to see. It wouldn't have mattered the skies cleared on the four hour trip. I saw the sun for the first time in India. It seemed like weeks since I had seen a sunset.

The my first Indian local bus ride was quite pleasant ... the road wasn't bumpy and the traffic seemed to behave. It was good to see a few characters on the bus with me. The elderly man sat beside me had a catheter which, once he had filled up proceeded to empty it out the window. He did wait till we were stopped at the bus station though which was very considerate of those passenger with open windows behind. I was glad to get off four hours later. I jumped in a rickshaw and it took me to the only hotel in the book. I was definitely off the tourist trail now – kids pointed and stared as I struggled to get my bag  on to enter the hotel. I hoped it was clean, quiet and mosquito free. A lot to expect in India but I had my fingers and toes crossed.

Tags: cave, monsoon, tour




this a great entry, i will be following in a lot of your footsteps and i loved the photos.
i hope i meet Nazir when im in Aurangabad too!!
looking forward to your next entry.
good luck!

  mella Aug 8, 2009 10:00 PM

Add your comments

(If you have a travel question, get your Answers here)

In order to avoid spam on these blogs, please enter the code you see in the image. Comments identified as spam will be deleted.

About eoghancito

Follow Me

Where I've been


Photo Galleries


Near Misses

My trip journals

See all my tags 



Travel Answers about India

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.