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Long route home Our trip all the way home, trying to catch no planes and stay on the ground like civilised people. It's taking us via India all the way to Europe from Japan, the furthest of the Far East...

To the bat cave!

INDIA | Friday, 10 September 2010 | Views [438]

Northern Maharashta is renowned for it's ancient temples, excavated from natural hillside caves.  We saw both of the principal sites, to wit: Ellora cluster and Ajanta cluster.  Ajanta was first, all Buddhist and chiefly Mayahana.  A horseshoe shaped ravine provides the setting for these caves, fantastically remote and totally hidden from the world for years after they fell into disrepair through lack of use.  The basic temple consisted of 4-8 columns supporting(?) the roof for a large hall, with antechambers to both sides and a prayer room at the rear with a large buddha statue.  All save one of the temples followed this basic pattern.  In the old days, monks would have actually lived inside these tiny, isolated, dark and damp rooms.  It must have been quite something to see it populated.  The walls were covered in murals, touted as world treasures but a little disappointing.  Neither of us are particularly into medieval art at the best of times and chipped, rotted and poorly lit examples are hardly the best of times.  Especially when you have to take your shoes off at the entrance to each one! Flywhisk bearing maidens are present often, a familiar early Buddhist theme.  The final hall has a meditation chamber in which the monks would have held meetings and so forth as well as meditation, obviously.  It's laid out differently, much more hall-like, long and with a good dozen pillars on each side.  No antechambers here.

Ellora had more varied caves, but a less dramatic position.  These were set along a poorly defined ridge with a plethora of small waterfalls and dripping ledges.  The earliest were the Buddhist temples, quite similiar to the previous day's at first though later ones were bigger and contained more columns, often adorned with sculpture.  The Hindu temples were more ornate, with lots of sculpture and large friezes, especially of Shiva.  The overwhelming majority of the divine depictions were of Shiva rather than Vishnu.  Surya popped up on his golden chariot in one temple and Nandi was also regular.  Kali featured a few times, quite an old style rendering so she's famished and ghoulish rather than exuberantly demonic.  Sadly rain had swollen one waterfull too much which ruled out the Jain temples for us, as well as the final Hindu one.  The crowning glory of the site here is the whopping Kailash temple, almost unbelievably once a cave.  In many respects it's really to be considered a temple proper as it's open to the sky, but it was once a cave and was hewn from the living rock.  It features elephants who have been detrunked by Moslem invaders.  The site as a whole has suffered both from raiding and from iconoclasm over the years.  Sadly the hall of sacrifices was nowhere to be found, which was sad.  On the way to Ellora we popped into Daulatabad, which was a good idea.  It's a fort on a hill with fantastic views across the plains and towards the Deccan plateau.  While the moat was predictably choked with rubbish, the whole place was imbued with atmosphere and a most worthwhile trip.  We were particularly struck by the dark and uneven tunnels that in days of yore allowed for defence by spiked trap; poison gas; acid; boiling oil etc.  Nowadays though they're home to hundreds of bats and their guano, making for a memorable trip and some more smells of India for the collection.

The caves were quite touristy, with the carpark for Ellora situated bang opposite the Kailash temple.  Both sites had langur being fed crisps by busloads of domestic (and some foreign) tourists.  Jewellery sellers and gem sellers were everywhere and it was interesting to note that they do indeed sell to domestic tourists.  Whereas all the big foreigners walk brusquely past, many Indians observe closely and begin to bargain.  The cave sites were well guarded and free of rubbish for the most part.  Daulatabad had suffered pretty badly - real lakes of bottles and - literally - crap.  Aurangabad itself was a hole, though our hotel was nice, with big pictures of the caves everywhere.  We had a cracking meal too at the simply named Tandoor, thanks Rough Guide!  The journeys there and back on the buses must rank among our worst in India.  The main problem was the incessant stops for chai at all hours, usually accompiened by the staff running up and down shouting lots and turning the lights on and ac off.  Not that it mattered, the idiots on the bus opened up the wndows anyway so the ac units were blowing cold air out onto the highway.  Bollywood hits played until the early morning even though everyone was asleep (or trying to be).

tips
- avoid long-distance buses, especially overnight
- take torches to these sites
- there are regular local buses to all the area's sites
- touts will lie to you about buses stopping
- there is no bus stop but they will stop if you flag them before the t-junction at ajanta and before the main gate at ellora
- local buses get very crowded

Tags: bats, buddhist, caves, fort, hindu, litter, monkeys, tandoori, touts

 

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