The Alluring Buddhist Caves at Ajanta
It seems like it was ages ago, though we started out just a month back in the wee hours of the morning in a bi-fuel car (petrol and LPG) both topped up to the brim. It was Kayde’s first long trip as well, so we had to be well-prepared – the car was overloaded with a portable gas stove to cook his meals, pram, baby carrier to diapers, food bag, mineral water, etc. – we literally carried a mini house with us.
Our minds were filled with curiosity, excitement and definitely a good amount of anxiety, although for Kayde he was simply excited to be out. What was in store for us unfolded with each rotation of the wheel.The journey was scenic as we passed through the grape vineyards of Nashik and cotton and jowar fields of rural Maharashtra, our anticipation was building up! Our first stop over was at Jalgaon, 415 km away, mainly because of the Ajanta caves – the ancient Buddhist rock-cut temples and monasteries. Around 300 km into our journey and the car muffler started leaking, its an 11-year old car, “Phew, we have to get it fixed,” Bhavika said in a hyper tone. We carried on like that until we reached the outskirts of Jalgaon and headed straight to a mechanic. Good news in store, it wasn’t a massive issue there was a gap between the silencer joint, so the mechanic doubled the packing in that area for Rs 150 and assured us that it would hold and we carried on towards our hotel, President Cottage Resort.
First day and our first encounter with a traffic cop, we obviously had all our papers in order when we were planning on doing such a long trip. So he started talking meaningless stuff like, you are not allowed to carry so much luggage, you can’t put luggage on a seat etc. I asked him bluntly was there a problem, he didn’t have an answer and we were out from there.
The hotel room was nice, clean and had free wifi. Starving after a long drive, we had some food, watched TV for a while and called it a day. The next morning we made our way to Ajanta Caves, 50 km away from the hotel on the MIDC Ajanta road.
The Great Ajanta Scam
Before we get to the beauty of the Ajanta caves, I would like to shed some light on a massive Ajanta robbery. Initially you need an amenity and parking ticket which totals up to Rs 9, then bus tickets -non-ac- to the caves Rs 14 for two and every time we were not given the change Re 1 back. A total of Rs 4 from the two of us in a day.
We visited on a weekday and there were a good amount of tourists. Multiply this with the amount of people coming in every month and I can imagine at least a million rupees not given back each month. The funny part is for three people, Rs 21, the bus conductor insisted he got his change.
The Historic Artwork of Ajanta Caves
The caves are in a horseshoe shaped cliff overlooking the Waghora river and covers a large area with a good view, since it was the end of the monsoons greenery and water was in abundance.
A fairly decent walk to reach the caves on a bright sunny day seemed little too long, the only respite being the scattered monsoon clouds that provided some shade. There are 30 Buddhist caves discovered in 1819 and dated between 200 BC to 650 AD, the magnificent paintings that make Ajanta world famous can be seen in Caves 1, 2, 9, 10, 16 and 17. While the caves that are considered unimportant and can be missed are Caves 3 and 8. Its advisable to wear chappals since footwear has to be removed before entering the caves.
The colors of the Ajanta caves were obtained from natural sources like rocks and minerals, except the black which was obtained from the residue of lamps. The sculptures here are in a relatively better condition as compared to the paintings and many of the caves offer well-defined stupas and statuesCave 26 has a huge figure of Buddha depicting his ‘Mahaparinirvana’ – his ultimate release from the cycle of rebirth. There are contradictory scenes carved on the wall – above him are celestial bodies rejoicing his arrival, while below are his disciples lamenting his death. Overall we were thrilled with the sculptures and the paintings that were in good shape, the stories they had to offer, but were drained out with the humidity and were glad to be back in the car.
We had to buy some vegetables to cook Kayde’s food in the hotel room, luckily for us none of the hotel staff objected to it since it was for the baby. We ended up in a narrow bylane with houses on either side; some of them were drying cotton on their quaint balconies, while few locals sold fresh vegetables. Bhavika asked for one zucchini and tomato, the wrinkled-faced woman smilingly asked since the quantity was less, “Is it for the baby?” Bhavika nodded and she picked the best from the lot, wrapped it in paper and sold for Rs 6.
We also ended up eating green bananas by the dozen, they were delicious – no wonder Jalgaon is labeled the ‘Banana city’ – and Kayde couldn’t do with just one! Just a quick fact, Jalgaon produces 3% of the world’s Bananas!
The next morning we planned to leave early to make it to Nagpur, a much shorter drive than Jalgaon, but destiny had something else in store! More on that in the next post!
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