Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Explore Maharashtra: The Great Ellora Caves

When I decided to explore a bit of Maharashtra with my family, the first thing that came to my mind was to see the famous Ellora & Ajanta caves. Though both the caves are in Aurangabad, they are actually quite far away from each other - so visiting both the caves on the same day is not possible.

We decided to explore Ellora caves on the first day. I had learned about Ellora in school - as part of our history lessons, but I only had a vague idea how it look in real life. I guess I should have just hit Google or Wikipedia before visiting the caves. In a way, I am glad that I did not do my usual research before visiting Ellora. The sheer magnificence can only be appreciated once you stand in front of the amazing structures.

Cave 29 (Hindu Cave) - Click photo to view large size.
Ellora is a set of 34 different caves. The caves are neatly numbered based on who constructed the caves. More details of the numbering and the religious influence of each cave can be found here.

Visiting all the 34 caves on foot is not practical (especially with a family). The caves are spread far apart. The easiest way to see the most important caves is to hire a rickshaw that will drive you around for a nominal price of Rs. 200 (less than $5). The rickshaw driver also acts as a guide giving you important details of each cave that you are visiting.

Inside cave 29. Click photo to view large size.
Ellora caves is a monolithic structure (carved out of a single piece of rock). Everything you see inside the caves (pillars, carvings, intricate designs) are all created by carving the rock. Imagining the amount of work that was involved simply boggles the mind. Some of the caves took hundreds of years to complete.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Explore Maharashtra: Introduction.

An elderly lady selling limbu sherbat on the way to Rajgad Fort.
When I went down to India for a much-needed break, I basically had 2 objectives:
1. Explore Goa on my own - preferably on a bike.
2. Travel to Pune (Maharashtra) to meetup with my family (who were flying directly from Kuwait to Pune), and spend some quality time with them.

As far as sight-seeing or photography goes, I did not have any expectations regarding Maharashtra. I find the place over-crowded, unhygienic, and communication with the people is a hassle as I don't know Marathi, and my knowledge of Hindi is very limited.

The only concrete plan I had made regarding Maharashtra was that I would try to do the "Rajgad Fort" trek - which is supposed to be a very challenging one-day trek. I also had some vague idea of spending a few days in Lonavla or a similar hill station - just to unwind myself.

Once I landed in Pune, I learned 2 things:
1. Maharashtra has massive history dating back to thousands of years. It also has an amazing natural beauty crafted by the Sayadhri mountains range.
2. For a decent amount (around Rs. 3000/- per day), you can hire a good car (such as the Toyota Innova) plus the driver - and drive anywhere you want.

I wasted no time in plotting a sight-seeing agenda that included historical places like Ajanta and Ellora Caves, challenging treks to various forts, and of course, unwinding in the beautiful hill stations of Mahabaleshwar & Lonavla.

It ended up being the most interesting time for the whole family. Long drives, interesting places and people, eating strawberries fresh from the garden, food poisoning and even a theft of my beloved Nike running shoes.

Over the coming few days, I'll try to sort out all the photos and organize them by place. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Explore Goa: Old Goa

A trip to Goa would not be complete without visiting Old Goa. My original plan was to Visit Old Goa on 3rd December, which is the feast of the church and its patron saint - St. Francis Xavier. It would have been fun shooting the throngs of people who gather on the feast day, dressed in their finest clothes. Unfortunately, due to scheduling problems, I landed in Goa after the feast day.

Old Goa, also known as Velha Goa, was the former capital of the Portuguese India from the 16th to the 18th century, until it was abandoned due to plague and the capital was moved to Panaji.

Old Goa houses some very important catholic churches, the most famous being the "Basilica of Bom Jesus", which has the remains of St. Francis Xavier.

Basilica of Bom Jesus

Intricate facade of Bom Jesus Church