Thursday, March 10, 2011

Explore Maharashtra : The Great Ajanta Caves.

First view of Ajanta Caves.
If our trip to the Ellora caves wowed us with their grandeur and intricate carvings, our trip to the Ajanta caves was even more satisfying. We managed to spend an entire day at the caves, but still felt that there was so much left to explore.

Ajanta caves are more than 2 hours drive from the city of Aurangabad. We left early in the morning and reached Ajanta at around 10 a.m. The whole site is a UNESCO world heritage site and private vehicles are not allowed near the caves. You need to take a special bus that winds through the mountains for about 10 minutes before you reach the caves.

The main difference between Ellora and Ajanta caves is that Ellora caves are spread over different mountains and have influences of 3 different religions (Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism). The Ajanta caves, on the other hand, are all from the Buddhist influence. More historical information about the caves can be found on this wikipedia page.

Ajanta caves had colorful paintings, which have faded now..
The colorful ceilings.
Another major difference between the Ellora and Ajanta caves is the color. Many of the Ajanta caves were colorfully painted. The color was created using a mixture of different muds from the surrounding areas.

The first thing we did after reaching the caves is hire a guide - and its a good idea, because a guide can point our minute details that we would miss otherwise. For example, he pointed out some paintings on the ceiling that are designed in such a way that if you look at it from different points, it shows a different effect. The optical illusion is created by a 3D effect in the painting. Very clever.

A section of the ceiling that is better preserved than the rest.
Similar to the Ellora caves, each cave had a different purpose. The prayer hall generally has a stupa or a statue of Buddha. Caves that were meant for living quarters are designed differently.

Prayer hall with a stupa.
Detailed and exquisite carvings on the cave exterior.
More detailed carvings.
Most of the caves are not lighted. The guides show you around these caves using flash lights. This is one of the few caves that is lighted.

One of the few caves with lighting inside.
Statue of Buddha.
When you stand inside a massive cave like this, the first thought that goes through your mind is "How the heck did they manage to do this, hundreds of years ago, with just a chisel and some basic tools?". You listen to the guide telling you that it took hundreds of years to finish these caves, with the knowledge and plans passed from generation to generation, and your brain tries to comprehend something this massive being constructed without any of the modern tools that we are used to.

It seems just too incredible.

Rock carved like arches.
We were very tired with all the walking. I noticed that some people were walking up on one side of the mountain. I inquired with the guide as to where the trail leads. Turns out that there is another way to get out of Ajanta. A trek straight to the top of the mountain.

An alternate exit out of Ajanta.
Trekking?. My interest was piqued even though I was tired. Our guide was puzzled as to why we would choose to trek for more than 1 hour straight up the mountain when we had a nice cozy car waiting for us at the gate.

I told my wife to take our daughter Erika and go with the driver in the car - since the trek would be too tiring for them. They would meet me and Shawn at the top of the mountain (called the viewpoint). Though it was a straight trek for us, it would take them nearly 2 hours to reach the same point because they had to take the bus, and go to the gate where the car was parked, and then drive across the mountain to reach the viewpoint.

We took some water and headed off.

Panoramic view of Ajanta caves - on our way to the top.
The vast size of the caves can be appreciated from this distance.
Another section of the caves.
Full view of the caves.
Seven waterfalls.
Half-way up the mountain, we came across this "seven waterfalls". It's basically a waterfall whose drop is broken down into 7 distinct places.

Finally, after a hard 1 hour trek, we finally reached the top of the mountain. The place is called "view point" and this is supposedly the place where an Englishman named John Smith first discovered the caves while hunting for tigers.

View of the caves from the viewpoint.
View of the valley and the river that cuts through the mountain.
Shawn relaxing after a hard trek, and enjoying the view.
Colorful mountain side at Ajanta.
Finally after more than 1 hour, our car arrived at the view point. We spent some more time just relaxing and enjoying the view and then headed back to Aurangabad.

It was definitely a memorable visit. If I get a chance to visit the place again, I most certainly will.


flobo said...

Great stuff. India has so much to offer.

Marzouq said...

That is honestly amazing! Beautiful shots and what they built into the side of the moment is an impressive feat!

rajan said...

wonderful effort to brief ajanta,, because of it , i included d visit of ajanta otherwise presuming it may be similar to ellora then y to waist time & money too. thanks 4 providing such a wonderful snaps as well as details of AJANTA.

Rahul said...

Quite comprehensive read about Ajanta Caves.. this place is simply superb... really admire your work with these photographs...

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