Some people on the train were on their way to Mumbai, it was on the same line. I felt that we had done a sort of circle, when in Mumbai we had wondered if we should go straight to Ajanta and Ellora to see the caves and then carry on Southwards. Looking at the map, I had drawn what seemed like a logical line, and on it I had decided another way to get here. And here we where.
Aurangabad was where the train station was, but it was still a bus (or taxi) ride away to the towns of Ajanta and Ellora, where the caves are situated.
Before I carry on, I will as usual put up a map of India and the route our journey took us:
'Aurangabad is an important city in the state of Maharashtra, India. It sees a lot of international tourist traffic due to world heritage sites, Ajanta & Ellora caves. Aurangabad, a dream destination of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, founded in 1610, is known today, as one of the four important cities in Maharashtra. The city is heading towards rapid industrial growth, but retains its past glory and charms, heritage and traditions. Conspicuously seen on the Deccan plateau, it has a rich culture and a plethora of magnificent arts on display. Travellers to Aurangabad will find history dating back to the 2nd century BCE, when the Satavahana rulers established their capital in Pratishtanapura, today known as Paithan. It was around this time that the viharas (monasteries) were carved out of caves in what is now Ajanta, and the stunning cave paintings were made, to be lost and rediscovered in the early 19th century. The carvings in the Ellora caves track the changing fortunes of three major religions Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism between the 5th and the 10th century CE.'
My first impressions of the city were positive ones. It seemed that we had stepped back into at least some resemblance of civilization again. We arrived there after dark, always an interesting time to arrive anywhere I had found. It was quiet, very quiet. Everything was closed for the night, but what a beautiful night it was. The intense heat of the sun was gone, it was just pleasantly warm. We booked our bags into the holding area at train station and took off walking down the nicely lit up street looking for a hotel for the night. There were quite a few down on the main strip just as you walk out of the station, most, however, were full, or didn't have the kind of accommodation we were looking for. Experience had taught us not to take the first hotel that seemed okay. I didn't particularly want to be on the main drag, a nice quiet place just a few streets away would do fine.
We walked on and eventually found the kind of place we were looking for, here is a photo of it:
It was a pleasant place to stay, modern and newly built. The owners and staff were very nice people and made us feel welcome, even though we had arrived in the middle of the night. One of my sons and I decided to walk back to the train station and pick up our bags, might as well get settled in, as we would be there for quite a few days. We took a rickshaw back (now that we knew were we had parked ourselves).
On the last report I had mentioned about me itching all over and not knowing what it was. I checked myself and was shocked to see red bumps on my arms, legs (thighs mostly) and my back. They were uniform and at the same place left and right of my body. I never did find out what they were or what caused them. To see a doctor or not? The next day I bought some calamine and applied it, it did relieve some of the itch, but not much. I had never had anything like this before and couldn't decide whether I had been bitten by some bugs (on the train possibly?) or if I had caught a rash from something I was allergic to. At least it didn't seem like it was catching, my sons never caught it, so that was was something at least. It was very very uncomfortable and so hard not to itch! Here is a picture of one of my arms. (I did think about putting up a photo I had taken of my thighs - but decided not to, I don't want to be showing too much on a family forum)
It could have been bed-bugs or even fleas. What made me think that it may not be bug bites is that it was the same pattern on either side of my body. I guess it could just have been a heat rash, the weather was extremely hot and I was very sweaty during that train ride... and having to sit on those plastic covered seats made it even worse. I remember I tried putting blankets underneath, but nothing was stopping me over heating and sweating. Very very uncomfortable.
The rash lasted several days, but started to get better almost straight away in the air conditioned hotel. The trying not to scratch it was the hardest part! Luckily I was pre-occupied by my surroundings and this new city and so was not thinking about it too much.
Even though not on the main drag the hotel was still quite central. We could walk out on to the street and could easily find a good restaurant to dine at or an internet cafe or a shop to buy a bottled juice drink (mango was my favorite). It was all there plus more. I started to notice people from other countries again, a few that were staying at our hotel. A taxi or rickshaw was always parked outside of the entrance of the hotel, in case anyone wanted a ride to wherever they wanted to go.
As was mentioned in the quote above, this city was developing fast. A lot of construction going on and some of the places that had recently been built or were half way built, looked very plush indeed. It was easy to tell that this was an up and coming place and it was going somewhere, things were happening here. Investors were happy to put their money into this city. I guessed that the fact Aurangabad was on the route to and not too far from Mumbai, India's financial capital, helped quite a bit. Investors must have had their eyes on the bigger picture. Even though some still seemed quite poor (at least to my eyes), I remember saying to my kids, 'if we come back here in 10 years time, we won't be able to recognize this place'. Here are a few photos I took of street life in Aurangabad. I haven't uploaded many, maybe I should have done more. Most of my photos seem to be of the Ajanta caves, (which I will post later on). But for now:
Sugar cane juice is popular all over India and is pressed by this kind of machine. The whole of the cane is put through the press over and over again until nothing is left of the branch but a wet husk and broken twigs. These machines are usually placed by a busy road (to get as many costumers as possible), but I had read in the paper that large amounts of mercury could be found in the drink for obvious reasons. I did get a drink here and it was quite good, but the health scare kind of put me off a bit.
The Swastika was very much in evidence in this city. It always made me do a double-take and made me feel uncomfortable, even though I knew the meaning behind it was very different to the WW2 German Swastika. This in a local cafe that we used to have breakfast in:
If anyone is interested here is some information about why and how the Swastika is used and displayed in India and the history and significance of it:
Just about everybody knows that the Hindu swastika was misused by the Nazis, but what the Nazis did was so horrific after putting that symbol on their flag, I don't think that it is likely that the swastika will ever be rehabilitated in the Western world.
By the same token, the fleur-de-lys makes most of the French uncomfortable while the rest of the world finds it 'cute' and Québec even uses it as a major national symbol. It is the symbol of reactionary royalists to most of us and while it doesn't bother anybody in a historical context like at the château in Versailles or on other pre-revolutionary sites, most of us are totally allergic to seeing it used in any modern context.
I'm glad you are enjoying this report, ansh. I took quite a few photos of the Ajanta caves, which I will post up soon.
Very true, Kerouac, once a quite innocent symbol like the Swastika has been misused there is no going back. It's sullied for ever more. I can't in my mind see it as anything more than a reminder of Nazis, and everything associated with that. I know this is probably true for many people. I remember Julian (he was the African American man who stayed in some of the same places as us in Rajasthan), couldn't get over how he kept seeing the sign, it can be quite bewildering to a Westerner.
Getting to the the Ajanta caves was not going to be as straight forward as I had thought. Before I go into detail about what it took to get there, here is a map to show us where abouts the caves are located and the distance they are from the city of Aurgangabad.
As you can see the Ellora caves are much closer, but certainly not as interesting or up to the sheer scale of the Ajanta caves. The distance between Aurangabad and Ajanta is 102 km / 63 miles. Doesn't sound like a lot to those of us used to whizzing around in cars at 100 miles per hour. But this was India, and so the journey to get there would take a few hours.
There is no train line to Ajanta. It was either your own car, a taxi or bus. So bus it was. We had previously asked around and found out where the main bus depot was, here we had bought three bus tickets to Ajanta. There was some confusion as to where we would actually board the bus, but I reckoned once the time came and we got there the next day, we'd figure it out somehow. So the next morning we took a rickshaw from our hotel to the bus depot, from there we eventually boarded a very over-crowded bus to Ajanta. The bus dropped us off at a place where we were assured the caves could be located. Okay.
But before I carry on, I need to backtrack.
I had been pleasantly surprised that we had not come across a single beggar in this city. And then at the bus station that all changed.
This boy was holding a baby in his arms and begging. And as I looked around I saw two women sitting on the side watching him do so. They all looked well fed, well cared for and the women has a nonchalant way about them, in that they didn't seem to give a shite if you gave or not, it was just a way to pass the time and try their luck. I had a feeling they didn't need to beg nor make this boy do so. I had no idea whose baby it was. But I had learned that it didn't matter anyway, it could be anybody's baby, as long as it did the trick. Which was to bring the guilt ridden conscience of any traveler to the forefront. After all weren't we all so much better off than these folks? Shouldn't we be giving and giving and giving? It never stopped. From city to city from place to place. In all honesty I was fed up with it.
I'm not a cold hearted person, I do and did give quite a bit to the poor that I encountered while in India, but this family or group of people who shamelessly begged even when they seemed quite well off, was just not on. The boy was very persistent, he kept on tapping my arm quite hard to get my attention, even as I tried to move away. He wasn't doing it to anyone else, just me. I guess he thought the baby in his arms would clinch it. My arms were still raw and painful from this rash/bites and I was trying to keep them clean as possible so as not to get an infection on top of it all. He followed me around, as I tried to locate where to get our bus. There was no getting rid of him. For the first time in India I lost my temper and told him quite loudly to just go away. This prompted the two women looking on into action. They became loud and aggressive and threw a few choice words my way. So that's how it is I thought, you either give or you get even more hassle from these people.
Anyhow moving on. We went inside to the waiting area and still were not sure exactly where our bus would stop. I'm not even sure the company personal knew, but anyhow, it had to stop somewhere! I asked around and thought and I had a pretty good idea which number to look out for. This was a busy station, people were trying to sell us all sorts of things, food, drink, bottles of water, nick-nacks. Once on the bus, we waited again. Our tickets were numbered but as is the way, someone else already had our seats, we had to ask them to move, and they did so. While waiting I could see more people just outside of our window trying to sell snacks. I bought what seemed like a good bet. It was wrapped up and make of nuts and gains, healthy I thought. I then handed one of these to my son who was sitting next to me. He bit into this snack and them spat out whatever was in his mouth and threw the rest of the snack out of the window. What had happened? he told me that insects were crawling all over it. I was almost sick, as I had just finished mine. Great. Yuck.
This would be the bus ride that would also be the most hair-raising. Our rickety old government bus was due to drive over roads atop of cliffs with only inches to either side of us. And sometimes not even that. Dusty gravel muddy roads with many shape turns. Everyone went quiet as we went over this patch. And the bus just inched along. I tired but couldn't get a good photo. The young man who sat behind us told stories of how many people had died and how many vehicles had simply dropped off the cliff into the abyss below. I was glad when we finally were over the worst part of that road. But then there was the same to do on the way back.
It was quite a long ride to Ajanta. With many stops. A few photos I took from the bus on the way to the Ajanta caves:
The photo below is of the Tourist visitors center at Ajanta, as taken from our bus. It was due to be opened on the 16th of September 2013. If you'd like to know a bit more about it, there is more information on the following link.
The bus finally dropped us off on a road which seemed to me to be in the middle of nowhere. I was relieved that on the other side of the road was this sign:
I had checked the map before we started our way over here and knew that the actual caves were still a few miles away. How to get to them? A chubby rickshaw driver sat in his vehicle across the road from this sign. We asked him which way to go, Just keep walking he said.
"How are you going to get back?" he asked
"Good luck with that" he said "You'll need to hire a taxi, I know exactly how to get you one"
"Um.. no thanks, we can make our own way back"
So, I thought, he sits there all day to make people use a taxi firm back to Aurangabad. He probably drives them to the taxi place in his rickshaw, I suppose the taxi company must pay him for bringing in the business. I knew for a fact what time the buses ran to and I knew we'd get one before the last one left.
Then a group of kids and a man suddenly appeared and tried selling us booklets all about the caves. Hmm.. they seemed kind of over-priced to me.
"But that is the actual price, the real price" said the man. I turned the booklet over and saw that it did indeed quote the same price as what he asked for. But fact is I didn't really need these as I had previously printed out enough information off the internet, (whilst at the internet cafe).
"But you won't be allowed in unless you buy these" the man said.
Yeah right, I thought, says who? No thanks, I don't want them. Because they wouldn't get off our backs, in the end I gave the man 10 rupees for one booklet. Which was a very small fraction of what he was asking for. Man, I'm getting mean I thought. Or just worn down with the constant scams.
We walked along and saw directions posted on a board, these took us to a booth. The caves are government owned of course and so they can ask for whatever fee they want for us to enter. We were to pay twice, once here to get onto the government compound and then later on to view and enter the actual caves.
So once through this booth full of government officials doing nothing much but sitting around, we walked a little bit further on and came to a group of shops. Each ones selling something or other. A few sold food, tea and coffee, made right there on the premises.
These ones had a colorful array of bags, ornaments and jewelry made of precious and semi-precious stones.
We sat down and had a snack and some tea. My son got suckered into buying a bunch of stuff. Ornaments he thought would make nice presents, and my other boy bought some rocks with interesting stones inside. I thought they were all way over priced here, but my boys seemed happy with them. As anywhere else the push was on for us to buy and buy. I was not in the mood for this and just sat and had my tea, waiting to board the bus.
I wondered what we were doing here. I wanted to see the caves not this stuff that I had seen a hundred times over already at so many other government and non-government establishments. This was yet another way for the government to push their wares. We had to pass through this group of shops in order to get the 'local' bus to the caves. We had a choice of AC bus or non AC bus. the AC one cost a little more. At this point in time I didn't care if we were getting to the caves on horse and cart. I just wanted to get there! But like anything else, the bus would not leave until it was full or near full.
Once we finished eating, we walked towards where we would board our bus to the caves. Lots of monkeys wondering around these areas and the caves themselves. Here in one on a branch just by a bridge that we went over:
Eventually we boarded the bus with a group of other tourists also here to see the caves. A few photos taken on the way to the caves:
Once by the caves we get off our bus and went to stand in line to buy our tickets like everyone else was also doing. I realized that duel pricing was in affect and as we were considered 'non-Indian' we paid a lot more than those who were natives of this country. Cameras and movie cameras were an extra fee.
With our tickets in hand, we were at last ready to explore the caves.
Even in Europe there used to be photography fees in many places. Those seem to have disappeared. Either photography is authorised or forbidden but it is not charged for unless the dreaded tripod comes out. In that case there can be a fee for "professional photography."
Deyana, I absolutely understand how you felt with the various scammers, touts and miscellaneous vendors. They get so tiresome after awhile (and usually very rapidly) that you just want to scream at them. In my experience, this generally makes them calm down but then another 'reasonable' and quiet tout/vendor will show up -- and have more success sometimes simply because he saw how to come up to you.
I have also become so irritated that I send people away who are proposing exactly the reasonable fee for something. You become so paranoid after all of the aggressive people that you send them all away indiscriminately. I remember one time in Thailand the agency screwed up on a trip I booked to Cambodia and the bus left me behind. But once they realized what they had done, they put me in a taxi (I will never forget the driver with every inch of his body covered with tattoos and his long fingernails, each painted a different colour) that took me to the bus station, and the taxi driver went and got my ticket for a bus to the border town. Okay fine, so I took the bus but when it arrived at the border, I got off (only Westerner on the bus) and this extremely aggessive guy started jabbering at me: 'Cambodia? Cambodia? Cambodia?' I had no intention of being scammed so I totally ignored him and looked for the name of the agency at the various little shops around the bus station. Finally, the guy who kept following me convinced me that he had been paid by the agency to meet my bus and take me to the border (which was still about 10 kilometres away). He turned me over to a motorbike person who took me to the border post and who was supposed to get me on one of the minibuses to Siem Reap in Cambodia, since it was all included in what I had paid. In the end I lost him (not his fault) because I got hung up at the yellow fever scam deal at the immigration office. Once I finally extricated myself from this, he had disappeared but it took so long that I did not blame him. So I paid a new fee to get to where I was going (and what a trip that was!). But this just goes to show that after awhile, you mistrust absolutely everybody even when they are trying to do their job. In retrospect, I understood that the agency had gone well beyond the call of duty to try to get me to my destination properly after making a mistake while I spent my time fuming in mistrust and thinking that I was being cheated.
It is a lesson that I never forgot even though I know that in most cases these people really do not care about what happens to you because they already have your money and there is about a 0% chance that they will ever see you again no matter what happens.
It's true, if you bring out a tripod, many places will charge you a fee for using it on their premises. Kind of ridiculous as not everyone who uses one is a professional photographer.
Wow that was quite the trip you did, Kerouac. It sounds so time consuming and complicated. But at least you made it to your destination. I hear ya, it becomes hard to know who to trust and who not to. In the end you end up looking at everyone in a suspicious way and wondering 'so what's their motive?'.
This kind of reminds me of a tout that I came across in New Delhi. He was quite a nice young man really, and admitted to us what he was doing and why. He was really interesting to talk to and after a while he invited us to the other side of the city to see his home and visit his family. I really wanted to go but couldn't help but wonder if he had a reason for asking us that we couldn't see or was not honest or was devious in some way. It's just that out there everyone seems to be up to something or after something, you end up just not trusting anyone, apart from yourself and whoever you are traveling with. It just seems like the safest thing to do.
These two photos of the Ajanta caves are not ones that I took, but if I may add them as they capture the whole of the area really well. As you can see the caves are in the shape of a horse shoe:
A little bit of information about the Ajanta caves:
"The Ajanta Caves (75°40’ N; 20°30’ E) are situated at a distance of 107 km north of Aurangabad, the district headquarters. The caves attained the name from a nearby village named Ajanta located about 12 km. These caves were discovered by an Army Officer in the Madras Regiment of the British Army in 1819 during one of his hunting expeditions. Instantly the discovery became very famous and Ajanta attained a very important tourist destination in the world. The caves, famous for its murals, are the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting.
These caves are excavated in horse–shoe shaped bend of rock surface nearly 76 m in height overlooking a narrow stream known as Waghora. The location of this valley provided a calm and serene environment for the Buddhist monks who retreated at these secluded places during the rainy seasons. This retreat also provided them with enough time for furthering their religious pursuits through intellectual discourses for a considerably longer period. The caves were excavated in different periods (circa. 2nd century B.C. to 6th century A.D.) according to the necessity. Each cave was connected to the stream by a flight of steps, which are now almost obliterated, albeit traces of some could be noticed at some places."
If you would like to know more - here is a good link with more details:
I'm glad they were re-discovered, it would have been a shame for them to be buried within a jungle for ever more. I took a lot of photos of the Ajanta caves. Too many to post them all up. But here are some:
Other than at the base, this was the only place I saw drinking water. There was also a cafe here as well. Otherwise, it was a case of carrying around your own water containers. Washrooms were also available further on.
Some people climbed right up to the top of this viewing area, it was quite the walk. I decided not to go, but my sons went right to the top.
and a close up:
Here is a small replica of the caves:
And back inside:
A few images of the inside of the caves:
And a view looking down from the cliff top area. I'm sure during the rainy season this ground fills up with water. Maybe that is why the original inhabitants moved on eventually? Maybe the water just eventually drowned out the first caves and that is why over the centuries whichever people that called this home would choose to keep on moving to higher up caves. It seemed logical that this would have happened. And it happened over a time period of a few hundred years and as could be seen from the paintings and statues, people of different religions had passed through. I found this fascinating and it made me want to learn more about how life would have been lived in those days and during those years:
Would water have run down this open tunnel?
And a view of the base:
Some people chose to have a guide to show them around. We didn't bother, we wanted to take our own time:
It took quite a while to get all around the caves! especially as they were on different levels as well:
People from many different countries had come here:
The inside of the caves can be quite eerie and have huge echos:
Another view looking down from up above at the caves:
These men are carrying this woman and man, as they are unable to (or don't want to) walk the many steps up and down. It can definitely be a work-out!
There were of course guards stationed at certain points, as well as staff in some of the caves. One or two of them gave us some very good information about their particular caves and then before we left asked for a tip!
I thought these monkeys that lived around these caves were quite pretty
Eventually we started to make our way back down. As you can see quite a few back-packers and others had come to see the caves too. There was a large assortment of people from all over:
At the base again we went to have something to eat at the restaurant that was situated there. After which we went to wait for our 'local' bus to take us back to the area where the government shops were located:
We got off the bus and walked back over the same bridge where we had been earlier:
And the monkeys were still there hanging around by the bridge:
This time we didn't bother stopping at the shops selling all those colorful goods. We just walked through (ignoring the vendors asking us to stop and look at their stuff). We made our way out of the compound.
Funny thing is I told my sons right at the beginning (on the 'plane to India) that this journey was going to change us. I told them they will come back looking at life in a different way. And it was all so true. I wanted them to see and experience how others live, and I know I learnt a lot from this trip myself.
The day we went to see the caves of very very trying for all of us. Nothing seemed to go right from start to finish. I tend to leave out the little nitty gritty things. But I can tell you, at times, it was very hard going. We had landed and ended up in situations that we had no experience of knowing how to deal with, we just did our best to figure it all out as we went along. So yes, it changes a person. I think I became tougher, and started to realize that I am a lot more resourceful than I thought I could be. This was no luxury cruise, this was real life head on.
But I had an idea that it was going to be like this, and we all knew we were heading into unknown waters and that this trip would be an adventure and maybe risky. And that it certainly was! But apart from getting sick, we all came out of it okay.
My sons have always been very mature for their ages anyway, and I was really proud of the way they handled things in India and just what a great help they were throughout.
That's a nice photo isn't it, htmb? I like that one too.
Wow, that is a really incredible place. I am always so amazed about what inspired (or possessed) people centuries ago to make such tremendous efforts to create places like that. After all, in modern times, nobody would ever build such a thing without a major marketing plan on how it could make them rich with tourism. But back then, it was all gratuitous effort.
It's mind-boggling really at how much effort must have gone into making these caves good enough to live in and pray in and be in. What possessed these ancient people to go through that? Surely there must have been easier ways to make places to live.
ansh, I guess after time, it must get easier to ignore them? It would be so much better not to be bothered by them at all, but I supose it goes with the territory.
I was fully expecting to see the chubby rickshaw driver still waiting for the next victim someone to take to the taxi firm, but he was no where in sight.
We crossed over to the other side of the road to wait for our bus back to Aurangabad. It would be a long wait. The buses came regularly enough, but each one that came along was full to the tilt. By that I mean people had to squeeze in tight, just in order to shut the door to the bus. Um.. no thanks, I wasn't going to be getting on any bus where there wasn't even room to stand! We'd wait. It was still hot, too hot to be standing around under that blazing sun. Soon a couple of other people joined us, a beautiful Japanese girl and a rather handsome looking Indian man. They were not together, but like us, just stuck in the predicament of wanting to get back to the main City and having to wait for a bus that actually had some room to spare. The buses ran one per every half hour, but each one was as cramped full as the last.
Then out of nowhere came along a taxi minivan, It stopped in front of us.
"Where are you all going?" Asked the taxi driver.
"Trying to get back to Aurangabad"
"Okay I will take you there"
He wanted to charge us quite a high price each. I refused, instead I told him that each one of us will pay 100 rupees each. He agreed and we were set to go! Bliss, the taxi was air-conditioned and a much smoother ride than the old government bus would have been. When we got to Aurangabad, we all exited. During that ride we got talking and got to know each other a bit better. The man was a native of Aurangbad and he invited us over to his place, we declined as I was quite tired by the end of that day. The Japanese girl told us she was on a six month trip across India, and already 3 months in, and all by herself too. Wow, I thought, she was one brave woman, I could just imagine the kind of attention she must have got, but to her credit she was still sweet and carried herself with dignity. She gave off the air of inner-strength that I admired.
We were to stay in this City for a couple more days. This time we had made no plans on how to get to our next destination. Time was running out and we needed to be more up North of the Country. We debated as to what should be our next City to explore. The kids liked Rajasthan, but I didn't want to end up in a place that we had already been, in the end it was a toss up between Udaipur and Jaipur. As Udaipur was a little out of the way of our route to Delhi, we decided on Jaipur. I didn't want to risk going in a direction that would send up off further away from the Capital.
So, we had no train booked and we found it was not going to be easy getting to Jaipur. Surprise surprise. The quickest way out of Aurangabad was via bus. But they did not go as far as Jaipur. But they did go to Indore. After which we had a choice of staying there for a few days or trying to catch a train from there to Jaipur. We had no reason to be in Indore and no interest in staying there.
We took the bus to Indore and hoped to get a connection straight away (on any train that had room) to Jaipur. Now that we knew that sometimes we could bypass the lineup by paying extra, we thought we'd try it.