Among the many travels which I have done to date, this was the first time when I visited a place belonging to ancient times. Visiting Ajanta & Ellora was never a part of my wish list, but a family trip paved my way towards this UNESCO Heritage Site.
As you read further, you will come to know how wrong I was for not visiting these ancient caves before. So let us begin… From Shantiniketan, in West-Bengal the #XploreBharat blog train by #BlogBoosterIndia has reached Ajanta & Ellora in Aurangabad, Maharashtra today.
Ajanta and Ellora are two distinct places near each other, situated on the outskirts of Aurangabad district in Maharashtra. Ajanta is located at a distance of 100 km and Ellora at 30 km from Aurangabad.
TIP: Always visit Ajanta Caves first as it is farther away from the city and has fewer options to stay.
How to Reach
One can travel by train to Aurangabad railway station and take a bus or cab to reach the caves. It takes around 9 hrs to reach Ajanta from Mumbai if you travel by road. We decided to travel by road as our group was huge and we had many other spots to cover on this trip after Ajanta & Ellora. We began our journey in the wee hours of the day to reach the designated place on time. The journey was long but as the roads were smooth, we didn’t feel the pinch of covering such a long distance at one go.
TIP: Carry lots of water and snacks if you want to reach as early as possible.
Even though we started early, we reached the caves by afternoon. The entry gate and the guest house are near the main road. For the caves, one needs to park their vehicle and board a bus from there. The bus takes around 15 minutes to travel through woods and drops you in the area where the caves are. A small canteen and a restroom area are at the ground level. Then there are staircases carved on the mountain from where you can start your journey to explore Ajanta Caves.
The guides are available near the entrance as well as within caves. Many of them are fluent in several foreign languages other than English as these caves are famous tourist spots among foreigners. Our guide told that the caves were more than 2300 years old. They had slowly got lost in time. The caves were rediscovered when a British hunter walked into the woods opposite to these caves across the river while hunting a tiger. Afterwards, he brought a team of local people to clear away the brambles and debris which had accumulated over these caves.
TIP: Carry a hat, water bottle and pair of sunglasses with you.
The caves do not come in sight till you reach a certain level on the hill slope. The vast splendour is before you in an arc one after another as you take a turn at the bend. These caves are carved out in the mountain which looks over a small gorge made by River Waghur. All in all, there are 30 caves together built by Buddhist monks. Since we had reached in the afternoon, the guide advised us to visit at least the 4 main caves before the gates closed at 5.30 pm. The caves are a mix of worshipping areas and living dormitories of the monks.
It amazes me to think that how the Buddhist monks came here, on a secluded mountain near a river and started carving out this rocky hill. But the peaceful environment of this area casts a spell on you and then I understood why the monks must have chosen this place. With the waterfall cascading into the river and trees all around this rocky hill, it was a perfect spot for meditation and worship.
The guide told us that the carving of the caves started from the top as they tunnelled out the rocky hill laterally. The monks made the caves by digging the rock from top to bottom. The guide described how the process took so many years. It was a joint effort of Buddhist monks as well as the local people. After making the caves, the monks decorated them with paintings and sculptures. The murals painted on the walls are proofs of the developed art during those times. The paintings are mostly about Buddha and the events which took place during his lifetime.
The paintings show the clothes and jewellery used in that era. One can also see the various customs and traditions followed by people during that time. They tell a lot about the culture of that period. The different sculpted idols of Buddha in various caves show the development in the art over time. Not only are these caves beautiful from inside but they are also having beautiful entrance gates. Rock-cut sculptures of elephants and lions adorn many places around these caves. I considered myself lucky to see these architectural icons.
TIP: Ajanta caves are closed on all Mondays. Ellora caves are closed on all Tuesdays. Both are open on all national holidays. Plan accordingly.
After visiting the caves we boarded the bus and came back to the parking lot. It was dusk and the time was 6 pm. Boarding our vehicle we moved towards Ellora where we had planned to stay. Unfortunately, the road between Ajanta & Ellora was under repairs and it took a considerable amount of time to reach the hotel at Ellora. We reached there at night and after a hurried dinner quickly wrapped up for the day.
Thankfully, we had booked the hotel at a walking distance from the Ellora temple and caves. In the morning, after a heavy breakfast, we were standing in front of the entrance gates of Ellora temple, in no time.
Ellora is known as Verul. The residents refer to it as Verul. The caves in Ellora belong to not only Buddhists but Hindus and Jains as well. They are not as old as Ajanta Caves but they do go back around 1800 years ago. The caves consist of a huge temple of Shiva- the Kailash Temple. It is the largest monolithic temple in the world.
As we entered through the gates towards Ellora Caves, we came across a beautiful garden and across the garden we caught the first glimpse of the monolithic temple. Ellora caves come under UNESCO Heritage Site and the ASI takes care of these ancient monuments. The temple is a beautiful piece of architecture.
Although the process of making these caves and the temple is quite like that of Ajanta caves one can easily see that it is much more developed and detailed in the artwork. The Kailash Temple is carved out of one hill. They started to sculpt the temple from the top of the hill. The workers then moved down carving the Temple out of one hill. As the guide spoke about all this, I just took a moment to imagine being in that time period.
To carve out a temple from one huge rock with no joints; with detailed figures on the walls; with small caverns, pillars and walls having miniature figures depicting incidents of Mahabharata and Ramayana is a feat in itself. Not only this, the temple is a multi-storey with a huge ‘Shivlinga’ in the main hall on the chariot. The temple is dedicated to Shiva. Hence there are huge idols of Shiva in various forms all around the temple.
Every nook and corner of the temple is worth capturing in the camera. I was just busy clicking as many pictures as I could get. I just couldn’t believe that such a beautiful monument came out of one rock. How skilled the artists would have been in their work. In the times when there wasn’t any technology or electricity or any other means of fine tools, the artists still carved out such a wonder from a single huge rock.
Engravings of incidents from Mahabharata and Ramayana on the walls of the chariot in Kailash temple
After reliving the past in this amazing masterpiece, we came out and visited the caves around. There are caves all around in this area. If you visit the site early morning, you can return back by noon. Even we had done the same and we were free by noon to continue another stretch of our journey.
Words fail to describe my feelings after I visited those places. I was proud of the ancestors which roamed this land of ours. Their brilliance and creativity awed me. Moreover, the accomplishments of those people by just using basic tools is so inspiring. Those people left a legacy for us. Those unnamed craftsmen worked day and night to leave such unique symbols of heritage for the coming generation.
There are many books and many articles on Ajanta & Ellora but their magnificence can only be felt when you visit them. Truly, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience which should not be missed.
Tomorrow the #XploreBharat blog train travels to Sangli Kolhapur with Saba
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