Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ajanta Caves, Maharashtra, India

Another overnight train took us out of Rajasthan, through Gujarat and into Maharashtra. We arrived in Jalgaon, another dusty transit town, and negotiated for an auto rickshaw to take us to Fardapur. The driver insisted he would be faster than the bus, and he was definitely cheaper than a car. The trip took about 2hrs, and the junction towns we passed were dusty and full of fumes. At the hotel "tourist resort" we chatted with a guy who had a gem store near the caves, and could give us a lift to the lookout in the morning. We knew this was a long-sell deal, all to get us in his shop, but we decided to take a chance. 

Early the next morning the gem guy showed up to let us know it was his brother who would be taking us. We probably should have expected this, but I think we were both a little surprised when he led us to his motorcycle. The three of us climbed on, the brother, then Matt, then me with the camera bag, all without helmets, and took off to the lookout. The kid was probably taking it easy for us, but at one point did take Matt's arms and pull them around him so Matt could grab the handlebars. We made it to the lookout, where, in 1819 John Smith and the rest of his British hunting party spotted the caves after 1200 years of obscurity. I have a feeling that the villagers nearby probably knew the caves were there, just didn't bother to tell anyone. A local guide probably even pointed them out to John Smith, but he's the one who gets credit (and even graffitied his name on a column). 

The caves are all Buddhist monasteries and assembly halls dating from the 2nd century BC to 6th century AD. What is even more remarkable than the carvings, is that some of the cave paintings remain. People say that the color has faded noticeably even in the last 10 years, and there are efforts to reduce further damage. The place was crawling with school groups, Indian families and Chinese tour groups. Many tourists took advantage of the hardworking porters who carried people up and down the stairs on palanquin chairs, but we opted for the traditional walking method. 

I was astounded at the size of the spaces and intricacy of carvings, but more so that someone would be wandering through the valley, look up, and say "Hey, I could carve that, why not?"  An interesting fact is that the Ajanta caves were essentially abandoned once Ellora was started, I guess even in 600 everyone was into the hot new thing. 

- Bree

The river gorge leading towards the caves, would be nice in monsoon season. 
The gorge as John Smith may have seen it (if he had a telescope, and with less vegetation and more toursits)
Caves 25-28

Looking across the horseshoe gorge at caves 15-28

A battle scene

Reclining Buddha