Sunday, January 23, 2011


After long and hard negotiations, Anil managed to convince his mother to allow us to travel together to the Ajanta and Ellora Caves. She only agreed to that under a condition that their family driver, Majid, would accompany us during the trip. In India it is extremely uncommon for unmarried man and woman to travel together (or even to go out for a date without a third party present). Majid's role was to make sure that we behave decently and also to be "the third party" for us, so that our reputation does not get ruined.

Long-distance driving does not make too much sense in India. It is slow, stressful and dangerous. Therefore, we decided to take an overnight train to Aurangabad (in the state of Maharashtra) and only there rent a car with a driver. (The train trip deserves a separate post, so I am not going to describe it here.)

The Ellora Caves are located around 30 km, and the Ajanta Caves around 100 km from Aurangabad, so they can be easily seen during the same trip (though I do not think it is possible to see both of them in one day).

We first went to Ajanta. It took us only around 2h by car to get there even though the road was narrow, heavily used by cows, motorcyclists and pedestrians, and had a significant number of holes. All that was not enough to discourage the driver we hired from driving between 90 to 110 km/h...

On the way to Ajanta I was worried that we are going to kill somebody, whereas on the way back I was worries that also we are not going to survive this trip... Anil and I were sitting in the back of the car, where there were no seat belts. In my imagination I could see us flying out of the car through the front window as soon as we hit something/somebody, or even just when the car breaks suddenly. I shared my concerns with Anil and asked him to ask the driver to slow down, but, stoically, he replied: "At least we are going to die together. Wouldn't that be a good solution to our problems?" (Our problems = problems that his mother was causing us at that moment in time.) But all's well that ends well :) We survived the trip and we lived to tell how spectacular and fascinating the caves in Ajanta are.

The Ajanta Caves are a series of 29 Buddhist cave temples, carved out of a horseshoe-shaped cliff along the Waghora River. Some of them were built in the 2nd century BC, rest likely around 500 AD.

Five of the caves were used by Buddhist monks as prayer halls (chaitya grihas) and 24 were monasteries (viharas). They are thought to have been occupied by some 200 monks and artisans for about nine centuries, and then got abruptly abandoned, likely in favor of Ellora. Since then the temples have been abandoned and forgotten, and gradually reclaimed back by the jungle. They got rediscovered in April 1819 when a British officer, John Smith, accidentally discovered the entrance to one of the cave temples while hunting a tiger.

The caves are numbered from east to west, 1 through 29. Today, they are connected by a terraced path, but in ancient times each was independently accessed from the riverfront.

Inside the caves are many masterpieces of Buddhist art. Older caves follow the Theravada tradition of depicting the Buddha only in symbolic form such as a throne or footprints. The newer ones (the Mahayana caves) also feature colorful murals and statues depicting the lives of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas. In some caves there are also depicted scenes from everyday life of the monks.

First views of Ajanta Caves:

Ajanta Caves are located in a horse-shoe shaped valley:

Caves to the left, caves to the right, Monika in the center:

Beautiful fresco in the Cave No 1:

The central statue in the Cave No 1:

The central statue in the Cave No 2 (Mahayana Temple):

Cave No 4:

The central statue in the Cave No 4:

Side statues in the Cave No 4:

Views from the Cave No 6:

The central statue in the Cave No 6:

Side statues in the Cave No 6:

Cave No 10:

Anil and elephants:

The central statue in the Cave No 17:

Colorful frescoes in the Cave No 17:

Cave No 19:

The central statue in the Cave No 20:

Close up of the central statue in the Cave No 20:

Inside the Cave No 21:

Beautiful carved column in the Cave No 21:

Ceiling fresco in the Cave 21:

Cave No 26:

Inside the Cave No 26:

Reclining Buddha in the Cave No 26:

Other statues in the Cave No 26:

A view to the Ajanta Caves from the viewpoint:

Waterfall near the Ajanta Caves: