Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dakshinayana Part Fourteen – U shaped Ajanta

Me in front of the cave complex
On that eventful day of April 1819, when John Smith (Company officer from Madras Presidency of Colonial India) woke up in the morning, he may not even imagined that, what he was going to see is one of the icons of ancient India. His tiger hunting party, accidently found out the caves which were abandoned long time ago, covered by re-grown forest. Inside a cave (No. 10), he scratched his name, date and left the place. But, it opened the finest mural paintings of Ajanta to modern world.

After checking out from a hotel in Aurangabad city, I hired an auto to reach central bus stand. In bus stand, I didn’t have to wait for a long period. Around 9 in the morning, I boarded an old government bus to Ajanta (103 INR). We crossed Delhi,  Bhatkal gates and then entered to rural areas. In many places, both sides were almost empty. At some other places, men wearing white dress and matching cap were working in the fields. After a brief stop at Sillod, we regained the momentum. At one point, our bus started the ascent of a hill. At first, I thought caves may be on top of that hill. However, bus didn’t stop. It crossed the top and started the dissent. After waiting for some more time, driver announced – Ajanta caves. Yes,  It’s the place!!!

Caves were not near. After paying 10 INR to development board, I walked towards the bus stop. To reach there, one has to go through a number of shops selling various items. Here, shop keepers persuade visitors to buy something. Some asked me to visit their store on my way back. However, one guy walked with me almost to the bus parking area and even offered a stone in whitish colours as free gift. We talked, but I couldn’t accept that free gift – as it would oblige me to visit his store and buy something. I could not afford to increase the weight of my luggage any more.

One of the bus stand on the way
From this bus stop one can board buses, fuelled by the power of CNG (Compressed Natural Gas), to reach the caves. For AC buses charge was 20 INR (per person), for normal buses it was 10 INR (per person). After a 4km long journey we reached at the bottom of the cliff, which houses the caves. From there, steps were neatly cut in to the hills for climbing, ramps are also available. If someone can’t walk, they can sit in a chair and porters will carry them. Many old age people were using this facility.

Bus powered by CNG
At the entrance of cave one, there was another ticket counter (Indians - 10 INR; foreigners – 250 INR). Usage of still camera is free (flash is strictly prohibited inside the caves); for video cameras we have to pay.

Ajanta Caves

ASI tablet detailing the history of Ajanta cave complex
In total, there are around 30 Buddhist rock cut caves dating from 2nd century BC to 7th century AD. Murals insides the caves are considered as finest examples Indian paintings. Caves are located on the slope of a cliff at the side of a ‘U’ shaped gorge in Waghora River. River was in name only, at the time of my visit – in January – there was no running water. It is assumed that, earlier caves were built during the reign of Shatavahanas and the later ones during the administration of Vakataka dynasty.

I moved through the caves one by one, thinking about the days when Buddhist scholars and monks spent their time here, probably debating on various theories. At the end of the path, there were two monks – probably from Tibetan Buddhism - sitting in the ground and praying. I also sat there for some time, watching the caves from a distance.

Monks going inside Cave 26
Finally, it was the time to say good bye to Ajanta. On the way back, I met the same Korean group along with whom I left yesterday from Ellora caves. They smiled, I too.

After getting down from the bus, I took a small opening in the fence to reach the road quickly. At bus stop, I again met that shop keeper, who earlier tried to give a free gift. His first question was, whether I visited his shop? I had to say no. I think he anticipated that answer. He tried to say something, but at the same time I heard the groaning sound an old engine. I told him bye and left.

I reached Aurangabad around 5 in the evening. Unfortunately, it was too early for me. My bus to Pune was at 10.30pm. What I could do till then?


Various paintings in side the caves

Caves from a distance

Wagora River and Bridge
For reading rest of the articles please visit,

Dakshinayana Part One – An Introduction
Dakshinayana Part Two – Bangalore to Bhopal
Dakshinayana Part Three – Sanchi
Dakshinayana Part Four – Bhopal: The city of lakes
Dakshinayana Part Five: Ujjain – The Holy City, hearing the sounds of forefathers
Dakshinayana Part Six: Indore – Trade hub of Central India
Dakshinayana Part Seven – Jabalpur: Kalchuris, Gonds and Narmada
Dakshinayana Part Eight – Kanha National Park and Mandla
Dakshinayana Part Nine – Chhattisgarh and Raipur
Dakshinayana Part Ten: Nagpur – The Orange City
Dakshinayana Part Eleven – Sevagram: Walking with Gandhi
Dakshinayana Part Twelve – Aurangabad: The City of Gates
Dakshinayana Part Thirteen – Ellora Memories
Dakshinayana Part Fourteen – U shaped Ajanta
Dakshinayana Part Fifteen – Pune: The Maratha heartland

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