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India Day 2 - Ajanta and Ellora Caves

Added: November 30, 2008

Tags: India cave photos temple
Sunday 2nd of November, 5:15 in the morning. Alarm clock does not make any compromises. We decided to wake up early to accomplish everything we planned for this long day. I cannot say I am well rested as it was hot during whole night.

We take shower (Zuzka found that warm water is available, you just need to wait longer). Quick breakfast from our supplies, moving stuff between big and small backpack, apply sun screen and DEET (stuff to avoid mosquitoes) and we are nearly ready to go. We are locking big backpacks that will stay in room and then attaching them to window handle (that is only unmovable part here IMHO).

Ajanta and Ellora Caves are our plan for today. And they are only reason we arrived through Mumbai. All of other places we are going to visit are closer to New Delhi.

We decided to rent a car instead of using taxi or bus that would be cheaper (in case of bus much cheaper) because Ajanta is 110km from Aurangabad and Ellora about 30-40 I am not sure how much exactly. Then you need to spend 3-4 hours at both places, so we were afraid we would not be able to visit both of them in one day. Everybody suggests to visit them in two days, but we thought both of them are closed on Monday (in reality only one is closed on Monday, other is closed on Tuesday).

Ajanta Caves

Ajanta is our first place to see. It is further away thus more risky from time management point of view and finally Ellora is better to see afternoon.

Road to Ajanta

We went downstairs, our driver was waiting us at reception. Our first impression he speaks English was not correct as we will learn later. (You could see him in my first post Lessons Learned).

I am not if sure Indians tend to wonder at anything (because we were instructed not to wonder at anything), but driver was probably surprised we wanted to use seat belts. They were in trunk and he needed to install them for us. Later on, we were not much surprised by black smudges seat belts left on our clothes...

The streets of Aurangabad were quiet and empty at this time. Completely different from chaos we have seen yesterday evening. Shortly after out turn to the north we passed through poorer part of town. Street is much dirtier, houses are poorer and people do not look well. Well, not being in car I might not feel very secure being on this street (later I have realized it was very important for me to get used to reality of India slowly).

Cows are everywhere on streets, big dogs too. While I was not afraid of cows, those dogs made me a bit nervous. How are we going to handle them when confronted with them outside of safety of car? Due to my nature I was interested (and concentrate my attention) in seeing how people eat and where they buy their meals. Interesting. On the other hand Zuzka needed something to cover her head (due to sun) she noticed mainly shops with shawls and similar goods.

We left Aurangabad. Country side is dry with brownish, yellowish and orangeish earth (exactly like from satellite photo :-) ) but trees are green. Lot of dust everywhere, visibility is not very good (but it makes it more attractive - really exotic). I regret I did not ask our driver to stop to take a few photos.

During our ride I have seen only a few road signs Ajanta Caves and everything else was in hindi. We took part in interesting driving habits in India that could be dangerous in Europe, but everybody is used to drive like that in India, so it is normal. Like for example when two cars try to overtake at once, while some car goes in opposite direction...


Terrain got mountainous, we climbed to side of hills and later on got down as we arrived to Ajanta. But hills were quite close. We arrived sooner than we expected (so they were right it takes only 2 hours). We got out of car, there were monkeys around at parking lot, but I decided to take photo later (but they were not there later :-( ). 2 guys were waiting there, showing us immediately which way to go. We knew we need to pass through "shopping trap" and then get a bus to Ajanta Caves (4km). So these nice people went with us asking questions, telling us where to go. Peter and Eric. I forgot what Peter sells in his shop, but Eric sells rocks and crystals. They asked us to stop at their shops as we return. Eric handed me small crystal "Here, it's for you - gift". I politely refused. We passed shops and Eric stayed with me while Peter went to show Zuzka where toilet was. He asked where are we from, he knows Slovakia. He suggested we have plenty of time as Ellora is open much longer than Ajanta and it is good we came to Ajanta sooner.

As Zuzka returned we went to bus and got in. Ticket costs 7 Rs, of course the smallest bill we had was 50. Conductor was not very happy, but eventually he gave us a change. After short ride we arrived to caves entrance.

My first photo in India! :-) Shame on me it was taken so late - while waiting with Eric near Ajanta shops. And shame on me twice there is nothing interesting in it.

Ajanta Caves entrance

I was studying table with prices (something like Indians 10 Rs, foreigners 250 - well established pattern in India) and where to go to buy some when security guy told us it is still closed. We need to wait 15 minutes. No problem, it is nice climate here as sun did not get over hill yet.

While we are waiting I can tell you what Ajanta caves are :-) It is place where many man-made caves were built. They are Buddhist temples. There are 29 of them and they are wonderful. Most of them are finished, but not all of them. Smaller and bigger, with paintings and sculptures (reliefs).

A bunch of Indians approached us to ask if they could make video of their children with us. OK, why not. As a form of retribution I took photo of their women with Zuzka.

Time passed, we bought our tickets. They are the smallest tickets I have ever seen about 1x2cm. I put it into pocket and we started to climb to caves. We have reached security point. Our small rucksacks were screened, of course they beeped. So we were asked to open them. My was full of electrical gadgets and food and security lady lost her interest soon. I really do not see a point, because my photo bank could easily hide bomb. So I do not understand what's the point of such a cursory search. But it's better than strip search :-) A bit later tickets were checked. I could not find my (my pockets are full of photo stuff too), but finally I found it.

Security at Ajanta Caves.

The first glimpse of caves. People on the right are trying to finds their tickets :-)

Ajanta Caves

As we entered older guy in cap showed us where to put our shoes to find them easier before entering Cave No.1 (Buddhist temple). He also told us he is certified guide and he could show us around for only 600 Rs. I was not sure, because we are in a hurry :-) but eventually we agreed. And we did well. It was lot of money, but we got a lot of interesting information for them. Not to mention I forgot torch in big backpack back in hotel (you need a torch in these caves as only a few of them have light). He was prepared better.

These caves did not feel like temples to me and they were good practice in taking shoes off we could use at other places.

We have learned a lot about details in paintings (murals to be more precise) here. Our guide pointed us to interesting parts like usage of perspective (not used widely at that time), Greek style ornaments and similar. We were told a lot stories about Buddha, but I did not remember them (maybe because I was really busy to keep camera steady for 1/4s up to 1s exposures). I have noticed once as our guide asked other people to stay away from Zuzka and she told me later he did repel intrusive men from her all the time.

He was knowledgeable and claimed he mentors all other guides in Ajanta and Ellora. I believe he helped us to get better impression from this place, without him it could be like "Look, man-made caves" :-). No, not really, but close. Unfortunately he did not accompany us till last cave. He just told us what we can see in last caves and then that awkward moment happened - he waited for money. And he got them (as we agreed, because I am not bad man :-) ). Later that day we have learned from guide in Ellora, that guides never go to end of Ajanta, probably because there is not much to say and other people "are waiting" .

Air got hotter and hotter from cave to cave, I started to look more for shade and to be inside than outside. I am not sure how it happened, but I have missed reclining Buddha in one of last caves we were told not to miss (Zuzka has photo). One excuse might be that I tried to hide from sun, other would be that I was busy taking pictures of overall site.

Paintings in cave. Hand held, with ISO 800 they are not very good, but I did not want to take my tripod to India as it would be more weight and one less free hand.

These people wanted to take our photo.






Our guide.


1000 Buddhas. 500 on one side, other 500 on other. It smells like marketing here. I am sure there were not 1000 of them in whole cave.



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Another 2 stupas.
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Later much more people came. We were glad we have arrived in the morning and avoided busy caves.


Ajanta Caves from other bank

When we finished viewing of all major caves (finished) we started to discuss what to do now. Whether to go away or go to other bank of river (and hill over the bend where we could do nice panorama of whole Ajanta place). But it was very hot... Finally we made compromise - we are going to other bank, but we will stay in shade and we will not go up to hill (if possible).

On our way to bridge we have found drinking water (we have seen it before while the guide was still with us and we had enough of water then). I ventured to get water. I stood in "queue" and waited. Some Indian came and went directly to tap. This is something I was not used to (but I have seen the same behaviour near other watering sites). When it was my turn I started to fill the first bottle. Another "nervous" Indian stood next to me with his bottle in ready position. I believe he wanted me to let him to fill it. After I have finished my bottle I wanted to fill Zuzka's. But he was quick. Unfortunately he did not realize I am learning quickly and my courage and boldness grows even faster :-) I have pushed him away with words "I am not done yet". He accepted it without any problems.

We took a few photos and panoramas there. Presence of water in foreground was welcome enhancement. Interestingly when we wanted to cross bridge on our way back they did not allow us. We needed to go different way, because it is one way bridge. We have seen this approach at more places, maybe it is the way how to handle billion people.




Back to car

Nearly during whole our stay at Ajanta I was thinking how to get rid of Peter and Eric when we get back to shop trap. Now it was getting serious...

Tons of people were around entrance to caves. Our ride back by bus was more expensive, because conductor gave us even less change this time (and all of bills were in really sorry state, I was even not sure I should put them into my pouch where they will finish their decay.

While in bus we decided that we will hide behind people in bus when we pass shops. It seemed to be sound plan, but Peter and Eric spotted us from distance! Happily waving to us!

And we, as terrible tourists, just passed them, completely ignoring them. "We are in hurry" was my lame excuse. "But it is only 2 minutes..." they tried to support their case. No success. Later when Zuzka tried to imitate their disappointed and sad faces I started to feel a bit bad about that...

Nevertheless we got to parking lot without any more incidents, but our car was not there. A guy who wanted to show us where it is was surprised too, but he kept his positive spirit and tried to find it despite of we were not able to tell him identification of car. "White Tata Indica with text Saibaba Travel" was fortunately sufficient. Our driver was not sitting inside (I do not blame him), so we needed to wait for him for some time. But that's OK. Our next stop is Ellora Caves!