Monolithic caves of Aurangabad
We added Aurangabad on a whim, looking for places on the way to Rajastan. It is a little out of the way, but easily done thanks to a stop on the daily Mumbai to Udaipur flight.
We arrived at dawn to a dusty grey city, with a preponderance of trucks carting live chickens. Our hotel had been recommended in several guides due to the ease of hiring a car to tour the sights. It was still in a construction area several years later. There seemed to be no one else staying there apart from a Chinese woman and her 10 year old daughter. The restaurant was fine, offering a range of foods and several staff to watch us eating. Our presence gave them permission to turn on the TV, mostly in Hindi. There was celebrity gossip, childish comedies and once a cricket match. Apart from one lunch, we ate all our meals at the hotel over the next 3 days.
Aurangabad is all about the caves. Two Unesco sites 100 km apart by road. Day one was Ellora, famous for the monolithic carvings, temples brought out of solid rock hillsides. There are 34 accessible sites, a mix of ages and sizes spread over more than 2 km. Some are Buddhist, others Jain or Hindu. The site offers amazing mostly people free access to 6th to 10th century multistory architecture. The locals flock to the Hindu caves and neglect the rest. Within minutes we felt we had gotten our money’s worth.
Ajanta is also carved into the cliffs, but is more about the paintings. It’s 30 caves contain some of the best preserved early art in India. The caves created between 2 bce and 600 ce are packed into a long arc above a river. There is a mix of completeness but for a couple thousand years old they are pretty cool. Lots of peering in the dim light, not really caring which incarnation of the Buddha we were looking at. Watching Thai and Tibetan Monks come through was fun as well. Tourists with a purpose, and a lot better understanding of the context.
We weren’t suppose to have food, but we had tucked our breakfast bananas into our pack. Did we mention monkeys? We quickly learned why the no food rule when we decided to have a snack, as a large female langur came out of nowhere and wouldn’t back off. We scurried away with dozens of school children having a good old laugh at our expense.
The road to Ajanta was under construction and very rough in places. 3.5 hours each way for 110 km. As we left the complex through the pushy touts selling all of the same crap as every other site in India. (With the exception of crystals, from the caves?! That was new)
We stopped at a shop for a packet of crisps to get us back to Aurangabad. In a celebratory impulse we decide to have ice cream bars too. Didn’t notice at the time that they were loose in their tidy looking cardboard boxes with no wrapper. We had eaten nothing besides breakfast before dawn that morning. 4 hours later, as we were preparing for dinner, things got a bit queasy. We were in for a sleepless night, somehow getting up at 5:30 to pack and get on our flight to Udaipur. Apart from a few cookies, which may or may not have stayed down, our next solid food was 48 hours later when we split some rice and soup. Another 24 hours and our fevers had subsided.