Friday, January 02, 2009

Aurangabad - Ajantha - Ellora

The long weekend X'mas vacation presented a beautiful opportunity for a family trip to Aurangabad. Being the historically endowed town it is, Aurangabad has ample tourists spot to fill up three days.
Yours truly, accompanied by parents and wife drove down to Aurangabad in a Santro. We left Pune at 6.30 AM on 25th December'08. The total distance of 250 Kms to Aurangabad was covered in 4 and 1/2 hours with a break for breakfast.
Once at the destination, finding the right accommodation was the biggest pain. Aurangabad does not have clean economy hotels. The place looks more like business place and most of the hotel rooms are indecent to say the least. Good accommodation is available at MTDC, but it is always overbooked. Other good places are very very costly which include, The Taj, The Ambassador, Hotel Amarapreet etc. Minimum tariff at these places is close to INR3000 for a couple per room per day. So we took the easiest way out. We paid an autowallah 20 rupees to find a good hotel for us. the deal was that he wouldn't stop till he showed a place we liked. He was free to earn his commission from the hotel. At last we got a OK hotel at station road, 'Hotel Sai Palace' for INR800 per room-night.
Having dumped our luggage at our rooms, we rested till about 2.00 pm and set out for Biwi ka Maqbara. The amazingly crafted and neglected place took up close to an hours time . We got a taste of a street smart 'guide' at this time. He promised to show us around for just Rs.30 while others were charging as much as 100 rupees. Once we finalised him for his services, he walked something close to 20 steps with us. Spoke gibberish like 'ये मिनी ताज महल है। इसे औरंगजेब के बेटेने अपनी मां के लिए बनाया था। ये तभी बनाया गया था जब उनकी मां जिन्दा थीं। औरंगजेब कुरान लिखकर और टोपियाँ सीके ख़ुद की कबर के लिए पैसे जमा करता था। इसलिए उसकी कबर सिर्फ़ १४ रुपये और ७५ पैसे में मिटटी की बनाई गई हेई। औरंगजेब के मना करने पर ही बीवी का मकबरा सिर्फ़ आधा ही मार्बल का बनाया गया और बाकी मिटटी का। ' He repeated this over and over just to make it a lot of information. The he also offered three 'complimentary' शेर (which mind it he usually charges for). The water you see in front of the taj replica is full of moss and a sight for sore eyes. People sticking to their true nationalism, piss in the open and leave an aromatic short term mark of their presence at this heritage site.
Just at a stones throw distance from the Maqbara are the Aurangabad Buddhist caves. Unfortunately, the caves haven't got the attention the deserve. They are overshadowed by the grandeur of the Ajantha and the variety of the Ellora caves. But the Aurangabad caves were definitely worth the extra hour we spent. The hillock that hosts the caves boasts of a beautiful view of the surroundings with the Maqbara standing tall amidst smaller buildings. There are a few carvings that haven't been able to stand the test of time. They are subjected to extreme weather, and visitor's wish to leave a 'mark' in this world. By the time, we were done with the caves, it was dawn. We set out for पनचक्की - a flour mill driven by hydro-mechanical energy. This is special. Most of the historical monuments we see are static and at best we can appreciate the Civil engineering aspect, the grandeur, the intricacy of the carvings. But it is all static. पनचक्की - my friends is operational. As you can see in the video , the turbine actually rotates and so does the grinding stone atop. The water that comes, comes from a underground pipeline of & kms from the top of a hill. This is what I call engineering at its best. Mechanical parts built to last!
The second day (26th Dec'08)- this day was exclusively dedicated to Ajantha caves. Ajantha caves are 100 Kms from Aurangabad city. The drive is pleasing and takes about 2 hours. We had decided to start early but it was close to 9 am that we actually managed to leave the town. This in my opinion was our only mistake but we paid the price for it throughout the day. The wisest thing would be to leave Aurangabad at about 6 or latest by 7 in the morning. That would take us to Ajantha at non-peak hours and we would be done with seeing the caves by 2.00 pm. While in reality, we reached the caves at about 11.30 am. This is just the time when all the tour operators get bus-full of people to the caves. We along with these people spent close to an hour in the queue. MTDC has taken pains to preserve the Ajantha caves. So much so that, to preserve the paintings from the vehicular emissions, no private vehicles are allowed near the caves. The last 4 Kms to cave is to be traveled in nonpolluting vehicles (fare for A/c bur is Rs.12). Your car is to be parked at the base camp (Rs. 15 for car parking and Rs.7 per adult as facility charges). There are sufficient eateries at the parking lot.
Once at the caves, additional 10 bucks are charges per head. There is a steep climb from the ticket window to the hill top. However, there are palkhis available for the disabled. Being at the caves at rush hour, we had to spend another 30 minutes at the ticket window. Then we started the steep climb to the hill (there are well built stairs). Once at the top, a grand, magnificent, spectacular view of the valley leaves you speechless (while the climb had made you breathless!). . There are a total of 28 caves at Ajantha and only 26 are accessible. Further, not all of them have been completely carved in, not all are completely recovered by the ASI and most importantly, in all likelihood, you don't have the patience and strength to see all of them. So we took the best decision of our day, we shared a Marathi speaking guide with another group of fellow travelers. Mr. Patil never seemed like bluffing and was keen that you appreciate every minute detail Ajantha offers. His argument was simple - 'You are not going to come here again' and 'You haven't spent all the time and money to hide behind a pillar'. So we went from cave to cave, under the able 'guidance' of Mr. Patil appreciating artistic marvels. All the caves are magnificent to say the least. Whether it is the 'trick scene' of 4 deers with one head or the bull charging, all are masterpieces of the first order. As I went around in amusement, a thought struck me and it struck me hard. The artists of today, seem to be out of ideas to express their art. More than two thousand years ago, there were people who chose a place of about couple of square kilometers as their canvas. Chose the life and teachings of Gautam Buddha as the theme and went about expressing themselves. You can get a glimpse of their creativity when you see the stone ceiling painted in such a way that it looks like cloth. The sag and waving nature of cloth perfectly depicted using natural colours. Where do we see such a structure or even an attempt today? Are we too possessed with 'making it big'? Moreover, these artists of the yesteryear's, were aptly funded by the Kings. Does art today get the necessary support structure AND freedom from today's 'democratic government'?
There is more to write of the third day. That will have details of Ellora caves and Daulatabad fort. But I am fed up seeing this post in the draft section of my blog for such a long time. I will take the risk of publishing it incomplete and write more about Day 3 in subsequent post.

P.S.: Extremely sorry for the miss out on the video. Its updated now - Yenjoy :-)
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