Expat Trip To Ajanta & Ellora Caves in Aurangabad

Trip Start Mar 29, 2007
Trip End Sep 30, 2009

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Flag of India  , Maharashtra,
Friday, March 6, 2009

So...there's an expatriate (expat) association in Hyderabad that's open to anyone who lives in Hyderabad who holds a foreign passport.  I've been a member of TEA (Twin Cities Expat association) for the past two years and it's a great place to meet people from all over the world and from a variety of walks of life.  The TEA group organizes weekly happy hours and sends out a weekly email to all it's members to inform you of what's going on in the city that week.  They also organize trips for the expats to take and as a result of a trip I went on with them in March...you get a new blog update to read.

So...where to start?  Let's start first with the city we went to...Aurangabad.  Actually Aurangabad itself is pretty boring...however it's the closest big city to two very amazing sites in India:  The Ajanta and Ellora Caves.  Please allow me to plagiarize wikipedia to describe these two cave sites:

The Ajanta Caves depict the stories of Buddhism spanning from the period from 200 B.C. and 650 A.D. These caves were discovered in the 19th century by some British Officers who had been on a tiger hunt.  These 29 caves were built by Buddhist monks using simple tools like hammer & chisel. These caves were the retreats of Buddhist monks who taught and performed rituals in the Chaityas and Viharas, the ancient seats of learning. The elaborate and exquisite sculptures and paintings depict stories from Jataka tales. The caves also house images of nymphs and princesses.The Ajanta caves and the treasures they house are a landmark in the overall development of Buddhism as such. The Ellora (Verul) Caves have been Carved during 350 A.D. to 700 A.D. these structures represent the three faiths of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. These caves 34 in number are located 29 km. from Aurangabad. They are fascinating and the finest example of cave temple architecture housing elaborate facades and exquisite interiors. The 12 caves to the south are Buddhist, the 17 in the center dedicated to Hinduism, and the 5 caves to the north are Jain.

End of Wikipedia entry.  Actually not...if you are really into history and caves and want to read more Wiki entries about Ajanta...click here.   To read more about the Ellora caves...click here.

Enough history...more blogging.  So our TEA planners had organized a private train car for the 30+ members going on the 10 hour train ride to Aurangabad.  It sounds horrible...but it actually wasn't.  The train car was a AC class 2 sleeper car which meant there was plenty of room for everyone to lie down, read books, chat...and drink.  So...I had brought with me a small cooler with a couple beers in it and I thought I was going to be the "bad boy" of the trip....trying to sneak beer onto an India Railways car (which "technically" is not allowed).  Turns out I was tame compared to some of the older expats who brought full size coolers and nearly complete bar sets.  Anyway...the 10 hour train ride from 12:30PM to 11:PM in the evening actually went fast given the good conversation and passing scenery to keep us busy.  At the Aurangabad train station we loaded into two large buses...one for the travelers with small children...one for those of us without small children.  That was a genius move by the trip planners and I applaud them for it.  Check in at the hotel was smooth and by midnight I was snoring.  Good thing as we had a full day and another 3 hour bus ride in the morning to get to the Ajanta caves.

Up the next morning for breakfast...it was yummy.  I forgot to mention that one of my coworkers is along on the trip with his family so I hung out with them quite a bit.  The long bus ride was fine...and once we finally reached the caves, everyone was more than sick of traveling and ready for caving.  Needless to say words and a Wikipedia entry don't do this UNESCO World Heritage site justice...you really need to see it to appreciate it.  Hopefully my photos will help you get some appreciation for how amazing these 2000+ year old caves are....and how incredibly difficult it must have been to carve these caves into this solid rock using only hammer and chisel's.  What they essentially did was come to a solid rock face and start carving the ceiling first...so they'd cut a 3-5 foot high slot  in the mountain and the top of that was the ceiling.  Then they would carve that slot all the way to the end of the cave leaving rock materials for the columns which would support the room.  Then they just started carving down...into solid rock...with a hammer in chisel.  Amazing.  After spending a few hours exploring the various caves, taking in the differences between the Hindu and Buddhists paintings and realizing how difficult this must have been to carve...we were all starting to get hungry.  So off to lunch for Indian food and cold beer.  After the 3 hour drive back to Aurangabad, everyone was ready for some much needed pool time.  Dinner and drinks were at the hotel and the adults stayed up a bit late in the hotel bar while the kids went to bed.

The next day it was another early start...first stop is Daulatabad fort...a 14th century fort near the city.  This was a surprisingly interesting visit just because our guide did a great job in telling the stories about how the fort was designed to be impenetrable...and in fact it never was taken by an enemy advance.  From the super huge gates with massive spikes to prevent elephant charges, to the tight corners used to prevent the enemy gaining much speed to the labyrinth of passage ways and tunnels (complete with bats and places so dark you can't see your hand in front of your face).  You can read more about Daulatabad by clicking here.  A very cool place.  The highlight of the day was of course the Ellora Caves.  These caves are divided up into 3 sections...Hindu, Buddhists and Jain.  Our guide did a good job of explaining the differences in each cave...sadly for you my fine reader I have forgotten.  Click here for more info.  The highlight cave at Ellora isn't really a proper cave...but rather it's a huge opening in the side of a rock outcrop carved entirely by hand.  When I say rock outcrop...I really mean just one BIG rock.  Over 200,000 tons of rock had to be chiseled away and hauled off during the 100 years it to complete this one cave.  As they carved it from the top down....they had to now exactly what center structures they wanted to leave from the 1st day of carving so they wouldn't chisel out those sections.  It was very cool.  After Ellora, we spent about 15 minutes at another site (a replica of the Taj Mahal) that was really quite sad. 
Back at the hotel for pool time, showers and dinner before our overnight train back to Hyderabad.  This time our train left around midnight so everyone pretty much got on and passed out for the bumpy 10 hour ride back home.

It was a great trip...enjoy the pics!
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