We arrived in Aurangabad at around 8 am and checked in Hotel Gurjas (known as Hotel Oberoi then). Hence we could not start off early to beat the heat. We; however, had a quick breakfast in a nearby restaurant and started off in our booked taxi at around 10 am. It took around 45 minutes to reach the Ellora caves from our hotel.
|The Shrine of Buddha|
Ellora caves, also known as the ‘Verul Leni” are rock-cut caves located about 30 kms from Aurangabad. These 34 caves excavated from the vertical face of the Chandragiri hills, are actually Hindu, Buddhist, Jain temples and viharas carved out between the 5th and 10th century. There are 17 Hindu, 12 Buddhist and 5 Jain caves in close proximity to each other, reflecting the religious harmony of that era.
These caves are considered an epitome of Indian art and sculpture demonstrating extraordinary execution skills. Some cave structures like the Kailash temple complex are so complex that they required several generations of planning and co-ordination to take them to completion.
The entrance ticket for this UNESCO World Heritage Site is at a modest Rs 10 per person for Indian citizens. I wanted to hire a guide for seeing the caves but was disappointed with the unprofessional attitude of the guides there. One of the guides actually refused to speak in Marathi and said that he can only explain in English! I found that rather hilarious. All of them refused to give us time to photograph the place! In the end, we bought a information book and started exploring the caves ourselves.
We started off with the Kailash temple (cave #16), which is remarkable for its sheer size, and architectural beauty. As the name goes, it is a Shiva temple within a multi-storeyed temple complex. It was carved out of a single rock, leaving the visitors today spell bound imagining the sheer amount of planning, work and co-ordination required over generations to bring the temple to completion. The two-storeyed gateway led us to a courtyard which houses the main lingam and the nandi. It took us close to 2 hours to just see this particular cave-temple.
The Dashavatara (Cave 15) is right next to the Kailash temple and has a flight of steps which leads to an open courtyard, where a mantapa (natya gruha) is situated. Behind this lies a two-storeyed structure, which houses the dashavatara sculptures of Lord Vishnu.
The Vishwakarma (Cave 10) is the only chaitya griha (prayer hall) at Ellora where on the stupa, a colossal Buddha in a teaching posture is carved.
The Jain caves are located at some distance (1.5 kms) and a bus plies from within the Ellora complex to the Jain caves and back. These 5 Jain caves are also detailed with intricate carvings and rich paintings on its ceilings.
Since, the midday heat was already taking its toll on us and we were quite exhausted in spite of our attempts to keep us hydrated, we decided against visiting the Jain Lenis (leni = cave). We had sugarcane juice, and tried to cool down in the shade of the trees lining the entrance of the Ellora caves. Our driver meanwhile picked us up at around 2-2:30 pm and took us to Ghrishneshwar temple nearby, one of the 12 jyotirlings in the country.
Note: There are not many restaurants in and around the area; however, there are a couple or so dhabas serving decent local fare.
The next day, we decided to visit the Ajanta caves and started off at 7:30 am. Ajanta caves, about 100kms from Aurangabad, are about 30 rock-cut Buddhist cave structures dating between 2<sup>nd </sup>century BC to 480 or 650 AD. These caves were used by the monks as chaitya grihas (prayer halls) and viharas (monasteries). Carved in a horse-shoe shaped rock surface overlooking the Waghora river, each cave was originally connected to the river with a flight of steps. However, today, the caves today are connected with a terraced path along the hill, built for the convenience of tourists.
|Depicting scenes from the life of Gautama Buddha|
These caves preserve the masterpieces of ancient Buddhist mural paintings and sculptures depicting the scenes from the Jataka tales and the everyday life in that period. Cave # 9, 10, 19, 26, and 29 are chaitya grihas that house a stupa while the rest are viharas. Natural dyes like red and yellow ochre, kaolin, lime, gypsum, lamp black, lapis lazuli etc. were used to bring out the vibrant hues in these paintings.
The chaitya grihas have reproduced the wooden architectural styles of wooden beams and pillars, prevalent in those times, in stone. The sleeping Buddha in cave 26, reflects such serenity and calm that it reflects the very essence of Buddhism and the existence of these caves! 🙂
- We hired a taxi for 2 full days to get around Aurangabad and the Ajanta-Ellora caves for Rs 3,500. Taxis are available in plenty and there is no hassle in getting one. You can request the hotel front desk to arrange for one.
- Stayed in Hotel Gurjas, (earlier Hotel Oberoi) a budget hotel but fabulously clean with excellent service and food options – http://www.hotelgurjas.com/
- Dining options nearby – I will recommend restaurants Yalla Yalla and Swad Dining(vegetarian) at walking distances.