Cameras out, packing done, shoes on, and we were off campus by 5:10 am. We sped and as luck would have it… the first bus coming out of the depot was going to Aurangabad. We boarded it and managed to get only the last seat which did bust our asses during the five hour journey. It was 5:45 am when we started, the bus took one stop at Ahmednagar for 15 minutes, and dropped us at our destination at 10:30 am – bang on schedule. It was an MSRTC bus, the near-equivalent of the Haryana Roadways buses of the north, only with slightly more comfortable seats. The ticket was for Rs 195, and somehow I felt that was a little too much for a state bus. Anyway.
We made our first mistake at Aurangabad – taking a local bus to Ellora. The distance was less than 20 kms, and it took a little more than 1.5 hours to get there. It was certainly cheap at Rs 17 per person, but if you want to save yourself an incredibly slow and dusty journey, take a shared auto from outside the bus depot at Aurangabad. I’m not sure about how much that would cost, but I am sure it would save a lot of energy.
At Ellora, there are a couple of dhabas and a small market outside the caves. We fed ourselves with some good, filling food there. Next decision that was to be made was for our stay. It’s tricky business – Ajanta is 104 kms from Ellora, and almost the same distance from Aurangabad too. So we thought that the obvious and better decision is to spend the night at Ellora, and move further the next morning. But what most tourists do is go back to Aurangabad the same evening, spend the night there, and move to Ajanta from there. The reasons? There are more options to stay in Aurangabad, and you get direct buses to Ajanta from there. Yea, we did not know about the bus thing until we had checked into our hotel at Ellora. One either goes back to Aurangabad from Ellora to catch a bus to Ajanta, or changes buses at 3 different stops if they want to go directly.
Let’s go to the caves first, and then I’ll tell you what we finally did the next morning.
Entry ticket was the standard Rs 10 as at all other protected monuments. If you’re the bottled water kind of person, carry your bottles with you because inside there are only two canteens where you will get it. It is ‘only two’ because it is a large area that the caves cover and canteens are not that close. But there are drinking water taps available outside almost every cave.
Ellora has 34 Hindu, Buddhist and Jain caves. The first one that you see after entering is the largest Hindu cave called Kailasa. It is massive, and it is extremely beautiful. We spent about one hour inside. Well, that’s largely because we were kinda tired after a night where we did not sleep & a journey which was kinda long, and the crrazy heat. Even so, the cave is worth spending all that time in. There is a small shivling where people offer prayers inside the cave. I thanked the caretaker there when he helped me with light for a photograph, and he replied with a ‘gracias‘. Way too many foreign tourists. 🙂
We spent about five hours in there, but did not really go inside each of the 34 caves. We’d enter one cave, sit there for looong and chat and click, and then make the effort to climb up another cave. Yea, for people who do not have ANY stamina, and are already tired, it can be an uphill task. But, it is Ajanta where stamina really comes into play.
After about 2.5 hours of moving around, we needed to refuel ourselves. So we had lots of water and a yumm aloo parantha at the canteen. The main entrance divides the caves into two sides, with number 16 in the middle. So, our second round of walking was to the left of # 16. There are a lot of autos that will offer to show you around because I’m guessing there are many people who are not too fond of walking. So these autos help you move around, take you to the important caves, and bring you back to the exit in one piece. We got many such offers in the second half because the walk to that side is longer and is on steep roads. But the boots were meant for walking, and walking we did. When it looked like the sun was beginning to take it easy, a new found energy took over me and I wanted to climb to the top of the rocks to see the setting sun. So I pushed the other two as well, and we climbed & climbed to settle at a decent viewing point. It had been only five minutes that two shady men came up as well. They had some foreign friends either waiting for them or waiting to be discovered by them. It looked like extremely shady business and we almost thought we’d surely get stabbed or something if we even looked their way. This killed the little joy we could have derived from the sunset which was average when compared to the sunset at Lavale, and we were just relieved to move out of there. Those guys also walked back with us, offered us a ride in their car, and had a weird english with accent for men who we thought would not even be educated.
They will come back next morning…
The place had no computer and I had only 1 GB of memory, so I ended up deleting some pictures to make space for the next day. Our neighbours in the hotel were a single German lady, and two men from Switzerland. All of us had plans of going to Ajanta the next morning, so the manager suggested we share a cab instead of the looong bus drama I mentioned earlier. It sounded convenient, would have only saved us some money, so we all agreed.
The next morning, all dhabas outside were shut because Ellora caves are closed on Tuesdays. So we had to have the relatively more expensive breakfast inside the hotel. And while we were at it, we saw the same shady men (who had also offered us a ride to Ajanta when we walked out looking for breakfast) come into the hotel compound with their car. They were talking to the manager, and we knew that was the car that the manager had arranged for us. We died. The three of us really lost it. But we were a lucky bunch and we were six of us who could not have fit into his Ikon or whatever that car was. Our prayers worked, and he did not drive the replacement auto which we got. The manager made money out of offering a car and ultimately sending us in an auto, but we were only too glad.
It took two hours to get to Ajanta. There are shuttle buses from where outside vehicles drop you to the caves. Rs 7 for non AC, and we were on board an MTDC bus. With us was a bunch of school kids. They helped me expererience the most embarrassing public moment of my life. We’d bought hats outside the caves because the sun was killing us. I had my sunglasses on anyway. AND my camera was in my hands (unlike Priyam’s who decided to keep it in until we reached the caves). So, I could not have looked more tourist-y, and the kids thought that I’d also come from some foreign land. They all thronged to see me, made jokes about me, tried asking me ‘what is your name’ in a way that they thought should be comprehendable for me, laughed their wits off when they heard me talk in Hindi, and kept staring at me and my camera with non-stop giggles. I would have loved to click them as well, but they were so many of them that I was afraid of being killed in the process.
We took a guide in the caves because otherwise there were only paintings and paintings on the walls and we had no clue what they meant. In a big group, it came to Rs100 per head for us. Guide uncle was too keen on making us hear every word that he uttered, and he almost scolded me once when I was too busy clicking. I gave him a dirty look which he conveniently ignored, but then I ignored him too. Hmph.
After the guided tour, we’d just rested our feet when we got talking to Anders, a researcher and lecturer from Denmark. His area of interest? Travel and tourism. He does research on backpackers across the globe, and also on the business impact of guide books that they use. Very interesting to talk to, and quite a funny man… he was nice enough to pay for our lunch at the MTDC restaurant as well.
At around 4:00 pm, we left Ajanta for Aurangabad. We wanted to reach the city and find an internet cafe so that we could plan our next move. It was another 2-hour ride (this time we chose a private bus over a local one) to Aurangabad. There we did find an internet cafe, browsed for an hour, looked at several destinations and finally came down to Srivardhan, a virgin beach about 200 kms from Pune. But when we got to looking for a bus that would drive us through the night to Srivardhan, we got to know that the travel agents had not even heard of the place. We were offered a cab, and that was the nth time in the recent past that I realised how painful it can be to be a woman in this mean world. Again, it was unsafe for the three women who were “alone” together, and they had no option but to eat and head back home.
We missed the Daulatabad Fort which is en route Aurangabad to Ellora because we did that journey only once and if we’d stopped over, we’d have missed Ellora caves which are shut on Tuesdays. Also, it was tooo hot to bother after that. We also missed the Bibi ka Maqbara which is better known as the ‘Unknown Taj Mahal’ in Aurangabad. This, because we used Aurangabad only to switch buses. And we did not want to spend another night there only for the Maqbara. But I guess we were happy with whatever we did manage to see as well.
One more thing that we missed and should probably not have was the Grishneshwar Jyotir Linga which is one of the 12 shrines of lord Shiva in India. Mom believes in him, I should have gone. It was close to our hotel, but we never woke up in time to visit and leave with the rest of the people on time as well.
Took the 8:30 pm bus to Pune. It took a little longer than the first journey, and we landed here at 1:45 am. Again, a private cab back to campus. The driver told us that Srivardhan can be done in one day from Pune. Also told us the rates. So, that’s where we’re heading next — that is whenever we have enough money again. 🙂
The above-mentioned was not the only embarrassing moment. I was so tired and sleepy during the bus journeys that my sleep was not inducing little jerks of the head but wayward movement of the head in both directions in an area of about one meter. People say I was quite a sight. And Anders was finding it funny too. Well, I can only laugh about it too. I banged my head against the front seat, the window glass, and so on in the process, did not even sleep in peace, and entertained people too. Can anyone ask for more?
A couple of points…
# Ajanta caves are shut on Mondays. So the plan was actually working out fine.
# The area has some unique blood red guavas. We never got to buying and tasting them because we only saw them while we were on the move.
# I never thanked the makers of any shoes before this, but this time I owe it to Adidas. 5 am to 10 pm on one day, and 7 am to 2 am the next… I lived in an extremely comfortable pair of shoes.
# I walk fast. And when with a purpose, I leave people behind.
# We resolved that from now on we won’t judge any person on the streets digging his/her nose. You CAN reach a point where you can feel dust on and inside every part of your body.
# The trip cost us about Rs 1700 per head. And this includes around Rs 300 spent on private cabs we had to hire within Pune.
# Learning Marathi is an absolute must for me now. Sometimes things become very difficult without it.
And now I shall hope for a comment from you. 😛