Earlier this month, I found myself in Aurangabad, and my hosts, the Dardas (father and sons) of Lokmat, were kind enough to organise trips for me to Ajanta and Ellora.
The evening of my arrival, I was driven to Ellora, which is a short distance away, and, in a town larger than the size of Aurangabad, would be considered to be almost on its outskirts, but it is a lovely ride, going round the Daulatabad fort and through its outer ramparts. The fort stands on the top of a step cliff, like a wedding cake. At another time, and in another age, say 40 years earlier, make it 45, I would have climbed it. Now I satisfied myself by looking at it from the car window.
Ellora itself is a solid massif. The caves are carved in from the top, going to the bottom. Which means the artists knew exactly what they were going to create before they knocked the first chisel and hammer into the crown of the hill.
What they have created in an entire town, with pillared halls for public congregations, coutryards, corridors, rows of rooms, a temple balanced on the backs of elephants, flights of steps leading up and down, sculptures and carvings in the walls. It does seem strange that people who could create such intricate temples and palaces with the most elementary instruments cannot build a simple pedestrian subway across the road these days.
It also seemed strange that there were hardly any foreign tourists to view and photograph these great marvels of our glorious past at a time when the whole world is travelling around and visiting one another's countries.
The following day I was driven to Ajanta, which is some distance away, but on a reasonable good motorable road. You take a diversion from the man Jalgaon road, come round a bend and enter an amphitheatre of bone-dry Marathwada hills. The caves are in the middle ridge of one of the hills.
On a hot day, it was an arduous climb, and the path was made no smoother by hordes of gentleman who claimed to be government appointed souvnir-sellers, guides, beggars, palkhiwalas, archeological experts. They all slipped out badges and showed me, or slips of dirty and muchfolded papers, to establish how official they were.
I wonder if this is keeping the tourists away, and the lack of basic facilities, such as a clean restaurant, shade to park the cars under, trees along the track, better lighting of the caves.
Still, it was an unforgettable sight. That morning, all those pictures I had been seeing over the years in calendars, tourist posters, coffeetable books, suddenly came alive. I know now that Ajanta and Ellora exist, and they are as much a part of our heritage as the muchboosted Taj Mahal or the Shalimar Gardens.