Hideouts in the Hills

I’ve been told that the two most annoying problems in India are the lack of change and the lateness of the trains. After eventually arriving in Aurangabad well after midnight with a wad of thousand rupee notes I can say I entirely agree.  There isn’t a whole lot to recommend the city of Aurangabad, but it’s useful to travellers as a base for the World Heritage cave sites of Ajanta and Ellora.  My hotel room is…interesting.  I had the nicest introduction to the city being aggressively barked at by one of the many stray dogs – this is the first one to actually pay any attention to me so it took me a bit by surprise and my first instinct was to bark back.  I then arrived to a room which was not remotely sealed to the outside around the windows and was letting in all sorts of local wildlife including crickets, geckos and a friendly millipede.  I’m also desperately in need of some laundry but I’ve arrived to a citywide water shortage so I can’t find anyone who will do it.  It’s probably a good thing I’m on my own with at least 4 more days of dirty clothes.

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My toilet appears to be unable to decide if it’s a western or a squatter, so instead it’s decided to grow wings. 
Sorry, I promise this will be the only time I take a picture of a toilet.  Except perhaps if I make it to Japan. I think I can expect some weird shit there.

Excursion number one was to Ajanta, the painted caves.  Being on my own I decided to take local transport, which cost peanuts but took nearly 3 hours, and I probably would have got lost if it weren’t for helpful locals.  The caves are all carved into a horseshoe shaped cliff face where they were forgotten about for centuries before being discovered by accident by a British officer hunting a tiger (he then apparently carved his name into a pillar – I looked, but I couldn’t find it).  The paintings and carvings in the caves date from the 6th century AD all the way back to the 2nd century BC, so it’s hardly surprising that there’s a lot of damage, but even so, I kept coming across caves where I could see nothing despite the guidebook saying ‘look out for such and such a painting’  Have they really decayed that much in 3 years?  That said, what is still there is still fairly impressive.

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I was feeling fairly lonely wandering around Ajanta on my own (it’s definitely not tourist season in India yet) so I was thrilled to meet some other people at dinner – Anna and Alon from Israel* – who invited me to join them in Ellora the next day.  They were going on a tourist board organised tour so it was going to be a fair bit more than taking the bus again, but really, 300 rupees is nothing and compared with yet another day on my tod it’s a bit of a no brainer.

We met up with three Indian tourists in the morning – 2 guys from Andra Pradesh and A GIRL!  TRAVELLING ON HER OWN! from Calcutta.  Since it was a tour they took us to multiple stops, which did make the day feel a bit rushed to be honest – I would have been happier just doing the caves and leaving the rest until the next day, but the rest of the group were going their separate ways the next day, so at least they got to see as much as possible. 

Our first stop was Daulatabad fort, which was very briefly the capital before the entire population who had just settled there were moved back to Delhi due to a water shortage.  There are lots of langur monkeys here, which are bigger, but much more laid back than the macaque monkeys I’ve been seeing everywhere else.  Unfortunately for Anna there were also tons of bats inside the ruins which she’s terrified of, so at one point she refused to go any further and we had to go on without her.

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We briefly stopped next at Aurangzeb’s tomb – the last of the Mughal emperors, who told his family that he didn’t want a fancy tomb, he wanted to be buried somewhere simple and open to the sky, so the building has no ceiling and instead of a marble slab the grave is topped with soil and flowers.  I’ve also now visited the only temple I’ve seen so far which asks people to remove clothing – men aren’t allowed in unless they’re shirtless.  Breaking coconuts inside the temple is forbidden too.  I can see why, no one needs coconut water all over their floor, but I’m not sure why a sign was necessary to tell people that…

The Ellora caves are more recent than the Ajanta ones – the theory is that the Ajanta ones were abandoned as work was completed and worship shifted to the Ellora ones.  There isn’t any painting on these ones, but the carvings are a lot more extensive.  There’s also a beautifully situated waterfall over some of the far caves which we were very miffed to find that we couldn’t walk beneath – the path was blocked off for safety in the rainy season.  Pah.  Sadly due to the length of the tour we were exhausted by the time we got to the biggest and most impressive cave (which we had of course left til last), so Anna and I just sat in a corner chatting and watching chipmunks while waiting for everyone else to finish! 

I apologise for the silly picture.  I think I was over excited about the fact that I had people available to take pictures for once.  I also apologise for the fact that it seems I have been wearing the same tshirt for the last month.  I swear I have been rotating my clothes more than that.

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*Yes, my saviours came from Israel again – I’ve decided that definitely needs to go on my list of places to visit, not least because Tel Aviv has an annual water fight in the summer and an annual pillow fight in the winter.

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