Friday, November 6, 2009
We made our 4am wake up call and headed to the Mumbai Airport for our flight to Aurangabad. We were going to Aurangabad to visit to sites: Ajanta and Ellora.
It will take two days to see the two sites. We checked into the Taj in Aurangabad and headed out with our exceptional guide Amod to see Ellora, tomorrow we will visit Ajanta.
World Heritage Sites are places that UN has listed as so exceptional that they must be protected at all costs. These are the most sensitive and important archeological sites in the world. These are where we want to visit. The critical point is that when the World Heritage Sites in India were first announced they chose Ajanta and Ellora before they chose the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is fabulous beyond belief, we loved visiting it. Yet Ajanta and Ellora were chosen first. What are they and why were they chosen before the Taj Mahal. The answer to that is why we were in Aurangabad.
I can only speak about Ellora for that is where we spent the day. Ellora is thought of as ancient caves. They aren’t caves, for caves are made by nature. These are carved in solid rock formation by man.
There are two techniques in carving into rock. Start from the front, carve into the rock, create a sanctuary and carve some statues into the walls. This is called naturally enough “Cutting in”. We visited a cutting in series of caves and were very impressed.
We then had our minds blown by seeing the complex of Kailash. No picture can do it justice (by the way the same is true of the Taj Mahal – no matter how many pictures of it you have seen, you must see it in person to appreciate it). Kalish is a gigantic temple carved from the side of the mountain into the lava rock. This is known as “Cut out Monolith”. The critical point is they started from the to of the mountain and simply removed stone leaving a multistoried huge complex. No statues our walls or roofs or statuary were brought here, this is one gigantic structure built by cutting away rock. It is impossible to imagine how this was done. It is unbelievable! These complexes were originally Jain Religion, Buddhist, or Hindu depending upon who was using them at the time. We had a fabulous guide who discusses at length the Jain Religion (which is only in India and predates Buddhism). Our guide was a delight and incredibly intelligent. It was like a college seminar in comparative religion and philosophy.
Once again he used the sculptures to explain the Hindu Epics. We loved it!
We then went to a cave that topped our day. It was a Buddhist Chaitya or meditation of prayer hall. When you walk into this cave you think you are in Gothic Church with a gigantic Buddha. It is a serene environment with perfect acoustics. Our guide chanted a Buddhist Prayer and it sounded like a choir as reverberated in the cave.
Ellora is one of those places you must go to experience the magic of India. These structures are from 500 AD, it is truly amazing!
Tomorrow we visit Aganta, a very different World Heritage Site.