Saturday, November 7, 2009
Today we headed out for Ajanta. It is approximately 100 Kilometers from Aurangabad by our van. That equates to about 55 miles. It took about 2 ½ hours to get there. These are also called caves, but like Ellora they are not natural, but man made. These are all dug out of the lava flow, unlike Ellora where many of the structures are created by cutting out from the top to create the monoliths.
After driving on our van for 2 ½ hours, we left the van and then walked thru a small area of hawkers and vendors to arrive at a different set of special buses that would drive us to the foot of the Ajanta Caves. We then hired porters, who carried us in sedan stairs up the steep mountain side to where the caves are actually located. We have often read about people being transported in sedan chairs or palanquins, this was a first for us. As you can see in the picture, the chair is supported by two poles, and carried by 4 men, 2 front, 2 in the back, resting the poles on their shoulder. They carried us up steep stairs and inclines until we reached the caves, far above the floor of the canyon.
Ellora is shaped like a giant horse shoe, with a very narrow gorge at the bottom, and high volcanic mountains on either side. The caves are quite far up the mountain and were lost for over 1000 years. They were rediscovered in the early 1800’s.
Unlike Ajanta, which have caves that are Hindu, Buddhist and Jain, all of Ellora is Buddhist. The caves date back to 200 BC and you can see the paintings from those early times.
Some of the caves are as recent as 300AD. The paintings are extremely modern in feel, showing emotion, depth of field, amazing use of color, etc. It truly is an amazing experience to be among these paintings and sculptures.
Our guide was fabulous, constantly explaining Buddhism and the stories told in the paintings and sculptures. I have previously experienced much Indian Art as an extreme conglomeration of deities, covering every square inch of a wall or ceiling. He explained to us the story and showed how in many cases it was portrayed linearly, but rather it was all there, scrambled like a puzzle to be figured out. The ordinary people who would observe the sculpture or paintings would know the story and be able to figure it out. In addition, he went into great depth explaining the very strict Indian rules for painting and sculpture that would be the constraints within which the artisans would work. We enjoyed it immensely. The guide walked took us to various caves that explained the life, incarnations, and enlightenment of The Buddha. We ended at a fabulous reclining Buddha sculpture showing his death. It was extremely moving to follow his path in these caves.
The caves are very dark and I had my favorite LED Flashlight that we used to illuminate the art. He was amazed at my flashlight, and I wound up trading it to him for his. He was very touched.
We were very aware that unlike the Taj Mahal, there were very few foreign tourists at Ajanta & Ellora. It was being visited by probably 90% Indians. It is difficult to get here, but we really felt it was one of the highlights of our visits to India.
We returned to the Taj Hotel, had a great dinner, packed, and prepared to fly tomorrow to the Indian State of Goa. It is a thin state hugging the Arabian Sea south of Maharashtra (The state Bombay is in). It is thought of as the Hawaii of India because of its weather and beaches. We plan to Kash perform at The Intercontental Hotel in Goa, the day after tomorrow.