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Published: January 5th 2017
This was probably the jewel in the crown - a chatiya with magnificently intricate columns and that is dramatically lit.
When travelling, you have to take decisions on whether visiting an attraction is worth the effort. In this case, I had a five hour bus ride to Ahmedabad, two overnight buses and a stay in a rural village to contend with to visit my next sight. I could easily have skipped it and taken one direct overnight bus straight from Udaipur to Mumbai - but visiting Ajanta seemed to be "on the way" to Mumbai, and even when I realised thanks to transport connections that it sorta wasn't, I decided to go anyway. I've got time up my sleeve.
Also when you're travelling, you take risks - especially when there is the potential for fun! Which is why rather than having an early night before an early start and twenty four hours of travelling the next day, I went out for one last third-of-a-bhang-lassi. Maybe it wasn't quite enough - I didn't want to get completely baked like the night before but perhaps half a bhang lassi would've been perfect. With beer pong and a few drinks following on afterwards, I didn't really want to leave Udaipur as things at the hostel finally started to pick up, along with a
Inside either Cave 20, 21 or 23...
new, cool cast of guests.
But I had to move on.
In my last blog entry, I said that if Indian buses were of the same quality as the ones in South America, then I'd probably prefer to travel by bus. Well, they're not like South American buses. At all. The floor on this one was made of wood and the bus in general has seen better days. This was a sleeper bus - not something I have seen before but it was nice to have your own space (your own "curtained cabin") much like you would in sleeper class on the train, but the ride was bumpy.
Looking outside, I reckon that India has the worst pollution I have ever seen. India always has a smell; whether it's sewage, smog, shit or smoke coming off a burning mountain of trash, there is always something unpleasant in the air. On the road, there seem to be no rules whatsoever and if there are any, then they pretty much go disregarded. I had been told that Indian traffic is the craziest in the world and while my travels mean that I haven't been shocked by anything I have seen
Looking along the gorge towards the entrance.
in India so far, I can definitely say that Indian traffic jams and the craziness of driving are on another level.
I was originally going to skip Ahmedabad but when it became apparent that I had to make a connection there, I then decided to stay a couple of nights. When I couldn't find any decent, decently-priced accommodation in a city with little to see and almost certainly with more mayhem to contend with, I decided that the city was
skippable after all.
Arriving in town, I hadn't done my homework in terms of loading the map and finding out where I needed to catch my onward bus, but then I didn't know where I was being dropped off. My SIM card then let me down at precisely the wrong time as a lack of mobile internet meant I didn't know where I was going and nor could I order an Uber, or at least get an Uber fare estimate to bargain with. I was thus left completely at the mercy of a tuk-tuk driver with the bus having dropped me on a road on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. The driver had a fare chart which seemed legit but
Colourful, Intricate Carvings & Paintings
The colours were all created from local minerals apart from the blue, apparently.
it was all in Gujarati - I had no choice but to take his word that at ₹450, I would need to pay him almost twice what I paid for the bus to Ahmedabad, simply to get across to the other side of town get to catch my connecting bus - outside a shitty building on a busy, dusty road where I would have to wait a further hour and a half.
About two hours later, I had no idea what was going on as I and other passengers I assume were also on the same bus, were ushered on to one bus, which dropped us at another travel agency, before we somehow managed to squeeze eight people including all our luggage into a tuk-tuk for a short ride up the road to our actual bus.
Our bus, like every other bus, had an interesting horn that played a short, happy tune which was nicer than hearing the constant, annoying, monotone beep of a normal horn.
Despite being able to lie down in my sleeper, Indian roads and the relative age of the bus ensured a bumpy, rattly ride. I still managed to get a little sleep although it
Rural village where I stayed, near the Ajanta Caves.
was freezing in the morning.
Arriving in the industrial town of Jalgaon the next morning, thankfully I was dropped off a few hundred metres from the bus station rather than the several thousand away I was dropped off at in Ahmedabad. The state intercity buses were literally old school - which reminded me big time of the chicken buses back in Central America - as they rattled me one and a half hours to my eventual destination of Fardapur.
This was my first hotel stay in India as it was the only cheap-ish place I could find and I hope that subsequent hotels will be better than this one. Though the building looks bright enough, the room is fairly crusty, has no in-room wifi, no hot water (a common theme in Indian accommodations - I was fine going three weeks without a hot shower in South and Central America but that's because it's still steaming hot in the evenings there, unlike here in Northern India) and the toilet was a squat one. So a number two was extremely hard work and it was also the worst time to get my first case of Delhi belly; thankfully this one wasn't
Cave 1 Verandah
This is the first thing you see when you enter the cave complex proper. Not quite what you expect to see in a set of caves!
actually that bad but I was using the dunny more often than I was hoping to, leaving me with some very sore legs!
The advantage that the hotel did have was the fact it was just a 4km, 60 rupee taxi ride away from the whole reason I had undertaken this mission into the wops; the Ajanta Caves.
Most people haven't heard of these caves but they really are world class. They are basically a set of thirty Buddhist chatiyas
(prayer halls) and viharas
(monasteries) built into the rock on a horseshoe-shaped gorge overlooking the Waghore River. The caves were carved out in two different time periods; in the 1st and 2nd centuries BC by Satavahana Buddhists; and during the 5th and 6th centuries AD by the Mahayana. Now I have seen cave monasteries before in Turkey
; I've seen horseshoe-shaped gorges before in Bulgaria
; I have even seen cave monasteries in horseshoe-shaped gorges before in Moldova
, of all places. But this may well be the best of the lot. The caves in Cappadocia, Turkey, are just as grand but lack the intricate detail of the carvings here in Ajanta, as well as the colourful 'frescoes' (temperas
). The columns and
Cave 1 Paintings
Many of the paintings depict particular scenes of daily life back in the day.
facades evoke Petra
, while the carvings aren't a million miles away from the ones seen in Angkor
. The size and elaborateness of it all is impressive. The caves do get a bit samey after a while but the site definitely saves the best until last with Cave 26, with its columns, sculptures, shape and lighting. It's real Indiana Jones stuff. The panoramic view from the lookout down onto the caves is magnificent as is the underrated natural scenery of steep cliffs, waterfalls and plateaus. Just a shame I was so tired from fuck-all sleep over the last two nights, as I perhaps didn't enjoy it as much as would've.
I was glad to be getting out of that hotel though and I used the last of my phone credit to book a hostel in my next destination: Mumbai. The only problem was that I hadn't booked any transport there - I was going to catch a bus to Aurangabad and rely on a private bus company to have space in one of their overnight buses going to Mumbai (which I was fairly confident one of them would). I could even possibly catch a same-day train in the afternoon. The
This cave was never finished and inside you can see the techniques used to carve the caves out of the rocks.
bus station, train station and private bus companies are all within a square kilometre in Aurangabad which will make things easier - I don't usually leave things up to chance like this but like I said at the start of this entry, sometimes you take risks. Two days looking for solutions in Udaipur hadn't worked out a plan for me so I couldn't do much worse by winging it here. It's good to add a bit of spice to your life occasionally.
Catching the state bus again to Aurangabad, I arrive at around 2.30pm. I decide to walk to the train station, in an effort to kill time. I had almost certainly missed the same-day train to Mumbai and it would have been by far the most comfortable way to get to Mumbai and I was a little annoyed at myself that I somehow missed booking this connection. This was thanks to a combination of a quirk on the online booking site, deciding to get high on my last night in Udaipur instead of planning ahead and because of a lack of internet at my hotel in Fardapur. There were no spaces left on either of the overnight trains
River & Waterfall
The scenery around the caves was rather impressive too. No wonder these sacred caves were decided to be built here.
to Mumbai that night yet I still waited in the queue, hoping the ticket clerk might be able to work some magic. An hour later and feeling hot and tired among a queue of increasingly tetchy Indian men, I decided to give up - I wasn't likely to get a space on board the trains that night and I was getting sick of standing in that queue. The wait had served is purpose in killing time but there is only so much time one can absolutely waste. And thank God I decided to create online booking accounts to avoid all this bureaucratic hassle. There is a waitlist system that might have got me space on a sold-out train, but it's quite complicated so I'm not gonna explain it here.
Leaving the train station I rock up to the first travel agency that I come to and book a sleeper bus to Mumbai. It drops me off just a fifteen minute walk to my hosteI - easy as you like!
I then decided to make my way to the bus departure point as it was by a shopping mall. I've said many times before that a shopping mall can feel
The impressively intricate columns of Cave 19.
like a nice, clean and welcoming sanctuary for a weary traveller, providing the homeless with all the temporary amenities one needs. I decided to walk again, getting looks - and help - from surprised locals wondering what the hell a tourist was doing wondering the dusty streets of Aurangabad. Even a short walk of a few hundred metres is a hassle and a challenge in India.
With my wheely backpack, I am always looking for smooth terrain to wheel it over - in India, where "pavements" are dusty, dirty, sandy, rocky, gravel-ly or non-existent, this is sometimes impossible and I had to strap the pack to my back several times. It really has not been that much of a problem in either Latin America or Europe but India is a place best tackled by travelling as light as you can.
I was disappointed yet not surprised to find out that the "shopping mall" was merely a modern-ish building housing several shops - not the bathroom and eatery laden place I was hoping for - but to get there, I had to wade through a massive fruit and vegetable market. Like many things in India, it was chaotic and cool
Fruit & Vegetable Market, Aurangabad
Which clears up at night and turns into a bus depot, funnily enough.
at the same time as vendors simply throw down a blanket on what I presumed used to be a car park of some sort, and spread out their produce. It was absolutely packed. The smell of all the herbs was really nice though. I now had to somehow kill five hours here waiting for the bus.
I hadn't seen a single foreigner all day and it isn't always the fun, touristy, backpacker stuff that is the most memorable. I had spent all day riding public transport, walking through streets a tourist wouldn't normally walk through and saw things a tourist wouldn't normally see. While it was a bit of hassle lugging my shit around with me all day, it was nevertheless a real, slightly intrepid last couple of days on my own. Unlike other countries I have visited, it is impossible for any budget tourist not to get caught up in real, everyday India. At this point I was still wholeheartedly embracing it!
I needed to eat something before getting on the bus so I made my way through the chaos with all my shit across the road. There were a few eateries where the options were chicken
Ceiling In Cave 1
I was surprised how intact the paintings were here.
biryani, some dodgy-looking curry and er, chicken biryani
. I was weary of getting meat but the place was fairly busy which was a positive sign. Like I said; when travelling sometimes you have to take risks. I had no choice this time.
With my stomach feeling a little ropey, I was hoping to get something that wasn't spicy - something easier said than done here in India. And this biryani was was spicier than most - my stomach was growling already. With an overnight bus to get through, I hoped that my stomach would get through it too.
While cautiously munching through my biryani - a big plate that I managed to get through rather easily in the end - the owner of this tin-roof, street restaurant came over and had a chat. He mainly rambled but he was far from the only local keen on having a chat. You could tell that Aurangabad doesn't get too many tourists as when people talked to me, they were genuinely interested in me rather than my money. Many wondered where I was from such is the rarity of seeing an Asian with a man-bun dressed in Western clothes. I saw a genuine
Looking over the gorge that the caves are carved into.
and friendly side of the local people which was really cool - more than one person approached me on my walk through the dusty streets to ask me where I was going and if I needed help. The owner gave me a discount in the end - definitely can't complain about a ₹60 biryani!
A couple of observations about India:
- The Indian head wiggle. Does it mean yes? Does it mean no? Does it mean maybe? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!
- There are no supermarkets as Westerners know it anywhere! I guess there is no way a supermarket chain can undercut the already rock-bottom prices offered by the many, tiny, independent general stores everywhere.
Feeling gross, dusty and sweaty, it was now time to get on my bus back to the mega cities of India. Next stop: Mumbai.
बाद में मिलेंगे । (baadh mem milengae),
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