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Published: September 5th 2018
Our driver arrived on time only for us to discover that the seat belts in the back didn’t have buckles and there was no AC. After a brief suggestion that it didn’t matter the driver took us to the office and we were refunded the difference between non-ac & ac. They again tried to persuade us seat belts weren’t needed as is was only 30km away but having seen the driving here we were less keen. Fortunately with the help of 2 security guards the driver managed to pull forward the seats and get the buckles back. We were on our way.
First stop of the day was the Daulatabad fort, located 15 km out of Aurangabad on the way to the Ellora caves. This is a fort built on top of a hilltop in the 12th century and was thought to be impregnable. It is a little boys dream - semi ruined with lots of stairs, walls and dark passages to explore. The pathways up to the citadel weave their way up the hillside with intermittent studded doors designed to prevent elephant charges. In the archways there are various examples of cannon through the ages.
Stephen exploring the Jain temples
are beautiful gardens at the bottom of the fort which lead to overgrown dead ends where you can see the remains of once beautiful fountains and where peacocks still roam. We found an old step well, still full of water, old water tanks and the mosque, the roof of which you can climb up onto.
Carrying on up through the fort the climb gets increasingly steep and my lack of fitness started to tell (fortunately I could stop to ‘look at the view’...). The best bit is a dark, damp, bat infested tunnel which is the only way right to the top. Stephen and I loved seeing all the bats and using torches to navigate the passageway (originally designed with false passages and traps to confuse invading armies). We particularly enjoyed the fact that most of the locals seemed terrified of the bats and soon made a retreat back out of the passage leaving the upper parts of the fort relatively empty and peaceful. I enjoyed less finding bat poo in my ear later in the day....
As you walk up the stairs you think the top is the small palace you can see from the bottom. Once
you reach it, however, there are more stairs out of the back of the building leading to a small cave and a higher vantage point complete with huge cannon. The views were worth the walk. It is very enjoyable being able to walk up narrow stairs onto gun emplacements and city walls without any fencing - it would not be allowed in the uk!
Fort successfully conquered (with minimal selfie attacks from the locals) we headed back to our car and onto the Ellora caves.
On arrival at Ellora you are met by coach loads of tourists, this despite it being mid week and off season. From the ticket office you can see across the gardens to cave 16, the star of the show at Ellora and the biggest Monolithic structure in the world. It was swarming with people, we therefore decided to avoid it initially.
We started by walking down to cave 1 and working our way back to cave 15 (cave 16 sits in approx the middle of the bulk of the caves). The initial caves are Buddhist in origin. Whilst some are magnificent (they have built 3 storied buildings with courtyards here),
Elizabeth exploring Jain caves
the noise from the roads and the views meant it was much less pleasant exploring than Ajanta had been the day before. Cave 13 - 29 are Hindu and the last 5 caves are Jain.
The Lonely Planet says to see the Ellora caves over the Ajanata caves. By the time we had seen the first 15 caves and gone for lunch I was wondering why they had said this. After lunch we went to explore cave 16 (the Kailasa temple). Despite the crowds it was amazing, and I have to concede that the Lonely Planet is probably correct. Unfortunately we did get rather swamped by large groups wanting selfies and Stephen ended up taking one for the team and stopping for them so I could actually go and look at some of the sculptures in relative peace.
The ‘cave’ has life sized elephant sculptures, temples, various side buildings, multiple levels, bridges and stunning carvings of animals and people. It was built in AD 760 from the top downwards. It’s all built by carving it out of the hillside. A phenomenal feat.
After looking from the ground we went up above the temple to get a different
view - if anything it is more impressive from above and was worth the walk (past the signs saying danger, don’t enter...)
The rest of the Hindu caves have many examples of stunning architecture and sculpture but pale in comparisson to cave 16. At cave 29 there’s a pretty waterfall but the path past it has been damaged by land slides during monsoon and so impassable.
We choose to walk the 1km to the Jain caves via the road instead, although there is a bus that runs there (the lay out of Ellora has changed slightly since my edition of the Lonely Planet - you can no longer get tuk tuks between the caves). Once away from cave 16 the site is much quieter and by the time we got to the last 5 caves it was almost empty. The guidebook is underwhelmed by these last caves but we really enjoyed them - one is 3 stories and you can enter it from the cave next door. It feels like exploring when you keep finding little passageways and flights of stairs. The carvings in these caves, being later, are also stunning and in good condition, although the buildings
The flooded cave 30
themselves are smaller than the earlier examples. We enjoyed cave 30 as well - being monsoon the whole courtyard in front of it had flooded and it was fun clambering over rocks to reach it.
We finally headed back to Aurangabad as they were closing the gates. We ate back at our hotel (which was launching a new cafe upstairs so they asked us to try it - decorated with motorbikes and tuk tuks). We then headed back to the station for an overnight train to Mumbai.
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