You know what they say about saving the best for the last? Well, Ellora Caves doesn’t believe in that !
The first thing that visitors to Ellora Caves see on entering the complex is its most famous monument. It is the monument that writers have written paeans about, the monument that is a photographer’s delight, the monument that leaves visitors awestruck, and the monument that everyone knows as Kailasa Temple, but is officially known as Cave 16.
When I walked in after buying my entry ticket and saw the richly carved entrance to the cave, familiar from so many photographs, I actually rubbed my eyes in disbelief !
My impulse was to explore Kailasa first, but better sense prevailed. Tempting as it was to explore Cave 16, I decided to begin with Cave 1, which was a short distance away. It turned out to be a good decision for if I had explored the Kailasa Temple first, I would probably not have seen any of the other 33 caves at Ellora!
Once again, as it happened at the Ajanta Caves and then at Daulatabad Fort, no guides were available when I arrived at the Ellora Caves at noon, one day in December 2013. There was also no literature on Ellora available at the ticket office. But, as I found out later, the information boards placed outside each cave provided adequate information.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived at Daulatabad Fort that December morning in 2013 was this slender, terracotta pink minaret rising above the walls of the Fort. And a pale silhouette of the moon nestled next to it. Needless to say, it was quite a sight and one that I will never forget. It was only later that I found out how lucky I was to have seen both the moon and the minaret together, for the tower is called Chand Minar or moon tower.
I had arrived early at Daulatabad Fort, so early that the only company I had for some time were the sweepers cleaning the Fort and some security guards. Even the guides were not there ! According to the ticket clerk, the guides were scheduled to arrive an hour later, just before the first busload of tourists were expected to descend upon the Fort. Therefore, in the absence of any guide or any available literature on the Fort at the ticket office, I relied on the couple of information boards put up at the Fort to guide me.
The world-famous, rock-cut Ajanta Caves is one of those places where background reading or research doesn’t help. At least, it didn’t help me.
Prior to visiting the caves in December 2013, I had read up on the best time to visit, the must see paintings in the caves, etc., but my first look at the Ajanta Caves spread out before me like an arc, and I forgot all that I had read. So, when I walked into Cave 1 and saw the shimmering painting of Bodhisattva Padmapani (see photo below), I was surprised and delighted. Arguably, the best known Ajanta painting, I was as surprised and delighted as the 3 villagers who were standing next to me, and who had perhaps neither seen a picture nor read anything about the Ajanta cave paintings before.
The Ajanta Caves is also one of those places, which has been very difficult to write about. More than a year and countless drafts later, I finally wrote this post — my nth attempt. I have written it with the full knowledge that it does not do justice to what I saw and experienced. Hopefully, the photographs in this post will try to convey what my words cannot.
“Do you want to go left first or right?” the auto-rickshaw driver asks me as we approach a T-junction.
“I don’t know. Whichever takes me to Aurangabad Caves“, I reply, a little confused by the question.
“Both turns will take you to the Caves. Part of the Caves is on the left and part is on the right. I asked since you have to begin somewhere.”
“Umm… in that case, take the left.”
About 10 minutes later, I’m at the foot of a flight of steps that will lead me to the Westernmost part of the Aurangabad Caves.
I have very carefully stowed the entry ticket away in my backpack as I will need it to visit the other, Eastern, set of Aurangabad Caves, which is over a kilometre away according to the ticket clerk. There aren’t too many visitors around on that pleasantly warm December afternoon of 2013. The few who are there are Buddhist devotees dressed in white and carrying offerings of white flowers. The climb is an easy one and I reach the entrance to the first of the Caves in no time. Continue reading “Aurangabad: Rock-cut caves, Bibi ka Maqbara, Panchakki”→