Tuesday, 20 May 2008


Today I arrived in the town of Aurangabad. Surprisingly I was met at the train station and given a free rickshaw ride to the hotel. The driver was a man who gets a mention in the lonely planet for his rickshaw services and now runs a tour company in the grounds of my hotel. The hotel is really well appointed and the a/c unit on the wall is now my new best friend! Following a relaxing and slightly chilly siesta I popped into the tour guy’s place. For R1250 I get a car to take me to Ajanta tomorrow. Now, it’s expensive but I really didn’t feel like spending four hours on a local bus!

I took a short stroll around the town. It’s a worn out place with narrow dusty side streets and the river that flows through part of it is pretty much an open sewer. I saw some local kids throwing large rocks into the stream. Looking over the wall I saw the target. A small snake was swimming across the stream, crossing from one rubbish strewn bank to another. The snake seemed to me to be out of place and I got the feeling that it knew it as well!

Wednesday 21st

Ajanta caves:

The expensive taxi ride was indeed enjoyable and the 110 km journey was passed without any screams or crashes. Although having to pay R15 for a road toll pissed me right off!

Once at the caves, I had to pay a R7 amenities fee, R15 car parking charge and another R7 to take the shuttle bus the 4 km to the ticket office. After shelling out another R250 (didn’t bother with the R5 light permit) I was able to walk up the steps into the horseshoe shaped valley.
There are 30 caves here all of them shrines and temples to the Buddhist faith. Each one has been cut into the rock by hand and the earliest caves date from 200 BC whilst the later ones from around 650 AD.
Thankfully my camera can take pictures in low light levels as flash photography is banned (and quite rightly so!).
Each time you enter a cave the shoes need to come off. Walking around in my socks made me feel very English.
As I moved from cave to cave the amount of children following me increased and when I sat down I was quickly joined by 6 or 7 kids and their mums! The dads were holding the cameras. Maybe I really should start charging a modelling fee. R5 per photo seems about the right amount!
It was only fitting that a couple of other bald men caught their attention more than I. Well, I’m not going to be able to compete with Buddhist monks at a Buddhist shrine now am I!

Most of the temples follow a pattern. They have a central court surrounded by pillars. Across the cave opposite the entrance is a small room containing a statue of the Buddha. Around the walls are small alcoves or cells. All of the temples were, when 1st completed, covered in paintings, murals and vividly striking colours. Over the years and centuries these have faded, cracked and fallen away or just plain damaged. However enough remain to allow you a glimpse into just how awesome they were. The pillars are carved with intricate designs and motifs with special attention to detail at the tops.
The majority of the ceilings were also painted with complex geometric designs. Some were still visible. Sadly the best preserved cave was also the darkest and you were restricted to the most central areas. So most of the photos taken inside sucked in terms of exposure and my inability to keep my hands tripod steady for 2 to 3 seconds.
Whilst walking along the path between each cave, chipmunks would be darting around. Their little noses twitching almost as much as their eyes.

After a couple of hours walking around under a hot sun it was time for a cold drink. All they had was beer! Damn…I have a hard life!

When the car was back in town I jumped out and went to check my emails. Amazingly they’ve managed to find my rucksack (again!). Must have been the thought of £1500 in compensation motivating them. I replied to the email telling the where I was. I let them know that they have 3 days to deliver it to me at my current hotel f.o.c. I’ll see what they say tomorrow.

Once back at the hotel I chatted with the tour company guy. For £250 plus my accommodation expenses I can go on a 4 day road to Hampi. Along the way stopping at several ancient sites and temples. It’s only at times like this that I wish I had a travel buddy because £125 would seal the deal. Mind you if my rucksack does indeed turn up then I feel I will be riding in the backseat. Because I’ll have so much stuff it will take me a few days to decide what to dispose off. I don’t need 12 pairs of pants…that much I know. Also, lets face it, it will be a damn sight easier than trying to do it all myself.

Thursday 22nd

Well, the bad news is that Chelsea lost the match last night. Seeing that the game didn’t start till 00:15 in the morning led for a long day.
The good news is that my rucksack turned up in the late afternoon. I now have an 85l bag, a 50l bag and a 30l bag…with way too many clothes and electrical cables!
With that in mind I booked the road trip to Hampi and I leave on Sunday morning. After haggling a little bit the price is R18000.

Today I walked across town to the poor man’s Taj Mahal. It was built in the 1600’s by the son of the man who commissioned the Taj Mahal. I’ve seen pictures of the original and this one is similar if a lot smaller. I feel that it’s had less love shown to it. With time and money it would look fantastic.
It’s set out in a large square walled garden with the mausoleum at the very centre. From the middle of each side a water channel lined with fountains leave from small pavilions and head into the centre. In the middle of each quadrant are raised octagonal platforms with a shallow pool in each of them.
All the paths are raised, or the gardens sunken, depending on your view point. The ground is set to lawn with large trees for shade. Whether this is based on the original plan I do not know
The mausoleum is raised up by some 20 feet on a large platform. A tower occupies each of the corners with a small mosque off to one side.
As you enter the building changes from a square on the outside to an octagon on the inside. The tomb chamber occupies the basement and is able to be viewed from the ground floor via a large opening surrounded by a foot high balustrade. The chamber is open all the way to the large domed ceiling with lattice work panels on 4 sides to allow the light in.

On the walk back to the hotel I passed along a river, on the opposite bank was a quite well preserved section of the old city wall. There are several gates still standing outlining the boundary of the old city and I passed through a couple of them.

Friday 23rd

After agreeing to the take a road trip I was given the offer of a free a/c car ride today. I asked for a rickshaw instead, it’s much more fun. It was only a 30km ride to the ellora caves, so I had a lie in and left at 9am.

Arriving almost an hour later, well the rickshaw is only a 175cc and there were hills to go up. The caves are split into 3 groups, Buddhist, Hindu and Janin. I went to the Buddhist caves 1st.
Although they are similar to the ones at Ajanta they are just a damn sight more impressive. There are 16 caves in this group and I started at number 1. By the time I made it to number 16 my mouth was suffering from rsi caused by going “wow” far too much.
As always a picture says a 1000 words…so off you go!
The last Buddhist cave, well it wasn’t really a cave. All they had done was find a large amount of rock and then started digging. As they dug, they carved. What rock the left was amazing. As I was walking around cave 16 a grandpa with a gaggle of grandkids came up to me. All of them wanted to take turns looking through the lens. No problem but holding onto my camera to make sure it wasn’t dropped was difficult. Then, 4 of the kids demanded to be photographed…

Back on the rickshaw for the 1000m blast up the road to the Janin caves (it hit 41oc so I wasn’t going to walk). From the approach they looked really disappointing, however their beauty was hidden behind unassuming entrances.
At the Hindu caves, the 1st one was a huge expanse of removed rock which was very similar to the main temple on Elephanta Island only better! From there the rest of the smaller temples spread out along an arching pathway, that although was closed off there was on one around….

The fort

This stronghold remained undefeated until someone bribed the gate keepers. I can see why!
Behind 5km of defensive walls lies the main keep. Built on a huge chunk of rock with sheer cliff faces reaching up 200m. Surround that with a wide deep moat and make the only entrance a narrow stairway through bat infested passageways.
It took me 40 minutes and a litre of water to get to the top .were the views worth it? Yep! One half of the 360 view were steep hills the other open plains leading across the countryside to the horizon.

Today if I were charging a R5 modelling fee I would have made enough to pay for the ice cold beer I’m drinking right now. For some reason dad’s want their 4 year old sons to pose with me. At one point I had a kid hanging off each arm as I did a “bulldog pose” …not my idea honest!

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