When I preface this entry with 'we spent a long weekend looking at caves' you may think that sounds ridiculous. When I explain that they are ancient man made caves carved between the 400BC and the 10th century, you may think that sounds boring, but to me this was incredible.
Ajanta and Ellora caves are a little off of the beaten tourist track in India, a couple of hour drive day trips from the city of Aurangabad.
Ellora caves were carved out of the mountain from the top down. A feat so incredible that some believe that they caves were made by extraterrestrials. How could man be so coordinated, so organized, so artistic over what must have been decades? Well, I think we underestimate ourselves and also underestimate just how much spare time we'd have if we didn't have technology to fill it up.
The crown jewel of Ellora caves is The Kailashnatha, cave 16. Construction began around 756 CE and continued for nearly a century. It served as a temple and meeting place and is covered with Hindu gods and allegories. It's size is incredible, twice that of the Parthenon in Greece. Crossing the threshold I felt overwhelmed by the space, the spirit, and the history of the place. It was the first time that I saw such ancient artifacts in situ, where they belonged and were put so, so long ago. Taking history out of a museum and back to it's native setting really moved me.
This cave is surrounded by other caves carved in other centuries by other Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. What is remarkable about this is that all are intact and untouched. This was truly a time of religious harmony in India.
We visited quite a few of these caves, all unique but all with amazing detail and artistry. All made with clear faith and purpose. Most caves here were temples.
Not so far back, in 1819, a British hunting party (read, tiger hunting) stumbled upon Ajanta Caves. Then covered in jungle and earth, their excavation must have been a mighty task, but well worth the effort. These caves, carved from front to back (unlike Ellora) served as Buddhist monasteries and temples (shoes not optional). Some date back to the 2nd century BCE. (that unfathomable date is over 2000 years ago). Most of these are home to spectacular paintings of Buddha's life as well as daily life of the time.
Photographs, while allowed (riddle me that!) are difficult and much is lost in low light translation. It is best to enjoy these as they strike you. Huge former rocks, covered with such detail as to not be believed. It is hard to imagine it at the time, alive with worship and people, large mirrors reflecting the sun to illuminate the walls, while skilled artists take tiny, tiny brush strokes in the name of religion.
Ajanta and Ellora was touted to me as a "MUST SEE" of India. I would certainly recommend them! Not only did I get a taste of history I can never fully understand, we drove through a lot of surprising countryside, farmlands, and unique city streets. The whole area around Aurangabad was great, and a slice of Indian life I didn't think I'd get to see. I also saw the grave of Aurangzeb (a very interesting character), Dulatabad Fort, and a camel drive! Not to mention some delicious roadside food. Also: A monkey!