On a long weekend trip to neighbor state Maharashtra, we came in search of some caves. Waking up in Aurangabad after the half-day train ride from Hyderabad, we spent Friday being taken aback by the Ajanta caves and again Saturday by the Ellora caves.
The Ajanta caves were a 2-hour car ride from our hotel. Past villages (some sleepy, some bustling) and then winding roads, we were dropped off near a small marketplace. We walked past the souvenir stands and waited for a shuttle bus up to the entrance. There, we got our tickets and proceeded to climb the steps up to Cave 1, the first of 29.
These 29 caves were built between the 2nd century BCE and 8th century CE. They are Buddhist temples carved out of basalt rock, within which are elaborate sculpting and paint work. Spanning centuries of construction and use, the caves each have their own distinct features but do share pretty heavy Hindu influence.
Our Saturday drive to the Ellora caves took just one hour. Work on these structures are from the 7th through 12th century, and Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism are all represented. We managed to see several of the Buddhist and Hindu ones. Across the site, a handful of monks sat and meditated in front of idol carvings. Cave 16 is particularly impressive, famously massive as kind of a complex of its own.
The series of caves at Ellora curves around a bend, as do the ones at Ajanta above a valley. We made our way through them, taking off our shoes to enter at each cave’s doorway. Even as I cannot claim to know the religious meanings that the caves held and do hold, there was an inexpressible appeal and overwhelm in them. The feeling must come from the history involved, with thousands of people over hundreds of years. As a manifestation of art and worship, the sites are telling facets of people in another lifetime. A peace lingers in this connection to a past era via a persisting place. In it, too, is a haunting sense in being centuries removed, compounded by the innate hollowness.
Catching a sleeper train on Saturday night, we arrived back in Hyderabad Sunday morning. We parted with our resident director [who had accompanied us to Aurangabad], only to greet her at her house the following night. She treated our AIFS group to a home-cooked dinner with her family. Ajanta and Ellora were undeniably cool and unattainable in their way; the dinner was all-around warm.