2019 ended on a good note. Explored a lot of places and I think the travel plan had went as it was supposed to. It also marked my entry into Northeast which I had planned for so long by visiting Mizoram where I had attended annual North East Rider Mania in the month of November.
- Hampi – Mar’19
- Igatpuri – July’19
- Golden Quadrilateral – Oct’19
- Goa – Nov’19
- Mizoram – Nov’19
I planned Ajanta ride this time. It was a long weekend, Friday being off on the occasion of Mahashivratri. This is February month I am talking here. Ajanta was pending in my wish-list for long but the idea of a trip there didn’t materialize quite enough. Now, when the first long weekend of 2020 came, I thought it would be an perfect opportunity to continue with my quest of exploring our remaining UNESCO World heritage sites.
I have done 14 of them. Check to see how many of them you know.
Here is a list of all 38 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India (2020):
Cultural World Heritage Sites in India
- Taj Mahal, Agra
- Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh
- Hampi, Karnataka
- Ajanta Caves, Maharashtra
- Ellora Caves, Maharashtra
- Bodh Gaya, Bihar
- Sun Temple, Konark, Odisha
- Red Fort Complex, Delhi
- Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh
- Chola Temples, Tamil Nadu
- Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu
- Humayun’s Tomb, New Delhi
- Jantar Mantar, Jaipur, Rajasthan
- Agra Fort, Uttar Pradesh
- Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh
- Rani Ki Vav, Patan, Gujarat
- Group of Monuments at Pattadakal, Karnataka
- Elephanta Caves, Maharashtra
- Nalanda Mahavihara (Nalanda University), Bihar
- Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus), Maharashtra
- Mountain Railways of India
- Qutub Minar and its Monuments, New Delhi
- Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park, Gujarat
- Hill Forts of Rajasthan
- Churches and Convents of Goa
- Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh
- The Victorian and Art Deco Ensemble of Mumbai
- The Pink City – Jaipur
- The Historic City of Ahmedabad
- Capitol Complex, Chandigarh
- Kaziranga Wild Life Sanctuary, Assam
- Sundarbans National Park, West Bengal
- Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh
- Manas Wild Life Sanctuary, Assam
- Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, Rajasthan
- Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks, Uttarakhand
- Western Ghats
- Kanchenjunga National Park, Sikkim
The members (Golden Quadrilateral team) that would be joining the trip were same as usual until the trip date approached near. Due to some unavoidable circumstances, none of them were going to make it for the trip and as a result, this time I decided to continue with the trip solo, instead of calling it off.
I returned from Mumbai on Thursday evening and Friday was spent in making the things ready for the trip. Earlier the trip dates were 21st Friday to 23rd Sunday but now it was postponed to 22nd Saturday to 24th Monday, February.
I did not pack much stuff since it was just a 3 day ride. However, I did carry my DSLR and my newly acquired GoPro HERO8Black. After a long time, I was back to recording and vlogging stuff with my GoPro.
I woke up around 5 am and freshened myself up. I planned to start as early as possible. Below is my route. I had planned to explore places in Aurangabad city before moving on towards Ajanta caves.
It was a cold morning and I was really enjoying the fresh air out there. Being Saturday, there was not much traffic on the otherwise busy stretch of Kharadi- Ahmednagar highway.
After a good 100 kms riding, I decided to halt for breakfast at a road side resto-mall called ‘Smile Stone’ which falls around 18 kms before Ahmedanagar.
I left after I changed the battery of my GoPro. The roads were not much scenic since, in this area, there is hardly any vegetation to be seen. It is the start of the the ‘Marathwada’ region of Maharashtra, which is popularly known for receiving less to scanty rainfall. Farming is still done on a large scale in these areas and most of the crops which I saw were Cotton and Jowar and Wheat.
I had put the navigation to my first place of exploration which is popularly known as the ‘Taj of the Deccan’ a.k.a Bibi ka Maqbara. In layman terms, this resembles a mini version of the Taj Mahal, both being built in the same century by the Mughals.
I bumped into the industrial belt of Aurangabad before the city approached. There were many factories lined up on the left side. Among them, was a huge campus of Bajaj factory. It seemed huge and quite unending given the size of it’s boundaries.
Soon, I entered into the city and from what I saw, the city looked dry and parched. Hardly, could I see any trees around. However, I saw the old barracks around which, were once the fortifications to the city and now they lied in crumbled state. The city really gave a feel that is was quite old and everyone knows its history. The place lay at one corner of city and I drove along a small road which led to its entrance. Just like any other important tourist site, the surroundings and the parking lot were dotted with eatery stalls and handicraft items.
Since I was carrying luggage, I had to find a shop which could accept my offer of holding onto my luggage till I visited the place and come back. I had to look around for some time to find a shop big enough to acknowledge me. Most of the people were doing business on a handcart. Soon, I found a shop with 2-3 people managing the show. I requested them and they obliged without any fuss. Earlier, I thought, they would reject my proposal as I was an outsider but that wasn’t the case. You really dont quite know about the people of the places where are you visiting for the first time. But, right here, everything seemed fine.
I parked my bike right outside the steel fencing from where the entry was there and paid the nominal parking ticket. After that, I was in line waiting to fetch my ticket.
Like the main Taj Mahal of Agra, I was left to explore the place on my own. There was good amount of crowd, given that it was a Saturday and holiday for many. But, there wasn’t any guide to be seen around who could explain the place in detail. As a result, I was left on my own to discover its history.
I spent quite some time exploring the place and getting to know its architecture. I clicked some photos from my DSLR too and did some vlogging. The place is really beautiful but it seems like it needs to be managed more and taken care by the government since it a place of national heritage. A one time visit is must.
The next place to visit was ‘Soneri’ Mahal (Golden Palace). It was the second most visited place in Aurangabad and so I decided to have a quick look before I headed towards Ajanta. The time was 3:30 pm. The ‘Soneri’ Mahal was at a short distance from ‘Bibi ka Maqbara’.
Some info, I tried to pull from the net.
Soneri Mahal was built by a Bandalkand chief who accompanied Aurangzeb into the Dakhan. The Mahal was built between 1651 AD and 1653 AD at a cost of Rs.50, 000 and in 1934 AD it was sold to the Nizam of Hyderabad for Rs.26, 400. The Mahal is named after the paintings in the palace that were once painted in gold.
It is a grand two stored building constructed in typical Rajput style. The palace is made up of lime and stone. Sprawling over two storeys, the palace stands as a testimony of Indian architectural splendor with some intricate decorations all over. A well-manicured garden adds to its beauty. The entrance of the Palace is decorated with beautifully done arches.
This ancient historic monument is now transformed into a museum. It was set up in 1979 and exhibits the remnants of regional palaces, antique items, coins, ancient Indian Pottery, paintings and many more alluring items. The museum also displays some major reliefs and sculptures found in the local excavations. This museum is placed in the campus of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University.
Entry Fee: Rs. 10 for Indian and Rs. 100 for Foreigner.
Photography is prohibited inside, but I managed to record some videos and have pulled out some images out of it.
At around 5 pm, I left for Ajanta. I still had around 100 kms to drive. Ajanta was planned to be explored tomorrow. Right now, I just wanted to be there and find a hotel to stay. The Google Map suggested around 3:15 hrs of travel.
The roads were not what I had imagined before. The whole section was under construction and the traffic was huge. My average speed was kept low by frequent diversions on the road and errant drivers overtaking. It look liked the construction had been stalled for many days and no one was working on it. On top of that, the dust on the road made the visibility worse when the vehicles from the opposite sides used to pass by. The bike was really getting tested on this stretch.
The roads were bad right up to the place where the entrance for visiting the Ajanta caves were. I just could not believe that the whole stretch was bad. A section of it seemed to be OK for soothing the mind but, this looked like complete negligence from the civic authorities.
Initially, I had decided to stay at the MTDC resort which is right next to the caves but it seemed like they were full when I enquired with people who were standing nearby. They also told me that they didn’t served food and only accommodation was available. Also, the prices were high. It took me for while to realize that they were local hotel agents and were coaxing me to check-in into one of theirs.
I had got 2 hotel visiting cards by now. I choose the one which was the cheapest. The deal was done for 300rs per night and the agent gave me the hotel location. It was some 2-3 kms ahead of the main caves but it didn’t matter much to me since all the facilities were available. The time was around 8:30 pm. I had nearly followed the Google Maps timeline and done the last 100 kms with just single stop.
I was staying at Hotel Ajanta K.P. Park. They also ran their restaurant which was attached to the main hotel. The reception person then showed my my room which I liked it instantly. The room made me feel like I was paying far little less amount than I should have in general. You should definitely check into this hotel if you are planning to visit Ajanta caves in the future. Really worth the money spent. I am attaching a link to the hotel below.
I had a good refreshing bath after riding through a hot day. The last leg of the journey was really tiring and more dusty.
The owner was quite friendly and there was this guy named Iqbal who worked at the restaurant. He gave me a book on the Ajanta Caves which he kept at the Hotel store for selling to the customers. The restaurant also served as a halt point for all the state transport buses plying the Aurangabad-Jalgaon route. So, at any point of time, a State Transport bus was seeing standing outside the restaurant. Iqbal told me to refer the book so that it would be easy for me analyzing the paintings when I start to explore the caves tomorrow.
After the dinner, I came back immediately to my room and readied all the gear which I would be taking tomorrow. Hydration pack, DSLR and my GoPro. I ensured that batteries were fully charged. I read the book for some time and glanced over the paintings. The book had many details and there was description for each painting. The paintings were sorted cave wise. I also read few lines about the author. He clearly mentioned in his intro that he too stays at the same hotel when he comes to this place for study purpose. He is a research scholar and has done his Phd on Ajanta Cave paintings.
It was a tiring ride today and I needed much more energy tomorrow. With that, I slept around 11 pm and planned to wake up around 8 am. Iqbal had told me that the Buses which ferried passengers to the entry point of caves started around 9:30 am. He agreed to escort me to that place and told me to be ready around 9 am and meet him at one of the Tea stalls which came enroute.
I woke up around 8 am and started to get ready. In half n hour, I was ready and all set to explore. I had applied generous amount of sunscreen all over my body knowing that I would be out in the sun the whole day. The hotel in the morning was packed with the relatives of the owner. There was some family function and so everyone was gathered at the ground floor. The owner offered me breakfast which I could not refuse and having that, I started my bike.
On the way, I picked up Iqbal and before moving ahead, we first had tea. He told that the tea seller was quite famous due to his tea. After that, it was just a minute’s duration to the parking lot. I parked my bike and followed Iqbal who was showing me the things around.
He dropped me at the Bus parking lot and then went on to do his daily chores and told me to meet in the evening back at the hotel.
After waiting for quite some time, the bus arrived and we all got into it. The bus ticket had to be taken which was 20 rs. It was then a 5 min drive towards the main entrance.
I bought the ticket which costed me around 40 rs and then I was ready for exploring. After climbing steps for around a minute, I was level with the caves. It was time now to revisit the history.
Each cave has a information board kept at its entrance which displays the significance and importance of the cave. Due to less illumination inside the caves it was very difficult to get clear photos but somehow, I managed to click them.
I would be posting as much photos from the caves here as possible. Writing about each cave here won’t do justice and it is left upon you to explore. There are guides available in plenty who can help you through your tour. You can either take a complete package of getting to know the entire 26 caves (That would cost you around 2500 rs) or you can hire for individual caves. The irony is that, each cave has its own guide which is standing right outside the entrance. They won’t take you to other caves. You don’t have to go searching anywhere. They will come right up to you once you reach the entrance. Package for single cave starts from 50 rs to 150 rs per pax, depending on the Cave no. You need to bargain a lot to get the best deal. Sometimes, if you are lucky, which in this case I was, I got one cave explained by the guide for free!
Not all caves are important. This will be told by the guides as well. Only Cave No 1,2,16,17,19 and 26 are important as they are complete wholly. Rest of them are incomplete. But still, I would recommend to go and explore each and every caves in detail to get some know-how on how the caves were sculpted 2000 yrs ago. For a history lover like me, It was really a treat to go through all of them.
Also, photography and flash is prohibited inside the caves but still I could see people clicking pics using their flash on. We were told that the flash somehow affected the paintings. The message has been strictly written outside during the entry but here I could see many people failing to do so. For some caves, you have to remove your footwear before entering inside.
ASI has provided illumination inside the caves but they are not much helpful. It will be best if you BRING YOUR OWN TORCH/ FLASHLIGHT along. It will really make your day if you are not taking a guide. If you are taking a guide then no need to worry. Guides will tell and show you only the main main things and hence it is strongly recommended to explore the cave for yourself after the guide has done explaining you a respective cave. There is no time limit for being inside a certain cave.
Reading the book and carrying it along with you will really help you in locating the paintings as it is very difficult to locate them. Almost all the paintings have got eroded and what remains is only a part of it and hence the difficulty.
A detailed explanation of each and every painting will only be found in book and so, if you can afford, you can buy one. Link below.
Some people could be seen clicking selfies inside the cave or near the main antechamber which really spooked me. I mean, who the hell takes selfies inside a monastery with Buddha sitting at the backdrop. I really didn’t understand this connection. Some weird stuff you get to see these days.
Cave No: 10, This is an important cave since it houses a Stupa inside instead of a Buddha statue (There were 2 sects of people in Buddhism, one who worshiped the statue and one who worshiped the stupa). The paintings are done on the wall all around and this monastery dates back to 2 century B.C. Read the description below.
Next Cave was number 11 and was similar to number 10 however, some restoration work was going on but it was accessible.
Cave no 15 was the smallest I had seen till now. It had prayer rooms on both the sides and the entry was very narrow. It also housed a miniature scale model of the entire Ajanta caves.
Cave no : 21 also houses a musical pillar which is not to be missed at any cost.
Cave no 23 doesn’t house a statue in chamber. It has everything, leaving only the main deity in the chamber.
Info taken from net.
Cave 26, a Mahāyāna Chaityagṛha follows the same arrangement as Cave 19, but is larger in size. It is an immortal world of art and sculpture. This is the fourth Chaityagṛha (2nd Chaityagṛah of Mahāyāna, the first being Cave19). Its facade has fallen, and almost every trace of its paintings has disappeared. Nevertheless, there are some very fine sculptures remaining. At the left side wall of the side door there is panel of the Buddha’s Mahāparinirvāna (on his 80th year). In this panel, a colossal figure of the Buddha is sculpted, reclining on his right side with a calm face. The image is seven metres long. Below the panel, the disciples are shown mourning, and above the celestial beings glad to receive him in the heaven. The whole sculpture-panel is sublime and has a celestial look.
Near this panel is another larger panel covering the “Temptation of Mārā” (on his 39th year, the last night of his tapas), depicting minute details of human behaviour In one scene, Mārā attacks the Buddha with demons, and then his beautiful daughters tempt him with more sensual delights. However, the Buddha’s resistance is too strong. The famous ‘Bhūmisparśamudrā’ under the Banyan tree (later the Bodhi Tree) is depicted where the Buddha makes the earth as the witness of having not succumbed to Mārā’s temptation. The final scene shows a glum and dejected-looking Mārā having failed to deflect the Buddha from his determination not get up until he receives the knowledge.
The stupa is decorated with fine sculptures having the Buddha sitting in Pralambapada-āsana. On the left side of the stupa is the smallest figure of Avalokiteswara.
It was a good 10 min hike towards the top. The view from the top was superb and you get complete 360 deg view of the surrounding. I did not stay there for a long time and soon descended. I definitely wanted something to eat as I was damn hungry.
A complete day is required if you wish to see the caves in detail. I had not eaten since morning breakfast and so I decided to have some snacks before I boarded the bus.
It was really a tiring day after a complete day of exploration. I had barely taken a break and on top of that the sun was really strong. I needed a good rest as I had my return journey to home tomorrow.
After the dinner, I really thanked Iqbal and the owner for treating me well. They were really good persons and I would totally recommend this hotel for staying. The book that Iqbal offered me, really served as a great guide for the tour.
After the dinner, I slept immediately.
The next morning, I was ready by 7 am. I wanted to start early but, the restaurant would open only by 7 and so I decided to have tea before I pushed off. Also, I had to return the book.
I didn’t want to go by the same route which I had come because I knew what a mess it was. Now, I intended to go to Jalna first and then towards Aurangabad. This way, I would be driving 60 kms more but it was going to be worth it. This was not the only choice left to me but I too wanted to explore some new roads.
After some food went in, I drove almost non-stop and reached home around 4 pm. There was only 1 hydration break which I took when I neared Ahmednagar.
With that, another memorable trip had come to an end and it was really worth it. Soon, I will also plan Verul and Ellora caves which are similar like this and situated in the same vicinity.
Until then, take care and thanks for reading my Blog.
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