<<  Aurangabad, 8-Jan-2015  >>

Fake Taj Mahal and totally breathtaking ancient Ajanta and Ellora caves

As close to entering secret chambers of pyramids as it gets 2015. Amazing what people could once do…

Further up in Maharashtra state lies Aurangabad another unassuming town of 1,5 million people. They have there “poor man’s Taj Mahal” a smaller replica of Taj Mahal built by the grandson of the Shah who had built the real Taj Mahal, this time for the mother of the mourning prince. As the ruling Moghul emperor, the father of this grandson, didn’t allow him to spend all the state’s resources on building this second Taj Mahal, it’s smaller and not really properly finished, i.e. not too decorated (the real Taj Mahal is completely covered by marble, amazing carvings and semiprecious stones), but still it is a very beautiful structure, very reminiscent of the real Taj Mahal and without the tourist hustle and bustle of the real thing. Lots of photo photo with Indians. Who cares about the small Taj Mahal when 2 white people came into the town?! :-)

But more importantly Aurangabad lies not too far from 2 most amazing monuments – Ajanta Caves and Ellora Caves. As these monuments are kind of in the middle of India, relatively far away from the most touristy places like Goa, Delhi, Agra and Varanasi, not too many people made it there. Still a solid dose of white faces, but just a fraction of what you would find around the more accessible of India’s highlights. But man are these “caves” AWESOME! Have you ever heard of Petra in Jordan? And about Ellora in India? I have been to India before and I didn’t bother to check what is there, but Ellora should just as famous as Petra or Lalibela in Ethiopia. It’s a temple carved out of solid rock, with breathtaking decoration, and I have no idea how the hell did they manage to plan this construction in years around 800 AD. Imagine how difficult it must be to plan a dug out temple. You cannot take one piece of stone away without thinking twice if you will not need it later. There is no space for mistake. If you make a mistake and take a piece of rock more than you should, you might not have anything left for Shiva’s ear for example, and Shiva surely wouldn’t like that. Scale of this place is truly Indian: it’s the largest monolithic structure in the world. But it’s not just the temple. There are many other caves, build, ehm, I mean dug out, sequentially by Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains, and entering them was like entering Tutankhamen’s tomb. Seriously people, this place is amazing histoxrical, cultural and artistic treasury. The photos just can’t convey the magic of the enormous caves, with pillars and statues and beautiful carvings. I felt like entering a different, ancient world in each of the caves with a full-on atmosphere.

Ajanta is another set of caves, this time purely Buddhist. Located modest 105 kilometers from Aurangabad, it required a 3 hour, 100% bumpy ride on a bus which if it ever had suspension it must have been around the same time that the caves were build, i.e. 1 500 years ago. Oh, the joys of Indian bus travels. Bumpy as it was, it was in a way enjoyable, because it was like massage. Luckily the seats had thick cushions, at least.
In Ajanta, there are again magnificent man-made “caves” (think royal rooms), with most impressive decorations, but this time featuring beautiful ancient paintings (kind of frescoes), similar to those in Sigurya in Sri Lanka. The caves where abandoned centuries ago, reclaimed by jungle and were randomly re-discovered by Brithish hunters by the end of 19th century. Yes it is the same story as with Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

To me Ajanta and Ellora are so much more interesting and fascinating sight than the Taj Mahal (and I mean the real one).

As for the accommodation it was bit disappointing until now. Except a shockingly overpriced normal room in Mumbai, we had to stay in dirty shitholes, and not even super cheap ones. Well, where there are not too many foreign tourists (we haven’t seen a single foreigner in Nasik) the accommodation usually sucks in India. Surprisingly the prices were also relatively high. Hopefully we will find ourselves more cozy places to sleep when we hit the touristy coast.

Click for photo gallery

     MARCEL STRBAK | www.strbak.com | www.facebook.com/marcel.strbak