Aurangabad – day 57

Set our alarms early to head out to Ellora caves. Got a TukTuk to the bus station with ease – he even called us ‘miss’ so we were already on a win compared to yesterday!! When we asked at the enquiry desk what bus stand we needed, he seemed incredibly surprised that we wanted to take a local government bus (leaving in 5 minutes) opposed to an air-conditioned tourist bus (which left in 30minutes). Managed to get on the right bus and, after confirming with the conductors that we wanted to go to Ellora caves and not Ajanta caves, we were on our way. Have a feeling that since Ellora caves is only 30km away from town, most tourists get TukTuks or shared taxi-jeeps. In all fairness, the local bus was quick, cheap and easy. Drove past a beautiful fort about 15km out of town and decided to stop there on the way back from the caves. Arrived slightly down the road from the entrance of the caves (think the conductor had forgotten we were there!!) but it gave us a chance to grab something quick to eat before the caves opened. The caves were chipped out over five centuries by generations of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks – there are 12 Buddhist (AD 600-800), 17 Hindu (AD 600-900) and five Jain (AD 800-1000). Went straight to cave 16, which is the biggest and most impressive one in the entire site of 34 caves. Called the Kailasa Temple, cave 16 is the world’s largest monolithic sculpture, carved from top to bottom out of the rock by 7000 labourers over a 150-year period, removing 200,000 tonnes of rock. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is the most impressive thing we have ever seen – words and photos do not do it justice. It is incredible!! Spent over an hour just walking around the temple, soaking it all in.  We were incredibly lucky to be there so early, that we managed to time some photos with no one in them and wander the temple aimlessly and in awe. From there, we headed to the Hindu caves (caves 13-29) starting at #17 and heading towards the Jain Temples. All these temples were cut from the top down, so it was never necessary to use scaffolding – the builders began with the roof and moved down to the floor. We then headed to the five Jain caves (caves 30-34) which lacked a bit of the artistic flair and ambitious size of the Hindu temples, but were still exceptionally detailed.  Cave 30 was the Chhota Kailasa (Little Kailasa) – a poor version of cave 16, but, as it stands by itself some distance from the other Jain temples, it was deserted which meant we could explore every nook and cranny in peace!! Finished with the southernmost 12 caves, (making sure to visit Hindu temples 15-13 en route), which are Buddhist viharas (monasteries) except cave 10, which is a chaitya (assembly/dining hall).    Having spent nearly seven hours exploring the caves, including all the many dank, bat-urine-soaked corners with their numerous forgotten carvings, we were slightly tired!! Headed back to where the bus dropped us off in an attempt to flag down a bus only to have to run back up the road to the cave entrance when we realised the bus stop was there! Decided to by-pass the fort on the way back – we wouldn’t have been able to see all of it before it closed and, although it was beautiful, we have seen many more amazing forts during our travels. Got caught in a traffic jam on the way back, complete with camels – the locals were calling people on their mobiles and kept mentioning a ‘traffic jammy’ – finally a Hindu phrase I can learn and remember!!  Most of the locals got off the bus to see what was happening and then helped themselves to the sugar canes from the truck in front of us. Soon enough, there were loads of people stripping chunks of sugar cane off the truck and gnawing it by the side of the road. Even the truck driver didn’t seem to mind. So, if you can’t beat them – join them!! Jayne grabbed us a small piece to share since neither of us had eaten it before (we’d only drank it). Very juicy and nice but it did make my jaw hurt! Took us about 2.5 hours to get back to town so we headed straight out for dinner before going back to the hotel to wash off the days grime. Got to FaceTime Val before managing about 20 minutes of ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ before we both succumbed to sleep!!

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