Yes, it can...
For a long time, we wanted to explore something unique in India.
After visiting couple of exotic overseas locations, we wanted to give a try in India this time....
Several destinations were considered, including Amritsar. Finally, we zeroed in on Ellora & Ajanta. One of the main reasons, is my Son's newly developed interests in visiting those places which he is studying currently. Both the places are located near Aurangabad.
So, we started our enquiries with several agents in Vashi (Navi Mumbai) area and everybody offered the same tour arrangement.. 3 days - including one free day in Aurangabad. Since, we were not impressed with the tourist attractions in the city - we wanted to avoid the free day and pack it in two days.
Finally, one guy accepted.. but the figures overshot the budget. So, we decided to hire a Toyota Qualis - to accomodate more people. The additional info which we got during our Agent hunt - helped us to schedule it in a better way [the info that, Ajanta is closed on Monday and Ellora is closed on Tuesday].
6 hours trip to Aurangabad (400 kms) in a Qualis, with kids was really tiresome. Even then, without even entering the city, we landed at Ellora - which is 30kms away from Aurangabad.
Basically, sculptures of 3 different religions were present there - Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism - all dated back to 6th century AD to 11th century AD. Compared to Ajantha caves, Ellora was never considered 'lost', due to its proximity to Aurangabad city. It seemed to have been visited by travellers, Geographers, Archeologists frequently. Still, they are protected very well.
Out of 34 caves, 12 are Buddhist, 17 Hindu and 5 Jain caves. Most of the caves resembled either temples or monasteries.
This was the first one (Cave no.12) which we visited among the Buddisht caves. Nicely carved three floors with traditional stairs, made us to wonder.... about the efforts gone behind that Marvellous structure.
Buddhas sitting in a row...
Closer view of another Buddha, in the next cave..
Front entrance of the next Buddhist cave
Initially, this reminded me of a dining hall - due to these built-in rows. Later, I realised that this is a learning centre and students used to sit and learn things here....
After this cave, we visited couple of more Buddhist caves, which are not claimed to be exceptional.
Then we landed at Hindu cave no.16 - which housed a traditional Hindu temple of a huge Shivalingam [Kailasa temple]. There were more sculptures carved around this temple, including.....
Sri Meenakshi-Sundareshwarar ThiruKalyanam
Narasimha avatharam and the incarnation's fulfillment
a traditional pillar
Later we visited the Jain cave no.32, which is also called as Indrasabha... Immediately after seeing Mahaveer's posture, my son and my niece started questioning the posture without dress. I started explaining the spiritual reasons of foregoing all the materialisitic interests and Penance. I hope that they understood a bit.
After our return to Aurangabad in the dark evening, we visited Bibi-Ka-Maqbara (the clone of Taj Mahal). Built by Aurangazeb's son for his mother, it remained unimpressive to me, since I had visited Taj mahal earlier. Since it was dark at that time, I couldn't capture the Building very well in my digicam.
Next day, we started our visit to Ajanta.. which was 100kms plus away from the city.
It seems Ajanta caves were carved by Buddhist monks who themselves painted so many wonderful pictures. They had aptly selected the mountain near the Waghora river which should have flown vigourously in those days. The oldest cave are dated back to 200 BC and the latest being 15 centuries back.
The caves seemed to have been discovered back only 2 centuries ago, during a British hunting party. In 1819, the officers who stumbled upon this horse-shoe shaped cliff, had discovered the painstaking efforts of Buddhist monks of those earlier centuries. Since the religion lost it significance thereafter, these carvings also seemed to have been forgotten, before they were found again.
I need to really appreciate the Tourism board's idea to stop the tourists 4 kms away from the caves. All the tourist vehicles were stopped down the hill and we were taken by Maharastra tourism board's bus to the location [No shops as well, near the spot]. I felt that it will definitely protect the surroundings - unlike Ellora, where we can park our vehicles closer to the caves.
It seemed to me that the monks built them near the river, for their prayers and learning, without disturbances from the city life.
Two different schools of Buddhist thoughts (Hinayana & Mahayana) were said to be behind these marvellous works. The older Hinayana school's thoughts were that the Buddha was represented only in symbols like the stupa, a set of footprints or a throne. However, the later Mahayana school had given the Lord a human face. The paintings and sculptures talk about Buddha's lives in his previous births and the related Jataka tales. We could observe several scenes thru the paintings.
the dried up river....
This is the famous picture of 'Boddhistiva Vajrapani'
Eventhough couple of websites claim the paintings to be Fresco paintings, certain tourist guide books published and circulated near this place - claim them to be 'Tempera' and not 'Fresco' technically. The artists claimed to have extracted all the colors from minerals.
Flash photographs are prohibited inside the major caves to protect the life of the paintings and sculptures. However, certain Hi-tech cameras set in 'Auto' mode flashed automatically during our visit, which infuriated the guards. One of them literally snatched a tourist's camera.
An Unique Sthupa inside a cave temple..
And finally, the entrance of a Cave temple... which resembled a Hindu temple.
At the end of the trip, had an wonderful feeling within me and was proud that India has so many exotic places created 2 millenium back. Still to cover a lot more....
After this trip, I really missed the Elephanta caves near Mumbai.. which I should have visited during my stay there (but, couldn't make it). Not sure, when I am going to visit it next....245th post