Dadu Aur Madak

Ajanta
Our apologies, but this is actually being written about a month after we left Baroda. It's a combination of being on the road a lot, and just being plain lazy. We were feeling a little eager to get some road under our belt since we had spent far more time in Gujurat then we planned. Our delay in Bhavnagar and Baroda added another level of urgency for us to get south. Unfortunately it seems that every time we try to bite off more than 400 kilometers in one day we meet with setbacks.  The last time it turned out to be terrible roads and a flat tire. This time it was that and a little more. We were heading for Ajanta, but it is a small town which guide books say is best visited from a slightly larger town about 50 kilometers away called Jalgaon. Jalgaon is unfortunately about 460 klicks from Baroda. The main road heading south to Mumbai was the typical Indian major National 4-lane highway. Two lanes on one side or the other were paved for a good portion of the way. Switching from one side to another could be any combination of sand, mud, rock, or bad pavement. But we had gotten on the road before light and ticked off that portion and the first 100 kilometers heading east before eleven. We were not seeing a lot of good  spots that we could consider for a layover. I had just commented on how we had really caught a break with the eastbound road, which was a recently paved two lane where even the shoulders were paved, a rarity in India. Soon as I opened my mouth it all went to hell. First we ran into a stretch of very bad road that had us behind a lot of trucks. Next we ran into guys paving one side, with little or no supervision for which direction of traffic's turn it was to use the remaining available lane.
After squirming our way through that we next ended up behind another line of close to 100 trucks waiting at a railway crossing. Some of these crossings are in horrendous condition, and this one was no exception. It was paved with an asphalt made out of sharp rocks slightly smaller than your fist. After once again having wiggled to the front I figured we were finally to the head of the pack. When I got through I passed about 80 trucks coming from the other way when I realized Karen was not behind me. Bactracking against the oncoming trucks I found her with the third flat on her rear tire. We were about 200 meters from a tire walla who had wisely set up shop right near the crossing. He came down took the wheel off walked it back to his shop and fixed it and then brought it back and put it on for less than three dollars. But the biggest screw up was yet to come. Dhule is the last chance before getting to Jalgaon that we might get a room, but since there was still quite a bit of light left we decided to take the bypass around Dhule and continue.
About 8 kilometers out of Dhule I found myself asking Karen what had happened. I had gotten clipped by an oncoming car on my right rear luggage rack, ripping it from the bike completely. Next thing I know I was surrounded by foreign speaking people and asking Karen what happened and where we were. I was apparently unconscious for about a minute and a half, and had no recollection of going down. Karen was clearly freaked out. Maybe I had been dozing (and maybe that is what saved me from getting hurt worse), but other then a cloudy head I wasn't really hurt. Some of the samaritans that had stopped suggested going into the hospital back in Dhule. While the doctor there examined me and took some x-rays, his brother came over and took my bike and got the luggage rack welded back up and then delivered it to me at a hotel they recommended. He refused to take any money for the welding or his efforts. Whenever things here look the worst, somebody comes along and restores your faith. The next morning we were back on the road, and with an early start we ticked off the 120 kilometers to Ajanta before ten. We found a place to stay, and headed straight for the "caves".


The term cave is something of a misnomer in that these are actually temples carved into the limestone rock face. The caves at Ajanta are all Buddhist and date to the period between the 2nd century BC and the 5th century AD. They were abandoned in the later part of the 5th century which in part contributed to there excellent state of preservation. Having been declared a World Heritage Site, and  having been the subject of study by American scholar Dr. Walter M. Spink for the past forty years also have helped to preserve them against the ravages of the human element. Most have wooden structures constructed in the entryways to keep out unwanted visitors when the caves are not open. While they don't contribute to the  natural beauty, they are understandably necessary. There are guards at each of the caves during the day, and flash photography and the use of tripods is prohibited. Farther away from the entrance, in caves where there are no paintings, the guards will frequently usher you to spots where you can get a good photo for a small donation. They are often very well informed, and will point out tiny details that you would otherwise miss.

 The caves are carved directly into the sandstone, and have amazing detail remaining. They were rediscovered by a British hunting party in the 19th century. Some of them are quite huge, with the cave itself fashioned by beginning at the the top, and hollowing out the structure leaving pillars, columns, stupas and statues in place. What you see inside the caves has not been added, it is what remains.


There are thirty caves at Ajanta, Five of the caves are chaityas like the one on the left, and another 25 are viharas. Along with signifying the design of the structure, they also signify its use. Chaityas are more accurately temples. Outside the columns in this chaitya are beautifully carved manifestations of the Buddha. The viharas usually have a large Buddha at one end, and outside the columns they are ringed by smaller often unadorned rooms or cells. They are considered monasteries.

At left above is one of the cells that line the walls around viharas. Remember that these columns are not put in place, they are carved in place and are part of the roof and floor below them. At right is one of the tiny details pointed out by one of the guards. In the palm of the Buddha's hand there is carved a round chakra. A chakra is considered the focus of one's spiritual power.


Details are everywhere, and some caves have beautiful paintings like the one at far right. They cover columns and ceilings, and are closely guarded against flash photography. They are not technically frescoes, employing a method of painting that is quite unique. Some of the interiors of the painted caves have low voltage fiber optic lighting that allows you to see the paintings.


The entrance to one of the temples is flanked by two life sized elephants.

In another temple there is a massive reclining Buddha along the side wall. There was just enough light coming in from outside to get a shot. His complete torso was much too long for the lens on my camera.

Not everything that struck me at Ajanta was the physical surroundings. The faces of these Indian pilgrims from the state of Maharashtra captured my imagination instantly. Below, the lady seems quite amused by my interest in her, and her amazing hair ornaments..


We had had better luck than expected finding a room in Ajanta, so we decided to head straight for the next set of caves at Ellora about a hundred kilometers south. But before we left we were told by the people at our hotel not to miss the overview. About 12 kilometers south of the caves a road winds through tiny villages back for 8 kilometers to this point. The state is working on a facility there, but at 7 AM the only person we found there was a barefoot and cordial security guard who offered us tea. The photo, shot from a kilometer or two away, shows the extent of the caves in the natural horseshoe shaped gorged carved by the river at the canyon floor. In the center, on the land that juts out into the U-shape you can see a small covered temple. This is a very important spot to the Indian tourists that come to Ajanta, and we saw many of them climbing a steep stairway to it on the other side.