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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Monday, 15 November 2010

November 15th: Ellora Caves

On 15th November 1978 I was at the Ellora Cave Temples in Western India.  I took a bus to get there from the town of Aurangabad.

Kailasanatha Temple in 2006: Picture by Amre Ghiba, CC
I sat for a long time at the amazing Kailasanatha temple, which is in seven wonders territory.  All the Ellora caves are rock-cut temples dating from the fifth to tenth centuries AD, in Buddhist, Hindu and Jain styles, and many offer multi-storied spaces.  But the Kailasanatha manages to transcend this by having all the outside rock and earth removed, making the temple a two-storied building, the best part of 100 feet high, which is all sculpted out of one rock.  The whole temple is decorated with statues and reliefs, many of which have remains of the coloured paints which covered them originally. The scale and the whole concept is staggering.  The other temples had plenty of interest and some areas were not visited by the tourist groups and so were better suited for sitting and looking.  I particularly enjoyed the Jain temple called the Indra Sabha, with its beautiful upstairs sanctuary, fine paintings, intricate statues and the best columns of the whole site.

Coming away, I sat under the shade of the big trees and drank two large glasses of cane juice flavoured with lemon and ginger, watching the world go by.  I remember especially one farmer in a scarlet turban with a large family and a big smile who passed slowly on his bullock-cart with shade arched over the top.  I took a three wheeler back to Aurangabad, passing through quaint Khuldabad, with many Muslim tombs and shrines and old walls and an ancient gate to enter by with wooden doors; and then Daulatabad, with its fort on the hill and a big minaret with an especially large lower ring.

Earlier in the week I had taken the train from New Delhi to Jalgaon where, for the only time in my life, I stayed in the Railway Retiring Rooms, with heavy old-fashioned furniture and clean sheets, sharing with three businessmen.   I took the bus to the Buddhist cave temples at Ajanta, a journey through banana and cotton fields, and some familiar plateau scenery, grey earth and little inhabited.  I wasn't really in the best mood for Ajanta, suffering from fever and a bad stomach. The caves with the big paintings were full of visitors, which made me claustrophobic with too much pushing and shoving to get in.  At the same time, other caves still had original pictures and no one went near.  I remember especially the view beside the far caves above the gardens, although Hindi pop music was blaring.  When there was a downpour, the valley colours were beautiful afterwards, the air full of bird song and I felt in the tropics. 

I had been to both Ajanta and Ellora before in 1972, camping outside both sites in the Land-Rover.  Ajanta had still been well-visited then, but not crowded.  I'd preferred the Buddhist caves at Ajanta and the Buddhist caves at Ellora to the Hindu ones, though I did recognise the scale of the Kailasanatha even if I didn't really get it.

There are panoramic photos of some of the Ellora temples here, including the Kailasanatha (Cave 16 lower and upper), and the Indra Sabha (Cave 32).  Similar pictures for Ajanta are here.

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