We left Pune and drove to Aurangabad, a city in the interior of the Deccan Plateau to the east of Pune. We were eager to leave Pune for cleaner air and a honk free environment. Arriving midday at our lodging, we ate lunch and toured the grounds.
We found a badminton set and hit the birdie around for a while. As we played, the evening call to prayer began and a beautiful male voice became our soundtrack. Then another voice rang out and it became a case of the duelling muezzins (the person appointed to lead the call to prayer in the mosque). There must be two mosques in very close range of our hotel.
Early in the morning our driver, Purushottam, picked us up and we went to the Ajanta Caves, a UNESCO world heritage site. A remarkable location, the caves are carved out of a long rock face nestled in a horseshoe shaped ravine of the Indhyadri hills and overlooks the picturesque curve of the Vaghora River.
Ajanta is the 1900 year old monsoon retreat of Buddhist monks. They were abandoned and forgotten for 1500 years, only to be re-discovered by an English officer, John Smith, in 1819 on a hunt with his local guide. Some caves dating as far back as the 1st century A.D., the paintings in the caves might be the oldest surviving examples of classical Indian art. They derive much of their subject matter from the life of Buddha and stories of his previous lives: the Jataka Tales.
Some of my personal favorites were as follows: A colossal statue of Shakyamuni Buddha showing three distinct facial expressions of smile, dejection and meditation when lit from different angles. Jataka tale paintings with gorgeous depictions of elephants and horses. In one of the paintings, a deity figure seems to continue to watch you as you move from one side to the next. In another painting, the pearl necklace on the figure gains a shiny white 3D perspective when a flashlight is shone from the bottom. One of the biggest highlights was when our guide showed us the musical pillars! By slapping the palm of your hand on the pillar it creates a distinctive gong-like sound. Of the numerous pillars in the cave it can only be done on four of them, located on equal sides toward the back. I would love for someone to explain to me how that can be created from solid rock! One of the last caves houses a wonderful reclining buddha with an accompanying picture story of the Buddha’s parinirvana or passing.