Notes from Ajanta and Ellola, India

This is Nobuko’s latest travel update. Since I offered to let Nobuko post here, she has become an avid writer. Way to go, girl!

21 July 2012 – From Udaipur to

Flew from Udaipur to Aurangabad (via Mumbai). Aurangabad is a town near Ajanta and Ellola, two registered UNESCO sites for their temples curved out of rocks and early Buddhist paintings. And to make this visit a specially happy one, Pratik, one of the six students from Pune, whom I met within the first days of my trip, also joined me there.

We settled on a hostel around 6pm. Pratik is full of energy, so while I was thinking about just lazying around, he was ready to hit the ground right away. So we took a rickshaw right away and went to see the Poor Men’s Taj. Such an unfortunate name for a tomb built by a prince for his mother.

Never mind the nickname, it is a beautiful building fancied up by curved marble walls – how could they make such uniformed and identical carvings without powered tools? According to Pratik, who has been to Taj, this one is a miniature of  the Taj. On the way back to the hostel, I had my eyes on a grilled sweet corn – this one was grilled on charcoal wood and finished with lime juice and masala powder.It was so good.

The following day we went to Ajanta, some 2.5 hours away from Aurangabad by bus. The side wall inside the bus had stains of streaks that looked like someone had violently puked red vomit. Pratik told me this is from people spitting paan, a kind of chewing tobacco.

Ajanta is set in a beautiful place alongside a river running in a U-shape. The caves themselves, columns and figures were carved out of single rocks. They started chiseling from the front-top section of the cave, and continued in and downward, in the process carving out columns and decorations. Impressive, isn’t it? We found a group with a guide in Cave #2 and joined them.

The paintings are badly damaged from the passage of time, weather, CO2 from our breath, as well as from people touching them. Now there are rails that prohibit people from getting close to the remaining intact paintings. The figures are amazingly well painted – very realistic depictions in regards to proportion and details. Many caves had paintings all over the ceilings as well, leaving no blank space.

Some ceilings looked like a Persian carpet – designs so beautiful and intricate. Through studying the paintings, we realized what a cosmopolitan and international place this one was: we saw figures that looked Far East Asian and African, and people carrying umbrellas that had designs from China as well as the Middle East.

After a guided tour, we climbed to a picnic area/look out point on the hill top across the river. There was a waterfall with seven cascading pools. It was a serene place. We managed to enjoy the view for a while and started our descend back to the caves to admire the paintings once more. But my touristy fate had another happening waiting for me just to puncture the day. A young guy we passed was stupid enough to make an indecent verbal assault in English. He probably thought I did not understand English, and that I was alone.

Are you getting tired of hearing about stories of such incidents?  I am – tired of it happening and retelling in emails. But I am telling it to you this time because I want to acknowledge an heroic act by Pratik. I wanted to ignore the remark, but it was the most distasteful of all that I have heard so far, so I confronted the stupid jerk. After Pratik learned what was going on, he took over and defended my honor, so to speak.

There was a bunch of other people watching the scene, and cheered Pratik and encouraged him to keep going. Pratik said it was probably entertaining for them. Good, at least somebody enjoyed it and got a laugh out of it!  And bless Pratik, he will receive an honorable citizen status in Japan if I ever become the prime minister.

Our second round proved to be worthwhile. We found details that we had missed the first time around.

For example, cave #5 is open to the public, but is also used as an administrative office and houses a small artifacts museum. A Buddha statue is in the sanctum in the back. The guard there showed us that this Buddha smiles! It was true. Depending on where we stand and how the shadow is crated, the corners of his mouth go up and you can see that Buddha is smiling.

The following day we visited Ellola, which is only about 40 minutes away. This one is known for its sculptures, caves, columns and figures, carved out of single rocks. We toured the whole site without a guide. The earlier caves are Buddhist, and a style progressing to Hindu, and eventually to Jain. Buddhist caves are simple and minimalist. Hindu caves are more elaborate and decorative. In place of Buddha, you see Vishnu and Shiva as celebrated Gods. The poses are also much more expressive and somewhat provocative.

Cave # 16 is located in the center of the series, and the grandest of all. It has an extensive amount of decoration carved onto any surface people could get to. Pratik told me that Shiva is always accompanied by a bull which is situated directly in front of Shiva, facing him. The bull takes Shiva for a ride, anywhere he needs to go. And Vishnu is depicted reclined with pillows under his head and a lotus flower emerging from his belly button, which capsules his incarnation. Jain figures are nude, but their poses are not so provocative.

After Ellola, we stopped at Daulatabad Fort. We got there at the perfect time, around 5pm, to enjoy the dusk. The crumbled fort looks authentic, because it was largely left to decay, or so it seemed like. There was a dark secret passage way which Pratik wanted to go through. I was enthusiastic in the beginning, but only after a few minutes, light completely disappeared – I mean, pitch dark without a trace of any light.

Bats were flying over our heads. They looked cute, sort of a cross between a piglet and a rat, and they even sound cute. But I am scared of them and their smelly feces. I could not figure how wide or tall the passage way was, so it felt like the walls and ceiling were closing in on me. I felt a shiver of panic run through my body and became breathless. I begged Pratik to take me back to the entrance.

There were a few other Indian guys in the passage way as well and they all encouraged me to continue. But I was so scared.  Pratik took me back to the entrance and went back into that dark tunnel. When I finally got to the exit, Pratik had already beaten me to it and was waiting. Apparently I had only mastered one third of the way.

Once at the top, we went up into the octagonal building. Pratik is so fearless that I envy his guts. He just walked on, out to the beam that protruded from the wall, in his normal stride, and sat himself on the edge of it with a straight face. I managed to get on the beam, but my butt was tingling from the fear of falling, and I sat glued to the wall. While Pratik shifted his body to get the camera out of his back pocket, I almost freaked out just seeing his body sway sideways, on that edge of the beam.  Even afterwards I had a cold sweat running down my back. I am such a coward.

We took a late bus to Pune and arrived past 2 a.m. Pratik was such a gentleman and left me only after I had checked into a hotel (Hotel Surya Villa, nice & clean place).  After getting to know Pratik better, I decided to give him (without his consent) a new nickname. Initially, I could not remember the six students’ names, so I gave nicknames to help me remember each one. Pratik was “Fluffy Hair” because he has lots of lively hair. But after learning how he, despite his young age, carries himself and speaks with such a sense of authority and confidence, his new nickname became “Prince”.

You should see him in dealing with rickshaw drivers and such. I just let him do the negotiations, which he never stretches to more than a minute or two. Then I hop in the rickshaws after the deals are done. And while I don’t understand Hindi or Maharathi, it seemed that rickshaw drivers just end up accepting Pratik’s offer – watching this I got the sense of victory and satisfaction that I so rarely attain on my own.

He should really consider offering workshops for tourists: “How to become a Successful Haggler with Poise and Style in Three Days”.


  1. nobuko sugimoto says

    Hi Maria, it is nice to see my logs here! Did you want to use pics from FB on here? SOme are so small because I had to shrink them to upload.

  2. Sure, just add the location to the photos, then I know where to place them in your writing.
    Enjoy your time!

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