Feb 8, 2010

Ajanta Ellora-A Rendezvous with History (Part 6)

The End... And a Beginning !
A lot of people were very surprised at my choice of Ajanta Ellora as a holiday destination. For them Ajanta Ellora is a kind of place where you go on study tours or school trips.
Ajanta Ellora is not for people who consider a holiday to mean partying all night and sleeping till late. Its for genuine lovers of art and History. The beautiful sculptures and paintings come alive and talk of hundreds of years of history to people who are interested, for others, they are just bits and pieces of rocks.
Be it wandering through the caves of Ajanta Ellora, making impromptu stops at roadside restaurants to sample the local food, hobnobbing with Nomads, singing our heads off in the bus, shopping for old stones at Ajanta, talking late into the night; we all had a fabulous time. What made this trip even more memorable was that we went with Piya, who herself is a seasoned traveller and took great care in making this trip fun-filled and interesting for us. Initially I guess all of us were very skeptical about travelling with strangers but we all gelled really well. Travelling in a group with people you have never met before definitely broadens your outlook and gives you an entirely new perspective of life. You also end up meeting some very interesting people and making lots of new friends!

For everyone looking for interesting and off-beat holidays, I would definitely suggest Girls on the Go !
The 3 day trip ended too soon for us but in a way it was a beginning towards forging new friendships!

Ajanta Ellora-A Rendezvous with History (Part 5)

Ajanta - A visual Delight !
Day 3, and we renewed our rendezvous with history with a visit to Ajanta. Seen from a distance, Ajanta caves look like a giant beehive in the shape off a horse shoe. These caves served as a retreat for the Buddhist monks where they could introspect and study without any one disturbing them. Perhaps that is why the Ajanta caves were built deep in the mountains and are not as conspicuous as the ellora caves. These caves were discovered by an Army Officer of the British Army in 1819 during one of his hunting expeditions. The trip to Ajanta was slightly more tiring than Ellora in the sense that in Ellora one just has to walk the short distance from one cave to another whereas Ajanta requires a tedious process of first standing in line to get in a bus that takes you uphill in a 10 minutes ride. Then you get off and start trudging up a path to the actual caves. Once again we were very lucky with Piya’s selection of Guides. She had taken great pains to ensure that people from the Archeological survey of India were there to show us around. The ASI staff explained to us the painstaking process they follow to restore the paintings. The effort they are putting in is indeed commendable. I honestly don’t remember much about which cave had what painting. What my mind registered was more like a kaleidoscope of paintings and bright colors. What struck me immediately was the choice of colors. Very bright, and for some reason Red and Green were predominant.The most famous paintings are off course of Padmapani and Vajrapani which have become the face of Ajanta to the world. The paintings at Ajanta are not just individual paintings but they are full fledged stories depicting incidents from the life of Buddha and the Jataka tales. Its like walking through the cave and reading a story through paintings. Even the minutest of facial expressions in the paintings has been so masterfully painted that its like watching a live drama with live characters. Apart from paintings,Ajanta also has some fantastic sculptures and carvings. One sculpture which is particularly outstanding is that of a Quadripartite deer carved on a panel. To a casual observer it seems that the four deer have four different heads but actually there’s just one head between the four deers.
ASI does not allow the use of flash inside the caves so the quality of the snaps we took was not too great but Ajanta was a real visual treat for all of us !
To be Continued.....

Feb 5, 2010

Ajanta Ellora-A Rendezvous with History (Part 4)

Lonar - Of Demons and temples with eight shadows !
The Next day we decided to take a break from History and visit the Lonar Crater Lake. Lonar crater was formed by the impact of a 2 million ton meteorite hitting the earth about 50,000 years back. It’s the third largest and oldest meteorite crater on the earth. Along with the obvious scientific significance the lake has also has some ancient temples around it.
We left the hotel bright and early and picked up our guide on the way, a young man called Anand Mishra. We were told that he belongs to Lonar and has done some great research on the lake. As we left the city, the buildings and chaotic traffic slowly gave way to small villages and cotton fields. Deccan soil is the rich black variety ideal for growing cotton. We all wanted to stop at the fields but Anand promised that he would take us to the cotton fields at Lonar where we could gallivant all we want ! We did make a stop at a roadside Dhabha though to hog on very tasty moong daal vadas and pakoras.
Lonar is a small village about three hours away from Aurangabad and for a place of such scientific significance it’s rather underdeveloped. There was just the lake with a smallish Dhabha near it. A lot of nomads were camping in the open ground nearby blissfully unaware of the importance of the place they were in! The first thing we all did after getting off the bus was to go to the edge of the hill and peer down at the crater. It was like looking down on huge bowl filled with bright Greenish- Blue water surrounded by an emerald ring of trees.
To reach the rim of the crater we had to trek down the hill over a very uneven and steep path. Some of us managed to climb down with the ease and nimbleness of a goat while some like me huffed and puffed and sweated our way down. Once we reached the lake, we realized how lucky we were to get Anand as our Guide. He is a self taught man and has done some commendable research on the crater. His expertise is now so great that he has a fellowship with NASA and regularly helps the various researchers from NASA and other countries who come to Lonar. His in- depth knowledge spans the realm of geology, astronomy, ecology to mythology and he explained everything to us with great passion and good humor. Anand explained how the lake has two distinct regions alkaline and non alkaline. He demonstrated the Ph levels in the lake by dipping a ph strip in it which instantly showed very high ph levels. After giving us some more scientific information about the lake, Anand decided to enthrall us with some mythological stories and told Little Ashi, all of ten years, the story of the demon Lonasur who is supposed to live in the depth of the lake. Ashi spent all her time looking for the demon hoping to have a tete a tete with him so that she could go back to Delhi and tell her friends how she saw a real demon! We also visited a few temples dotting the lake.The first temple we saw was an ancient Shiva Temple built in the Hemadpanthi architecture style. But temple I found the most interesting was the Temple of Lord Ram. Lord Ram is supposed to have performed the last rites of his father over here.The most intriguing fact about this temple is that where ever you stand inside the temple eight shadows are formed. Anand demonstrated it to us and then all of us tried it by standing at various spots in the temple. It was fascinating and eerie at the same time. The reason for this magic is the pillars that support the temple. They are built in such a manner that they act as a sort of prism for the sunlight filtering through giving rise to not one but eight shadows. Anand also showed us the magnetic effects of the different rocks in the temple by moving his compass on the temple floor. At certain places the compass changed direction i.e actually showed North as South !
The lake is surrounded by a thick forest area largely untouched and unspoiled by man and is supposed to have some interesting flora and fauna. But I was not interested in any of it. My only desire was to see a snake. Now, I have never ever seen a snake in my life, a statement that was greeted by much shock and hilarity by other members of the group. I have only seen snakes hidden deep in the boxes carried by snake charmers roaming the streets and they hardly count ! what I really wanted to see was a snake in its natural environs. Anand had gallantly promised to show me a snake but then he had also promised to show Ashi the demon! But I guess I was luckier than Ashi ! On our way back, we were all walking almost one behind the other, when suddenly the people walking ahead stopped dead in their tracks and excitedly pointed towards a clump of trees.And there it was - a beautiful snake just a few feet away! It was a young cobra, its skin shining and glistening in the sun. It stopped for a moment, looked at us with what I imagined to be utter indifference and disdain and then slid past with fluid like grace. It was a fantastic sight! The woods were also full of Langurs, great packs of them sitting on trees and even under them. Three very wise looking langurs were sitting under some trees as if holding a conference. They did not seem at all pleased with our intrusion ! We also saw some very interesting spider webs on the bushes with huge spiders inside them. Another arduous climb up, and then we fortified ourselves with food that Piya had so thoughtfully got packed from the hotel. After Lunch we finally stopped at some cotton fields on our way into Lonar town. The fields were surrounded by huge teak trees- beautiful trees with large shiny leaves that we eventually turn into furniture ! The cotton flowers were in full bloom and the cotton peeping out of the pods made the plants look as if covered with snow. It made me feel like Scarlett o Hara at Tara. I guess the only thing missing was Rhett Butler !
At Lonar we visited an ancient temple. The temple itself was rather insignificant, but had a man made waterfall with water falling from an outlet fashioned like a demon’s mouth.We were really hot and dusty after our trek to the crater so some of the more adventurous of us decided to cool themselves by standing under the waterfall in true Hindi filmi style while the rest of us contended ourselves by just rolling up our jeans and walking about in the water. The temple is at a considerable height and we had a fantastic view of the Lonar lake from there.
We watched a spectacular sunset over the lake before finally making our way back to Aurangabad.
Although not a very well known or popular tourist spot in India,Lonar has something for everyone - Geologists, ecologists, archaeologists, naturalists and astronomers. It was definitely worth the visit !
To be Continued .....

Feb 1, 2010

Ajanta Ellora-A Rendezvous with History (Part 3)

Ellora – Poetry in Stone (contd.)
After s
pending most of the morning enchanted by the Buddhist caves we moved on to the most famous Hindu Cave, the Kailash cave. Out of all the caves at Ellora, Kailash cave is the most phenomenal of them all. All the Ellora caves are hewn out of the volcanic lava of the Deccan plateau; but nowhere is this more prominent than in the Kailash cave. This mountain has been cut vertically, from top to bottom and almost 200,000 tons of rock has been scooped out to build a temple that is 200 feet long, 150 feet wide and 100 feet high. Kailash cave is the largest monolithic excavation in the world and is truly an epitome of human genius and ingenuity.The temple is divided into four sections, the entrance courtyard, the main temple, the Nandi temple next to it and, many small temple cloisters around the main temple. Having heard and read a lot about the Kailash cave our expectations were really high even before we entered it but even then we were struck dumb by what we saw. As soon as we entered the courtyard, we saw magnificent elephants built out of monolithic rocks flanked by two very beautifully and intricately carved pillars. These pillars are said to have once borne the Trishul of Lord Shiva. The most amazing thing about this cave is that each panel, alcove and nook and corner of the walls in the courtyard is a wealth of sculptures and carvings. Even the base of the walls have carvings running along them. The sculptures are simply spectacular and potray tales out of mythology. There is a sculpture of Ravana shaking Mt.Kailash, of Sugreev and Bali fighting, descent of ganga, Shiva Parvati playing chess, various forms of shiva such as Dakshinamurti and nataraja, marriage of lord shiva and Parvati, the various avatars of Vishnu, an image of Ganga Yamuna and Saraswati etc.The main temple on the first floor is built on a great block of rock to represent Mount Kailash, the abode of lord Shiva. The base of the temple structure has elephants carved on all sides;it seems as if the temple is supported on the back of these elephants. The garh griha in the temple has a huge Shivaling and the ceiling above is decorated with intricately carved Lotus.There are various other images on the roof of the temple, including a enormous nataraj and another one of Shiva fighting with a demon carved on the roof. The amazing thing is that from whichever angle you look at this sculpture it seems lord shiva is looking at you. Not only have the artisans managed to carve on the roof with all the dust, rock pieces falling in their eyes, but they have produced such masterpieces. The temple has a lot of paintings alongside the sculptures, the paintings sadly in a very bad state.
We spent all our time walking about, totally lost in the spiritual splendor around us. Its not easy to explain the sheer magnitude of the beauty and the effect that it had on us. It was pure visual delight. There is no sparseness in the Kailash cave like in the Buddhist caves. Every nook and corner has been touched by the sculptor’s hammer. And the end result is sculptures and carvings of such magnificence that one simply wanders here and there totally mesmerized and awestruck at how such miracles were achieved using just a chisel and hammer.
After visiting the cave,we ate lunch at the local canteen, simple thali food of Daal, sabzi and roti but much enjoyed over animated and interesting conversation.
We went on to the Jain caves after lunch but they were not so impressive after the Kailash cave but impressive in their own right.
The elusive Navneet had finally arrived and caught up with us at the Kailash cave. Since she had missed out on the Buddhist caves, she decided to visit them while we roamed about outside. It was almost closing time by then and all the tourist buses had left. There was not a single person in sight we had the place totally to ourselves. In the evening twilight the caves looked silent and peaceful. As we gazed at the phenomenal piece of history in front of us it was as if we had gone back thousands of years in time. It made a very fitting end to a wonderful day.
To be Continued ....

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