What a whirlwind the weekend was! It seemed like we had just arrived in Aurangabad when we had to turn around and come straight back. It was refreshing to get away from the bustling city of Hyderabad and the responsibilities of school for a few days to explore the amazing country I find myself privileged enough to be in. The trip to the Ajanta and Ellora caves is part of the AIFS program, so my fellow program members and our Assistant Resident Coordinator, Ishmeet, all headed there together. Since this was an AIFS trip, all of the planning was out of our hands, which was kind of a relief. This trip was full of adventure, and the first was traveling by train.
I really enjoyed the train journey. Not only did I get to see the countryside, but there was plenty of time to talk; the ride was 12 hours long! It really wasn’t as bad as it sounds. I loved that chia and coffee were constantly available throughout the train, provided by men carrying the trademark metal beverage dispensers. This method of transportation in India is definitely not for the light sleeper though, as the calls of “Chai! Coffee! Tea!” every few minutes may be difficult for some to fall asleep to. Luckily, I had no such issue. After being delayed with an electrical problem in the train’s engine for about an hour, we reached Aurangabad where our hotel was for the next two nights, and settled in for a few winks of sleep before our two and a half hour drive to the Ajanta caves.
Before we continued all the way down to the caves, we stopped at the top of the ridge overlooking them at a lookout point. It was really cool to see the aerial view, as they surround the edge of a quasi-crater-shaped area. Ishmeet suggested we start our journey at the last caves because they are the biggest, earliest, and most intricately carved. Those that were not as intricate made up for the lack of carvings with many ornate paintings sprawled across every smooth surface. I can’t really decide if it took so long for us to get through the caves because of the sheer number of them, the amount of time we spent looking at each one, or how many pictures we all posed for! We were constantly trying out different photo ideas and happily chatting amongst ourselves.
The next day we headed out from Aurangabad to the Ellora caves, which are much smaller and simpler, with the exception of the main temple complex. Unlike the Ajanta caves which were Buddhist, the Ellora caves were inhabited by Jains and thus had carvings of different deities spread out over a larger area. The “crown jewel” of the Ellora caves is the center temple complex, which is by far the most ornately carved and still harbors traces of the paint that once covered all of its surfaces. The paintings here were precisely designed and embellished instead of being vast murals like in Ajanta. While we were there, an Indian school group was also there, so we ended up taking quite a few selfies and answering questions like “How are you?” to the eager students. It was a little overwhelming but they were very polite, so we obliged as much as possible.
This post was contributed by Laura Ellen, who is spending an academic year studying abroad with AIFS in Hyderabad, India.