Monday, November 17

Day 81-Aurangabad

One thousand kilometers south of the Himalayan foothills, nestled amoung the plateau that break above the dry grassy plains, are the UNESCO sites of Ajanta and Ellora. At each of these sites are found an assorment of carved rock temples, caves and monasteries. Each is spectacular in its own right, and has been well worth the time, effort, and expense to make the visit.

By tourist (ie, middle class Indians on holiday) bus, I traveled the 100 km north to visit the Ajanta complex. Over the course of 2 hours we made our way through the scrubby plains, now in the dry season, the fields of sorghum harvested and stacked in haphazard piles, the road lined with eucalyptus and acacia trees. We would pass through numerous small villages, where, despite the enormous populations of Indias cities, 80% of her people are to be found, huddled in their thatched reed one room houses, men plowing their small plots by aid of a single ox, women cooking in their single pot over a blazing pile of sticks, children playing without a single stitch of clothes on, together living on less than a single dollar per day.

This forgotten as we entered the complex of 30 or so caves, carved into an escarpment of basalt some 2km long, each completed over the ages spanning from 2nd century BCE to 800 AD. These are Buddhist structures and amidst the intricate carved geometry are found numerous detailed wall paintings, now faded, but still capable of relating the story of the Buddha, Asia's most significant historical figure. In various arched roof temple caves, we would encounter a small group of Thai monks, or Korean visitors, making chants to their long passed spiritual leader.

Visiting Ellora caves the next day, we were treated to yet even more dramatic artistic achievements. Here the caves were produced within the 500 year period of 600 AD to 1000 AD and represent efforts by three different religious sects, Hindu, Buddhist and Jain. The most spectular, Kailasa Palace, was carved in one piece by 7000 craftsman over the course of 150 years. About the size of an average American supermarket, it is the largest single stone sculpture in the world. The intricacy of its plan and detail boggles the mind, unimaginable how the initial vision could actually be manifested a century and a half later. Weaving amound the various carved animals, obelisk and brocaded towers, we would encounter saffron clad monks and sadhus, as well as lovely Indian women in their brightly colored saris, an unsupassable visual feast!

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