Each place has its own story and reasons to be special. We often fly miles to visit and admire remarkable destinations and fail to visit some of the most astounding ones extremely close to us. Ajantha Ellora Caves was such a story. Though I had visited them once in childhood I hardly remember anything than the mere fact that I had been there. For the past years I have heard stories of how they stink and how they are not at all maintained. I was wanting to visit them again since long, when I sang for a marathi film named “Ajintha” based on the discovery of these caves. Suddenly on this long weekend, some sort of invisible energy inspired us and we set off for our heritage journey.
Aurangabad – a small but welcoming city – is eminent due to its proximity to the caves. Ellora is close to the city. But due to the “extremely super” road conditions you have to double all the time calculations in your trip. We drove to Ellora caves directly on the first day. Surprisingly it was not crowded as we had expected. There are 34 caves stretched along a couple of kilometres and currently we can take our cars upto the entrance of the caves inside. The astonishing beauty of the caves cannot be put into words. Carved out of stone a many thousand years ago and we can see and walk through them today – this feeling is so special. Those stones must have seen generations and versatility of man’s establishments beyond our imagination. I hope those stones had some medium to express what they have witnessed. The carvings and the sculptures are one such medium, of course. The guides tell perfect tales that bring them alive. Each artwork is unique. From small intricate carvings to whopping monumental statues, these caves have their own art-language concealed in them.
The Buddha Statues are exactly the same in each of the caves. I wonder how they maintained the symmetry. Of course there are archeological evidences on the equipments they must have used and other designing details but for a lay man, all the stuff in there leaves you in awe of the art.
The Kailasa Temple (Cave 16) of Ellora is a masterpiece in itself. Its World’s Largest Monolithic Structure. Just hearing about it is incomparable to seeing it actually. The two storied gateway opens its way to the temple which consists of courtyard, stone carved pillars, inner outer rooms, sculptures, carvings and all of this cut our of a single rock? This is magical. I sometimes get a feeling that those craftsmen did possess some sort of meditative magical powers.
Ajantha is around 105 kms from Aurangabad. The road that leads to Ajantha seems to be one of the forgotten ones. It is painful to see non-maintenance of infrastructure that leads to a World heritage Site. Leaving aside the discussion how work is always pending in certain areas, I would like to express my sentiment that the site of Ajantha Ellora is unfortunately very underrated. We were startled to see the entrance fees of Rs. 10/- only at both the caves. Usually at a well maintained park or a garden where we go for an evening stroll, the ticket is around Rs. 10/- If we compare some of the old churches or such similar old structures entrance fees in foreign countries it is no less than approximately $15 on an average which makes it close to Rs. 900/- on conversion. Even if the motive must be to make it reachable to common man, Rs. 10/- in 2015 is a remarkably low amount for a world heritage site. People also come there just to litter and degrade the neighbourhood. Amongst the measures to preserve the sanctity and prestige of the heritage that we own, shouldn’t its standards be raised? At least a bit?
Ajantha Caves still have some old paintings along with the sculptures and statues. It is a delight to see it very well maintained by the Indian Archeological Department. Clean pathways, guards helping to find way all along, bins placed at regular intervals, non-stinking and ornamentally lighted caves is a very positive move towards conserving and promoting the heritage. To our amazement, we found two perfect world class tourist centres at Ajantha and Ellora by MTDC. They are established in 2013, but still not known to many people. I’m still unsure what are they waiting for to promote them. Auditoriums showing enlightening short films on Ajantha-Ellora, Heritage Museums, an illuminating World Heritage Sites display, actual sized replicas of caves at Ajantha and excellent refined interiors is what you can experience at the tourist centres. This reminded us of exceptional museums that we adored at Amsterdam. There are even shop spaces and restaurant grounds ready but not yet functional. This was one favourable action seen towards promotion of the heritage site but I still feel there can be a lot that can be done.
Amazing Ajantha and Exquisite Ellora is a heritage journey to be experienced at least once in a lifetime. We often tend to forget wonderful destinations close to us which can be visited in a day or two. This journey inspired us to look into all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and visit each one by one as and when possible. There are 32 sites in India. Hoping to cover the trail and continue the heritage journey !
List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India
- Agra Fort
- Ajanta Caves
- Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi
- Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park
- Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus)
- Churches and Convents of Goa
- Elephanta Caves
- Ellora Caves
- Fatehpur Sikri
- Great Living Chola Temples
- Group of Monuments at Hampi
- Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram
- Group of Monuments at Pattadakal
- Hill Forts of Rajasthan
- Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi
- Khajuraho Group of Monuments
- Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya
- Mountain Railways of India
- Qutb Minar and its Monuments, Delhi
- Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Stepwell) at Patan, Gujarat
- Red Fort Complex
- Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka
- Sun Temple, Konârak
- Taj Mahal
- The Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
- Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area
- Kaziranga National Park
- Keoladeo National Park
- Manas Wildlife Sanctuary
- Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks
- Sundarbans National Park
- Western Ghats
(Reference : whc.unesco.org)