Ajanta Caves, India

Ajanta Caves is a huge complex of caves carved in the rock of the mountain between the centuries II B.C. and V or VII A.C. But to say these are caves is a bad understatement, as these are huge and majestic constructions of refined art and masonry

In one of my last postings I wrote about the amazing Ellora Caves. I mentioned some useful tips and interesting details for traveling around the area of Aurangabad city’s surrounding. I will not repeat them here, so you may want to refer to it by clicking here.

The Ajanta Caves total a group of 28 caves that form many magestic buddhist shrines, monasteries, temples, stupas, sculptures and frescoes. All has been carved on the mountain rock, and the frescoes that are found there are of excellent mastership, and are considered some of the best preserved in the world. Therefore, it is considered World Heritage, and it is a site of enormous interest from the cultural and artistic point of view.

Note: Ellora Caves are closed every Tuesday, and Ajanta Caves are closed every Monday. You have to take this into consideration, since many times the same agencies that organize your trips don’t even remember this, and may end-up hiring a car to find the caves closed.

Unlike the Ellora Caves that include hindu, buddhist and Jain caves, Ajanta is composed exclusively of a set of 28 buddhist caves. Here, again, as with the Ellora Caves, the word “cave” is an offensive downgrade. The “caves” are enormous architectonic feats of great taste and artistic talent. You will have to spend some time inside of each one if you want to visit each room, each compartiment or each level, and see all the amazing sculptures and paintings that are inside and outside.

The Ajanta Caves are also older than the Ellora Caves. They begun to be built (or carved out of the rock) on the II century B.C. That is four centuries older than their younger brothers from Ellora. Also, it is believed that the first to settle there were buddhist traveling monks that traveled around the region during the dry season to teach and promote the Darma. And during the rainy season they would stop traveling and settle down. In the following years the community of monks grew considerably, and they even seem to have hired the services of professional labor-men, masons and artists of all kind. As for the reason why they left the site between the V and VII centuries A.C., it is believed that it may have been because hinduism was growing very fast, and perhaps there was very few people then willing to listen to their preaching. So, they thrived between the centuries II B.C. and V or VII D.C.

It is very interesting to notice the evolution from the first caves to the last ones. The older ones were built in accordance with the Theravada or Hinayana tradition; while the newer ones obviously follow the Mahayana style, with it’s numerous Boddhisatvas and it’s court of angelic creatures.

The Ajanta Caves had been hidden amidst the thickness of the jungle until they were rediscovered in 1819 by a group of British soldiers that had gone out hunting and were exploring the area in search of game. From a high ridge opposite to the caves, that still today can be reached by tourists, they stood in awe the amazing site of the caves. I bet Lara Croft (Tomb Raider) would have wished to be in their place.

If you want to climb to the ridge you just need to cross the iron hanging-bridge (visible in some of the photos). Then you walk along a pretty paved path, until you have to start climbing the hill. It’s a short hike, but the last steps may be somewhat more trying. The view is worth while. It’s the same view the British soldiers had of the site. If you walk further on (after you reach the top) from the other side of the ridge you can see beautiful natural waterfalls.

The beauty of the place is awe inspiring. The only annoying thing being the locals that are waiting for the tourists to reach up there and follow them non-stop, without stopping ask and speak, and getting in your way, harassing for money of for foreigners to buy from them stones. They only harass foreigners, because the locals (no matter what part from India they come from) know how deal with them. But Western kindness and regard towards the poor is seen as s sign of weakness, and they are experts in exploiting it.

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