Mandu, Ajanta, & Ellora: Palaces on Caves on Caves

November 29, 2015
Currently: Scrambling to catch up on my blog before the trip ends. Two days! Only two days left in this beautiful country!

Ticking off a few more UNESCO World Heritage Sites, we continued our journey through India this time taking the rustic, rural route under the watchful eye of Rafik, our trusty local guide/cook. He’s been around a few times (ten years) so he’s got the routine down. Last year, Rafik even starred with Daisy in a Top Gear India article in December. He claims Ellora as his home and is a wonderfully quiet, kind family man who really knows how to cook!

one roadside lunch stop, coming right up!

Besides bush camping it for a little bit, we continued our never-ending attempt to further culturalize ourselves in Mandu, an old fortress from as early as the 6th century BC. Ownership of this fortress bounced around from the Parmars to the Khiljis to the Mughals to the Marathas to the Aghans and then back to the Mughals (Akbar’s reign, of course) and finally deserted to become the ghost town it remains today. That history is a little sketchy (there were a lot of men with really big egos who kept fighting each other, so it got confusing) and probably not totally accurate, but you get the idea. Remnants of the fort are found all over the little town. One set of royal palaces are relatively well-kept and help create the illusion of life back in these eras.

 An overview of the complex
 Jahaz Mahal or Ship Palace is situated between two artificial lakes and is supposed to look like a ship floating in water. I don’t see it… but that’s just me
 Hindola Mahal or Swinging Palace. I actually get the nickname for this one.
 Hoshang Shah’s Tomb – India’s first marble structure and a template for the construction of the Taj Mahal. I see the resemblance.
gotta love that repetition and beautiful colors (photo cred to Kate!)

We were also on a mission to take a trip back in time, caveman style. Okay, not really that far back, but definitely BC level. Ajanta and Ellora are two cities known for some pretty extensive cave systems that highlight the best artwork ranging from the second century BC to ninth century AD. Ajanta is the more extensive and older of the two, protected within a horseshoe shaped valley.

These caves showcase some of the finest Buddhist Indian paintings. Some caves served as monasteries while others were used as temples for worship. Both types of caves were way impressive. It was unreal to imagine people using only a hammer and a chisel to create these masterpieces. Literally just a hammer. And a chisel. And human strength. That’s it. Those who started the caves had no chance of seeing their hard work realized. Even 800 years weren’t enough to finish them off. Could you imagine starting something knowing you’ll never even be close to seeing the final product? Talk about demotivating. Even today a few of the caves remain unfinished because of a lack of funds.

a famous painting of Vajrapani, protector and guider of Gautama Buddha
 stupa hall for worship – amazing acoustics for prayer time
it’s got some atmosphere, no?

On to Ellora! These caves were completed much later and included not only Buddhist caves, but also caves dedicated to Jainism and Hinduism. This grouping of caves celebrates the harmony between different religions during this time period in India. The Buddhist caves in Ellora were similar to those in Ajanta, but were from a later time period. Though the history of Ajanta was more captivating, the Buddhist stupa in Ellora was the most entrancing.

 the staring actually helped make for a good picture
 buddha, buddha, buddha, buddha
 my favorite cave, once again amazing acoustics
envision 300 monk students sitting here for daily school lessons and meditation sessions

On to the main event… The Hindu Kailasanatha temple is unrivaled in its size and intricacies. As you enjoy these views, remember this was all carved out of one single rock. It covers an area double the size of the Parthenon in Athens and, as you will see, is multi-storeyed. Say whaaaat!

It really is a good thing I’m almost done with these blogs, because my vocabulary isn’t extensive enough to keep up with all of the wonders I’ve seen. I’m sure sick of using “beautiful,” “amazing,” “incredible” and I’m sure you’re sick of hearing it. I guess that’s kind of a good problem to have, so no more complaints from this girl. I guess I’ll have to go buy myself a thesaurus!

Lots of love,



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