A Morning at Ellora – Birds, Monkeys and the Magnificent Caves

A short break after a busy few months professionally is always a good idea, so when the better half suggested a short get away to visit the “World Heritages Sites” of Ajanta and Ellora before summer arrived in its full blazing glory, I gladly agreed.

The seed for visiting Ajanta & Ellora had been planted when an old friend had settled down in Jalgaon and had invited me to visit. He had mentioned that the caves were close by as bait, fully knowing that the traveller in me would take it in no time.

So we just chose a random weekend and decided to drive down so that no reservations of any kind were needed. As I started to research the trip, I realised that since Ajanta was closed on Monday and Ellora on Tuesday we would have to do both the caves on a long sight seeing filled Sunday. That was hardly ideal since I could have easily spent the whole day in each one of the two. But then we had no choice since we couldn’t put off professional callings for too long.

So we set off from Mumbai on a Saturday afternoon and promptly got stuck in traffic on the way out of Mumbai. To put it in perspective the first 35 km out of Mumbai took us 2 and a half hours and the next 320 km took us 6 hours including stops for meals and refreshments. We finally reached our destination, Hotel Kailas in Ellora at 10.30 pm and dropped right off to sleep.

The Hotel Kailas is one of the few places to stay in Ellora and is located right next to the Ellora caves complex, making it a perfect location for a short stay. I got up early and wandered around the gardens of the hotel with my trusty 300 mm to see if I could find any birds to photograph. (I try to find birds everywhere I go !)

There were the usual brahmins starlings, Mynas and swallows flying about but luckily a pair of grey wagtail decided to feed in the lawns just in front of my room giving me some early morning practice.

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Grey wagtails just outside my room in Ellora

As the sun came up I started to hear the ruckus being created by long tailed or Hanuman Langurs in the vicinity. Monkey troupes = No birds so I decided to move to the opposite end of the property and try my luck there. A brown flycatcher gave me a brief glimpse before flying away. But I found two juvenile grey hornbills on a tree at the far end of the hotel. They were not in an ideal position for photos so I circled around till I got some decent photos.

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A brief sighting of a brown flycatcher
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A Grey Hornbill in the early morning sunlight

I also enjoyed few minutes watching a cat trying to catch squirrels, albeit unsuccessfully.

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The local cat gives me the stare

Soon I returned to my room to see if the better half was ready to go to the caves only to find the lawn in front of my lawn overrun with grey langurs. If you don’t disturb them & have no eatables on you they usually leave you alone ( Key word being usually!) so I spent some more time photographing this merry band of monkeys.

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Family fun time
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Now you know why its also called a long tailed langur
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Wrestling matches in the lawns

After a great start to the day we had breakfast at the restaurant in the hotel itself which was piping hot and delicious. We then walked to the entrance of the caves complex bought our tickets and went in.

The Ellora caves are divided into Brahminical ones with the famous Kailas temple, Buddhist ones and the Jain ones some distance away. As the caves complex is spread out in a wide area and there was no way that we would be able to see all the caves in the complex in such a short time. So we decided to concentrate on two of the most famous ones and do more if time permitted.

At the centre of the complex and nearest to the entry is cave number 16 which holds the beautiful and awe inspiring Kailash temple. It is difficult to imagine how they managed to carve out this beautiful monolith from a cliff side from top to bottom more than 1300 years ago. No modern power equipments and no digital measurement scales, and they still managed to make a structure which will give nightmares to modern builders and architects.

The whole structure is designed as an abode to lord Shiva. I am neither a historian nor an architect so I won’t go into the details of either field & just let the photos do the talking. We spent a good two hours in this magnificent temple and we still felt we needed more time.

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Sun peeps out from behind the Vijay Stambh with a huge elephant statue in the foreground
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Vijay Stambh in the courtyard – Carved from top to bottom 1200 years ago!
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The Sanctum Santorum with the Ancient Shivling
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Can you imagine they carved this from top to bottom!!!
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Parakeets in the cliffs lining the temple – Yes I really do find birds everywhere!
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The better half in the temple courtyard
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Such impeccable accuracy of design!!
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The entire base of the temple is carved with elephant statues
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You get the scale of how huge it is from the people below
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Where there are caves there are bats!
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The entrance to the temple photographed on the way out

Two hours gone and we had seen just 1 of the 30+ caves so we decided to have a sampling of the Buddhist style of  caves and visited the cave number 12 which has the two storied monastery complex carved out of solid rock 1500 years ago.

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That was carved between 500 -700 AD!!

The monastery had such clean lines, such symmetry making it a beautiful place to take photos. The scale of the entire thing is to be seen to be believed.

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Pillars exactly where they should be – Symmetry at its best

The top storey had a row of buddha statues leading to an even larger Buddha statue  on either ends and a Buddha flanked by other statues in the centre. All carved out of a single piece of rock, simply amazing!

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I am sure that this must have been the highest view that anyone had in the region in 500 AD.

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The view from the top tier of the monastery

Soon it was time to leave, as we had to travel 100 km to Ajanta and see them for a few hours before they closed for the day. We had just run out of time in visiting these two huge caves and the other minor ones would have to wait for another trip. But I always believe that seeing something well is better than just playing Kho Kho at all the caves. It also gave me incentive to return again some day.

So with one last look at the magnificent Kailas temple or unimaginatively named cave 16, we left the Ellora caves complex.

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Exiting the complex with one last look at the magnificent Kailas Temple

Ajanta caves was the next after a brief stop at the Grihneshwar Jyotirling temple nearby. But that is topic for another post another time.

Till then,

Bye

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