Caves and Camping

My map for the route to Mandu in the last blog, “On the Road to Mandu-Olé” erred in heading us to Mandsaur (sounds like a type of dinosaur) instead of much farther south, past Indore. I stand corrected.


From Mandu to the Ajanta caves.

As well, I not-surprisingly forgot the unmemorable wild-camp in the parking lot of an isolated motel, somewhere north of Indore, before we reached Mandu. No photos to remind me. We were on a pretty bad stretch of road, so pulling off anywhere was some relief. Some of the group opted for the hotel rooms (about $24 each as I recall). The rest of us set up our tents on a thin patch of grass in the motel’s front lawn. Before bed our cook drummed up dinner, around a campfire built with some of our scrap wood. I recall now there was a really rowdy bunch of Indian men, celebrating something, maybe a bachelor shower or business deal, long into the night, and in increasing degree of undress. Fortunately there were decent toilets in the gloomy heart of the building…

The next night, after Mandu, we camped again, at the reservoir on the Narmada, as related in the previous blog, then headed for the Ajanta Caves, 4 or 5 hours’ drive south, passing scenes of local life in more of that flat, dry landscape-





-nonetheless suitable for cotton-pickin’ which we saw a lot of…

Cotton pickin'.JPG


… eventually rising once again on an outcrop of the Vindhya mountain range.



In Ajanta we step further back in Indian history, into the Ajanta caves, carved out of solid rock in a bend of the Vagha River by monks, from the 2nd century BC (early Buddhist) to the 5th AD (later Mayahana period). Five of the 29 caves are chaityas or prayer halls, others are virharas or monasteries.










While all the rock-cutting is astounding and the scultpture sublime, the later caves are even more remarkable for their fresoes, influenced by the classical painting style of the Gupta dynasty which dominated the India sub-continent from the early 4th to the late 5th centuries.









Covering walls and ceilings, the paintings reflected the golden age of Gupta society, in some respects an idyllic period. They portray a range of events, from everyday lives of royal figures to grand military expeditions.

After a long afternoon in the crowded caves we retired to our next ‘wild’ campground- a field behind a grotty gas station.


My tent was about wherein stood to take this picture. First up early in the morning, I crossed the field, climbed over the retaining wall around the gas station to enter its very basic toilet. A bunch of itinerants were camped in the parking lot. Behind us in another field were what looked like a bunch of gypsies, We had some other companions…


…one resembling my daughter’s dog, another an active guy patrolling the whole area and stirring up gang-warfare.


I staggered back to my tent, adrift in thought about who knows what, slipped open the tent flap to confront- a bare foot! Whoa, this is an interesting development…

Ooops, wrong tent, Marilyn’s foot.

Before we hit the road, after breakfast, we of course had to pack. In her new role as driver, mechanic , and team leader Ali had a lot to do.


For example, she was the only person allowed atop the truck. So I lent a hand whenever I could, folding up the tent for her and Archie as they worked on other stuff.


Also before we left our cook wanted a group picture for his collection. We can see why he is not a photographer.

As we traveled further south, the landscape became increasingly verdant.


In the early afternoon we reached the Ellora caves, another of the hundreds of decorated caves throughout India, Unlike the Ajanta caves, carved into a rock cliff, the Ellora caves were amazingly carved topdown. This means every detail had to be planned ahead and carefully measured as work progressed.







I asked the guide if there were any extant planning documents for these masterpieces- but he could not answer. An amazing exercise in 3-dimensional planning, long befoore Autocad!

At Ellora our journey through time in India moves a few hundred years forward from Ajanta. These monasteries, chapels , temples, 34 in all, were carved from a 2km long escarpment by Buddhist AD600-800), Hindu (AD600-900) and Jain (AD600-1000) monks, adorned with intricate designs, sculptures and towers.





Elephants were a frequent theme…





as were stories of major battles or other events.



Pete framed in broad daylight


and by dueling cameras.


Most of these photos come from the colossal Kailasa Temple, the worlds largest monolithic sculpture.



wrought by some 7000 labourers chipping out 200,000 tons of rock over a period of 150 years. The site is interpreted as the renaissance of Hinduism under the Chalukya and Rashtrkuts dynasties and a brief resurgence of Jainism, overshadowing Buddhism. However, the broad overlap in time indicates a long period of religious tolerance.

After once again struggling through dense holiday crowds and a surfeit of spectacular images, we retired to camp, this time a little less ‘wild’- the park-like lawn of the Kailasa Hotel (not the temple), a rather elegant place with a quite good cafeteria and cute modern cabins. Once again some of us took advantage of cheap hotel rooms (in a more modest block rather than the cabins), and the rest pitched tent.



Once again we had local companions.


Needless to say, another night of Kingfisher-fed chatter around the (virtual) campfire followed dinner.

I toyed with the idea of hitching a cab to nearby Aurangabad, famed only as the capital of the last Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb (great name), from 1653 to 1707. Some of his monuments  are apparently impressive, and we were told there was a great market for fabrics and clothing in the somewhat declined city. However the main reason to consider the jaunt was to take the train from there to Mumbai, instead of staying  at Ellora overnight and spending the next day on the truck going to Mumbai. That would have given me two days in Mumbai instead of one.

In the end  I opted for a last night of camping and a last day of bouncing about the bad roads…how could I resist.




































































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