Tuc­son to Au­rangabad

We pay a visit to the world-fa­mous Ajanta and El­lora caves

Car India - - CONTENTS - Story: Har­ket Suchde Pho­tog­ra­phy: Sau­rabh Botre

Time goes a lit­tle bit crazy some­times, run­ning like a freight train when you des­per­ately need some more of it and mov­ing at a snail’s pace when it is im­per­a­tive that it pass. In to­day’s chaotic, a-minute-a-mile ur­ban lifestyle, the lat­ter is an ab­so­lutely rar­ity, and the for­mer is too com­mon for com­fort. It seems like the hands of the tick­ing clock are al­most dis­tort­ing the con­cept of time, mov­ing as they please.

In sit­u­a­tions like this, you need some­thing to ground you, some­thing to re­mind you that time is not your mas­ter and, maybe, just maybe, not as sig­nif­i­cant as you make it out to be ei­ther. I went in search of that re­minder, that totem to help bring back some per­spec­tive. This meant an early morn­ing, of course, and we left in the Hyundai Tuc­son with Pune still bathed in black, bereft of the sun’s warm em­brace, and started driv­ing to­wards Au­rangabad.

Our des­ti­na­tion, or at least the first part of it, lay but a fe w kilo­me­tres out­side what was once the cen­tral hub of a fad­ing Mughal em­pire. Over 200 kilo­me­tres lay be­tween us and the first set of caves, though, and as that fiery chariot be­gan to make its way across the heav­enly ex­panse, we were busy cov­er­ing this dis­tance, and mak­ing fan­tas­tic time. The Tuc­son’s 185 PS and 400 Nm meant I was over­tak­ing with ease and stay­ing ahead of the traf­fic, and I was in my el­e­ment: just me, the road, and the chal­lenges it poses. No stress, no dead­lines, just good mo­tor­ing fun, and the Tuc­son is built to help you max­imise that fun. It isn’t just the pow­er­ful en­gine, but also the car’s dy­namic abil­i­ties, ex­em­plary in-cabin com­fort, and a plethora of funky, con­ve­nient fea­tures

that made ev­ery­thing from stor­ing my wal­let and bills I ac­crued on the way, to ac­cess­ing the boot an ab­so­lute breeze. Soon enough, we had en­tered an arched gate­way and a fort at a nearby hill­top started com­ing into fo­cus — Au­rangabad had ar­rived. That fort, of course, is Daulatabad and its be­gin­nings can be traced back to the 14th cen­tury! A his­toric bas­tion with a colour­ful past, Daulatabad is al­ways worth a visit. From there, the El­lora Caves are just down the road.

Now all 34 of the El­lora Caves are no spring chick­ens ei­ther, dat­ing back from 600-1000 CE, and the most prom­i­nent of this net­work of cav­erns ded­i­cated to Bud­dhist, Hindu, and Jain cul­tures is, of course, the Kailasha Tem­ple. This mega­lith can be traced back to the eighth cen­tury, and when you visit, it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to be­lieve that all those in­tri­cate carv­ings and del­i­cate sec­tions, along with those tow­er­ing pil­lars and thick walls, all came from one, sin­gle, mas­sive rock — but ap­par­ently it did. The sheer ded­i­ca­tion and strength

of ef­fort re­quired to make some­thing like this is stag­ger­ing and beg­gars be­lief. All the caves have a fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory and are fun to ex­plore, and take hours to com­plete. It is well worth the time and the ef­fort, though, just re­mem­ber to dress com­fort­ably and wear sports shoes. From El­lora, it was off to caves that were even more an­cient — the Ajanta caves, just about 100 kilo­me­tres away.

This, of course, meant an­other jaunt in the Tuc­son, and the pow­er­ful air-con and lux­u­ri­ous seats were like a sooth­ing balm af­ter the walk to the caves un­der the glar­ing sun. The road be­tween the two cave sites isn’t in the best shape ei­ther; far from it, as a mat­ter of fact, but the Tuc­son’s sup­ple suspension did what it had to do to en­sure that I could re­lax be­hind the wheel and stay com­fort­able un­til the next stretch of walk­ing in the sun at Ajanta.

The old­est of Ajanta’s caves can be traced back to the se­cond cen­tury BCE — yeah, they lit­er­ally be­long to a dif­fer­ent era of time. These caves are a lot more ex­pan­sive, too, and en­tirely ded­i­cated to Bud­dhist cul­ture. Get­ting to the ac­tual caves means jump­ing through some hoops, though, be­cause you have to park your car in a ded­i­cated park­ing sec­tion, where you pay just for the priv­i­lege of en­ter­ing the

park­ing area and de­posit your car. Then walk to the state bus stop — the only way to get to the cav­erns. Once you reach the end of the bus ride, you pay to see the ac­tual caves, and then walk some more to get there. All of it is highly an­noy­ing but def­i­nitely worth it be­cause these caves are ab­so­lutely as­tound­ing. You will find 250 feet worth of walls carved to shape and de­pict the var­i­ous re­births of Bud­dha. The youngest of these caves is still pretty darn old, dat­ing back to be­tween 400 and 500 CE. The walls still hold faded paint­ings of the era, and there’s an old­world charm about ex­plor­ing them. You can’t use your cam­era’s flash, and have to take off your shoes to en­ter a lot of them, and the walk to see each and ev­ery one of them is al­most painfully long, but the re­ward is a look through a win­dow into the past.

This trip let me re­ar­range my thoughts and loosen the hold of stressin­duc­ing tick­ing of the clock. Af­ter all, when you see struc­tures that are over 2,000 years old, and are still in­tact to­day, how can you think that time is all-pow­er­ful? More than any­thing else, this visit al­lowed me to break away and en­joy a good ol’ road trip. The jour­ney was as re­ward­ing as the des­ti­na­tions, and we had one more lit­tle stop to make on the way out — Bibi ka Maqbara. This 17th-cen­tury mau­soleum is like a scaled-down ver­sion of the Taj Ma­hal, and as its white mar­ble walls re­flected the glow of the set­ting sun, I just sat there, not think­ing, not car­ing, just ad­mir­ing the beauty. I knew this lit­tle respite wouldn’t last, that work and life beck­oned. But the thought that I would have to go back, and soon, was tem­pered by the fact that an­other riv­et­ing drive in the Tuc­son, un­der the stars and moon this time around, would take me there.

( Above Left, Above, Be­low) The gor­geous El­lora Caves

( Above) Au­rangabad is ‘the city of gates’ for a rea­son ( Left, Above Right) Daulatabad Fort still stands tall

( Left, Above Left) The Ajanta caves are an­cient and beau­ti­ful ( Top) Bibi ka Maqbara was com­mis­sioned by Mughal em­peror Au­rangzeb to pay trib­ute to his wife

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