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