Sunday, March 20: We start this Holi holiday with cold showers in our “Absolute Shit” hotel. Cold water and no water pressure, just a little dribble of water. We call the hotel staff to come up and check. After fooling with the shower for a long time, the guy says, “Mixed, madam, mixed!” I say “Mixed would be WARM! This is COLD!”
So they tell us we can use the shower in the room across the hall, which is obviously in the middle of renovation and is filthy. It smells like urine. At least there is a decent flow of water and it is warm. Following this ordeal, we go to breakfast on filthy tables outside, served by waiters whose uniforms have NEVER seen better days. The coffee cups are horribly stained, we can’t get jam, and frankly we’re afraid we’ll get horribly sick from the food on this, our second to the last day in India. We’ve been lucky so far that we haven’t gotten sick, as so many people do from food in India.
We first stop at the ruins of Daulatabad, a hilltop fortress en route to Ellora. This fortress, with its 5 km surrounding battlement, was built by the Yadava kings through the 12th century. Once known as ‘Devgiri,’ in 1328 the Delhi sultan Mohammed Tughlaq renamed it Daulatabad, the City of Fortune. At that time, he moved the capital of his kingdom from Delhi to this citadel, even going so far as to have the entire population of Delhi march 1100 km south. A mere two years later, for strategic reasons and because of lack of water, this new capital proved to be unsuitable. The sultan marched his people right back to Delhi, which in the interim had become a ghost town. Ah, the whims of rulers!
All along the outside of the fortress battlements are food and fruit stands. The fruit stands are beautifully arranged and especially enticing on this hot day, but we have been warned, as all travelers are, about eating food from street vendors. So, mouths watering, we pass and start our long march up to the top of the fortress. We have no idea what we are getting ourselves into and had we known, we might have suggested we go to Ellora first and stop here on our way back. It is hot and sultry even in the morning, and the walk is long and all uphill of course.
We meet a big family from Boulder, Colorado just beginning their trip through India, and we try to paint a pretty picture. At this point in our trip we are burned out and irritable from all the travel and from trying to squeeze in too much. We don’t want to tell them how difficult our journey has been. They take pictures of us in front of the 30-meter high Chand Minar (Tower of the Moon), which is a victory tower built in 1435. It apparently had a defensive and religious role in the fortress.
We come across a moat, 40 feet deep and carved into solid rock with mechanical drawbridges. In its heyday, it teemed with crocodiles. A 5-kilometer sturdy wall and a complicated series of defenses made Daulatabad impregnable. However, this fort, though one of the best constructed in the world, never experienced a battle.
We continue our steep climb and it takes us about an hour altogether, one way.
A series of secret subterranean passages lie coiled like boa constrictors amidst the fort. Here flaming torches were thrust upon an unwary enemy. Or hot oil poured down his path, as he deliberated in the labyrinth. Also the heat from a brazier was blown into the passage by a process of suction suffocating the entire garrison within. The Fort itself sits on an isolated hill; the hill is steep, with its sides falling so sharply to the moat that no hostile troops could scale the height. However, history notes that even though the fort was supposedly impregnable, it was once successfully captured by simply bribing the guards at the gate.
Climbing up through these pitch-black, bat-filled, spiraling tunnels is dark and our footing is unsure. Someone ahead of us has a flashlight and lets us follow in their thin path of light. It’s a difficult ascent and a worse descent because of sheer drops and crumbling staircases. On the way down, I am helped by a family of Indian ladies and their daughters who guide me by the hand through the tunnel and out into the daylight. The family insists on taking a picture with me when we return to the bottom, after quizzing me incessantly about where I’m from and where we’ve been in India.
We climb to the central bastion atop the 200-meter high craggy outcrop originally called Devagiri, the Hill of the Gods. We pass by colorful shrines and a series of defenses, including doorways with spike-studded doors placed at odd angles to ward off elephant charges. Near the top, at a height of forty feet, is the Chini Mahal or China Palace, decorated with encaustic tiles. This is where the last of the kings of Golconda, Abdul Hassan Tana Shah, was imprisoned for thirteen years by Aurangzeb in 1687.
Encaustic tiles are ceramic tiles in which the pattern or figure on the surface is not a product of the glaze but of different colors of clay. They are usually of two colors but a tile may be composed of as many as six. The pattern is inlaid into the body of the tile, so that the design remains as the tile is worn down.
When we finish our hike down from the fort, we stop for a cool drink at a colorful little stand.
We finally return to the bottom, a long and arduous journey, by which time we are utterly sweaty and exhausted and ready to go home for the day. However, we still have to see the Ellora Caves, which are the main attraction that drew us to Aurangabad! We take a rest at a little outdoor food and drink stand and try to cool off. Exhausted and hot, my legs killing me, I drink an ice-cold orange drink and a water. Beckoning from the fruit stands are beautiful fresh figs, which I crave but don’t sample for fear of getting sick. Then we head on to the cave temples.
At the entrance to the World Heritage-listed Ellora cave temples, about 30 km from Aurangabad, we encounter the usual disarray and monkeys. After we pay our dues, our driver first takes us up to see Cave 16, the Hindu Kailasa Temple, which is the jewel in the crown of the Ellora caves. It is considered the pinnacle of Indian rock-cut architecture. Carved to represent Mt. Kailasa, the home of the god Shiva in the Himalayas, it is the largest monolithic structure in the world, carved top-down from a single rock. It contains the largest cantilevered rock ceiling in the world. It consists of a gateway, antechamber, assembly hall, sanctuary and tower. Virtually every surface is lavishly embellished with symbols and figures from the puranas (sacred Sanskrit poems). The temple is connected to the gallery wall by a bridge (Lonely Planet India).
This temple was built by King Krishna I of the Rashtrakuta dynasty in AD 760. Unlike other caves at Ellora, it has a huge courtyard open to the sky, surrounded by walls of galleries several stories high. The construction was daring to say the least, with 3 huge trenches bored into the steep cliff face with hammer and chisel, followed by the removal of 200,000 tons of rock. During the removal, care had to be taken to leave behind the walls that would be sculpted. The complex covers twice the are of the Parthenon in Athens and is half again as high.
Besides size, the temple has amazing sculptural decoration, including scenes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the adventures of Krishna. The Ramayana is an ancient Sanskrit epic that depicts the duties of relationships, portraying ideal characters like the ideal father, ideal servant, the ideal brother, the ideal wife and the ideal king. The Mahabharata contains much philosophical and devotional material, such as a discussion of the four “goals of life” or purusharthas. The latter are enumerated as dharma (right action), artha (purpose), kama (pleasure), and moksha (liberation).
The best one shows the demon king Ravana showing off his strength by shaking Mt. Kailasa. Unimpressed, Shiva crushes Ravana’s pride simply by flexing a toe. Jayne and I each stand by this statue, mimicking Ravana’s pose, for pictures.
We then go to Cave 12, the huge Tin Thal (Three Story) Buddhist Cave, which we enter through a courtyard. It’s a Buddhist monastery from about 8th century AD. It houses Lord Buddha in preaching posture on a lotus throne. The walls are carved with relief pictures, like those in the Hindu caves.
Finally, we go to Cave 10, which is the only chaitya in the Buddhist group and one of the finest in India. A chaitya is a Buddhist shrine that contains a stupa, or a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics, typically the remains of Buddha, used by Buddhists as a place of worship. Its ceiling features ribs carved into the stonework; these grooves were once fitted with wooden panels. A frieze in the upper gallery depicts amorous couples and there’s an enormous figure of the teaching Buddha.
After we’ve seen these 3 cave temples, we’ve had enough. We are dead tired, hot and ready to relax. We know we don’t want to return to our Absolute Shit Hotel, so we ask the driver to take us directly to the Taj Residency Hotel. Set in the midst of beautifully landscaped gardens, this palace-like hotel is a quiet oasis in the middle of seedy Aurangabad. I eat a delicious lunch of oriental green beans and red cabbage along with a mango lassi. Jayne has a chicken tikka sandwich. After our leisurely lunch, where we can’t get a glass of wine because it’s Holi, we go outside by the pool and relax on comfortable cushioned lounge chairs.
Finally, when we feel we have over-stayed our welcome as interlopers in this lovely hotel, we have our driver take us back to A.S. Club Hotel.
Here it is 6:00 and we are trapped in this horrible place for the rest of the night. I finished the last book I brought and there is absolutely nothing to do. I manage to talk the staff into bringing a beer to my room. Since it is Holi, they can’t serve alcohol in the restaurant.
I want to get on the internet, but it isn’t open and we wait, to no avail, for the lady with the keys to come and open it. At one point one of the hotel staff knocks on our door and asks if we have a writing pen! I HATE THIS PLACE!! I finally drift off to sleep by 9:00 p.m., happy to escape my misery. Luckily, we leave for Mumbai tomorrow.