The Ajanta caves were reached after a four hour, exceptionally bumpy, ride over a road that is being renovated. Short stretches of excellent new tarmac were interspersed with much longer stretches of bumps and potholes. My Fitbit step counter was working in over drive!
Once we'd descended into the valley we left the buses for a 2 km walk to the temples. The temperature was in the mid 30's. We've reached 'heat' at last! Up until now the temperature has barely reached 30, but today was a scorcher, the heat being reflected off the volcanic walls of the valley.
Palanquin's were on offer for anyone who felt they couldn't manage the climb. Our party staunchly refused their help - although I had a secret desire to try them out, just for the fun of it and the experience. We did see a couple from another group using them, and they did look particularly unstable as they went up or down stairs carried by four bearers!
Mind you, the palanquin bearers stalked us throughout our trek into the gorge. They were like wolves, keenly spotting the weakest members of the party and targeting them with their sales pitch.
The 'caves' are actually a misnomer, the temples inset into the basalt walls of the gorge having all been carved out by hand using simply a hammer and chisel. It must have been hot and heavy work - particularly in the early stages when they'd have been working in a narrow space as they chiselled out from the ceiling down.
All the caves are dedicated to the Lord Buddha - and the temples were carved between 200BC and 500AD. Apparently there are about 1000 of these temples scattered around the neighbouring country, although this particular group had only 29. They'd been covered by jungle for 1000 years until a British hunting party stumbled upon them in 1819.
Each temple has murals painted on the walls - given their age, it's remarkable how many have survived. They tell the story of Buddha's life, and include lavish court scenes, musicians, princes as well as the Buddha himself.
We were a very flushed, over heated group when we made it back to the restaurant at the start. Iced beers, cokes and waters were consumed in profligate numbers. I was told the staff were particularly happy on hot days as they did much better business with the tourists.
We returned by the same bumpy road, so we were well and truly stirred and shaken by the time we made it to the hotel. What a fantastic day! I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
Wall paintings from 200BC
Carvings in the temples
Woman with lute
Attributes of the Buddha
Palanquins for tired tourists
Wall painting detail