continued from : Amid the idols of Ajanta

Ahead of the stream lay a narrow stony path which had steps which went downwards. The sides were replete with bushes and flowers of all kinds. At the end of the stony trail came a bridge whose floor was made of rusted tin sheets. Finally , up we went , wore our shoes and took leave of the caves. This time, we took an AC shuttle bus back to the shuttle bus bridge. As we walked again through the festooned stalls , shops and parasoled little bazaar , the prices of the very things we had bought on our way in had plummeted mysteriously , even as low as rupees ten ( around seven times cheaper , at the same shops) .

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Within minutes , we were headed to the Ellora caves. Nimbus clouds gathered from all sides over our heads like pieces of charred cinder and began a downpour. The falling rain drops crawled upwards on the windshield ( on account of the acceleration of the car and slope of windshield and low coefficient of friction) and left snail-trails in their wake , until wiped away by the wiper. All of us had become sleepy by now and our eyelids began to droop. I pulled my feet up on the upholstered seat and one by one all of us fell into the arms of Morpheus , the least white one being the last , and the wisest being the second last.

It was another hundred kilometres till Ellora and took us a little less than two hours. Once outside Ellora , we straightaway made a beeline for the …. Bhutta stalls ( grilled corn seasoned with lemon , the acidic fluid inside it , that is to say, and topped with black salt.) We loooovvve to bargain !

There were monkeys and baboons all around waiting for careless decoys. They stared at us which led us to rethink our route to the entrance. A packet of jamun ( blackberries) was purchased followed by another packet of the same. After having offered the used up corn carcass to the monkeys , we made our way to the ticket counter , preceded by a group of lassies the same age as ours , a sight which got the hopes high for a majority of our group.

Now we were confronted by the same dilemma as Robert Frost was once. Two roads , and we took the right one which said ‘ caves no. 1-15’. Unfortunately , the lasses took the road not taken and once again we had been bamboozled , majority of us.

Cave no. 1 – while we sucked on the berries , Theslut shot off to the top of the steps ( no less than fifty of them) , within seconds .

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Beyond the steps , a cave system was cut out of a gargantuan piece of rock and stood on a huge rock itself. There were three cave chambers , two of them facing each other and a third one aside. The largest one was double storeyed. The lower storey was just pillars all around . The top storey housed idols from Hindu mythology carved out along the periphery of the large chamber . There was a mesh of pillars throughout the chamber like the ground floor . At the centre of the chamber sat a life sized statue of Nandi – the bull , who serves as the chauffeur ( by carrying on the back) to Shiva , the great hermit , the world renouncing form of god who serves as the destroyer.

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The walls of the chamber were lined with broken and grotesque life sized idols – Shiva performing Tandava , the cataclysmic prance , which heralds apocalypse much the same as the horn of Israpheel ( Raphael ) in Abrahamic mythology. Quite a large number of them were damaged and broken . Ganesh missing both tusks instead of just missing one , gods with hands hacked off , and Lakshmi with breasts hacked off. Clearly , the caves had been vandalized by invaders.

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Further we moved and found caves with similar idols but different designs. One of striking ones was a mammoth cave with three storeys . One by one we explored all three and sat one the balcony of the top one. Staircases led us between storeys.

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Between all of this , we witnessed a bizarre spectacle. Two old ladies clad on white garments walked across the open balcony . One of them was a hunchback , and their attire gave them the air of ‘Valak’ from the movie Conjuring 2. This slightly freaked us out. The ladies walked before Bro and Antiblack , sitting on the balcony and they didn’t seem to notice them .

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We followed the ladies and found them climbing the stone staircase without uttering a syllable . At last we found them paying obeisance on a cuboidal block of rock , perhaps a revered sepulchre ( but how??).

The top floor had a corridor at the far end of which was the idol of Lord Buddha. Along the floor of the corridor ran a long and narrow and wavy shallow conduit .

 

Further we went and came across cave 15 . this one didn’t have many idols but had a spring falling down the roof into the greenery below. We ate the last of the berries ( I blew a seed and kicked it right into the face of the slut , accuracy) and proceeded back to cave 16 which was before cave 1. On the way back we encountered the lasses perched on cave 1.

Cave 16 was the best among all the caves. It was large , spacious and unlike the others , it was open air. At the centre stood a tower. There was a giant block of rock at the centre carved out of which were two chambers one over the other. Along the side walls there were a plethora of idols incomprehensible to us . Along the sides of the massive block were battered idols of animals – trunkless elephants and tuskless boars . One one side there was a carved out ancient style storyboard depicting the epic Ramayana war at Lanka between the monkey-bear army of King Rama and the awe inspiring forces of the demon King Ravana.

Under pain of missing out on our itinerary which included two more places , we hurried out of the caves , leaving caves 17 – 30 , assuming they were just the same as caves 1-15 and not much interesting on account of the token number of visitors turning out from that side.

We set off again amid a drizzle which rose and ebbed with musical cadence.
A fort was to conquer , a bat-cave encounter awaited.
more next time.

photographs by – Neelesh Chandola (The Null – http://thenullstreet.com/)

next (last) part – Upon the Turret of the Sultan

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