08.01.2017 - 09.01.2017
World Heritage Sites are boss. No half baked tourist attraction ever makes the UNESCO grade and, especially for a bunch of increasingly grotty travellers, they guarantee a spectacle.
The caves at Ellora were to be no exception. We entered the gates at 6:30. The entire compound, a series of 34 Buddhist, Hindu and Jain caves dating from around 500AD to the late 11th century, were ours alone.
The caves had been built as places of worship and some were built by different religions at the same time. Their original wealth had cone from being situated along a trade route from the western coastal ports up to the cities of the north. They are something to behold. Cut out of sheer rock these are not just caves they are pieces of art on a huge scale. The first twelve caves are Buddhist and within coukd be found huge Buddha's surrounded by their Buffhavistas and nymphs. Cave Ten had been cut into an elongated hall with a vaulted roof; the stone cut to represent wooden beams. At the end was a free standing statue of a seated Buddha which you could walk around completely yet was still part of the same continuous piece if stone as every other aspect of the cave. With the cave to ourself we sang to hear the (sometimes) sublime echoes of our own voices. The window cut into the veranda illuminated the Buddha beautifully, this cave was a master-piece.
Further on, Buddha's became Vishnu's as the religion first merged and then switched. It was all too easy to start looking over wall carvings that would have taken years to produce as they became similar to others; entire underground halls with pillars from floor to ceiling every wall decorated elaborately. And then we arrived at Cave 16.
If Cave Ten was a master-piece then Sixteen had been created by the gods. The worlds largest monolith, the Kailash Temple is actually a rock hewn building rather than a cave. Instead of starting from the side, they began at the top and dug down. Krishna I had the idea sometime during his reign in the mid 8th century. It was a hundred years and four generations of kings before it would be complete. It is staggering.
First of all, men would dig trenches with pick axes. Into these trenches huge wooden stakes wrapped in cloth would be jammed and then soaked in water. The wood would swell and the mountain would move. Two hundred and and fifty thousand tonnes of basalt they reckon was shifted this way. But that's not it. Once you're past the grunt work of prepping the site then you've got decades of careful sculpting, hollowing and craftsmanship, and, you can't afford to make a mistake! Because once you've chipped it off you can't glue it back on.
Flanking the temple are two life size elephants. The temple itself has no square foot left to engrave upon. Lines of elephants emerging from the foundations of the church, towers pointing to the heavens, horses, figures, cornices and balconies all from the same single rock. Ethiopia has some outstanding rock hewn churches but none are quite so extravagant as this. Even more so it is believed to be modelled on a temple in the foothills of the Himalayas and as such was originally covered in white lime render as if the snow had fallen in the heat of Matharastra. It was a place you could sit quietly in for days on end. A place that could take you a life time to study. A place for half an hour of overpowering awe.
Al had stayed behind as he'd been sporting spinach green skin tones the previous evening. But as we ate a very late breakfast he was up and raring to go. On the way Emma was assaulted by the monkeys who, baring teeth, made for her bananas. Luckily she managed to fling her fruit at the mini terrorists just before getting a nasty bite.
We wanted to get the Tuks serviced and we met a very nice chap who spoke little english but knew his car parts. "Left wheel! Complete! Carburettor! Complete!" Etc until we eventually reached, "Complete! Complete!"
With all bearings greased we were slicked and ready to roll. Our plans had changed somewhat as we could no longer make it to Dhule but we didn't want to hang around. We drove through a mountain pass and down the other side as the sun bowed and India glowed. A proper boss day.