When I was told we were to arrive at Mumbai airport and immediately depart for a 400 km journey on a minibus, I didn’t really think much of it, I imagined a four hour drive approximately, but little did I imagine that it would take 13 hours through India’s rough roads to reach our destination! I knew it was a Unesco world heritage site and that it was carved out of the rock, I have been to many sites carved out of the rock but none had yet to compare with the beauty and perfection of Ajanta. This majestic site is full of many different temples all completely carve out of the rock. There are approximately 30 Buddhist temples dating between the 2nd century BC and the 6th century AD. These spectacular caves host some of the finest examples of Indian art, but amazingly, at a certain point in history this site was abandoned and the forest overgrew so much so that it covered the entire site which was lost until 1819, when a British man on a hunting party accidentally rediscovered it.
We got there too early and the site hadn’t opened yet so we decided to stop for breakfast. I was very happy I had all my vaccines up to scratch, as the first thing I was offered was an omelette cooked in an interesting coloured pan and served with an even more interesting coloured tea. Having said that, they were both excellent and no, I never got a tummy bug or any other potential illnesses. With a full belly and with high spirits we set off to discover this wonderful place we had so much heard about.
Imagine arriving at a site where there are large banyan trees amongst a small patch of jungle with monkeys jumping from one tree to the next. Then imagine walking up a stone-carved staircase leading to the side of a cliff. Suddenly the vast naked cliff presents itself in all its features and carved colonnades. Each temple has it’s own defined entrance and carved façade. The cliff overlooks onto a stream where beautiful bougainvillea and other coloured flowers brighten the way. Monkeys chase each other on the borders of the cliff and birds sing in the valley beneath.
It’s tiring to walk because the cliff is long and the heat takes its toll, but inside the caves it is fresh and humid and delightful to sit in. Most of the tourists were Indians themselves, children on school trips and other faithful. The children wanted to be photographed by us and with us and this made the experience much more enjoyable. The only other tourist I met apart from myself and the others I was travelling with, was another Italian who spent half the year in India, just to say how few non-Indians visit this wonderful location.
After this breath-taking stroll along the sides of a steep cliff, it is time to relax and enjoy a typical Indian curry. I ordered something similar to a chicken tikka masala but apparently it was supposed to be very hot. I love spicy food, so I was curious to see the extent of its spiciness… so was a group of waiters that patiently stared at me from behind the kitchen corner, probably expecting me to choke and beg for water. Actually it was delicious and I ate the whole lot… I guess the waiters were slightly disappointed but happy I enjoyed the meal.