Archive for June, 2007

Ajanta and Ellora blog 3: Ajanta

June 30, 2007

Day two and off to Ajanta, more like a two-three hour bus ride from Aurangabad. Take our advice and get there early ie around 9-9.30am. The site is spectacular but to appreciate it fully you really want a bit of peace and quiet therefore get there ahead of the coach parties.

It’s a great location, caves carved into a wall of rock half way up a tight horseshoe bend in a valley. Again caves are really a misnomer. The 28 excavations were Buddhist monasteries and living quarters. They’re older than Ellora – dating from 200BC to 650AD – and we preferred them. In addition to stone work and sculpture, the walls are lined with what must once have been spectacular murals. Some caves still have reasonably preserved paintings, particularly some of the ceilings. And we felt the sculpture was more delicate and fine.

Once abandoned, the caves retreated into the jungle and they lay hidden until 1819, when East India Company troops on a tiger hunt saw what’s now known to be the façade of cave 10. We climbed up to the vantage point from which they saw the caves.

We would like to go back to Ajanta and see it again towards the end of monsoon, when the river would have more water. Also the bus ride to and from goes through beautiful countryside, rather like Dartmoor with different trees!

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Ajanta and Ellora blog 2: Ellora

June 29, 2007

So, first stop Ellora – a 45 minute bus ride from Aurangabad. It’s difficult to do justice to this or Ajanta in words. Ellora is a collection of 34 Buddhist, Jain and Hindu caves – but ‘caves’ doesn’t begin to describe them. Yes, they are cut out of rock, but within they are filled with stone carving – Buddhas, Shivas, ornate pillars. Alison’s favourite of the Buddhist caves was number 10, which has a barrel vaulted roof where the stone masons have carved rafters as if from wood. The oldest caves (Buddhist) date from 500-750AD. The caves were originally monasteries and living quarters for monks during the monsoon. The revival of Hinduism in central India around 600-870AD made Ellora a place for pilgrimage and the Hindu caves are more ornate. Alison’s favourite was number 15, largely because it’s up a steep flight of steps so most people don’t bother and it was consequently a bit quieter than some. Also Alison felt it had the most elegant sculptures of Shiva and Vishnu lining the walls.

The centre piece is the Kailash Temple. You cannot call this a cave. It’s the largest monolithic structure in the world, hewn from a single piece of rock and carved inside and out to resemble other free-standing temple structures from the same era (around 700-800AD). It took 100 years, and four generations of rulers, architects and craftsmen to complete. It’s stunning when you’re within it and even more impressive when you climb the track around the outside and view it from above. The temple was conceived as a giant replica of Mount Kailash, the Tibetan peak thought to be the axis between heaven and earth and home to Shiva and Parvati in Hindu mythology. It was originally decorated all over with murals, including the white snow-capped peak. Most of the decoration has now fallen away, to reveal the ornate stone work beneath. Imagine undertaking a project like this today, where there’s no room for error or improvisation. It has to be right first time.

Ajanta and Ellora blog 1: on the train to Ahmednagar

June 28, 2007

The first part of our most recent journey into deepest India took us along both familiar and new territory. We got on the Goa Express train for the journey North. It’s the third time we’ve been on it so it’s beginning to feel like home. It’s slow but it does leave Goa through beautiful countryside – the Western Ghats – including going virtually underneath India’s second highest waterfall at Dhudsagar.

However first you have to catch it (the train that is) and experience has taught us it’s best to stand on the bridge over the platforms rather than on the platform itself. The train is usually at least 20 minutes late (it’s only come from Vasco – about an hour away) however most crucially it tends to arrive on a different platform to the one announced! We haven’t noticed this phenomenon anywhere else in our travels so it’s a Goa Express-specific part of the adventure.

The new territory was that we ventured off the Rough Guide, so to speak. Our destination – Aurangabad – is not on the main line. The nearest railhead is Manmad Junction, however our reading of the map in the Rough Guide suggested that if we got off earlier (at Ahmednagar) we could pick up a bus to Aurangabad. We tried it and after an initial hiccup of going to the wrong bus station (there are two in some Indian towns – one for local buses, one for longer distance ones) it worked. It also helps that we now read enough devnagari script to read the desitination names on the fronts of the buses. The net result was that we were in Aurangabad and checked in to a hotel by lunchtime instead of mid-afternoon.

We then had the kind of serendipitous piece of luck that you sometimes need in India. We had planned to visit Ajanta on the Monday and Ellora on the Tuesday. However a friendly rickshaw driver advised us that the two sites were closed on those respective days, so we had to swap them around.

There isn’t much to tell you about Aurangabad. It’s North Mahrastra’s largest city and is on the up. Western firms like Skoda are moving in, bringing lots of new money. The old bazaar is attractive and the people friendly. Despite being a convenient base from which to see Ajanta and Ellora, it’s not entirely given over to tourists. We found a recommended restaurant to eat despite the name only being in Marathi (yet another language and script).

We’re back

June 26, 2007

Hi everyone. Sorry we’ve been absent for a while. Two reasons. First, we went away for a few days (look out for blogs on Ajanta and Ellora caves coming this way soon). But more crucially, we’ve been without computer power.

Before we went away, we suffered a voltage surge at home and it fried the power supplies to our computer, printer and Alison’s electronic diary. In the UK, you’d have no choice but to order new ones. However here in India, they still believe in fixing things if possible. Enter Lolitkar Electronics in Margao, who have managed to repair the computer and the diary power supplies. No luck yet with the printer, however this should be the easiest to replace.

And while we’re on the subject of how well Indians do things sometimes, we had some fun with Indian Railways on our journey back from Ajanta and Ellora. At least we can call it fun now – not sure we thought so at the time. Our train at Aurangabad was half an hour late. By the time we arrived in Thane the next day, that had translated into four hours late and we had missed our connection back to Goa. During the delay we thought through at least four alternatives for getting home (with various cost differences) however it all turned out to be very simple. When we arrived at Thane, we sought out the Deputy Station Manager. He stamped our tickets as valid for the next train and told us to get on the Nevrati Express, platform 7, and talk to the TC (ticket collector) who would find us a berth. Five minutes and the problem was sorted. Within an hour we were on the train and were back in Goa just four hours later than scheduled. Sometimes in India it’s just a question of talking to the right person and problems disappear.

Driving us to distraction

June 14, 2007

The saga of the driving licenses continues. Believe it or not, we still don’t have what we thought we had ie learner licenses for a car (each), motorcycle without gear (Alison) and motorcycle with gear (Martin).

Alison had a Harry license but not a car one; Martin had a car license but not one for Harry. Confused? You will be.

You see, where as in the UK we consolidate everything onto one license, the Indians insist on separate licenses for each category of vehicle. The form to request a license indicates that you can use it for multiple applications. However the truth is they like you to fill in a form for each license.

So, back to the RTO, two visits over three days. More forms, more pictures, more signatures. Oh and we wanted to change the address as well to our new Margao address.

We are now the proud owners of two learner licenses apiece. We just have to wait 30 days, then we can go through the whole rigmarole again. No joke. You have to submit the same forms, plus a few extras, to get dates for the driving tests.

And all this in a country where paper goes soggy in the rain.

It’s raining

June 10, 2007

The monsoon has arrived – we think. Heavy rain on and off all day today. Very nice, if still a bit humid between the downpours. Of course, monsoon brings all its own challenges. Like the chance to discover whether our roof leaks (it does – but only a small patch in the bedroom, but knowing leaks ….). And we don’t know quite how Harry’s going to respond in the rain.

Apparently monsoon also brings more power outages, or examples of ‘no light’ as the Goans term it. However so far Margao seems to be better off than other places.

All is settling down after the state elections, however there has been some excitement locally as the Margao ‘MP’ is the new chief minister ie he represents Goa in the Indian parliament. Not sure what this will mean for Margao – watch this space.

Things that go bang in the night

June 5, 2007

Picture the scene. It’s around 4am and Martin says to Alison ‘are you awake?’ Resisting the temptation to say ‘no’, Alison rouses from slumber to find Martin pacing the bedroom. The she realises what’s roused him – a banging sound resonating through our apartment.

There has been a lot of building work going on where we’re staying, what with a new office at the front, plus our clinic room and electricity cables being buried under the road. But even the Indians aren’t usually enthusiastic for early morning starts. Have our landlords cracked the whip given the rains will soon be here? It seems unlikely.

Martin goes to investigate, baseball bat in hand. He returns a few minutes later, shaking. There are eight ‘goondas’ (ruffians) breaking into the jewellers on the ground floor of our building. Our landlady has just shouted at them from her balcony below us, leading one of them to brandish a gun at her.

On being spotted the robbers left (or as the local papers will probably put it, ‘absconded with their loot’). We gathered with our landlords and waited for the police, while also trying to contact the shop’s owners.

On closer examination, the robbers had broken open the gate and the shutters protecting the shop and stolen all the contents out on display (mostly silver jewellery). The expensive gold work was in a hundred year old British safe, and the noise we heard was them trying to get the safe out.

You can’t say things are ever boring in Margao.

Too darn hot

June 2, 2007

Continuing the weather theme, May has been the hottest on record with temperatures a couple of centigrade above normal. This means some daytime temperatures of 35+C or creeping up to 100F to some of you unconverted diehards. But it’s not the heat that causes the slowing down of everything,(bureaucrats and builders particularly seem affected). It’s the humidity. Just to leave the flat and descend two flights of stairs produces damp spots, let alone the five minute walk to the bank, which makes us feel as if we’ve gone for a swim with our clothes on. The leakage is amazing and it doesn’t just affect us. Locals sweat too
So we have now weathered the two hottest months of the year, October’s the other, without moaning about it! We are now looking forward to monsoon. It can rain for a fortnight or more without let-up, with high winds, but we are told that the best days, and there are plenty of them, are warm with sunshine and short showers.