“Palaces will decay, bridges will fall, and the nobelist structures must give way to the corroding tooth of time; whilst the caverned temples of Ellora shall rear their indestructible and hoary heads in stern loneliness, the glory of past ages, and the admiration of ages yet to come.” – Captain Seely, ‘The Wonders of Ellora’

As the above quote above may indicate, today (Thursday) has been spent exploring the expanse that are the Ellora caves. Our arrival into Aurangabad last night followed a very smooth journey, even if ‘The Conjuring’ (highly rated horror movie) was disappointing. Whilst checking into our hotel shortly before midnight we found out, to our elation, that it was 24 hour check in. A weird feature at a few more Indian custom orientated hotels, whereby the time you check in is the time you check out. This hasn’t benefited us before, but with our train being at 23:30 tonight it has worked out perfectly letting us relax and wash before jumping back into sleeper (non-ac) class.

So the hotel has worked out pretty well, but their restaurant has left us with a few raised eyebrows, which I am going to detour the blog for a couple of paragraphs to tell you. This morning whilst trying to find something that wasn’t a curry for breakfast I requested a couple of fried eggs on toast – got to keep the protein levels up before hitting temples! The waiter pointed out that they have ‘half boiled fried eggs’ already on the menu so that wasn’t a problem. I took their unusual wording to be classic Indian English, but how wrong I was, it was literally half boiled eggs…that had then been fried…in a spice mix. Oh well, it was ok, but not something I could recommend.

The highlight of the restaurant’s service came this evening though, when Joe requested another chapati with his curry. With an empty side plate already sitting on the table, the waiter brought it over on a new plate, then looked like he was considering whether to leave it on the plate or slide it onto the old plate. We waited tensely to see how he would handle this conundrum. It must have all become too much for the waiter, who instead of either of the obvious options, decided to pick up the chapatti with his hand and place it on top of our grubby guidebook that was sat on the table! We didn’t really know how to react to this, which was strange even by India’s usual terrible customer service. Even the manager was perplexed and after another hesitation the boy then decided maybe the plate was a better choice,  so more handy work later Joe’s chapatti was on a plate. We had to laugh at the situation, as you have to with much in India, otherwise you would go a bit crazy!! Anyway back to the temples..

We jumped on the local bus fairly late this morning for the hours journey to the cave and spent the day awing at some incredible caves/temples. To summarise the complex, Ellora caves is a grouping of 34 caves ranging from Buddhist to Hindu to Jain origin. The caves were carved out over a stretch of hundreds of years into both simple and highly elaborate temples and monasteries. Walking amongst the caves it is easy to forget that the places were carved from a single piece of rock with no margin for error.

Out of the 34 caves there were a few big highlights. The first being a Buddhist chaitya (hall), that was vast and the ceiling had been carved to resemble and curved wooden-beamed ceiling (picture the roof of the great hall in Harry Potter when they turn the sky effect off – just like that). It was epic, the sheer imagination to recreate a beamed ceiling in stone is vastly different from the usual statues to deities, and the huge Buddha at the end of the room added to its impressiveness.

A couple of the elaborate Hindu temples were also equally impressive, with pillars, statues and shrines carved in huge proportions. One of my (Toby) favorite carvings was a huge frieze detailing Shiva and Parvati sat atop Mount Kaliash with Shiva foiling the demon Ravana’s efforts to cause an earthquake with the touch of his toe. It was the carving of the dwarf opposite Ravana that really made the image, with him portrayed baring him bum to taunt Ravana – it’s heartening to know that mooning jokes are considered funny no matter what century you live in!

The Jain temples, a short walk away along a ravine under a waterfall, took home the gold medal for intricacy in their carvings, with the painting still evident within one of the rooms. Throughout India the Jain’s have never disappointed with their temples, those guys knew how to carve.

The highlight of the day, which we deliberately saved until last as it causes the other temples to pale in comparison, was the colossal Kailash temple. The temple took over two hundred years to complete and the scale is immense. Climbing the cliff overlooking the temple allows you to take in the 8 or so storied structure and also see how the temples that symbolize Shiva’s sacred mountain also represent a giant chariot. Walking amongst the temple, you find yourself craning your neck to try and see the top and the numerous carvings and rooms give a sense of the unimaginable amount of hours gone into creating the temple.

So all in all the caves were pretty epic, definitely worth a visit to and conveniently only an 8 hour train journey from Mumbai (in sub-continent terms that’s pretty short!). That’s where we are headed tonight, back into basic sleeper class after a couple of journeys in the luxurious AC3 – hopefully we’ll quickly adapt back to slumming it!

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