Our Experiences of Incredible India, Including Ajanta and Ellora Caves

“India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.” — Mark Twain
Me and my husband always wanted to visit India, and we found an ample opportunity to do so through the D’Souza family from Mangalore-a beautiful coastal and picturesque town in South India.  Brian D’Souza, an environmental researcher based in Las Vegas, USA had worked earlier for my husband Vince, who is now the Director of Sales at Advanced Chemical Transport (ACT), Sunnyvale, California, USA. Brian, whose family folks reside at Kadri, Mangalore was the main person behind our whole India trip, and made our stay in India quite a memorable one. The warm hospitality shown towards me and my husband by the D’Souza family members namely Joe, Florine, Viola, and of course, not to forget Alfie was immense and need to be appreciated a lot. We also had the  blessings from their cousin nun Sr Teresa of Avila AC, who shared some of her precious time with us. Even D’Souza’s Mangalorean friends were great folks who offered us the best hospitality.

We had a great time in Mangalore-we tried the best sea food cuisine and it was excellent. Food at Hotel Goldfinch Restaurant, Guthu Restaurant and The Village was mouth-watering and delicious; and Chicken/Prawns Ghee Roast at Coconut Groove Restaurant was excellent. We visited quite a few places in Mangalore, namely the St Aloysius Chapel, Kadri Temple, Kudroli Temple, Panambur Beach and many other scenic sites. Also took a trip to Karkala, Moodbidri and Udupi, where we saw ancient temples and monuments which were simply magnificent. Our trip to Northern part of India was quite interesting-visiting places like New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Mumbai and many other cities. The Taj Mahal in Agra, and the ancient forts in Jaipur were simply astonishing.

We were given a warm send-off party by Alfie and his friends, together with the D’Souza family. Alfie is not only a good writer, but seems like he’s a good cook too-the Goan sausage salad and traditional Indian salad that he prepared were simply unique and very tasty; Herman Pereira grilled some authentic Mangalorean style chicken which was delicious, while the D’Souza family prepared some traditional Mangalorean cuisine. Alfie’s friends Herman Pereira and Jossie Rego entertained us with some oldies songs of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, thereby recreating the essence of Elvis and Rock-n-Roll legends, and we all “Rocked Around The Clock” till the wee hours. Thank you all for making us feel at home and allowing us to join in the fun-the Mangalorean Style?

About Ajanta and Ellora Caves- Most people who?ve prepared for their trip to India know that the Ajanta and Ellora caves rank among the wonders of the ancient world.  They are both also acknowledged UNESCO world heritage sites for ?Human creative genius; Interchange of values; Testimony to cultural tradition; Heritage associated with events of universal significance.?  Between the 2nd century BC and the 5th century AD thousands of monks, artisans and laborers worked to create cathedrals, monasteries, art works and entire communities carved out of rock mountainsides.  It?s hard to imagine these spaces without actually visiting them and walking around a space created by the removal of substance as opposed to an interior space created by building within a vacant plot.  But that is exactly what these spaces are: an absence of solids, carved out with simple tools of chisels and hammers in ingenious and magnificent splendor.

Both sites have monumental facades and statues, but Ajanta also has the remarkable paintings and frescoes that have (barely) survived the centuries.  The paintings contain epic stories in visual form illustrating the life of Buddha as well as depicting life scenes of the day.  As there is no (or very little) inner illumination, visitors should bring their own flashlight in order to peer into the darkness and bring the paintings into view.  Even so, it is still hard to get a very good look at them – which has a charm of its own as they are in their natural setting, an experience entirely different from that of a museum.

Another of the charms of visiting Ellora and Ajanta (Ellora particularly) is that it feels like the ?good old days? of visiting sites where there is little restriction and little tourist kitsch.  I was reminded of wandering in off a backstreet in Italy in the early 1980s and by serendipity entering the chapel where Da Vinci?s ?Last Supper? is painted.  No fanfare, no lines, no tickets takers, no searches, no metal detectors.  While a ticket is required to see the caves, once you?ve entered you are on your own to explore.  There are guides and caretakers about but they are subdued.

It is a rather free-wheeling tour as compared with other sites in India, but it does need to be planned.  Both sites can be visited in two days: Ajanta should be visited on the long day you have, Ellora on the shorter day, leaving you with plenty of time to make an early evening flight back to Mumbai.  Note:  The Ajanta caves are closed on Mondays, the Ellora caves are closed on Tuesdays.   We went in March and it was uncrowded, however, check your tour guide for holidays and busy days that you might want to avoid.

We started our journey by reserving a room at Quality Inn the Meadows Resort just outside of Aurangabad City.  The quiet grounds sounded very appealing after touring Delhi, Agra and Jaipur ? and they were.  We arranged by email for a guide and driver for our touring.  This included the airport to hotel pick up, all transportation for our sightseeing and return to the airport.  So we were worry free from the start.  We arrived in the evening and asked the hotel for a packed lunch for our long touring day to Ajanta on the following day.  They made us some satisfactory sandwiches which tasted mighty fine when we?d worked up an appetite at the caves.  We sat with some friendly maintenance workers inside one of the utility to caves to have lunch. 
As mentioned, we visited in March and the weather was lovely ? if you are visiting in hotter months, it would be wise to bring an umbrella as there isn?t much shade when walking from cave to cave; the interior of the caves is naturally very comfortable.  We spent about 3 meandering hours there and were able to see all the caves, the walk was not particularly tough as you go at your own pace.  There is a steep incline getting up to the cave area, however.  If absolutely necessary there are, for a fee, litter carriers for that section of the trail waiting at the bottom of the hill.  The guidebooks highlight these Ajanta caves as must sees if you don?t have a full day: for paintings caves 1, 2, 16, 17, and 19; for sculpture caves 1, 6, 10, 17, 19, and 26.

Our second day was for seeing Ellora and the ?baby Taj Mahal?, the driver had suggested another site but we were happy with just the two as we were a bit weary.  The drives to both cave sites are pleasant, the drive to Ajanta is over 2 hours, but the countryside is very nice and the time passes quickly with lots to see.  The drive to Ellora is short, under an hour and quite pleasant. Walking Ellora is also easier than Ajanta, the caves are at the road level and there is little to no ascent.  Your driver can split the visit between the two areas to minimize walking.  The Ellora caves follow the development of religious thought in India and include Jain and Hindu temples along with the Buddhist ones.  There are 34 caves here, the 12 to the south are Buddhist, the 5 in the north are Jain and the remaining 17 in between are Hindu.

The Hindu caves take on an exuberance and vitality not really seen in the more serene Buddhist caves. The calm contemplation of the seated Buddha statues of Ajanta is in stark contrast to the multitude of Hindu gods and demons, angry Shiva, animals on the rampage and of course the lovers intertwining of Ellora. In the case of Ellora, it?s important to see at least two or three caves from each of the three denominations; Cave 16 is the highlight and must not be missed, it is more or less a free standing temple, hard to imagine it started out as a rock mountain.  You may be lucky to be there when pilgrims are worshipping the linga (representing Shiva) deep inside the temple.

The baby Taj Mahal, Bibi Ka Maqbara, was built between 1651 and 1661 really is that: a miniature replica of the Taj Mahal of Agra created by the son of Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb, in memory of his own wife.  If you have the time and energy it is definitely worth a visit.
A word about the Quality Inn The Meadows: since it is located just a few miles outside of the bustling city it is truly a respite.  The room was wonderful, the best in our travels as they didn?t try to make it something it was not.  Bare (cool) marble floor, minimal furnishing and decoration very much in theme with the resort.  It was a really a nice place to return to after a busy, dusty day.  The restaurant was good though communication was sometimes a little difficult , though not for lack of trying, everyone tried their best to provide us with excellent service and left us feeling very cared for.  We?d recommend going with the Indian selections.  The hotel-arranged driver and tour were rolled into the total fare, which was very, very reasonable.  They even allowed us to come back to our room on the day we checked out to shower, rest and wait until near our flight time when Raj, our driver, took us to the airport. That was a super nice touch.
Following few lines is what my husband Vince had to say about his memorable India trip:
“Born in Italy, moved to Montreal Canada in 1960. Relocated to Los Angeles CA in 1990. Maureen and I have have  6 children (5 boys 1 girl) ranging from 14 to 31 years old. I have 25 years experience in the  environmental business and am currently Director of Sales at Advanced Chemical Transport (ACT) in Sunnyvale CA 
I did not do much travel in my youth.  Up to the age of 18 , the furthest I had travelled was about 100 miles .  Maureen and I met in 2001.  Since then we have travelled to many destinations including Rome, Naples, Beijing , Shanghai, Honolulu, Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco , Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Washington plus many more.
Our trip to India was one I will never forget.   Never in my life did I imagine that I would stand in front of the Taj Mahal.  At first sight it was like a mirage in the distance .  Despite it’s beauty it was not the highlight of my trip . What made my trip to India memorable were the people I met.  Florine , Joe and Viola D’Souza opened up their home to Maureen and I and treated us like family. We spent time singing and dancing with their children Anna and Lexi . It was also great to meet fun loving and super-guy Alfie D’Souza. On the last night of our stay in Mangalore/India we celebrated Joe an Alfred’s birthday on the back Patio with western music and Indian food. It was a blast.
Viola’s  trip planning allowed us to see the beauty and the hardships of India.  My biggest disappointment was that many of your beautiful sites and not being kept up and my fear is that our children may not be able to see India the way we did during our trip”- Vince Cavaliere

Author: Maureen Nyhan- Sunnyvalle- CA-USA