Though we had planned to leave from the MTDC resort in Aurangabad by 0700hrs for Ajanta caves, we could leave only around 0830hrs, thanks to their laid-back restaurant service. It took us two and a half hours to cover the 105kms to Ajanta. The roads and signage all the way were pretty good. Four kms from the caves there is a huge parking lot where all vehicles have to be parked. From hereon you have to use the environment friendly buses run by the authorities. The charges for the shuttle service are Rs7/- one way by non-aircon and Rs.15/- one way by the aircon buses.
The distance between the parking lot and the Bus Bay is filled with stalls selling souvenirs, snacks and bottled water. At the base of the caves too, there is an MTDC restaurant, just after you purchase the entrance tickets. Since the usage of flash for photography in the caves is prohibited, they have installed fibre optic lights, which will be switched on for you on production of a Rs.5/- ticket that has to be purchased at the time of purchasing entrance tickets. The caves attained the name from a nearby village named Ajanta. Apparently, these caves were discovered by an Army Officer in the Madras Regiment of the British Army in 1819 during one of his hunting expeditions. The official guide’s charges are Rs.600/- (non negotiable) or you can avail the services of the freelancers at the door of every cave who will do the job per cave (Rs.20/- to Rs.50/-) or all caves for Rs.300/-. All rates negotiable.
The caves, famous for its murals, are the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting. They were excavated (circa. 2nd century B.C. to 6th century A.D.) in the shape of a horseshoe, overlooking a narrow stream known as Waghora and each cave was connected to the stream by a flight of steps, which are now almost obliterated.
Totally, 30 excavations were hewn out of rock including an unfinished one. The earliest excavations belong to the Hinayana phase of Buddhism. These caves are datable to the pre-Christian era, the earliest among them being Cave 10 dating from the second century B.C.
The object of worship is a stupa and these caves exhibit the imitation of wooden construction to the extent that the rafters and beams are also sculpted even though they are non-functional.
The world famous paintings at Ajanta fall into two broad phases. The earliest, in cave nos. 9 & 10, are datable to second century B.C. The second phase of paintings started around 5th – 6th centuries A.D. and continued for the next two centuries. These exemplary paintings of the Vakataka period can be seen in cave nos. 1, 2, 16 and 17. The main theme of the paintings is the depiction of various Jataka stories, different incidents associated with the life of Buddha, and the contemporary events and social life.
The ceiling decoration invariably consists of decorative patterns, geometrical as well as floral. The paintings were executed after the elaborate preparation of the rock surface by chiseling grooves so that the layer applied over it could be held in an effective manner. The chief binding material used here was glue. These paintings are not frescoes as they have been painted with the aid of a binding agent, whereas in frescoes, the paintings are executed while the lime wash is still wet and acts as an intrinsic binding agent. It took us about three hours to explore Ajanta so on return near the parking lot, we fortified ourselves with some hot ‘Puri Bhaaji’ and ‘Aloo Parathas’ at one of the ‘fast food stalls’.