Saturday 23 October 2010

Maharashtra, revisited.

Falls at Ellora, 2007

I had found Maharashtra so interesting the first time round, I was really happy to return in October 2007, with Antonia and my friend Julia.  We waved goodbye to friends and family in Thane on the day after my brother's wedding and set off for the station with a plan and a lot of confidence that we knew how to operate in India!

We had pre-booked a train to a station about an hour from Aurangabad on our India Rail passes, and we had another, much later connecting train booked to get us in to Aurangabad slightly after midnight.  But if all went well, we planned to beat the rail system and travel by car!  At our connecting station, we wandered outside and were immediately accosted by drivers.  We mentioned the possibility of going to Aurangabad and they mentioned some rather high prices, so we told them we would wait for our train.  Then we wandered off to look at a shrine.  We were waiting all right, but not for a train. After a few minutes, some better prices manifested themselves, and soon we were ready to talk cars.  The second one we were shown was not too rusty, so we were off.

Figure at Ajanta, 2007

For some reason, we were absolutely ecstatic at the whole adventure of clattering down dusty beat-up roads through Maharashtra. Our driver had amazing skill at slamming on the brakes then skidding and swerving round the worst pot-holes and we were loving it.  Maharashtra was still beautiful and after a while there was an equally beautiful sunset.  At this point we realised that we were going to be driving in the dark for a while, and we wondered if the headlights worked. The pothole avoidance became a lot more erratic, but the villages were lit up, and full of people.  It was the last night of Dussehra (or Navaratri) and people were partying.  But nothing like the party we found when we got to Aurangabad!  It was not very easy to get through the streets, but that was just as well, because we didn't quite know where we were going.  I rather suspect I was the only one, including the driver, who had been to Aurangabad before.  I eventually managed to get us to within 200m of the hotel from sheer memory, but by then, I decided I was lost.  The driver asked a partygoer, who had the pleasure of pointing at the clearly visible sign just up the road!  We were delighted to arrive, and only a little disappointed to learn that the hotel kitchen was closed for partying too.  Fortunately, someone found us some left-overs from lunch and we made do with that.

Bibi Qi Maqbara, Aurangabad, 2007

It is really the easiest thing to hire a car to take you wherever you want, and we spent the next couple of days at Ellora and Ajanta without a guide.  We even got a car to take us from Aurangabad to Ajanta, wait for us then take us on to Jalgaon, for our not so fabulous train-catching experience at 2am.  On these trips, we got to see so much more, and for so much longer than the first time I went, when our lovely guide had his own schedule and ideas about how much we would want to see.  We also got to spend a lot more time chatting with Indian tourists than when we had a guide.  Or perhaps there were just more of them around in the holiday season, or the combination of their interest in our kid and Julia's interest in their clothes made contact easier!!  Ajanta had been really smartened up, but it still has it's cute little cafeteria where you can get daal and chapatis.  Somehow it reminds me of the Pont du Gard which had similarly rustic visitor's facilities in a similar landscape, until somebody decided to add a visitor center bigger than the aqueduct itself!  Fortunately, that can't happen at Ajanta.  There is such a lot of it.

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