The Caves of Ajanta

At Ajanta (and Ellora,) we shared history with about half of India (or so it felt like), most of them probably on vacation, coming from nearby cities or states.

It was a first for me after S.E. Asia and South America, where many of the locals don’t usually travel, so most of the time we shared the national monuments/temples/historical buildings/nature parks/etc with other foreign travelers… But here, we were completely surrounded by Indians wielding cameras (or phones with cameras). I spotted some other foreigners here and there, but we were quite few and far in between.

Either Xiker and I are ridiculously good looking, or the Indians just like to collect photos of foreigners: we were asked to pose for pictures no less than a thousand times. We tried to keep a tally at first but it didn’t take long before I, er, outposed Xiker.

For the most part, I thought it was amusing. I often framed my photos to try and include a colorful sari-wearing lady because it added to the ‘Indianness’ of the shot, and here they were, crowding around us bedraggled tourists and trying to take as many pictures of us as possible. (I really oughta start dressing better whenever we go to historical or cultural sites).

Anyway, it is no small wonder that the Buddhist caves of Ajanta are crowded… The temples and the ‘frescoes’ inside are nothing short of amazing, especially when you consider that they are from between the 2nd century BC and the 6th century AD.

The caves were hewn into a rock wall that overlooks a riverbend, high up and well protected from the elements. Supposedly they are among some of the oldest monastic buildings of India, and were only rediscovered relatively recently, less than 100 years ago.

As a result, some of the intricate paintings are remarkably well preserved, considering its age. Although its hard to see details because of the low light (flashlights not permitted, to prolong the deterioration) the artistic skill shines through the gloom.

Colors for the paint were made with local minerals, with the exception of the bright blue, which was made with exported lapis lazuli from Central Asia. It is thought that the pigments were then mixed with animal glue and vegetable gum to adhere the paint to the walls.

Anyhoo, here are the pics.