Last weekend was my mid-semester trip with my program, AIFS, to Ajanta and Ellora. We took a train on Thursday night to Aurangabad. Train rides are my favorite means of transportation. Each bunk has six beds which means I can usually sleep for most of the ride. Plus, there are bathrooms with squatters that are literally just holes in the bottom of the train so you can see the tracks while you pee. That’s my favorite. But seriously, I think it’s really fun. My standards of clean have gone pretty far down. While I was lying down in my berth there was a mini cockroach crawling on the wall next to my head. And the weirdest part was I didn’t really mind. I just pushed it away. There was this Punjabi family in the same bunk as me. They had the cutest little puppy but since animals aren’t allowed on the train they had to keep him hidden in a crate underneath the seat. The son and daughter were playing UNO for awhile; it made me think of playing UNO with my brother on road trips. They switched to Angry Birds later. They thought it was funny that I could tell what they were playing. What can I tell ya, everybody loves the Birds. By the time we got to Aurangabad, the puppy started barking. Eventually the whole train knew there was a dog on board. One man asked if it was a “mobile tone.” Everyone couldn’t stop laughing.

When we got to the hotel it was around midnight. AIFS clearly hooked us up with one of the best hotels, The Lemon Tree. It had this gorgeous pool and waterfall. And the bed, oh my God, the bed. I forgot what an actual bed felt like. It had to be the most comfortable bed in all of India.

We woke up early the next morning to get a head start on our trip to Ajanta. The hotel buffet breakfast was heavenly. It had everything you could imagine. There was even chicken nuggets and bacon. My vegetarianism was really put to the test. The ride to Ajanta was beautiful. All the caves in Ajanta are Buddhist and man-made. These caves were discovered by a British soldier in the early part of the 19th century. They date between 200 BC to 800 AD and were meant for worship and living space for monks.

The caves are in a horse shoe shape all around this canyon. It was an unbelieveable view. Anjali read about each cave before we walked through them. It was a hot day and we had to keep our shoes off so when we got into each cave, the darkness was refreshing. Unfortunately, the dark meant I didn’t get many great pictures, sorry. We met a group of British guys who were traveling through India for a month. We walked with them across the bridge to the other side of the canyon where you could see the waterfall. We climbed up the hillside to the top of the canyon and looked down on the same waterfall. There was a really cool hut at the top and a few farmers herding their cattle.

That night we went to Thaat Baat Restaurant in Aurangabad for a traditional thali dinner. The restaurant was quite the place. Outside there was a great puppet show and a woman giving henna or mehendi. The food was amazing. It was the second time I have had thali. The first time was in the north during my first week in India. I remembered liking it but my stomach was also still adjusting then so I was not as adventurous. This time around I tried just about everything on my plate, and trust me there was a ton to try. A group of waiters just swarm your table with buckets of all different things, dumping everything onto your plate. And they kept coming. Whenever my plate came a little bit close to being empty, they would fill it right up. We got henna on the way out and returned to the hotel. Anjali, Emma and I watched the Bollywood movie, Once Upon A Time in Mumbai before we went to sleep. The soundtrack has been on repeat in our room ever since.

The next day we headed to Ellora. Unlike the Ajanta caves, the Ellora caves are a mixture of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain and represent one of the largest temple complexes in the world. They date between the 7th and 9th century and were executed in the time of the Pashtrakuta Dynasty. We visited the Buddhist caves first, and then the Hindu caves. The most impressive part of Ellora was definitely the Kailash Temple. It is dedicated to the Lord Shiva and is considered the largest monolithic temple on the world. The thing that struck me the most is the fact that this massive temple was carved out of a single stone. So it’s safe to say that I have seen some pretty cool things in the last 3 months but this may have been my favorite. I know that’s a bold statement but even the Taj Mahal can’t really compete with this temple. Every inch is so ornately carved. On the back side you could look up and see the face of the rock that was carved out to make this temple. After being completely awed but the Kailash Temple, we went to see the Jain caves. It was the first time I have seen Jain architecture so I was excited to see what it would be like. The second we walked in this man shoved a camera phone right in our faces. Now Anjali is an Indian American so she speaks a good amount of Hindi and her mother happens to be Jain. So she was less than amused by this man’s behavior. So she turns and says “he doesn’t have a brain” in Hindi. Well the man’s wife was pretty angry and starts shouting “madam, madam, he DOES have a brain.” Needless to say, we could not stop laughing. It was obvious that this man was not using his brain. Other than that, the Jain caves were amazing. This security guard called us over and took us into this dark cave in the very back. He showed us this huge painting of Mahavir, one of the Tirthankara or Gods of Jainism. Seeing a painting almost fully intact was incredible. All the other paintings have pretty much eroded. It was worth the 10 rupee tip to able to see this painting that most tourists probably don’t get to see. Overall, I liked Ellora the most. Just the idea that there are three different religions represented in one area is interesting. And obviously the Kailash Temple.

We stopped at the Bibi ka Maqbara on the way back to the hotel. It is basically a mini Taj Mahal imitation. I guess I’m spoiled when it comes to sightseeing because I was not impressed by this. The real Taj was one hundred times better. It was weird being there though. It felt like we were back in the first week. It seems like so long ago but at the same time, time is flying.

Originally the plan was to go back to Hyderabadon Saturday night but Telangana activity has picked up. All trains to Hyderabad were cancelled so we had to spend an extra night and then take a mini bus on Sunday. No complaints here though because I got to stay in that amazing hotel one more night and watch Bollywood movies until I passed out. Plus we ate dinner at the hotel and I had broccoli. The bus ride back was pretty brutal though. It ended up being around 13 hours. I had to pee on the side of the road many times. We stopped at a gas station to use their bathroom and let me tell you I will never complain about a gas station bathroom again. This was not even a squatter. It was a drain in the ground with a huge animal poop in the corner. Again, my standards of clean are no longer existent. But the drive was pretty and almost calming. It was nice to have time to just sit and do nothing. There were gardens of sunflowers and corn fields. I never pictured India being this beautiful.