The Palkiwalas of Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad

I had to get up early today. After all, it was my last day in the city of Aurangabad and all that was left for me to explore was the Ajanta Caves. The Ajanta caves were a 2-hour drive from the Bagga International Hotel where I was put up. I slept most of the way and as usual, we were greeted by tour guides and touts at the entrance of this famous world heritage site. I picked up a guide for Rs 500 and was soon escorted to a bus inside the compound. The bus drove us right up to the caves and then it was a trek up on the rocks which were a bit steep. For at least 15 minutes, one has to walk. I was ready for the climb, I had my water bottle and my guide.

As I started my climb, I was interrupted by a couple of Palkiwalas who urged me to use their services as they needed the money. It was not a very good tourist season so far. Just looking at the poor souls in ragged shorts, trousers and chappals made my heart bleed. “We walk every day from the top of the other hill to make some money, so we can feed our family, sir. We will take you to the caves and then back again.” One of the Palkiwalas urged me again. I was in no mood to use their services as I thought I was fit enough to climb, but to keep them happy, I relented.

Yes, like a grand maharaja, I sat on the Palki with four Palkiwalas lifting me above the ground. In no time, I was on top and now could enter the cave. It is a mammoth structure carved out from black ancient rocks. Caves, doors, tunnels, wall paintings, stupas, carvings – this place had all the wonders one can do with a rock. I loved walking into a cave one after the other feeling the coolness and a special vibration, a loving reverberation from the rocks around me. I captured the wall paintings that go back centuries. A lot of their shine and colour was still intact and gave me a gripe into their Buddhist roots. There was a cave with a giant stupa which I managed to touch. Special echoes came from the walls of the cave as I made funny noises while shooting its many ancient pillars.

On the other side of the caves are green mountain tops and in-between is a deep valley with water flowing through its many rocks and boulders. My palkiwalas took me from one cave to another. My helpful guide tried to tell me tales of the Ajanta caves but I shut him down most of the time. I just wanted to explore things on my own and stayed away from his historic chatter. Some of the pillar carvings and sculptures are still very intricate and show off the workmanship of that time. The paintings on the wall are still well-etched with their colours reminding one of a silent, peaceful and melodious age. This is where Hinduism, Buddhism and the Jainism faith all merged into one. A Triveni of the three great eastern religions or religious ideologies. The landscape is vast and green with hills and mountains staring into the blue sky. Yes, Ajanta was a blissful experience for me. The journey was made even more comfortable by my palkiwalas and, not to mention, my guide. After spending the entire afternoon exploring this great hermitage wonder, I decided to drive back to the Bagga International Hotel.

It has been a modest stay, Rs 2000 for the night. The taxi to and from Ajanta cost around Rs 3000. The palkiwalas will take Rs 2000 and the entry ticket is the cheapest at Rs 30 only. For me, I will always remember the Palkiwalas of Ajanta Caves.

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