When I decided to make a trip to Mumbai to meet my aunt Hema, the senior most living member of my family, before entering the eightieth year of earthly existence in this body and take her blessings personally, I planned to combine it with a visit to the cave temples of Ajanta and Ellora. Fortunately there was a weekly express train to Aurangabad running from Chennai on Sundays. Boarding this train on 15th November, I reached Aurangabad on Monday the 16th in the morning. After freshening up in Hotel Pritam, where we stayed for two days we made our way to Ellora caves in the afternoon.
Ellora caves are 18 kilometres from Aurangabad, Opposite to the car park is Cave no. 16, Kailashnath Temple, a beautiful piece of Hindu Architecture. Built in 760 AD under the Rashtrakutas, this is the largest monolith in the world. The temple is covered with exquisite sculptures depicting scenes from the great epics of Hinduism, Ramayana and Mahabharatha. This dwarfs every other cave here. There are 34 caves in all in a 2 km stretch of mountainous path with lots of ups and downs, not counting the steps in individual cases. Of these 12 are of Buddhist, 17 of Hindu and 5 of Jain religion. Of these a few are not worth visiting. An important Jain cave is cave no.32 which is called Indra Sabha. Here we have the figure of Mahavira seated on a lion throne. Cave 12 is an important Buddhist cave with an imposing huge figure of Buddha. Photos taken at Ellora caves can be seen in my Flickr album “Ellora caves” @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/sam-sekar/albums/72157661505731141
Near the Ellora caves is Ghrishneswar temple, which has one of the twelve Jyotirlingas. From there we went to nearby Khuldabad where we visited Bhadra Maruti temple and tomb of Aurangazeb. Aurangazeb’s tomb is a simple one, as he had left instructions that his resting place should be built only with the money earned by him by stitching cloth caps and that it must be covered simply with earth. In Bhadra Maruthi temple which is dedicated to Hanumanji, the imposing idol is seen in a rare posture of lying on its back, as if sleeping. By then darkness had set in and we retired to the hotel in Aurangabad.
The next morning we started for the Ajanta caves, which is about 140 kilometres from Aurangabad. Ajanta caves like Ellora caves is a world Heritage site and a protected monument and is renowned for Buddhist paintings some even dating back to second century B.C. All vehicles are to be parked a few kilometres from the site and we take the special buses that are run from the car park to the site. There are 29 caves and they are situated in a horse-shoe shape overlooking a deep gorge where flows Waghora river. Some of these are Chaitya halls or shrines, where we have to leave the footwear outside. There are paintings on the ceilings as well and most of them are faded. As we had carried torch with us we could make out some figures. Flash photography is prohibited within these caves. Others are Vihars. monasteries used by Buddhist monks for study and meditation. The paintings are either narrative scenes from Buddha’s life or illustrations of Jataka tales. As we were going round the caves we met a group from Malysia in which a few were Tamil-speaking and they were very happy to interact with us and had also photos taken with us. Photos taken in Ajanta caves can be viewed in my Flickr album “Ajanta Caves” @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/sam-sekar/albums/72157660984136469
That evening we visited Bibi ka Maqbara, also called “Mini Taj”, which is a tomb built by Aurangazeb for his wife Rabia Durani, modelling it after Taj Mahal. It is a pity that there were not enough lights there after sunset. The next morning we vacated the hotel and started our journey to Shirdi. On the way we first visited a local attraction, Panchakki, a water-mill from Mughal times situated in a garden attached to the tomb of a Muslim saint, Baba Shah Muzaffar. After visiting Panchakki, we made our way to Daulatabad fort. The fort has an interesting history. It was originally called Devagiri, built by a Hindu King. Later it fell into the hands of Muslim rulers. Muhammed bin Tugluk renamed it as Daulatabad and made it his capital, ordering all the inhabitants of Delhi, young, old and sick to march to Daulatabad. After a brief period of reign from here he changed his mind and ordered a march back to Delhi. Both these transplantations of population caused huge loss of lives and suffering.
The fort houses a palace situated on top of a 200m hill and 210 ft. tower called Chand minar, a 17ft. long cannon, a moat 40ft. deep, and a large water tank, close to its top, fed by an underground natural source. As the climb was quite steep and stairs dark, we did not go beyond the subterranean passage. Photos of the fort and tomb among other things can be viewed in my Flickr album “Monuments etc., of Aurangabad” @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/sam-sekar/albums/72157661671037516
We stopped again at Sani Singanapur where there is a famous temple dedicated to Lord Saneeswara. There is no regular temple or a priest to perform daily pujas. The idol is on a raised platform in the open ground and male devotees in wet clothes after bath can ascend the platform and perform puja and abhishekam. Others can stand below and have Darshan. Another unique feature is the houses in the village have no doors as Lord Saneeswara is supposed to guard them. Nowadays a few have a screen for privacy. Not only the old houses but even the modern constructions like toilets in the premises have no doors which Rajam found quite embarrassing to use. We had a sumptuous lunch here in the Devasthanam hall which was provided at a subsidised rate of Rs.20/- per head.
We reached Shirdi in the evening and rested in Hotel Yog Palace where we had booked a room through Booking.com. That evening we had Darshan at Samadhi Mandir making our way there through the special entrance for seniors. The next morning we went to Nasik where we visited first Mukthidham, a beautiful temple in white marble where idols of all deities find a place. From there we went to Panchavati where we entered sliding, Sita Gumpha, a small underground cave where Sita Devi lived in Vanvaas. and crawled with difficulty to the end of passage. From there we went to Ram Kund and Lakshmi Ghat of Triveni Sangamam where rivers Varuni and Tharuni unite with River Godavari. We wetted our feet at the place used by Lord Ram for bath during vanvaas and splashed the sacred river water on the head and left for next destination, Trimbakeswar temple that is about 28 kilometres from Nasik.
This temple devoted to Lord Siva, is another temple which has a Jyothirlinga. There was a big queue and we had to wait for one and half hours for Darshan of Lord and there too we were not allowed to go down to worship Lord. We had to be content with Darshan of the reflection in the overhanging mirror and that too hastily as we were pushed in "jaragandi" style of Tirupathi. But we managed to enter a second time through exit gate due to a misunderstanding in communication with the sentry there and had a good darshan of the reflection as we were then not looking for the original. We returned to Shirdi from Trimbakeswar straight and that day being Thursday we could have a glimpse of the Palki procession as it made its way from Dwarakamayee Masjid to Chavadi. Then we retired to hotel to leave for Mumbai next morning bringing to an end the nice interlude in our trip to Mumbai. Photos taken at Sani Singanapur and Nasik can be viewed in the Flickr album “Sani Siganapur and Nasik” @ https://www.flickr.com/photos/sam-sekar/albums/72157661821389186