Friday, December 9, 2011

Aurangabad, day 1; Poor Man's Taj, Aurangabad caves

I stepped outside the door and was greeted by two water buffalo munching on trash. They gave a nod then kept chewing.

It was another beautiful day out. I had a bit of food and lassi and caught the bus back to Aurangabad.

At 10 am, it was a much different scene then what I'd remembered the morning before. Dusty, noisy, busy. It was the first place I'd been that had a noticeable Muslim presence, with people wearing traditional clothes and a small mosque up the street.

Where the bud had let me out was actually before the bus terminal but there was a line of auto rickshaws crowding the corner so I took one to the Panchavati Hotel, where the Lonely Planet said was one of the best deals in town and had a good restaurant and a trust worthy travel agent on the same lot. I was really impressed when I got there. It had a similar feeling with some of the places I'd stayed in Italy. Checking in is always an ordeal in India, negotiating the price, showing your passport and visa, feeling out forms... While all this was going on, I noticed the guy who drove me there was brooding around the desk. I couldn't understand the language, but I pretty much figured he was asking for his commission for bring me there. I'm pretty sure his answer was that it was the Lonely Planet guide that had brought me there, not him and he left.

Once everything was settled, I dropped off my bags and went down to the restaurant. The man working had a shirt on that read 장미식당, Korean for Rose Restaurant. It turns out he's from Nepal and had worked in Korea for three years and speaks Korean pretty well. He hangs out at the train station until he spots some Koreans, then approaches them to come to the hotel (or at least the restaurant). He added a Korean section to the menu, and while I'd still had my fill of Korean food, he did bring me some kimchi in a side dish. 

After eating, I headed out to the travel agent, who had a little building set up with some computers for internet and his small office. One of the things in Aurangabad that definitely had me curious was the Bibi Ka Maqbara, aka 'The Poor Man's Taj'. Aurangabad also has a small group of Buddhist cave temples not to far out of the city, in the same direction as the Bibi Ka Maqbara, so he recommended that I go see both today. There was already a driver there waiting for a job, so off we went.

The "Poor Man's Taj"was built by the grandson of Emperor Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal, as a mausoleum for his mother, and was funded by his father, Aurangzeb, who'd imprisoned his own father, Shah Jahan, shortly after the Taj Mahal was finished. Confused? Me too... The Bibi Ka Maqbara, 'Tomb of the Lady', was meant to rival the Taj Mahal but at a fraction of the budget, well, they don't call it the Poor Man's Taj for nothing. 

It really was a beautiful structure, in a beautiful setting but glancing at the image of the Taj Mahal on the cover of my Lonely Planet made it seem more like a preview to the main feature. 

We continued up into the barring, desert-like hills another two kilometers until we arrived at the twelve ancient caves. After what I'd seen yesterday, I was tempted to think these caves were sort of the "Poor Monk's Ellora" but once I began exploring them, they were totally spectacular, especially considering they had something Ellora didn't, solitude. There were a few other people, but most of the time I was able to wander the caves alone. Some were unfinished, others partially collapsed, but the images of Buddha, various forms of Avalokitesvara, scenes from the Jataka tales, floral patterns, and even an unlikely but welcome Ganesh, were stunning. In one of the last caves, I tried another "Om" and once again, the whole cave came alive, really amazing.

We drove back to the hotel and I gave the driver a 20 rupee note for a tip. I was have expecting him to think I was cheap, but he had a huge grin on his face and thanked me. It struck me how such a small amount of money to me was so much more to him.

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