Monsoon Greens in Mulshi Lake, Pune, India

The Great Indian Monsoon is an experience. Through the ages it has inspired poets and writers to weave words around the falling rain, smell of wet earth and the unfolding beauty of moist, green earth. Alexander Frater in his travelogue ‘Chasing the Monsoon’ describes the beauty of the monsoon as it progresses from the south to west to east of India. It is a must read for anyone wanting to explore and romance India. Last week I was in Pune (a city at the foothills of Western Ghats of India) on work and I decided to spend the Indian Independence Day with my favorite travelling family who have recently shifted there. They love travel and photography and are out every weekend experiencing nature. They zeroed in on Mulshi Lake in the fringes of the city to give me a glimpse of monsoon greens.Mulshi Pune

We drove down the winding, and intermittently slushy road for about 80 kms leaving the hustle and bustle behind. The mild sun shine often gave way to the dark clouds and occasional drizzle. We clicked pictures of paddy cultivation and the different shades of green stretched out like bright and soft Persian Carpets on either side of the road.

A little later we stopped by at a road side corner to munch on the soft corn being roasted on coal fire. Soon there was a thunderous downpour which forced us to scamper under the make shift tent munching on our sweet corn cob.

After a while we got a glimpse of Mulshi Lake deep down, stretched out lazily like a lovelorn youth soaking in every bit of the monsoon drops to serve the people as dam water later in the year. It was a heavenly sight, the shades of green and blue and droplets of water dripping down on our faces.

Mulshi Pune

Travel Tip: Mulshi is about 80 kms (1.5 hours) away from the centre point of Pune City. If you are in Pune and have a day to spare, this may be one of the many options to experience nature. Buses are few and far between so best to drive down. Once there, grab a plate of Kolhapuri Biryani or some spicy hot road side eats and allow the stillness of Mulshi Lake permeate your being.

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Captivating Ajanta Caves of India

The rock cut caves of Ajanta and Ellora near Aurangabad, are testimony of the fascinating ancient art history of India. Declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1983, the Ajanta Caves are a celebration of Buddhism where as nearby Ellora projects religious harmony.They stand tall after several centuries of exposure to the vagaries of nature and attract tourists from across the world. Each time I travel through the leaves of history, it is a humbling experience to discover the depth of art, talent and perfection that existed from times immemorial. I feel blessed to be born in this country.Ajanta

Located about 100 kms away from Aurangabad City, Ajanta Caves are carved out of a horseshoe rock. The 30 exotic rock cut caves were built in phases between 2nd century BC to 6th century AD and contain sculptures and paintings revolving around Jataka tales and contemporary life. The prevalent rocks in this region are layered making it easy to carve. Coupled with the peace and calm around, it was an ideal location for Buddhist monks to pray and meditate.Ajanta

The initial caves were carved around 2nd century BC under the Satavahana Dynasty but most of the work was done around 5th century AD by King Harisena of the Vakataka Dyansty. Thereafter they sank into oblivion and were rediscovered in 1819 by a group of British soldiers who were hunting near the ravine of the Waghur Dam.With a few hours in hand I decided to focus on the caves that I had popularly read about which depicted special scenes from the life of Lord Buddha. The essence of Ajanta is captured in a few of the caves which are worth spending time in.

  • Of the 30 caves about 5 are prayer halls or Chaitya Grihas (9,10,19, 26, 29) and the rest are monasteries.
  • The best paintings are in Cave Numbers 1,2,16,17 and 19 
  • The sculptures are in cave numbers 4,17,19 and 26.Ajanta
Painting with Natural Colors

While it is believed that most of the paintings were done by Buddhist monks, the contemporary life and imagery appears to be the creation of highly trained artistes. They seem to have mastered the art of painting in the dark using mirrors to reflect sunshine in the interiors.  Clay, cowdung and rice husk was mixed together and applied to the chipped rock surface to form the base which was coated with lime plaster while wash. After drawing the outline on it, colours were filled in using big brushed made from animal’s tail. Natural colours derived from stones and vegetables were used.Ajanta

Walking Around the Caves

The pedestrian pathway running parallel to the caves offers breathtaking views of the caves and the ravine below.

  • The world famous Padmapani and Vajrapani Buddha paintings and the Buddha image in a Dhammachakkapavattana mudra can be seen in Cave No 1.Ajanta
  • The ceiling paintings in Cave 2 depicting the dream of Queen Maya, the miracle of Sravasti and the Avalokiteshvara are lifelike. 
  • The ceiling of Cave 4 contains the unique geological feature of a lava flow and not to be missed is the carved Bodhisattva.Ajanta
  • Cave 16 appears to be a monastery consisting of central hall, cells and paintings depicting important events from the life of the Buddha.
  • The Jataka paintings, Brahmi inscriptions and the giant “Wheel of Life” is a treat for the eyes in Cave 17.
  •  Cave 19 has a stupa carved with a standing image of Buddha which appears to be the Gandhakuti. The life size yaksha images on either side of the splendidly carved façade and the paintings of the Buddha on the wall make it one of the most majestic caves. Ajanta
  • Cave 26 comprises exquisite and sculpted figures specially the one showing the Mahaparinirvana of the Buddha and the attack of Mara during his enlightenment. The rock cut stupa and the extensively carved façade is noteworthy.AjantaAjanta
Travel Tip

Nearest City: Aurangabad, which is well connected to Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, Delhi through road, rail and air

Best Time to Travel: Avoid the summer months when it gets too hot!! Ideally plan and 2-3 day trip for Ajanta, Ellora and Aurangabad spending time to check out the UNESCO World Heritage sites as well as the local food and culture in Aurangabad which is famous for Paithani Silks, Mashroo Weaves and Bidari work.

Enchanting Sculptures of Ellora Caves in India

The rock cut caves of Ajanta and Ellora near Aurangabad, are testimony of the fascinating ancient art history of India. Declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1983, the cave monuments in Ajanta are a celebration of Buddhism where as nearby Ellora Caves projects religious harmony. Located about 30kms outside Aurangabad, Ellora is the modified name of ancient Elapura. They stand tall after several centuries of exposure to the vagaries of nature and attract tourists from across the world. Ellora

The 34 rock cut caves excavated out of the Charanandri Hills containing marvellous sculptures is a fine example of Indian rock architecture patronized by the Rashtrakuta and Kalachuri dynasties between 7th and 12th century AD.  Ellora is an expression of the religious harmony of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. Progressing from South to North, the 12 Buddhist, 17 Hindu and 5 Jain Caves bring Ancient Indian Civilization alive. The Jain caves were added by the Yadava DynastyEllora

It would perhaps require days to see everything. Most people like me would try to juice the maximum from a visit for a few hours. After reading through several sites and blogs, I had zeroed in on a few caves which encompass the spirit of Ellora.

Caves Related to Buddhism

The 12 Buddhist Caves were excavated earliest when the Mahayana sect of Buddhism was flourishing of which the most famous ones are:

  • Mehervada (Cave 5) is the largest of them all with low stone benches running through the hall and a shrine of Buddha in the end appearing to be a teaching hall for the monks.
  • Cave 10 is a Chaitya Hall and popularly known as “Viswakarma” where a beautiful image of Buddha is set on a Stupa.
  • Cave 12 is a 3 storeyed building and is a great example of craftsmanship and architectural skills prevalent during the Rashtrakuta period. It is a marvel that it was manually constructed skillfully to the extent that the floors and ceilings are smooth and leveled.Ellora
Caves Related to Hinduism
  • Amongst the caves related to Hinduism, the main draw is Cave 16 better known as Kailashnath. This single rock, multi storeyed cave temple was designed to replicate Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva. The temple is heavily influenced by the South Indian style of Rashtrakuta architecture with Gopurams, Dhwajastambhas and Nandi mandap. A lot of white paint which originally covered the temple like the snow laden Mt Kailash is still noticeable. Some of the marvelous sculptures within the temple are that of dancing Nataraja, Shiva Parvati’s wedding and Ravana attempting to lift Mount Kailasa, the abode of Lord Shiva, with his full might. This cave is a celebration of the human genius and is assumed to have taken 100 years to complete.Ellora
  • Cave 15 depicting the ten avatars of Vishnu is also known as the Dashavatar Cave. It is an open court with the monolithic mandapa in the centre and a 2 storeyed excavated temples behind. There are large sculptural columns and reliefs on a wide range of themes but the one depicting the death of demon king Hiranyakashyap in the hands of  Narasimha (Vishnu in a human-lion) form stands out.Ellora
  • Other caves worthy of a visit are Ravan Ki Khai(14), Rameshwara (21), Nilkantha (22) and Dhumar Lena(29). Ellora
Caves Related to Jainism

The 5 Jain Caves (29-34) dated to the 9th and 10th century are not as large as the others but contain very detailed and intricate carvings. The most important caves are Chhota Kailash(30), Indra Sabha(32) and Jagannath Sabha(33).

Travel Tip

Stopover on the Way: About 4 kms away from Ellora, stop by at Grishneswar Temple which is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas where Lord Shiva is worshipped as a pillar of light. It is believed that Shivaji’s grandfather constructed some parts of the temple in 16th century but was later reconstructed to its present shape by Ahilyabai Holkar in 18th century AD.

Nearest City: Aurangabad, which is well connected to Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, Delhi through road, rail and air

Best Time to Travel: Avoid the summer months when it gets too hot!! Ideally plan and 2-3 day trip for Ajanta, Ellora and Aurangabad spending time to check out the UNESCO World Heritage sites as well as the local food and culture in Aurangabad which is famous for Paithani Silks, Mashroo Weaves and Bidari work.

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