india’s classical masterpiece: the ellora caves

Be prepared to be bowled over.

No matter how many incredible photographs or videos you may have seen or paragraphs of eloquent text in guide books and articles you may have read, the real thing will.still.take.your.breath.away.

The Ellora caves are grander and more magnificent, yet full of intricate detailing, than you may ever have imagined.

Three ancient Indian religions are housed here. Three arts converge here. The site, spread over a two-kilometre long basalt massif, is one of the world’s largest rock-cut monastery-temple cave complexes with more than a hundred caves. And if that were not enough, these ‘caves’ were excavated out of living rock over a millennium ago, between 550 and 950 AD to be exact, with chisel and hammer, to create ethereal art and architecture in its wake.

Come, let me take you on a virtual tour of India’s Classical masterpiece and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. And in the process, inspire you to also make the journey to the Ellora caves in person. For what is life, but moments which take our breath away. 🙂 Continue reading

aurangabad: remnants of a despised emperor and his iranian queen

Aurangzeb. The very name evokes revulsion in Hindus and Sikhs alike throughout India. The butcher. Defacer of India’s rich Hindu cultural heritage. Murderer of Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur. These are but a handful of epitaphs the country’s populace remembers Aurangzeb, India’s 6th Mughal emperor by.

His path to power was no less callous—he shed no tears when conniving the cold-blooded execution of his three brothers or when placing his old, frail father under house arrest.

It is 312 years since Shah Jahan’s fanatic son, Aurangzeb (1618 – 1707 AD) has died, but the hatred has not abated one iota. Stories of his cruelty fill school text-books. Nearly every major temple in India has either been mutilated or had a mosque built over it on his orders. The shudders are still there on the mention of his name. I have seen instances of all of these with my own eyes. Continue reading

the painted and sculpted caves of ajanta

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If you were ever of the opinion that Buddhist art was all about asceticism and restraint, think again. The caves at Ajanta, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, are a lavish statement to the contrary as I discovered earlier this month on a five-day trip exploring the region in and around Aurangabad. But then, isn’t that what travel is meant to do? Break perceptions. 🙂

Imbued with sensuality borrowed from its sibling, Hinduism, ancient Buddhist art in its parent country is filled with nudes performing graceful mudras, figures wrapped in erotic embraces, and faces marked with raw emotion. Interspersed in this human carnival are serene, silent, meditating Buddhas, perfectly at peace in their company.

The mix of spiritual with secular, ordinary with sublime are common traits in Indian aesthetics. Why then should Buddhist art have been any different! Continue reading

global travel shot: lonar crater, a meteorite’s shot at earth

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“That’s where the meteorite came hurtling from,” my guide Mahesh points towards the Gomukh Temple perched on a slight dent in the rim.

“When was this?” I ask, breathless, as I slip over rubble and step gingerly down boulders, trying hard to look where he is pointing to and not go tumbling down in the process.

“Some say 52,000 years ago, some say 570,000 years ago.” Continue reading

travel diaries: hiking through the todra gorge

There are two choices for the hiker at Todra Gorge. You can either go up, scaling the burnt orange limestone crumbling cliffs of the High Atlas Mountains, higher with every step, or carry on along the canyon floor into its bowels, deeper ahead. Both have their own perks. A bit like life itself.

Since most people tend to climb up, and I like to do things a tad differently, I decided to walk on straight. It was a long walk. Some four-and-a-half-hours long.

I started at the most visited and dramatic section, a 10-meter-wide chasm shared by both river and road, and penned in with towering perpendicular cliffs 160 metres tall. Stretched over a length of 600 metres, the tourist crowds usually do their U-turn here and go back.

But should one venture on, the unfolding of the cliffs into craggy piles of rock up to 400 metres high that line a desolate sun-baked concrete road is surreal and unreal rolled into one. The only sound I could here as I trudged on alone under the ultramarine blue sky was the chirping of birds. They seemed almost glad for my company. Continue reading

photo essay: in search of the sahara desert

A sea of endless, sweeping, sand dunes which change colour in tandem with the sun. A night sky bristling with stars brighter than diamonds. The pin-drop silence that only nature can muster. Aah, the immensity of life and being part of it one-on-one!

Camping under a silver full moon in the Sahara Desert was the reason I travelled to Morocco last November. It was something I had fantasized about since as long as I could remember. It was the reason my heart thumped a little harder and my goose bumps rose a wee bit higher whilst I packed for my three-week trip. Yes, I knew there were going to be lots of other wonderful experiences, but this, this was special.

In my ignorance I expected to simply walk into the bone-dry fringes of the Sahara Desert which fell inside Morocco’s borders, once I left Fes. Wrong.

My journey of 470 kilometres took me through European-styled pristine and chilly hill-stations to 360-million-year-old fossil land choc-o-bloc with ammonites, trilobites, and orthoceras. I met proud, independent, solitary Amazigh nomads in their bare tents in the Middle Atlas and broke into giggles with schoolgirls at Rissani, once the ancient gold-trading centre of Sijilmasa. Continue reading