Monday, April 30, 2012

Day 302 Jalgaon - Dhule

A fight against the wind again. But I am won, I am strong enough now, ha! Apart from that not much happened today. It's getting hotter and hotter so I have to stop more often and drink huge amounts of water. In Dhule it was not so easy to find a place to stay: hotels are rare and expensive. It was one of the very few times that I had to pay more than 10€ for a hotel room in India.
Even though nothing really exciting happened today I enjoy little things like some roadside talk more, now that I have my flight ticket and thus a fixed date when my journey through India will end.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Day 301 Ajanta - Jalgaon

I met another cycle traveller! The first one I meet on the road after more than 2 months in India! When I was having breakfast I saw an Asian looking guy on a ridiculously overloaded bicycle cycling down the road - I ran to the entrance of the breakfast place and shouted but it was too late - he was already gone. After breakfast I gave it another try and cycled down to were most hotels are near Ajanta - there I saw him, a few hundred meters from me and after a short sprint I could catch up with him: Keung from Hongkong. We were really happy to meet as for both of us we were the first foreign cyclists to meet on the road after a long time in India. He had an amazing tower of stuff on his back carrier, now I feel like I am travelling very lightly. He was just going to see the caves in Ajanta and then wanted to cycle to Mumbai to organize some spare parts - unfortunately that is pretty much the opposite direction of where I am going. This is one of the tragedies of bicycle travelling: you are much more likely to meet someone going the opposite way than someone you could join for some time.
After saying goodbye I cycled to Jalgaon - short way, but with a bad headwind. Nevertheless I arrived shortly after noon. My GPS got a bit confused today - I cycled maybe 50km, but it recorded more than 5000km! On one hand this is finally my revenge for all the times when it did not record anything, on the other hand this was maybe a bit of an overcompansation.
In Jalgaon I surprisingly found a western style shopping mall with a supermarket in the city center. They even had muesli and stuff!
After satisfying my wildest shopping  desired I went to a cyber cafe to answer some more job application mails and to book a flight ticket. Yep, now it is fixed, I will leave India on May 30th! I really don't know how I should feel about this: of course going home is great, but this journey is also great and it is sad that it has to end.

Day 300 Ajanta

Woohoooo, day 300! I celebrated by visiting my last must-see sight in India: the buddhist caves of Ajanta. From now on I will only cycle to my well-known city of Vadodara with no sights on the way.
Compared to the Ellora caves the ones here are less and smaller, but also older and in a wonderful setting: along the ridge if a horseshoe shaped canyon. I visited the caves from last to first as I had figured the lighting would be better. So I crossed the river and took the path on the other side to the end of the canyon. Right now in the dry season there was no water in the canyon, but during monsoon it all will surely look spectacular - there would be a huge waterfall at the canyons end (or rather beginning if considering the water flow) and several smaller waterfalls right between the caves as was visible by the marks on the rock. The caves are either monasteries (a central pillared hall, a sanctum with a buddha and companions and surrounding cells [some with some beds and pillows - very comfortable]) or assembly halls (chapel like structures with a vaulted roof and a stupa or a buddha figure as a central element). In terms of size or level of detail there are more spectacular things to be seen in Ellora (though without seeing Ellora before everything here would still be very very impressive). What makes the Ajanta caves special are their age, their setting and the paintings which have survived nearly 2 millenia (the earliest caves date back to the 2nd century AD). Of course of many paintings only traces can be seen nowadays, but a couple of them are surprisingly complete - all these are only dimly lit to prevent further decay. If you plan a trip to Ajanta and Ellora it might be a good idea to go to Ajanta first - which would also be in the correct chronological order. Ajanta was abandonded and forgotten when the work at Ellora gained momentum. Interestingly there are some unfinished caves here which give a good impression of how the work was done.

Day 299 Aurangabad - Ajanta

Aaaah, finally cycling again. It was a long and surprisingly hilly way to Ajanta. But it was nice. The last 10km or so were a long downhill. Now I am at about 300m and I notice that it's hotter down here.

Day 298 Aurangabad

It got stuck in this place. I had planned to leave for Ajanta today but then my little helpers at home send me some job references I had forgotten to scan before leaving (thank you :o) ). So I decided to spend one more day in Aurangabad - all day in internet cafe, writing job applications, checking bicycle transport regulations for flights back to Europe and looking for flats in Leipzig - the end of this journey is drawing near!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Day 297 Aurangabad - Ellora - Aurangabad

Time for a short cycle trip: I left my luggage at the hotel and met up with Hadet who had managed to rent an Atlas Royal bicycle from a bike shop. The bicycle was not in the best possible condition. But we gave it a try. Did not work out for long: the back tire kept its air for a whopping 4km. So just when we were cycling out of town we had to stop and push the bike back. As it was already noon we decided to bring the bicycle back to the shop and take a riksha to Ellora instead - this turned out to be a very good idea because the way was more mountainous than expected and walking around the caves of Ellora was exhausting enough.
Yep, now I understand why the travel guides read that yesterdays Aurangabad caves are nothing compared to Ellora.
The caves/rock-cut temples at Ellora are many, huge and incredibly amazing!
There are 3 groups: Buddhist, Hindu and Jain caves. As you enter the side you directly approach the biggest of all, the megalomaniac Kailash temple - actually the biggest rock-cut monolith in the world. I thought I had seen my fair share of rock-cut sights before - places like Petra in Jordan, Lalibela in Ethiopia and several smaller places in Turkey and Georgia. But this Kailash temple here still managed to make a lasting impression on me. 20 generations of workers cut this piece of art from top to bottom out of the rock using nothing but the most basic tools. It is a huge marvellous structure, adorned by wonderfully detailed carvings including stairways, bridges,... It is simply unbelievable that anyone could possibly envision such thing and find the means to make generations work on it.
There are several smaller - but still huge and impressive - hindu temples around it. A bit down the road the older buddhist caves start, some of them monasteries with several storeys. Most impressive of the buddhist structured is an assembly hall with a remarkably chapel-like shape and a ceiling with ribs which provides for a divine acoustic. Of course I had to try it out and started to sing, which eventually led to many Indian tourist making a lot of noise because they wanted to try it, too. After the buddhist group we made a short rest and drank some 2 liters of water before taking the riksha to the smaller, newer Jain caves - where newer means 800 - 1000 AD. Which are beautiful in their own right.  Here nearly all caves are connected through small tunnels and they have very specific, very filigree carvings - some typical Jain symbols I knew (e.g. Naked standing man) and some I did not know yet (e.g. some huges chalices).
Even though we were completely overtempled already we went to one last Hindu cave just minutes before the site closed. This one was pretty simple in decoration but huge and very interesting in layout: a pillared hall surrounded by 2 open courtyards which were cut from top to bottom.

Day 295 - 296 Aurangabad

For one day I just relaxed, mostly in my nice and quiet hotel room. The next day I explored the sigths of Aurangabad. The first sight was the Bibi Ka Maqbara, fittingly called the
Poor man's Taj Mahal. From a distance it looks very similar to the Taj, only if you look closer you will see in that the craftsmanship is of a poorer quality than that of the Taj - the whole thing is still very nice though. From there I cycled up to the Buddhist caves of Aurangabad. According to travel guides they are much less impressive than the nearby Ellora caves - but also this ones here are definitely worth seeing. On the way up some guys with motorcycles were hanging around under a tree. One of them started talking to me - unfortunately his second sentence was "You want buy Marijuana" - I told him to get lost very fast - first time nicely, second time loud and accompanied by half of my water bottles content poured over him - the second try worked, very much to the laughter of his buddies. The caves are split into two groups of 5 each, of which I liked the lesser visited group more. Most of them are monasteries, i.e. one big pillared hall with ornate carvings on the walls, a sanctum with a big sitting buddha and simple cells surrounding it all. At one of the caves I met German/Bosnian traveller Hadet who just started his several month trip around the world. We agreed on trying to cycle to the Ellora caves together tomorrow - if we can find a proper bicycle for him, let's see... 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Day 294 Paithan - Aurangabad

I had only the relatively short distance of 50km left to Aurangabad. But the many long cycling days during the last week took their toll: I could only go very slow and had to stop and rest pretty often.
When I finally arrived in Aurangabad I was, again greeted with rain.
Once the rain had stopped I went looking for a hotel. The lodges at the main road were a bit over my budget but the reception boy of one led me to a cheaper place in the backyard of a side street. This place had something to offer which is very rarely found in India:
A really quiet room ! No street noise, no blaring TV from neighbouring rooms. Aaaah, how relaxing!

Day 293 Beed - Paithan

Since about 2 days the 2l water bottles have disappeared - all shops only stock 1l bottles. This makes my ridiculously high plastic waste production even worse. After all I run at about 10l/100km. On the other hand I don't really trust the water served at most of the small roadside eateries. So, even though I am travelling with the possibly most eco-friendly means of transport I still produce a lot of stupid plastic waste.
About halfway I left the highway and continued on a small village road of ever changing surface quality. On the way I met many water buffaloes, some fires and just when I arrived in Paithan even rain! Paithan is not a very common tourist destination - it was difficult to find a decent place for dinner and when I found one the food was tasty but hot hot hot!