April 10th, 2016 by admin

On April 5th, 2016 the much hyped Gatimaan express (train # 02050 /02049) was flagged off. This part of Indian PM Narendra Modi’s election campaign promise of running semi high speed trains in India. So under 2 years he has a train on the ground which is touted as the fastest train in India. Well at present it is the fastest train in India at a top speed of 160 km/hr. Now how fast is the fastest train from former fastest train? Well it’s a mere difference of 5 – 10 km/hr. The runner up is the Delhi – Bhopal Shatabdi express which runs at a top speed of 150 – 155 km/hr. It was the first Shatabdi train and was launched in 1988 on the birth centenary of India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Are we saying since then we could progress a mere increase of just 5 – 10 km/hr!

Well on speed (gati), I don’t see much gati! But it does score point on service. It introduces for the first time hostess on Indian train and infotainment. Like the shatabdi and Rajdhani expresses,┬áLinke Hofmann Busch coaches were used. These coaches are now made in India at the┬áRail Coach Factory, Kapurthala, Punjab under transfer of technology from LHB Germany which is now part of Alstom, France. IRCTC has also offered tour packages synchronized with the time of Gatimaan express.

It definitely good addition for anyone who wants visit Agra from Delhi in the morning and return in the night. For a tourist who wants to see more of Agra than the Taj Mahal and Agra fort, one day is not enough. The Gatimaan express runs on all days except Friday (Taj Mahal remains close on Friday). It is a new standard when it comes premium trains in India. But did it really achieved its intended goal of semi high speed !!

April 2nd, 2016 by admin

I have heard about Ajanta and Ellora like folklore throughout my childhood. And last December it was time to visit them. I was very excited. Ajanta is located around 105 km from Aurangabad and about 55 km from Jalgaon. It takes a minimum of a day’s time to see Ajanta caves. We had hired a car and around 6.30 am in the morning left for Ajanta from Aurangabad. Renting a car requires a minimum of 200 km to be covered a day and comes to Rs 2000. Traveling through the countryside on the way to Ajanta was an awesome experience! Noticing cotton plants, jowar plants, slow moving bullock carts. Feels life is breathing and not breathless!

It takes around 2.5 – 3 hrs to reach there. Road was narrow and broken at few places. On reaching private vehicles need to park by paying a parking fee (Rs 30 for cars). Walking from the parking lot, we reached a small bazaar. Here you can find various local artifacts, stones and also can have food. Walking past the bazaar, we reached the spot from where MTDC buses ferry people to the top of the hill. Ticket cost is Rs 25 per person. Now, we need to buy the entry pass for Ajanta caves.

Timings: 9 A.M. to 5 P.M
Holiday: Monday
Entry fees: Rs 10 per person (Indian, Saarc and BIMSTEC countries)
$5 or Rs 250 per person (others)
Note: Children upto 15 years free
Camera fees: Rs 25

Ajanta caves are a UNESCO world heritage site and it is nicely maintained. After purchasing tickets we went to have breakfast at the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation’s (MTDC) Ajanta restaurant. Here I saw one of the most expensive menu at that level. We ordered for coffee and bread/butter toast. Once you are on the hill there is no other option available. So I would suggest to have breakfast at the bazaar. Outside the restaurant there is a big yellow billboard giving info on Ajanta.

There are two ways to reach the caves – one through climbing from the right hand side or take a left and walk through the sloppy walkway. If you are traveling with senior citizens or kids, you can take the way on the left side. We climbed using the steps, as I was not aware then. There is option of porter carrying people but that looks scary to me. On the way found the plate of World Heritage Monument – ThumbsUp! One has to climb and walk little bit before reaching cave # 1. One has to open shoes to enter it. 40 people are allowed to stay in at a time and only for 15 minutes. It is one of the best monasteries in the Ajanta caves. It is most ornamented in its work and has paintings from Jataka tales, Padmapani and Vajrapani.

At some of the caves, you will be required to open shoes to enter but I would suggest you to wear shoes as it will help if you are interested in climbing the hill. Ajanta caves are located on the face of a horse shoe shaped gorge. Below flows river Waghora. In December the river was completely dry. It will be a sight to see when the river will be flowing in monsoon.

Then we went to cave # 2 which belongs to the 6th – 7th century AD. Lord Buddha is enshrined in the sanctum flanked by celestial nymphs and Bodhisattvas. As we walked and entered the caves one by one, it was an eye opening experience. People 2000 years ago can achieve such a feat in such a difficult terrain! Just wow.

Cave # 3 is incomplete. It is a complete mystery why it was left incomplete.

Cave # 9 is the oldest chaityagriha belonging to the Hinayana sect of Buddhism datable to 1st century BC. It is rectangular in plan but the layout is apsidal. The facade wall is decorated with a beautiful chaitya windows and figures of Lord Buddha. Inside the chaitya – the earlier dating back to the second half of 1st century BC and the latter to 6th – 7th century AD.

Cave # 16 is the largest and certainly the finest and most interesting monastery at Ajanta. It is famous for portraying various episodes of Buddha’s life. An inscription found on the wall of the Verandah , records the gift of this cave by Varahadeva, a minister of Vakataka king Harisena (475 – 500 AD).

Cave # 17 is one of the finest and magnificent Mahayana monasteries known for the display of greatest number of Jatakas. A Brahmi inscription on the wall of the courtyard records the excavation of this cave by a feudatory prince under Vakataka king Harisena.

Cave # 21 is a beautiful monastery excavated on a higher level during the 6th century AD. It consists of a pillared verandah, sanctum with an antechamber and cells. 12 massive pillars support the roof of the hall where flora, fauna, celestial figures and worshipers are carved in great detail.

In all there are 29 caves. Some section of the last cave is closed. You can read the complete details of each cave at ASI site.

After seeing the caves, we climbed down and walked down to the river shore. The river was completely dry and I took a walk on the stony base of the river. You can go to the other side from here and avoid walking atleast half a kilometer. But during monsoon, one might have to take the bridge. If you walk right from the bridge, you will come to a point from where you should be able to see a beautiful falls during monsoon. But it was completely dry during my visit. But I did see isolated stretches of water! From the bridge take left to go to the viewpoint. To reach the viewpoint, one would have to climb around 150 – 200 steps but it is not a difficult climb. The view while climbing and from the top is awesome. After climbing to the viewpoint, I walked around the edge of the hill. While enjoying the top down view of the caves, I reached the middle section of the hill. From here, one can get a bird’s eye view of the area – you can see the sky, hills, caves and the river as well. Just spectacular. If you have still adventure left in you, try climbing further uphill for some stunning view. Day times it is very hot and sun is scorching. So do use sunscreen and carry caps/hats.

After the 7th century, Ajanta was lost to the known world. It was not until 1819 when a British army officer during one hunting session noticed the arch of of cave # 10 that it was re-discovered.

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