Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Ajanta caves; the world heritage site

A two and half hour drive from Aurangabad takes you to the world heritage site of Ajanta. Although it is nearer to the cities of Jalgaon and Buldhana, Ajanta caves are better approached from Aurangabad. The caves are built in a horseshoe shaped curve of the steep rocky gorge that rises above the river Waghore. These rock hewn caves, still glowing in their own natural colours, are the finest achievements of the Buddhist monks who arrived here in 2nd century B.C. and reflect the zenith of ancient Indian art and architecture. Though most were carved in the first 400 years span, but the work continued till 7th century A.D. The caves were suddenly abandoned, most probably to the nearby Ellora caves. They remained unknown and forgotten for centuries, until, in 1819, soldiers from a British hunting party found them, accidentally.
The exquisite paintings on the walls of the caves and some sculptures depict the development in Buddhism, over the span of eight centuries. The central theme of the frescoes remain the life and times of Buddha. Then there are descriptive Jataka tales, when Buddha assumed forms of animals on the earth in his previous births. There are lions, elephants, monkeys, peacocks and geese with human forms of 'Yakshas', 'Kinneras' (half human and half bird) 'Gandharvas' (divine musicians), 'Apsaras' (heavenly dancers), which were of concern to the people of that time. All of them decorated with intricacy. Their half-closed eyes giving an air of meditation.
The most important and better preserved caves are cave numbers 1, 2, 16, 17 and 19.

Cave 1:
The doorway has the most seen Ajanta frescoes of Padmapani and Vajrapani; celestial figures holding Lotus and Thunder bolt respectively in their hands. A court scene, from the Mahajanaka Jataka is depicted here. The Ummaga Jataka and the Champeya Jataka are shown in this cave. Interesting in these frescoes is the head gear of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshwara and the ornaments, clothes hairstyles and the purses carried by the womenfolk. They are drawn and coloured with minute intricacy showing the caliber of the artisans.

Cave 2:
In cave number 2 Buddhist icons were sculpted according to a set of codified rules that used symbolic hand gestures and motifs such as the wheel, the deer, the throne and sacred Bodhi tree. Each represents a stage of Buddha's life. The ceiling and wall paintings illustrate events associated with Buddha's birth including Maya, Buddha's mother. There are many paintings in this cave where the human figures are dressed differently than those of the others. Others are the tales from the Vidhurpandita Jataka.

Cave 16:
In between cave number 2 and 16 are many caves depicting the miracle of Sravasti. A special painting known as the “dying princess” adorns one wall of the cave. This shows Sundari, the wife of Buddha’s half-brother, dying when she is told that her husband was going to become a monk. There are many female attendants besides her, one being a nurse. Astonishingly enough, the nurse is shown wearing the same uniform as of today.

Cave 17:
Stories from the Vishvantara Jataka and the Hamsa Jataka can be found here. One fresco shows Buddha preaching, with his right hand raised and palm facing the viewer, in posture of blessing. Buddha is shown seated in Padmasana- the lotus pose of meditation and is often shown with his hair tied in a topknot surrounded by a halo of light, representing nirvana or enlightenment. Another touching fresco is depicted in this cave when Buddha came back to Kapilavastu after enlightenment. He is shown with his wife Yashodhara and son Rahul. Here the figure of Buddha is tall and his wife and son look like dwarfs in front of him, depicting his knowledge and prominence.
Cave 19:
Just like the caves in Ellora, all the caves in Ajanta are Monolithic and carved from top to bottom. This cave carries huge Stupa structure with Buddha seated in it and celestial figures flying over it.

Cave 26:
Last of the caves which is intricately decorated and carved. The main sculpture here is that of the sleeping Buddha. It is the legend of his Mahanirvana; i.e. his death. While normal humans are seen mourning below, the celestial figures in the heaven are seen rejoicing.
Ajanta is being restored with the same natural colours that were used, where they have been faded.

North Bengal Adventure Tours

The Hills, the jungle and the serene beauty of undulating tea gardens spread to the horizon. From the low lying agricultural fields to the High alpine Mountains of Sandakphu. The Red Panda, the Gaur, the leopards, the Rhinos and an innumerable variety of avifauna all around. From the Mangos of Malda to the Oranges of Kalimpong Hills. The bio diversity of North Bengal is unmatched anywhere. The people of North Bengal are also a varied lot. The tea gardens brought in Tribals from Bengal and Bihar in search of Job. The hill stations attracted people from neighboring Nepal, and the partition of 1947 brought in Hordes of Bengalis from Bangladesh. Along with the local inhabitants known as the Rajbansis, this made a heady mix of culture and traditions.

Trekking is the best option to reach many of the destinations of north-bengal. naturebeyond is highly experienced in organising treks for small as well as large groups of Indian and foreign guests.The most common trek is to Sandakphu. The trek passes through the Singalila range (habitat of red panda). Sandakphu is the highest point in West Bengal and a unique place from where one can view both the Kanchenjunga and the Everest range of mountains simultaneously.

There are a large number of other options some of which are briefed below.

Sewak-Loleygaon trek - A low altitude trek in the Kalimpong Himalaya that begins on the bank of River Tista and ends at the famous tourist destination of Loleygaon.
Neora Valley trek - The Neora valley national park is famous for its virgin forests. Trekking inside the core area of the forest is restricted. The periphery of the forest also makes interesting trek. One entry point is Lava near Kalimpong. The other major entry points are Samsing and Todey.
Darjeeling-Tista - The Hill cart road connecting the Hills with plains and the Sikkim-Bengal highway, run almost parallal to one another. At any point the distance between the two arterial roads of the hills is about 8-15 km. The patch of hills provides some of the best treks.
West Dooars treks - There are a number of trek possibilities in this region including trek to Rupam valley in Bhutan, trek to Buxa fort and suntalekhola, trek in the Bhutanghat region, trek in the moraghat or chilapata forests etc.

Mountain Biking
Mountain Biking is the best way to see the most exotic sights of the Himalaya such as ancient trade routes of Trans-Himalayan traders and the mystifying rural life of the hilly towns and villages. Infact, biking and hiking make the best adventure options to witness the timeless cultural celebrations and life styles of the hill people as well as the rich bio-diversity of the Himalayan heritage.You do not require any special permit traveling within North-Bengal. But if you are an International tourist and have plans to move onward to Sikkim or Bhutan, you will need permits for that, naturebeyond also organizes these permits for its guests on request.

Rafting in Tista
White water rafting in Tista was introduced in Darjeeling hills more than a decade earlier and has gained tremendous popularity since then. Several private organisations along with DGHC tourism have set up rafting facilities.River Tista is graded at IV on an international scale. With a series of rapids with varying intensity and character, Tista extends a challenging invitation to the enthusiasts.

Jungle Tour in North-Bengal
North-Bengal is endowed with some of the richest natural forests in India. The forests of the region include Tropical Moist Deciduous, Himalayan Moist Temperate, Himalayan Dry Temperate, Tropical Semi Evergreen, Tropical Dry Deciduous, Subtropical Broadleaved Hill, Subtropical Pine forests. West Bengal has forest cover of 1.19 million ha, much of which is in the Darjeeling and Dooars region of North-Bengal. There is a tiger reserve in the region known as Buxa Tiger Reserve (BTR), wild life sanctuaries at Jaldapara and Mahananda, National parks at Gorumara, Neora Valley and Singalila.With such wide and varied forest cover, the region is also home to a large variety of fauna. The animals in the forest include Rhino, Tiger, Leopard, different varieties of Deer, Gaur, Monkey, Bear, the Himalayan red panda and countless other species and subspecies of birds, reptiles and animals.

The camps offer a tremendous opportunity to know nature first hand, to understand the unique natural eco-systems of North Bengal, to know about the environmental problems and finally to participate actively in programs launched to combat such problems.

Anjuna Beach

Goa Anjuna beach is one of the most popular beaches in Goa. The beauty of the white waves rushing to embrace the pale golden sand on the beach can be witnessed in full form at the Goa Anjuna beach. Goa Anjuna beach is a perfect haven for the hippies and you will come across some of them who have been staying on this beach for a couple of months. It is in the late 1950s to mid-1960s that Anjuna beach was "discovered" by the hippies. From then on began the trend of moonlit parties which is one occasion the hippies and now the tourists look forward to. Anjuna Beach is popularly known as the freak capital of the world and not without reasons. It claimed popularity for its Trance Parties and the Hippies who tried to synthesize the spiritual traditions of the East and the art, ideas and the music of the West. Sometime in the late 1950s to mid-1960s, the area was "discovered" by a group of travelers, including "Eight Finger Eddie," and a small international psychedelic scene began to meet there to party during the dry season. Anjuna is just the right place for lazing holidaymakers. Besides the calm waters of the Arabian Sea lapping softly on the Indian shore, Anjuna comes live with its ever-famous full-moon parties and the Wednesday flea market to take one on to a trance trip.

Wednesday Flea Market
Every Wednesday, at around 11 a.m., Anjuna breaks into a riot of colors. Lines of vehicles full of tourists start virtually raising clouds of dust in this area. Whatever one needs, from a used paperback to a haircut, one would find it here. The flea market is a heaven for hardcore shoppers and good bargainers, to bid on wonderful blends of Tibetan, Kashmiri and Gujarati trinkets and handicrafts, European snacks, cassettes of a noisy brand of music called 'Goa Trance', artificial ornaments carvings and T-shirts. An elephant ride and a photograph with a fake sadhu or a fake snake charmer can also be found here.

The Acid House Party
Anjuna is also known for the full-moon (acid house) parties that are held here for young tourists. Famous all over the world, they are a major source of tourist attraction around the world. Campfires burn bright all through the night and the music and merriment carries on till the wee hours of the morning. Facilities for bungee jumping are also available here due to the initiative of a private tour operator.Anjuna Beach has been the haunt of the flower generation in the sixties and is now popular with the younger generations. It became popular because of its Trance Parties and the Hippies who tried to fuse the Eastern spiritual traditions with Western music, ideas and art.

Night Life
Thanks to the kill-joy attitude reputation, Anjuna is a rave-venue for big parties that take place over here from time to time, especially around the Christmas-New Year full moon period. Smaller events may also happen whenever some occasion or celebration comes up. Musical Amusement.When it eventually gets it act together, The Alcove, over looking Ozran Vagator Beach, will be another worthwhile nightspot. More mainstream musical entertainment is on offer at Temptations, in the Red Cab Inn just below Starco's crossroads, where Indian classical recitals and guitar based cover bands feature with fire dancers on Mondays, starting at 7.00 pm. At other times, nightlife centres on the Shore Bar, in the middle of the beach, which has a pounding sound system. The biggest crowds show up accompanied by the latest ambient trance mixes from London. The music gains pace as the evening wears on winding up around 11.00 pm, when there's an exodus over to the Guru Bar, further up the beach, or to the Primrose Café in Vagator, both of which stay open until after midnight.

Location and climateAnjuna is a small village in north Goa, on the shores of the Arabian Sea. It lies 18 km away from Panaji, the capital of Goa. Goa has a consistent climate throughout the year with just meager fluctuations in the temperature. December and January might require light woolens, but April and May are warm. The period from June to October brings heavy rain, almost up to 320 cm. The temperature during the summers ranges from 24°C to 32.7°C and during the winters it ranges from 21.3°C to 32.2°C.Because of its pleasant climate, Anjuna can be visited at any time of the year. However, tourists should beware the heavy rainfall between June and October. The period from November to February is the best time to visit Anjuna.

There are plenty of guesthouses around the village, and even a couple of hotels. Someone planning a longer stay should look out for 'To Let' signs, as there are plenty of houses that are available on rent along the back lanes.

The nearest airport is at Dabolim, which is 29 km away from Panaji and 47 km from Anjuna. The nearest railway station is at Karmali 11 km away from Panaji and 29 km from Anjuna. There are buses every hour to Anjuna from Mapusa (8 km). For tourists arriving from Mumbai, Mapusa is the jumping-off point for the northern beaches. There are frequent local buses to Panaji, which is just 18 km away. One can also hire a motorcycle or a taxi from Mapusa to reach Anjuna.