There are any number of ways by which people expose their stupidity. We chose to parade ours by cheerfully opting for a sight-seeing trip when the temperature was, as it was, unbearable at 40 C. But made worse by the fact that at the heat-radiating Ajantha rock caves, which is where we were camped for the better part of that maddeningly blazing afternoon, the mercury was perhaps tipping the limits at around 47 C. Even the street dogs had the better sense to stay put in the shade.
Why were we so boneheaded? Well, our excuse is: We were tourists.
As a tribe, tourists show no more intelligence than a shoelace. For proof, I have to bring up airline food, which if it were offered on any occasion other than when travelling, can lead to bloody riots and organised hooliganism. But on flights these days people often pay up to buy sandwiches that are so cold perhaps because they were made during the ice age.
After paying for air fuel, airport charges, flight running costs including incidental expenses on accidents, airline companies can realistically make money only if they resort to open burglary. Okay, technically they call it in-flight services.
For example, the aforementioned sandwich (recipe: two lame slices of bread, some leftover vegetables and plenty of chill and stupid passengers) was available for Rs.150. If we had any sense, we should not even have had a look at it. But, as I said, we were a bunch of hardy tourists. So we not only bought a few of the sandwiches, but also made bold to try what was on offer under the description ‘coffee’. They called it coffee because aviation laws probably prevented them from openly labelling it rat piss.
The sandwiches and coffee were free for travellers in the business class. Those who are wondering as to what’s the difference between economy and business class, well, from the evidence of the flight that we travelled in, the travellers in the latter class had the exclusive privilege and class and style that come in the form of individual arm-rests.
But consuming the antiquated sandwich kind of prepared ourselves for the visit to the less antiquated Ajantha and Ellora caves, which, as any one even with a passing interest in history will recall, are caves.
These caves, containing Buddhist rock paintings and carvings, date back to the BC years and are deemed historical marvels for two reasons:
1) We live in a time where paint companies advertise their wares on the USP that they can’t last one full rainy season.
2) They lend themselves to a lot of smudgy, dark, grainy photos that are fit for publication in history books alone.
But lest history tomes manage to get some passable pictures to publish, the authorities have banned flashlight photography inside the Ajantha caves.
So here I will use my trained journalistic eye for detail and the skill of vivid description, to bring to you as to what exactly the 26 different rock caves contain: Historical Buddha statues and historical darkness.
The dual attractions help ensure a balance among the visitors: When the grown up among the crowd check out the statues, the growing ups check out the darkness in the company of the opposite sex. Probably this is also a reason why flashbulbs are not allowed to pop up.
Again, these are a clutch of paintings, carvings, statues, temples that occupy 16 caves, none of which comes attached with toilets. Come to think of it, most of the historical monuments here or anywhere else, at least the ones I have come across, seem to have no washroom facilities. This obviously leads us to the question: Are we allowed to make less than tasteful jokes on the historical man’s bathroom habits?
The difference between Ajantha and Ellora Caves, though they may be situated just 100 kms apart, lie in their historical time difference, which is vital and a handy piece of information for a wide-eyed tourist: Ajantha closes for visitors at 5.30 p.m. while the Ellora shuts its doors at only 6 p.m.
Ajantha and Ellora together are among the prestigious UN Heritage sites, a coveted distinction that probably allows the local shops to charge Rs.100 for a pair of camera batteries and even more for other knickknacks that you least need at a historical site but anyway unfailingly buy. We, for the record, ended up buying a hideous cloth bag for Rs.150 that is generally available in Chennai for less than Rs.75.
Ellora, like all spots steeped in civilized history and substantive heritage, has plenty more to offer, especially if you are talking of cheap Chinese toys. GI Joe and Barbie-like figurines hold far more attraction (than exquisitely and painstakingly carved statues) to today’s boys and girls for whom anything that is more than two years old is ancient history. In that sense, to them, Ilayaraja and Tansen belong to the same vintage: Useless.
Of course, to travel with kids to historical spots is in itself a historical blunder. To read a blabbering report on such a blunder would seem to be a bigger blunder.
But at least we had a legitimate excuse: We were tourists.