the next morning we woke up, packed a small bag and headed for Ellora, 30km from Aurangabad. We intended to bike out there, see the famous ancient caves and carvings, then zip to the hotel for a night of rest. instead, we had one of the most intense days of exercise yet, every bit the equal to the 100k-fiasco day.
first, the 30km to Ellora was almost all uphill, and tired as we were, this was not easy. it was a lot of fun though - the traffic was good sport and the trees gave nice cover. at Ellora, we paid our 250Rs and headed up to the caves. when i get a chance to actually upload the photos, it will give a better sense of the place but i will try my best to describe it here for you.
Ellora is a massive temple and cave complex carved out of solid rock. there is a huge chunk of rock jutting out of the base of a large hill that overlooks some rolling green countryside. driving down straight into this rock, the architects of Ellora chiseled out towers, columns, caves, statues and stairs - a veritable castle created with negative space. walking around in in, surrounded on all sides by the remaining rock faces, the scale is overwhelming, but so too the detail. every surface is covered - literally every space taken up - by carvings of people, gods, animals, and flourishes. the interiors are spacious, replete with the detailed multitudinous columns that ancient india so loved. large chambers are essentials low, open halls with columns every ten feet or so, created the illusion of being in a dense forest of stone. surrounding these chambers on all sides are over-sized effigies of the gods, almost always seated. sometimes a chamber or hallway breaks and there is a enormous statue - of Kali or Durga perhaps - in full standing, often dancing, glory.
we'll leave Ellora there, and hopefully you'll check out the pictures for more. we ate lunch and biked 15km back up an enormous hill (and down the other side) to reach Dualatabad. we had read that the fortress, the so called "City of Plenty / Riches" was impressive, so we decided to check it out. what we got was a treat that, at least in our estimation, gives Ellora a run for her money. personally, i preferred the fort.
to start with, the huge stone walls and spiked gates (intended to repel elephants!) are impressive in scale, but more so in preservation. the fortress is wonderful and elaborate, and you can climb the walls, shout down the wells and look out over the ramparts with no one bother you at all. everywhere there is crumbling rock, the outline of old foundations, and long yellow reeds growing from patchy grass that sprouts from the tops of towers and in between all the stones. the fortress is ruined, to be sure, but the fact that nature is slowly taking over only adds to how hauntingly beautiful the whole experience is.
there is an amazing tower-mosque of bright orange and a temple to "The Mother of India," the courtyard of which was so vast that eliot and i remarked "this is where the end of most kung-fu movies takes place." then you begin the ascent - first up stone steps to the lower keeps and ramparts, across a narrow bridge spanning a moat green with algae ("Did we just step into 'Willow'?" eliot asks at one point), and down into the Dark Passage.
from here, you climb a serious distance up through the "Hill of the Gods" through a series of traps designed to foil would-be attackers. there is no light whatsoever in the passageway (thankfully, we always pack a torch!) and the steps are uneven (to make attackers stumble). the tunnels are not marked and twist and turn to disorient you. in times past, there were pitfalls, murder holes, oil drops, and even channels driven up through the hill from the bottom where smoke could be pumped into the passage. after all this, you're relieved when the passage gives way ... until you see the rest of the stairs.
up hundreds of more steps, you reach the citadel at the very top of the Hill of the Gods, a small keep without mounted brass cannons on all sides. up here, the wind whips around violently, but you can see all Dualatabad stretching out in every direction for hundreds of yards. to the east and the north, there are high hills that drop suddenly to a plain due north and south-east. this plain stretches the remaining circumference around the fort, with the Hill situated at the furthest point out into this field. you can easily see the reason for placing the fort here and it's construction - the hills to the rear (where the main gates are) could no be accessed except by circumnavigating the whole fort and it's moat. the front of the castle could no be approached except over a vast plain and the first point you would encounter is a 3,000 foot tall hill with 20' brass cannons blistering out of it.as you can tell, i sort of get off on military history.
wrapping up, we descended (after another listen to Higher Love) and biked back to town. at this point on our so-called day of rest, we had biked 60km up and down some serious hills, hiked through a vast cave-and-temple system and then climbed up and down the Hill of the Gods through dark precarious passageways. completely tired, we slept the sleep of the dead.