|My free spirits refused to stay confined after the Class X Board Examinations ended and so after three days, we boarded the Gitanjali Express anticipating a long, refreshing tour of the West India.|
We stopped at Bhusaval and took a bus to Jalgaon, which was our stop for the night. Early next morning, we set out for Aurangabad, and on the way, stopped at the Buddhist rack-hewn Ajanta Caves. The isolated scrap of horseshoe shaped rocky hill rising over a ravine to a steep height of 250 feet made an ideal site for the monastic sanctuary, which dates back to the 1st and 2nd century B.C.
The architectural and sculptural excellence in these caves is surpassed by addition of a third form of art – painting, which has given Ajanta its fame. Within the frameworks of spirituality, an entire pageant of contemporary life has been vividly depicted. Our guide also pointed at the famous ‘Ajanta type’ female figures with well-carved forms, elongated eyes, attractive mien and ample adornment.
In the evening, we reached Aurangabad, a flourishing trade center in Maharashtra. We visited the state Textile Emporium to see the much-heard himroo and paithan handicrafts, which have typical ‘carpet of flowers’ design. But they cost the sky and we bought only a piece of stole, so that we could take back an example of the intricate design.
Next morning we were off to visit the Ellora Caves, located 28 km away from the city. The excavations on a sloping hillside spread from north to south, revealing most beautifully, the point of contrast among the three religions, Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism or more precisely, Brahmanism. While returning, we visited the Daulatabad Fort, a famous medieval landscape. Built by Raja Bhillamraj of Jadav dynasty in 1187 A.D., this old citadel is known for its brilliant fortifications, which made it almost inaccessible by enemies. Seeing the wide moat all around it, extremely smooth walls, heavy iron gates with elephant spikes and pitch-dark passages, we all agreed to what Travernier had said – “This fortress is one of the most powerful in my eyes”.
Bibi-ka-Maqbara, built by Aurangzeb in memory of his wife Rabia-ud-Durrani, is a poor imitation of the grand Taj Mahal of Agra. Erected by Prince Azam Shah in 1678, it stands in the middle of a spacious and formally planned garden, with axial ponds, fountains, and water channels, defined by stone screens and lined with broad pathways.
Our nest stop was Mahabaleswar, a hill station on the Western Ghats. After the sultry heat, here was our chance to cool off. One whole day was spent in visiting the famous Pratapgarh Fort of Shivaji. Legend has it that where the flag flies is where Shivaji killed Afzal Khan using the claws of a tiger. It is very well maintained by the Government and even today, a priest performs daily puja in the Temple of Goddess Bhabani.
We shuddered when the guide informed us of the punishment point of the fort. The wrongdoer would be hurled down from the fort, located in Raigarh Jilla and his body would be found at Satara Jilla, some 900 feet below!
Now was the time to move towards Goa for which I had been waiting right from the beginning of the tour. The thirteen-hour bus journey left us exhausted as we entered Panjim late in the evening. Next day, we were off to enjoy ourselves at the world famous beaches with lovely names as Mira Mar, Dona Paula, Anjuna, Kalangute and Kowa. The evening was thoroughly enjoyed as we cruised the Mandavi River in the luxury steamer ‘Santa Monica’, where the vibrant culture of Goa was presented before us through songs and dance items. St. Francis Cathedral was visited next morning where the body of St. Francis Xavier is still preserved. In the evening, we headed towards Mumbai by the Konkan Kanya Express, which took us through numerous tunnels in the Ghats and we entered Dadar at dawn.
The Siddhi Vinayak Temple, Taraporawala Aquarium, Hanging Garden, Boot House and the Iskon Temple were visited that day. Next, we went to the famous Haji Ali Mosque and Gateway of India. From the Gateway, we took a steamer to the Elephanta Caves, which are famous for wonderful sculpture of Shiva-Parvati. Situated in the Gharapuri Island and dating back till 600 A.D., it houses the famous trinity – that of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
A stroll down the Juhu beach and the Fashion Street completed our Mumbai sightseeing.
Just as all good things end, our trip to the western part of the country also came to a halt after fifteen days. The trip gave us a glimpse of ancient art forms hidden inside caves, formidable fortresses describing history, picturesque hills, exquisite beaches and a bustling metropolis all at the same time. Now, when I pen down those days, I cannot but echo these lines of Derozio -
Yes; there are in the backward past
Soft hours to which we turn-
Hours which, at distance, mildly shine,
Shine on, but never burn.
13 hours ago