I vigorously waved my hands at my parents outside the tinted windows of the luxury bus. They enthusiastically waved back, though they were looking as if they were missing me already. The bus sped away, leaving a cloud of smoke in front of the school.
It was 6:00 in the morning, and the whole of Grade Seven were set off to Aurangabad. In this four day trip we would be covering many national heritage sights such as the hand carved and painted caves of Ajanta and Ellora.
We faced our first challenge right away- staying in the bus for our eight hour ride to Aurangabad. Although all my friends were in the bus, I had already started to wonder what I would do. I started to chat with my friend in the neighbouring seat.
As the journey began, our first serving had already begun with warm and soft cheese sandwiches, thick with the fat slices of cheddar cheese. I gobbled it up, thinking we were running late and so we couldn’t stop for breakfast at a restaurant.
I was proved wrong as we stopped nearly an hour later at McDonalds for a bio break. While we were adjusting to these washrooms on the highway, the trip organisers dropped into the restaurant to pick up around fifty wraps and burgers. We knew, and our smiles said it, there was more munching to look forward to during the travel.
They served the wraps first after half an hour. The wraps were soon followed by a choice of vegetarian, non-vegetarian or ‘Jain’ burgers. I took the potato (aloo-tikki) burger, being a vegetarian. I was bloated after eating these heavy and stuffing snacks.
After stopping two more times for water breaks, we entered a restaurant five hours later for lunch. There we enjoyed an Indian buffet lunch. It turned out that we were in Ahmednagar, a huge district only around 120 kilometres away from Aurangabad. ‘Just around three more hours’, I told myself.
The bus resumed its journey to Aurangabad. The students, including me that is, were totally freaking out and making a racket enough to give challenge to a sound proof door anywhere in the world. I felt too bad for our dear teachers whose gift for that day would have been all that but a headache, that they would have wished for.
We reached the hotel two hours later. It took almost ten minutes for the teachers to calm the hyper energised students down. The sight of the hotel set us all off. After we entered the hotel in a relatively behaved manner (still looking like grubby gorillas) we were given our luggage and the room leaders had the key handed over to them.
I led my group to the room and inserted the electronic key into the slot. The door opened, giving out an electronic beep. I peeped inside, expecting to see a shabby room that had holes in its splintered wooden flooring and cockroaches in a puny bathroom which didn’t have running water (you should read about my other yearly trips to the rainforests and islands! – Click Here to read Them: Click On the Trips to read them:Trip 1 & Trip 2).
My jaw fell towards the ground. I stared at the luxurious carpeted room with immaculate beds that had the blankets tucked in neatly. A day couch was standing out in front of the soft curtains. I took off my shoes and shuffled my sore feet towards the inviting couch, placed clearly in view of the little LCD television. Tables and drawers were placed under the gigantic mirror. I was happy to see that next to the air-con control panel, there was a button which when you pressed it, it would increase the air-con temperature by two degrees every hour to be eco-friendly. That was when I noticed that the owner was Vithal Venkatesh Kamat, who owned the ORCHID, the world’s most eco-friendly hotel (Ecotel Hotel). I had read his autobiography (Idli, Orchid and Will Power) earlier and had always been inspired and impressed by his ideas.
The bathroom was nowhere close- it was even better than the room. The flawless tiles shone out behind the marble sink. The rest of it was just as good, including the WC, shower and mirror (that never seemed to fog no matter how hot we took our showers).
I immediately reserved one of the beds and placed my day pack on it to mark my territory. I scanned the room and found that there were four drawers in total- just enough for one drawer per person. I assigned a drawer for each of my room-mates, being the room leader, so that our room wouldn’t be messy as we could put all our small belongings in it.
I thought about how here we didn’t even have to share drawers, while in my trip in grade five in my old school we once had six people in the sleeping space meant for three people. The idea was to teach us to adjust & learn to adapt.
I took out my wallet, my watch and a little pouch that I wore, which contained some bubble gum (meant for the bus ride) and my itinerary for the trip so I would know what we would be doing next. I put all these in the drawer and freshened up and changed.
After having a few hot snacks and some boiling and delicious coffee, we assembled in a presentation hall for a PowerPoint presentation on Aurangabad which covered everything we were going to be seeing. I used it to confirm my itinerary.
The PPT presentation lasted two hours, after which we set forth our queries. It was followed by dinner and then, lights out.
I was feeling sleepy because it had been a long day but the sleep didn’t come because I had been sitting down and eating the whole day. I finally gave in to my mystic dreams.
Our room woke up and got ready even before the wake up call. We headed down to breakfast, my face shining because of the sun screen I had generously applied. We munched our breakfast and departed for the Ajanta caves, which was a two and a half hour journey from our hotel. That was barely nothing compared to our journey to the
We reached the man made caves on the top of the mountain on time. The caves had been carved and painted more than four hundred years ago. They were rediscovered 190 years ago by Englishmen who were hunting in the forest. The caves had been forgotten by humans and moss and foliage had started to grow on the caves.
I won’t give you too much information as I would like to encourage you to go on a similar trip. Cave ten has been declared the oldest cave. It was also the first one that was rediscovered. The only reason why it’s called cave ten is because the caves are not numbered according to when they were created but by the order they are carved in.
The caves were built between second century BC and sixth century AD- a period of 800 years! From second century BC to second century AD, the Hinayana Buddhist caves were carved and painted. In the Hinayana period, the Buddha was represented by a Bodhi tree, sandals, an empty throne or a stupa. Between second century AD and sixth century AD, the Mahayana Buddhists continued making caves. However, in their paintings and sculptures, they included the image of the Buddha, not just a representation.
Most of the caves were monolithic, meaning that they were made out of a single stone/rock (mono= one | lithic= rock). The acoustics in the caves were amazing- perfect for chanting prayers. There was a thick forest facing the caves, with a serene river flowing in the valley which made it seem very peaceful.
It was boiling there! It must have been just as hot as Mumbai, but the air was terribly still and we were standing still too. Thankfully, I had packed a Chinese hand fan as I had thought about the weather in Aurangabad. I chuckled when I saw a small boy asking his mom whether the hand fan worked with magic as I was moving it extremely fast to cool myself.
The only thing that could have been done much better could be the maintenance. There were people throwing wrappers and plastic bags into the plants and long ago the locals had recklessly scratched their names onto the beautiful paintings. There were also many statues that had broken off due to lack of preservation.
However, the management is trying out a way to let us glimpse at the true magnificence of the images. The archaeological department has found a chemical that will help restore the faded the paintings to their original glow. As the colours were made out of natural dyes, the colours have lasted.
After seeing the magnificent structures, we headed back to the bus for our lunch. I was expecting something like a drink and a sandwich for lunch as we were to have inside the bus. I was surprised when we were served a full three course meal, packed neatly inside a box. I picked up a vegetarian box to find that for starters we had cutlets, for main course we had Biryani, for dessert we had gulab jamun and for snacks we had a cheese sandwich and a fruit. Salt and pepper were also wrapped neatly in tin foil along with disposable cutlery. We were also served chilled drinks.
After the majority had finished their ‘little’ lunch, the shopaholics could go and buy souvenirs from the market. I tagged along, though I wasn’t very keen on shopping. However, I found the methods the shopkeepers used to attract customers to their shops and buy their goods very interesting. I ended up being convinced enough to by some crystals, a set of tea-coasters and a pen stand.
We headed off to the Bibi Ka Maqbara, a copy of the Taj Mahal. The ride was an hour, but no one even noticed the time as they were either occupied by watching the movie that was playing on the television in the bus or chatting with their pals.
The Bibi Ka Maqbara is very similar to the Taj Mahal. It was made by prince Azam Shah, the grandson of Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal. The Bibi Ka Maqbara was built out of Plaster of Paris, while the Taj Mahal is built out of marble, which is why it cost more than 30 million rupees in 1653, which will be much more now. Only the dome of the Bibi Ka Maqbara is made of marble.
There was nothing much to see other than the architecture and its history, especially considering that it started to rain. I praised myself again for remembering to pack an umbrella, under which far too many of my buddies were trying to shelter themselves.
We learnt a few differences between the Bibi Ka Maqbara and the Taj Mahal. For example, the Yamuna River flows behind the Taj, while hilly terrain is found behind the Bibi Ka Maqbara. Then there are the price differences- the Taj cost more than 3 crores, the Bibi Ka Maqbara cost Rs. 665,283 and 7 annas. Of course, there are the contrasts in the materials used- marble for the Taj and Plaster of Paris for the Bibi Ka Maqbara.
After we reached the hotel again, we assembled in the meeting hall after an hour of free time. We were given time to reflect on our impressions of the day and what we learnt. This was followed by dinner and that night, sleep came quite easily, especially because of the cool room and the soft bed.
The morning of the third day was very similar to the previous. After breakfast, we headed out to the Ellora caves, also one hour away from the hotel.
Before the bus could even halt at the car park in the Ellora caves, half a dozen ‘salesmen’ arrived and waited right outside the bus. They offered each of the students things ranging from your name written in a grain of rice to a statue the Buddha.
The Ellora caves were exceedingly beautiful. There were no paintings- only carvings. First we visited the Kailash temple- declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
The Kailash temple is a monolithic structure as well, but there is a difference between it and the caves. There are two types of monolithic structures; ‘cut in’ monolithic is when rock is cut from front to back, like the caves. But the temple is ‘cut out’ monolithic, which is when the rock is cut from up to down! Basically, the temple used to be a mountain and the rock was taken out of the mountain from above. The rock that was left made up a chariot shaped temple.
The temple was amazing, and I still can’t believe that all of it is made out of one rock. The drainage system was quite interesting as well. It consisted of small tunnels that were open on the top. There was a slight concave curvature in the tunnels so the water flowed away from the temple. However, now the drains are no longer used.
We headed off to the caves. There are 12 Buddhist caves, 17 Hindu caves and 5 Jain caves. However, the guide told us that these figures are only of the caves that have been found.
The difference between the caves in Ajanta and Ellora was that in all the caves in Ajanta (except one), the Buddha is sitting in the Lotus position, while in Ellora, the Buddha is always sitting with his feet facing down, like how we usually sit on chairs.
After a quick lunch at a hotel called Kailash, we took a short ride to the Jain caves. There we learnt all the Jain beliefs and their unique eating habits and the reason why. Jains don’t eat potato because they believe that if they pluck out a potato from its roots, they kill the organisms living in the roots (when Jainism was formed, the theory that plants were alive was not yet proven).
We then took a short ride to the most awaited excursion of all- the Daulatabad fort. The Daulatabad fort is a remarkable fort that has never been conquered. You will soon find out the reason.
The fort is located on the top of a mountain. The mountain’s roads are very curvy, which make it difficult to coordinate a whole army and elephants. The gate has long and sharp poison coated spikes all over it. The following roads inside are zigzagged, so the army has to constantly halt and resume- enough for the defending army to shower them with volleys of arrows.
The leader will see the palace at the left side, but if he turns the army there, they will meet a dead end- another opportunity for the defenders to defend. The army will once again go through roads that demand regular sharp turns.
Whatever part of the army is left (most of the army would have been vanquished before here by being shot at or have boiling oil poured from above) will then sight the palace again, straight ahead, on another hill. However, to get to the hill, they have to cross a moat and another obstacle that they won’t be able to recognise from where they are situated.
From the other side of the moat, the defending army will once again attack. Many of the soldiers will fall into the moat and get eaten up by the man-eating crocodiles. IF somebody manages to get to the other side (which is very difficult, considering that the bridge would have been burnt off), they have the maze to face.
Bhool Bhulayiya is a maze that will definitely trick even the smartest soldiers. You enter and are greeted by screeches of the bats living in the darkness; so dark, you can’t see your own hand even if it’s right in front of your face.
The remaining army will spot a light, towards which they will move. There, the defenders are ready with pots of boiling oil. IF someone survives, they will move on where there are two staircases. One of them leads to the man-eating crocodiles’ habitat and the other continues. Once again, the path will split. If there is a small army left, they will split up and go in the two different directions. They will both meet again later on, where they will start to attack each other thinking that they are two different armies.
After they both find out that they are the same army, they continue in the path. They glimpse at a staircase, which will lead them to a chamber in which they will be welcomed by, once again, the hot oil and this time, a candle to accompany. When the remaining people hurriedly get out, they sight another light. Having had enough of this fort, they will decide to escape through it. They enter it- and slide down to the moat.
This is why the Daulatabad fort (Devigiri, as it used to be called) has never been conquered.
The fort also has the Chand minar, a victory tower. Chini mahal used to be a beautiful palace inside Devigiri, until a king turned it into a detention centre. Jami masjid, a mosque inside, was converted into a temple by a Hindu king who took over it after the previous Muslim king had moved away. It is now called Bharatmata Temple (India temple).
After this exhilarating expedition, while returning to the bus, we were given gloves and bags and everyone collected garbage that people had thoughtlessly thrown in the middle of the pathways and in the edges of the walls.
It was only three in the afternoon and we were to assemble at the hall at only seven, so we were given permission to go swimming in the pool. Everybody had a whale of a time playing a ball game in the water. After taking our showers in the rooms, we went for dinner.
But this night was not like the previous ones. This night, we got geared up for a quiz that was to take place before dinner. We all revised the information that we had learnt so far at Ajanta, Bibi ka Maqbara, Ellora and Daulatabad.
The groups waited anxiously for the quiz papers to be distributed to each group. Then, four groups who had the highest scores will proceed to the final round. I felt that this quiz was just to make us trust each other because in my group, each person was to learn in detail a certain topic that they had been assigned.
After finishing off the quiz sheet, they were marked by a group other than the ones who wrote. After the results were read out, the questioner declared the top four groups. My group was overjoyed when we were there as well.
Questions were asked one by one to each group and if they couldn’t answer it, it went on to the next. Points were awarded for correct answers, but they were also taken away for wrong answers, which compelled us to think.
The next round was the buzzer round, in which each group was given a whistle and they would have to blow it when they had the answer. Unfortunately, the whistle that we were given didn’t have a ball in it, so the resulting sound was just a mere squeak. I tried to make it louder by adding my own whistle, but it was still very low so when our group and another group whistled at the same time, only the other group was heard.
After the ‘game’ ended, medals were presented to each group. We earned a silver medal as we came second.
The quiz was followed by a disco, in which the whole grade danced themselves to rags, and then danced the rags to scraps. The whole grade was worn-out and drained by the time the disco ended at 11:30. Nobody had trouble sleeping that night!
Once again, the morning started with us freshening up and having breakfast. We were headed off to the Himroo shawl factory, in which we could buy handmade shawls and find out how they made them.
Once we reached, I was shocked by how little and modest the factory looked. The factory had been going on for countless generations now, but it was still a small shop in the road.
We were first taught how they made the fabric. I stared at the intricate designs in amazement at how they had woven the threads one by one. Just looking at the loom (the manual ‘machine’ that is used to weave cloth) made me feel dizzy because of the complicated levers and sophisticated pedals.
The shop was very crowded, not because there were people from outside the school there, but because the shop was so little that it was having trouble fitting fifty kids inside.
The owner was quite patient as he explained the prices of the uncountable unique shawls to all the children who were all waving different textiles at him.
I spotted a little corner that had hand woven pillow covers and wall hangings of monuments in Aurangabad and flowers. Beside the wall hangings, there were a few petite bags that could be slung on your shoulder and will be dangling on your waist.
After we finished buying all the beautiful crafts, we bid farewell to the shopkeepers and headed back to the hotel.
After having lunch, we were once again given a few hours of free time, half of which many people didn’t know what to do as everybody had packed all their things for the flight. We were going to take a flight back home so that we didn’t waste another day in bus.
After arriving at the airport, my chums and I had a fun game of atlas going. The plane ride was extremely short as Aurangabad is in Maharashtra itself.
In the plane I thought over a few things in my mind. This was my first trip from this school, being a new student. There was a contrast between my previous school trips and this trip.
The main difference was that in my old school trips we did more physical activities such as kayaking, sailing and trekking while here it was more of understanding and appreciating our culture and our heritage monuments. Also, in my old school trips, we used to go to deserted islands and rainforests while here we were going to a city buzzing with life.
My trip to Aurangabad was an extremely educative and fun experience that I will always remember with wonderful memories.
School Ecole Mondiale