Trains and Caves
Today our day began very early! We were up and out of our hostel at 5:00 AM. This was so we could board our train at 6:00 AM to depart Mumbai and travel to Aurangabad. When we got off our bus at Victoria Station in Mumbai, we were immediately greeted with many things that engaged our senses. Even at this early hour there was food being cooked on the streets, people sleeping everywhere, and the sounds of the trains rolling along the tracks and honking their horns. Upon our arrival at the station, we said goodbye to the gracious men who had driven us around Mumbai for the last four days and put up with our crazy schedule! We also gave them a both the gift of a Nebraska t-shirt so that they could always remember us. Many of us were sad to leave Mumbai as the train rolled away from Victoria Station, unsure of when we might be able to come back to this grand city full of rich culture and contrast. However, we were also excited to travel on to see more of India!
Our train ride was truly an experience! It was about a 7-hour ride from Mumbai to Aurangabad, so we had plenty of time to settle in and gain insight into this popular mode of Indian transportation. It was a hot day as usual (106 degrees today!), and there were only 3 air-conditioned cars on the train. We were lucky enough to be in these cars, which provided us with a little extra comfort and also gave us a taste of the class division within India. On the train there were 3 different types of cars including the air conditioned cars we rode in, another set of cars with seats as well as a set of cars that did not have many seats and where passengers would ride on the floor or stand for the duration of their trip. Again, this highlighted the rich contrast in India. Even just on one train, we could see the different ways people get around and live their lives on a day-to-day basis, which is often tied to class (the old caste system). Through the glass windows of the train, we were also able to see much of rural India. It was amazing how much of the country is inhabited by people. Even remote areas had small villages set upon them with Indian people strolling along and working.
When we finally arrived at Aurangabad station, the first thing we noticed was the mass humanity. There were thousands of people at the station both getting off trains and attempting to board them. In many of the train cars there was limited space, and upon getting off the train we noticed people running towards our train, attempting to squeeze into a full car with no available seats. Some of these people were lucky, while others were left to wait for the next train. At least they will be the first ones in line!
Once we finally made our way through the large crowds of people at the station, we met yet another coach with new drivers and a second guide who will show us around Aurangabad! As many of us were very hungry from the 7 hour train ride, we immediately went to a restaurant where we ate yet another delicious Indian meal. This restaurant was situated near a range of caves and also mountains. We had the opportunity to eat outside (in plenty of shade, thank goodness!) and the surrounding scenery was beautiful. There was even a large swing attached to a nearby tree that many of us swung on before our meal.
After our late lunch, we headed to the world famous Ellora Caves. Like the caves at Elephant Island, these caves were also hand-carved. They were truly a sight to see! There are 98 caves in total at Ellora, each numbered and many tied to a specific religion. Of course we did not have time to see all 98, but we did see caves representing Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. There were also caves that integrated aspects of all three religions. This gave us yet another token of insight on how diverse the country is and how aspects of this diversity work together. Our guide for the Ellora Caves was wonderful, and provided us with a wealth of information not only about the caves themselves but also about the three different types of religions that the caves are tied to. The largest cave we saw (wich is the largest man made cut temple in the World) included Hindu temples, and told many stories of the Hindu god Shiva, which our guide Sanjay interpreted for us from the artwork. From our visit to these caves we also gained knowledge of the history of India and the pride the Indians have in their culture and cultural artifacts. In addition, we got quite the workout trekking around the caves and climbing up the side of the mountain after the caves closed! From our high vantage point on the side of the mountain above the caves, we had amazing views of the caves themselves, the city of Aurangabad, and the surrounding mountains.
Upon departing the caves, we headed for our hotel in Aurangabad, where we were greeted with a swimming pool! The first thing many of us did was to jump in the pool and rejoice after such hot days spent here in India. I suspect that the pool may come in handy again as we explore yet another set of beautiful Indian caves tomorrow!