Leaf Off / The Cave

Diwali: the festival of lights. Over four days this festival is celebrated with firecrackers and lanterns which literally illuminates the country with its brilliance. While its ancient beginnings are unknown today it generally honours Mother Kali, Lord Ganesh and, while it changes regionally, the return of Lord Rama with Sita and Lakshaman.

We are also awarded a five day weekend.

While my initial Diwali plans of a weekend of meditation and self-discovery were thwarted (not enough people seemed to sign up…) I was graciously welcomed into a group heading for Aurangabad, ‘the City of Gates’. While not knowing an awful lot about Aurangabad (read: nothing) I had received so many animated reactions to the city and its surroundings that I was beginning to get super excited.

Ludo, Marie, Kate and me*

It also helped that I was in a rocking group who all brought something fantastic to the table; Kate (boundless amounts of Canadian enthusiasm), Marie (some levelheaded sensibility), Jesse (unfailing amounts of wikipedia printouts and fabulous savviness) and Ludo (“the Italian y-chromosome”). And I, of course, had the ukulele.

The first morning didn’t bode well. After meeting in the school parking lot at 5:20 neither the jeep or a member of group had arrived. Marie turned out to be in bed asleep and, we suspect, so had been our driver. As 6am approached hearts started to sink yet, like a miracle, two headlights suddenly appeared over the hill and, without a word, our bags were loaded and we were driven not-so-speedily into Pune.

Despite the slow start we made it to the station with hours to spare, as would begin our trend of being ridiculously early for thing – a new experience for me. After waiting a couple of hours by the highway, we boarded. Our bus to Aurangabad was fantastic (luckily – we were on it for 7 hours). The double platforms were fitted out with red and black zebra striped mattresses which soon held the five of us plus bags.

We were able to buy some Vada Pav from out of the bus window at a petrol stop. As Jesse was almost toppling out of the bus while grabbing the newspaper wrapped bread, trying to sort out money and chilies as the bus was slowly moving away I realised this is my life now.

We reached Aurangabad, scouted a cheap hotel and wearily trudged though lively streets packed with venders, rickshaws, fairy lights and sand mandalas to beautiful gardened restaurant complete with pumping bollywood hits and neon lights where I practically fell asleep in my paneer tikka masala. The crackers, however, were a total force – exploding everywhere. 

The following day left no room for such nonsense. We bought bananas and pomegranates on the way to the bus stand where (despite being told no buses would be stopping at Ellora by the greasy haired owner of an exxy bus tour company) we found a bus stopping at Ellora. Yet feelingtotally lost in the mayhem of the station were were able to make assurance that the bus we were on was indeed stopping at Ellora. The passengers of Bus #10 were so helpful, determining that we got the correct price and got off at the right place.


We met so many interesting people. I sat next to a twenty year old studying biochem but her “deep true passion is immunology”. I played an unintentional game of peekaboo for the entire ride with a child who would stare at me constantly until I’d smile over where she would then giggle and bashfully hide her face until I glanced away. The bus to Ajanta was PACKED with people.

For the most time we stood yet people would always gracious shift over so we could perch. A highlight of Jesse’s is when, on a particularly winding stretch of road, a little boy turned ashen and promptly threw up all over me.

The Ellora caves are a complex of Jain, Buddhist and Hindu all built around the 6th and 10th century. They are intricately carved into the side of the Charanandri hills and are absolutely mesmerising despite the number of people who were also visiting.

Within the Kailasa temple, the sides stretch up, encompassing you. We were told that the carvings were freed from the rock from the top down, eliminating the need for scaffolding.Each carving within this temple told a particular story from Hindu lore. Most of the paint has eroded away yet the majority of the carvings are still incredibly striking.


Aurangabad’s other famous caves are those at Ajanta. All Buddhist, the collection of temples horseshoed around a river down below. The landscape here was incredible beautiful.It just radiated serenity (which was a mean feat among the throngs of yelling children) . The caves were very different to those at Ellora. The chaitya-grihas and monasteries are all dated to around the 2nd century.

One of the craziest experiences happened after we left the caves. It was starting to get dark as we looked around for a bus back to Aurangabad. A man approached us saying the bus wouldn’t stop here. We initially thanked him and moved away (we had been hassled so much by rickshaw and taxi drivers) but he was adament. He dropped us off at the ‘bus stop’ – just a solitary chai stand – but the men working there insisted that it was so.

Unknowing what was to happen and 7 hours from Aurangabad at night, we decided to have chai, samosas and pakora. We chatted despite having no clue what was to happen and after only about twenty minutes a bus came roaring down the road. We madly flagged it down, skulled the last of the chai, quickly questioned Aurangabad?”  and leapt aboard. The sketchiness of the situation was really only apparent in hindsight, when I was working out how to phrase it to my mother. We were so exhilarated with the serendipitous happenings of our successful independent travel that we had total faith in our return to Aurangabad. And we were totally right to.

Our final day was spent milling around the old quarter of the city and visiting the “Grand Bazaar” which turned out to be not quite as grand as its name suggests. The city, however was super interesting.There was fruit, spices, cloth and noise in every direction. Jesse bought some turmeric and Kate bought a coconut that was graciously opened by a stranger who proceeded to explain much of the traditions around it.

The kindness of strangers is something that really shook me this trip. I think as a by-product of all the well intentioned “be careful”s and “take care”s I had forgotten that people generally want to help you out. There were countless times where people jolted us awake as we were about to pass our stop or helped us with directions that it almost completely overshadowed the times of not so caring interactions.

We then decided to visit the Bibi ka Maqbara – the Taj’s younger, less attractive sister. Outside, on the lawns we set base for the following hours. Reading, sleeping, eating fresh coconut and dried bananas.


We were surrounded by picnicing families who looked over curiously. We entered the monument as dusk was approaching. Bibi may be less attractive but she was still beautiful.

Our bus departed a 11:30pm. Far more uncomfortable than our initial
journey it was some how more efficient, with us tumbling out confused in Pune at 3:30am, three hours before we’d planned. Thus, we found ourselves on an unknown roadside swinging between sleep and absolute hilarity due to Kate’s unbelievable funny story of an American, a Canadian, a Belgian, an Italian, and an Australian (but any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events was purely coincidental).


As the sun rose we started our way towards the pick up spot. We found some ginger chai, found Ludo (we were forever losing him, then finding he was now best friends with everyone at the restaurant/temple/bus station) and found the jeep to take us back. I almost typed home which was a weird experience. I’m not use if I actively consider MUWCI home quite yet but…there must be something in it.

We dragged ourselves back on campus, weary yet satisfied of our adventure. Despite the several unintended mishaps and shortcoming, there would be nothing about my Diwali break that I would change.

Except not returning for more ₹6 naan.


’til I write again xx

*some Photo creds to Jesse



8 thoughts on “Leaf Off / The Cave

  1. Hi Anna you are an inspiration and i love your remarks about the kindness of strangers, its just so true.
    What a great adventure you’ve had the courage to have over your 5 day break. Tracey


  2. Wonderful story Anna……what an adventure. I like to think we prepared you a little for the unexpected and uncertainty with our trip through Africa. Couldn’t spot the seat belts in the first bus! Stay safe and have fun. We miss you enormously. Heaps of love, Papa


  3. Hello darling girl, great to read about Diwali but CANNOT get pavement imagery out of my head ! Sounds like you had the best time – wonderful. Sending you masses of love , Mama xxxx


  4. Anna- I’ve only read one entry so far but I am already super jealous! I literally CAN NOT WAIT to see you- which is why we have to Skype some time very soon.
    Lots of Love, Lewis xx
    P.s. I stacked on my skateboard today and your legendary mum cleaned up my wounds.. well grazes really 🙂


  5. Hi Anna, I’m having some great adventures travelling with you through India, but from afar. Your mum may have mentioned me, I’m also known as Hodgie and I live beside Sandy Mackinnon. We met a few years ago. Safe travels, Caroline


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