In the morning, Dennis, Tony, Arjan and myself (and our driver) left for Aurangabad to see the nearby rock-cut cave architecture. The original plan was to see the caves at Ajanta first and then see Ellora the next day, but luckily just before we were to take the road to Ajanta, I discovered in the guidebook that it was closed on Mondays. So we headed for Ellora instead.
The travel guides advertise Ajanta and Ellora as the places to see in the Aurangabad area, and really in the whole state of Maharashtra. However, the Daulatabad Fort, which is listed more like a sidetrip, may be equally impressive. It’s an ancient fort built almost Minas Tirith-like, with seven concentric walls surrounding a steep mountainside. We paid for a guide who highlighted all the very intelligent things the designers did to keep invaders out, including fake doors, circular passageways, and unlucky camels used as cushion between a spiked door and charging elephants. Our guide took us about half the way up, and of course we climbed the rest ourselves.
The whole way up, we played the role of celebrities to all the schoolboys. Simply taking a picture would get you mobbed by requests for more, and of course the same litany of questions: “What is your name?” “Your country?” and “Your profession?” Occasionally a blow on a whistle from the teacher would clear them all out. One time they really helped out me and Dennis, because when they surrounded us, they squeezed out all the annoying vendors trying to sell us stuff.
From there, it was on to Ellora, which was beautifully lit by the setting sun. The main temple there was hewn out of a solid piece of rock nearly twice the size of the Parthenon. They chipped away rock until a temple shape remained standing, surrounded by the rest of the mountain, and then carved out the inside of that temple as well. The feeling you get when walking there is like you’re living a real-life version of a three-dimensional first-person shooter computer game, such as Tomb Raider. In fact, I’m sure that one of those games must have a level that’s an exact copy of that temple. The rest of the caves were generally much less ambitious, but still amazing in their own right.
We returned to Aurangabad and got rooms at the Rama International, which was a pretty upscale hotel, and quite nice after a day spent driving and tromping up mountains. The bottles of Kingfisher that we drank while eating dinner and playing cards were rather large, and soon we had to move out of the restaurant and into the lobby.
From the lobby, we decided to go outside, at about 2am. Tony wanted to go find a bar, but we were told that everything was closed, so I figured it would just be an aimless walk around the area. The streets were almost empty, which I never thought could happen in India. A little way down from our hotel, Tony chatted up a couple of helpful guys who thought they might have known of a couple places we could go, and even told us how much to pay the rickshaw driver so that we wouldn’t get ripped off. After a very short ride of a few blocks, we come to some darkened storefronts that look just like any other darkened storefronts. Tony finds a way inside, and emerges a few minutes later and tells us to follow. We convince our rickshaw driver to wait for us, then go inside, down some dimly-lit stairs, up some stairs, around a corner, and up some more stairs, and amazingly find ourselves in a small, dingy bar.
There are several people in the place, and it’s difficult to tell who is a worker and who is a patron. Understanding of English was pretty minimal. One notable patron was a large, round man sitting alone against the back wall with a scarf wrapped around his neck. Somehow I was convinced that he was an Afghan warlord, and when Tony shook his hand with his left hand (supposedly a taboo in India), I figured that was the end of it for us. There was another fellow enjoying himself that me and Arjan were trying to talk to for a little while. After some time, I happened to mention something about our rickshaw and our driver. Suddenly, his eyes light up, he points to himself and says “Me, rickshaw driver!” So there we were, sitting and drinking with our driver, and we’d had no idea. Well, at least that meant that he hadn’t left us! Soon after, the landlord of the building showed up and cleared everyone out, so that was the end of that.
We continued onwards towards the railway station in search of more adventure. On the way, Tony tried to drive the rickshaw for a bit. And then somehow the driver turned on a radio or something, and the rickshaw started pumping out some groovin’ Hindi music. In every rickshaw I’ve been in since, I’ve checked if they have speakers, and so far I haven’t found another one. Just more proof that we had found a magic rickshaw.
Somehow we ended up stopped at a vacant lot/garbage dump. There were several cows there, so Tony got the grand idea in his head that he wanted to ride one. The group of guys hanging out there (who knows what they were doing there at 4am?) were quite happy to assist. Once they rounded one up, Tony awkwardly leaped aboard, hung there for a second or two, and then was promptly dropped to the ground. Luckily for him, his fall was cushioned. Unluckily, the cushion he used happened to be a big pile of cow shit. The helpful guys came over with some water and attempted to clean the stuff off his pants, but that really only made the situation worse. So we got back into the rickshaw and headed back to the hotel with Tony in his boxers.
But before we made it to our hotel, our driver stopped in front of another darkened building. We could hear music inside, so Tony went to investigate. When he didn’t come out after several minutes, the rest of us went in afterwards. This place was completely pitch black, and felt about as shady as shady can get. When we were led to an upstairs room where we saw a few women hanging out, we all immediately decided “yeah, we’re getting out of here”. They wouldn’t exactly tell us where Tony was, so we had to go find him by ourselves in the dark, and finally we found him sitting in the basement. We hauled him out and returned towards our hotel.
The rickshaw driver was really having a good time by this point, and was amusing himself by driving towards stray animals. Really no more dangerous than normal traffic, where you’re constantly avoiding collisions by the slimmest of margins, but a littly jerky when there’s no traffic. Despite that lack of coolness at the end, he still got hugs all around and probably more money that night than he makes in a month.
So that was quite a night, and I have to give credit to Tony’s magical powers to find an adventure even when we were told that that was impossible. Although the whole thing probably sounds a bit risky or unsafe, the general feeling that we took away was how helpful and friendly most people are, and how even halfway around the world, there are probably more things that make us similar than different. “Local color” doesn’t get any more genuine than that, and you sure won’t get in touch with it on any sort of package tour!