Ellora and Ajanta Caves: Navigating the Street Sellers with my Mum

on Tuesday, 03 September 2013. Posted in India Travels



On a plane to Udaipur, one of Rajastan’s beautiful lake inspired cities, except that the lake has apparently nearly disappeared.  The fabulously expensive Royal Palace - now hotel - in the middle of the lake is surrounded by a murky, mosquito infested puddle, or so the guidebooks say, but still the city has some of its original beauty – we hope!

Yesterday was spent at Ellora, the second place near Aurangabad, where 2,000 year old carved Buddhist, Hindu and Jain temples were carved out of the rock.  Equally as awesome as Ajanta, the phenomenal carvings and paintings are simply spectacular.  All carved from what looked like granite, they have stood there, slowly, slowly fading away yet one can still imagine what they could have been like when “freshly” carved, which must have taken a hundred years or so for each temple.  It’s still not clear why they were created in the first place, but they became a center of religious inspiration for more then eight hundred years.

We had our first experience of serious hassle from would be sellers of trinkets, pouncing on us as we left the car and employing well worn yet effective tactics to extract our luvly lucre - have just received our lunch on the plane, a very nice vegetable biriani and raita, with some creamy custard for pudding.  The domestic airlines are trying to impress and also compete with each other so they’re still making a lot of effort to please, being relatively new, not like our burnt out airlines, where they barely give you enough air to breath en flight. 

Yes, our new ‘friends’ tried to sell us their wares – sweetly, charmingly, naggingly, relentlessly, snidely, lyingly, cunningly, all the games in the book as they had few victims that day – many gringos not coming due to the Bombay shooting – and so we were the obvious recipients of their undivided attention.  I tried to protect my mum from their attention, but unfortunately, on the way back from the loo, they managed to get her to pay about five times the “right” amount for a necklace.  Mum felt sorry for him as he was missing a hand!  “So what” I said, “he has just earned about one weeks wages for this.”  It’s a rite of passage, to be ripped off in India.  It happened to me in Bombay a few days earlier when I bought a pair of reading glasses and realized by the way he put the money in his pocket and walked off that I had been ripped off. It doesn’t matter how many times one has been to India, it has to happen at least once and is the apparent law of the land.  But its interesting to watch a good, honest English woman, who has clear ideas of fairness, and whose instinct is to believe what she’s told, be chewed on by people who are pretty desperate and who know that they can make so much more selling a few bracelets or whatever, than they can in weeks of manual work.  This tension is often there when in India, wherever you are, but more so in tourist “traps”.

After a while, one gets hardened to this and all the ploys in the world have little impact, unless that is, you still feel the need to buy something off the street, and unless you know how much something is, you are always at a disadvantage.  It’s a fascinating experience, being lied to so blatantly but which is totally impersonal.  It’s just the way it is.  You have money, they have less – or maybe not – so you need to give some of it to them.  Simple.  I gave 100 rupees to a man at Ellora just to get rid of him in the end.  I did buy a necklace still but the main agenda was simply to be rid of him as he would wait for us after each temple and follow one step behind me, all the time virtually begging us to buy something.  He was obviously quite desperate, but nothing we could say deterred him.  He wouldn’t go, and aside from physically hitting him, or asking the monkeys to chase him off, not a lot could be done.  So I am now the proud owner of a garnet necklace.

Mum took a fall just after getting out of the car.  I turned around and thought she was prostrating to Mecca, but no, she had tripped over a rock in the road – put there to stop cars driving further – and was splayed out like a flattened cat.  Fortunately, the only thing that broke was her camera, but she has a great black eye and a bruised knee, but a few doses of Arnica later and some Traumeel, and all is well.  That was more fortunate than an accident we saw coming back from the caves, when a motorcyclist had fallen and obviously had a serious head injury, with blood running all over the road.  Every now and again, you see this in India, and there are not ambulances that will appear in 5-10 minutes.  They do have a helmet law in India, but for drivers only, but it is not often enforced.  You still see 4 people on one motorbike, a father, mother and two children, and only the father may have a helmet.  Luckily, the roads and traffic don’t allow you to drive very fast, so accidents are not so often fatal, but none the less, the sheer number of people and drivers – not to mention the way people drive which defies the mind – make accidents pretty frequent.