UNPACKING WELLNESS IN INDIA
Location: Taj Vivanta Aurangabad, Rauza Bagh, Aurangabad, Maharashtra 431003
If wellbeing means feasting on top quality monumental sculptures in their original location (with paintings and buildings thrown in, too), then Ajanta and Ellora, sites of global importance, should be at the top of your India wish-list.
There is nowhere nice to stay at either but don’t let that bother you! Make Aurangabad your base, checking into the well-run Taj Vivanta hotel; no frills but delightful staff, lush garden, big pool and many rooms have a balcony with an Indian swing, perfect for evening meditation.
From here, take two unforgettable day trips into the countryside. Go north-east to Ajanta across the Deccan Plateau whose rich black soil produces cotton, sugar, papaya and much more. When you are almost there, pause for a sustaining roadside chai and snack, essential. At Ajanta, your first view of the site is this: looking up a deep ravine where black holes in the vertical clifss hide 30 Buddhist temples and monasteries; if it’s post-monsoon, there will be waterfalls, too. Then explore inside them, finding monumental sculptures and wall- paintings made between the 3C BC and 5C AD. Abandoned for centuries, they were rediscovered in 1819. I like starting at the far end, working back so I reach the wall-paintings last, when lunch beckons at the nearby cafe.
The next day, go north-west to Ellora, taking your arrival chai at the good on-site Kailash café (also your lunch stop). Here you find about 100 monumental Buddhist, Hindu and Jain sculpted rock-cut rooms cut into a basalt escarpment during the 7-10C.
Together, Ajanta and Ellora are a cornucopia of monumental decoration that have inspired art across India, the Buddhist world and, more recently, Mumbai’s 20C Progressive Artists’ Group. Their unspoiled rural settings mean you can roam quietly, study up close, and deeply absorb the imaginative creativity and virtuosity of the sculptures and paintings in their original modest settings - no concrete high rise in sight. One can almost imagine the monks and pilgrims chanting in them.
I haven’t even mentioned Aurangabad city. Plenty to see: the tomb Aurangzeb built for his mother, dazzling Paitan brocade sari weaving, local bidri craft - and a few more early carved caves, in case you are not sated.
Must-do wellness experience at Vivanta Aurangabad: ask to see local bidri work, the craftsmen come most evenings
Vivanta Aurangabad buzzwords: Did you see Buddha Parinirvana?
This is my first post without a photo of the hotel - instead, it's the serene Buddha Parinirvana (when he achieved nirvana) whose full figure lies in the furthest cave at Ajanta, don't miss it. Here, and in other rock-cut rooms, with luck you will experience the timeless mediation and chanting of pilgrim monks.
At Ellora, the central masterpiece is Kailash Temple, begun by the ruler Krishna I (r.756-773): the full-sized, multi-hall temple is carved from the living rock escarpment, not a stone added, it's just one huge sculpture.
Do clamber up into the Jain temples, the later additions at Ellora, to find column bases richer in decoration that a Neapolitan baroque church. Sharp eyes can define surviving ceiling paintings, too.
Fortunately, the Ellora site opens early because you need to tear yourself away from it to catch some special treats on the way back to your hotel including Daulatabad Fort. Just before it, pause at Khuldabad Sufi village and find handsome nobles' tombs plus the rigorously simple one for pious Aurangzeb, last of the six great Mughal emperors.
It's always hard to miss out on local weaving in India, and Aurangabad is no exception. See the silk-wool and silk-cotton weavers, and be absolutely sure to see craftsmen creating the astounding Paitan silk brocade, especially the extravagant wedding saris.
I am here to help you achieve this in the Himalaya, on the Deccan Plateau, along the coast, and in forests, desert and villages
If you have not traveled with me in a group before ....
Please know that we experience great sights in the best possible way, with lots of add-on encounters and visits to off-beat places. We meet conservationists, curators, craftsmen and musicians, we walk with naturalists, we cook with local chefs. In sum, we imbibe the essence of each area thanks to my four decades of studying and visiting India - and making great friends who I share with you.
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I work with you to create your tailor-made trip to any corner of India, to any budget, for all interests and special needs, for families and parties of friends, for business groups and for honeymoon couples - India is ideal for everyone!