So here I was finally at Aurangabad, the city of the Girishneshwar Temple which is the twelfth Jyotirlinga and houses a magnificent Shiva Linga. Worshipped by many, it is a very auspicious place especially Shiva bhakts like me. There is also the Nandi statue in the temple. As part of the ritual, you can only enter the central shrine when you have taken off your shirt. Men have to walk into the shrine and can only touch it bare-chested. I did the same after leaving my shoes at the entrance. I walked without my t-shirt to the centre where the black Shiva Linga was placed. I chanted a few prayers for my dad’s soul and mother’s soul. May they rest in peace. Then I touched the Shiva Linga to absorb the energies. I also kept my head under the falling water and took a sip of it. Now thoroughly cleansed and vitalised, I decided to take the taxi to my next destination – the magnificent Ellora caves, a world heritage site. It was a half an hour drive from the temple.

I met my guide Madhusudhan Patel at the entrance of the Ellora Caves just before the gardens. He reminded me that I could take my camera in and not the stand after paying the entrance fee of Rs 100. I decided to trek up to the grand caves with Patel in tow with my other camera lenses. “The most unique thing about these caves is that it is carved out of one big single structure. One big rock with no external elements. That is why it has such positive energies and is so cool inside.” Patel explained to me why the caves are so important. “You see, the entire Ramayana is chiselled on the walls. That’s the Vali and Sugriva fight and that is Ravana’s chariot.” As my guide spoke, I zoomed into these carvings, at times, even admiring the many towers and sanctums carved into one huge rock. I especially liked the carvings of Shiva doing the tandav and then there were these huge elephants right in the middle. On either side were gigantic black rocks engraved with amazing carvings each telling a tale which has been repeated over time for centuries, almost for all eternity. The caves are cooler inside and have lots of breezes and positive energies. Inside the cave was a giant Shiva Linga, again my favourite. As you climb up to the top, one is greeted by black-faced langurs with white fur and huge curly white tails. They almost reminded me of the lemurs of Madagascar and they were equally fascinating chewing bananas given to them by the tourists. There was less light in the caves on top and the giant light of the lamps gave a new texture to my photographs. I was able to capture the wall paintings made on the ceilings of the rock. The caves were hypnotic as if a new Vedic city with Dravidian and Hindu culture seeped in its walls and structures. This monument spoke about India. Yes, the real India with roots and with grace. I wandered around for a few hours smoking in the walls that were telling me so many tales. At the side chanted my guide who at times got out in the wonders of caves himself.

The cool evening was upon us and we trekked back to my car. I, for one, had enjoyed the enriching spiritual experience of the temple and then the architectural beauty of the Ellora caves. I paid Mr. Patel Rs 1600 and drove past the monuments basking in its wonder and great heritage that ranked even higher than the Petra Caves of Jordan which were recently destroyed by the ISIS and other Islamic fundamentalist groups. But that has been the strategy of Islam and the Mogul to destroy heritage buildings and monuments. The Ellora caves were also attacked but yet survived to tell a tale of an ancient but wondrous world.

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