The roads north of Hyderabad took us back into the state of Maharashtra and an overnight stop at the little city of Nanded. That day started with a mega-breakfast at Geethas, moved on to a sad farewell to a fabulous host and thereafter evolved into an easy day’s ride that by mid-afternoon led us to what looked like a relatively pleasant little hotel, the Pooja Garden. Time for a peaceful couple of hours catching up with my journal while Mags did some Yoga…
The peace lasted all of five minutes when one of the staff tried to force in the door to our room. He was only delivering some bottled water by barging in unannounced. As this has happened before in India, we always lock the door. I guess they just want a peek at the strange arrivals on the crazy motorcycles. I went to log on. There was no Internet connection. I called reception. They’d look into it. Somebody else tried to force the door, this time with a little more ‘enthusiasm’. It was still locked. It was another hotel guy, this time to see about the Internet. He came in to the room rubbing his shoulder, had a quick scan around, then said ‘”can I see your computer?” “There it is” I replied. “Ah! It is very weak signal,” he explained. “There is no Internet connection” I retorted. At this he admitted “Ah yes! No Internet. Only at reception”. “OK so why do you advertise Wifi available in all rooms and, more so, why did you need to come up here, try to barge in just to tell me that?” He turned and left. I gave up and worked offline.
An hour later the phone rang just as I was lathered up in the shower (sorry for inflicting that ‘vision’ upon you)… “Come now! Move your bikes!” were the imperatives squawked down the phone. “Pardon?” Mags replied. “Need to move your bikes! Come now!” I finished showering and sauntered downstairs where the manager explained that the bikes were parked at the side of the hotel and were drawing a lot of attention from passers-by. He suggested we move them round the front, into the garden and directly outside reception where the staff could keep an eye on them. We already suggested this on arrival but were told to park them round the side where a rotund security guard, for what he was worth, would keep an eye on them. Now they decided it might be better to move them…
As you can imagine, with these incessant interruptions, we were not best pleased with either hotel or staff as we came down for dinner. What a bunch of twats! The manager met us. “Car is here to take you on Sikh temple trip.” “We didn’t order any car for any Sikh temple trip so would you please just go away and leave us alone.” “Yes but car. He is here…he is waiting.” Clearly this day was ending with us cast as hapless victims in India’s very own ‘Fawlty Towers’ complete with waiters speaking bad ‘Indglish’ instead of Spanish. As befitted the role, I was getting all ‘Basilled’ up and ready to swing for somebody… The hotel staff had pestered us constantly since arrival and now we were being scammed for some hotel-sponsored-temple-trip, costing god knows what, when our hearts desire was no more than a simple beer and a bite to eat. “Please come sir. Here is the driver…” At this a lovely mild mannered gentleman stepped forward and presented a card. It had the name of a doctor friend of Gheetha’s on it. She had called him the previous day asking if he could recommend a hotel for us. He was working this evening but as a welcome treat for these visitors from afar, he had laid on a driver to take us the Sikh temple in town… Now we were the twats!
The Hazur Sahib Sikh Temple was simply magnificent and one of the most memorable visits of our travels in India. The temple itself is one of five Takhats; places of primary importance to the Sikhs and is the final resting place of Guru Gobind Singh. He arrived here with emperor Bahadur Shah towards the end of August 1708 as they journeyed south from Rajasthan into the Deccan seeking justice against the perpetrators of the murder of a group of Sikhs that included his young sons. With the emperor proving non-committal the Guru elected to leave the southern procession and remain at Nanded. Meanwhile his enemy Wazir Khan, wary of the time that Gobind Singh was spending with the emperor and to forestall any possibility of royal retribution, sent two assassins to remove the threat. The assassins managed to infiltrate the company surrounding Gobind Singh and when the moment was right they struck. The Guru fought back killing one of his assailants but was badly wounded before his supporters could dispatch the other. Although he initially recovered he re-opened his wounds a few days later while trying to string a sturdy bow, an action that proved fatal. Later the temple was erected to mark the spot where Guru Gobind Singh rose to heaven along with his unfortunately named horse, Dilbag.
A short fifteen-minute night drive through mental traffic took us into the heart of Nanded to the temple where we parked up and, at the driver’s request, removed our shoes and socks. Heads must also be covered to enter so Mags adjusted her scarf while I ducked into a nearby market with our driver to lungi up with a suitable hanky. We entered through one of the huge gateways to view the central shrine, which is sited at the heart of a large flagged pavilion. Entering, we mingled with brightly turbaned worshippers and everyone was very friendly, saying ‘hi’ or just waving a welcome as we padded around the complex. This was our first visit to a Sikh place of worship and the immediate impression was that of peaceful happiness as our eyes sated on the graceful structure of the gateways while strains of religious chanting, music and song filled the air. Nights like tonight are why we love travel; times when you are subject to such an act of kindness and suddenly exposed to new marvels that you previously had no inkling even existed.
The following morning, 26th January, was a national holiday; Republic Day. We figured on quiet roads riding to our next destination; the rock temples of Ellora, but India rarely gives you what you expect as we had experienced last night. We started the day dogfighting through maniacal traffic while trying to circumvent Nanded followed by a good fast stretch of National Highway; NH-222. GPS told us we were on this for 75-miles before the next junction so we settled in for an hour or so of easy cruising, which lasted all of about twenty minutes, when GPS announced ‘recalculating route’. The NH-222 had made a right-turn back in a grubby little village we’d just passed through. A couple of truckers who were parked up confirmed we should have made the right-turn so we rode back to return to the correct route. Alas our nice ‘NH’ was gone, replaced by a disheveled country back-road. A few miles later and this disintegrated further into a potholed track that is now in our books as one of the worst ‘good’ roads we’ve ever ridden. It ran mostly straight across arable land and we stopped now and again to ask if this really was the route to Aurangabad, the main city near Ellora. No-one had heard of the place and the realization dawned that, with our destination over 100-miles away, we may as well be asking for directions to Timbuktu as most of these simple country folk had probably never strayed more than a few miles from home.
A drone’s eye view of that tarmac strip would probably reveal the finest piece of Scrimshaw known to man such was the tortuous intricacy of its pot-holery. Did we really have 60-odd more miles of this to go? We were crawling along at speeds rarely exceeding 20mph, trying to spare our poor suspension and running gear from the worst of the gaping holes, our minds equally tortured at the prospect of another three hours of this. Then the road really disappeared, totally ploughed up as a prelude to a big chunk of roadworks aimed at rebuilding it and we found ourselves crawling along a footpath past the rubble. Just as we contemplated turning back a trio of youngsters, all mounted on a little 125, broke the good news that there was only another 5-km of bad stuff ahead and after that we would be back on the highway.
Even so, the roads remained bad all day marred by poorly repaired potholes such that we rarely exceeded 40-mph traversing that bleak, featureless backdrop of dull-as-dishwater scenery. It all ended with a ring-road around Aurangabad and then some gravel-strewn twisty roads to the remote ‘Etranger Resort Hotel’, set in the hill country up behind Ellora. A shower and a Kingfisher beer-lube revitalized the pair of us, prelude to a tasty dinner of mouth-watering Aloo Gobi with buttery Paneer Masala, creamy dhal, roti breads, Jeera rice and a dessert of sticky little rum-baba type cakes served in syrup. We had only ordered the Paneer Masala, rice and bread; the rest was courtesy of the owner who was having a special family meal to celebrate his little daughter’s 9th birthday. This splendid repast all finished with a piece of chocolate birthday cake, hand delivered by a smiling little angel.
In the morning we set out to explore Ellora and ‘explore’ is certainly the right word. We read in the hotel reviews that it was possible to hike to the caves cross-country from the ‘Etranger’. Armed with simple directions from the hotel, “out the back, walk to the river, cross over, turn left and follow into Ellora,” we set out across a spectacular wilderness of baked oatmeal grasslands interspersed with short scrubby trees and spiny bushes. Here we encountered something exquisitely rare in all the length and breadth of this marvelous country called India: utter peace and silence. It was one of those moments when neither of us wanted to speak, to break the silence, just to be content with our suddenly found solitude secure in the knowledge that, for a while, everything was good in the world. The magic of the occasion was heightened when a couple of beautiful Black Buck Antelope suddenly broke cover before us, sprinting away to a safe distance before stopping to turn and stare suspiciously.
The instruction ‘walk to the river’ was missing one vital piece of information, namely that ‘said river’ lay at the bottom of a vast broad valley with no apparent way down. We followed the edge the escarpment we’d been walking across and after about half an hour it started on a scree strewn scramble down into the valley. Using mobile phone GPS courtesy of ‘Maps.me’ we could see that the caves were only a mile or so away across a low saddle that proved a wonderful continuation of this wilderness hike. We saw signs of farming on the land and then a jingling carillon of little brass bells in a stand of trees announced the presence of a herd of glossy black goats. A few moments later and we stumbled upon a small homestead, a vignette revealing nothing more than a shack made of pallets and corrugated iron that lay to the side of a small ploughed field. Our approach set off a couple of farm-dogs who barked noisily at our approach.
The lady of the house was bathing a couple of grubby little children in a metal bucket and the farmer himself dropped what he was doing to silence the dogs. We waved and smiled across the field, hoping there would be no resentment of our trespass. Everyone waved back. The farmer, a short, balding man with a chin full of stubble, wandered over to chat and we asked if this was the way to Ellora. He replied with a kind smile as his eyes lit up and he said ‘come’ and beckoned us to follow as he led the way. We followed our new guide, climbing a broken fence to walk through a magical forest of barren silver trees all the while chasing goat tracks up over the saddle. After about half an hour we reached a staggering viewpoint overlooking a spread of green landscape. Below us; the carved out rock temples of Ellora. Our guide revealed all with the sweep of his hand and then explained how we could gain access to the site. At this he turned to walk back to his farm. “Whoa!” I said, “please take this small payment for you help today…” An upraised palm expressed a simple “No thanks / not required” gesture. He was clearly a proud man and had guided us out of sheer kindness, wanting no reward for his trouble. We insisted he at least take it for the children and at this he accepted and left us to contemplate Ellora.
I’ll finish for now by directing you to the photographs in the gallery covering the rock temples of Ellora as I fear I am such an unaccomplished wordsmith to attempt to convey the wonder of that place. Suffice to say that everything you see was carved out of solid rock in the side of the mountain between the 5th and 10th centuries AD. There is no construction or fabrication, just the chasing out of each shape from the rock sub-terrain and then the fine detailing. There are thirty-four temples in dedicated groups to Hindu, Buddhist and Jain faiths in a rare example of religious harmony. Until next time, enjoy…
To access the photogallery for this page please click on the following link: Ellora