I made a beeline north from Aurangabad as soon as I could, and stepped from the world of 1950s Christian values into what can only be described as the Twilight Zone. A three-hour journey north soon saw me and Ian, a fellow inmate at the Youth Hostel, booking into a hotel in the little town of Fardapur, a speck on the landscape that has all the atmosphere of a motorway service station.
Fardapur's claim to fame is its proximity to the cave temples of Ajanta, but as with Aurangabad, something wasn't right. The restaurants had menus that claimed to sell almost anything you might desire, but all they could actually manage was fried rice and soft drinks; the northbound bus out of town left at either 8am, 8.15am or 8.30am, and took either four hours, eight hours, ten hours or 12 hours, depending on who you asked (for the record, the bus left at 8.45am and the journey lasted 12.5 hours, so nobody won the sweepstake); and as we sat in our room, mysterious locals would walk past our window, staring in and mumbling weird sounds that would be more at home in a David Attenborough documentary.
Add in the birds nesting in our bathroom and flying in and out of the windows to collect food, the fan that changed its speed more often than an Indian bus driver, and the fact that we kept getting told the hotel was full as we tried to pay for another night, when it quite blatantly wasn't, and I think you can safely say that Fardapur could be wiped out by a freak earthquake and nobody on the tourist trail would even notice. If oblivion needs to be personified, you couldn't do better than Fardapur; where else can you see signs like the following in our hotel lobby?
ROOM CHARGE Rs150
EXTRA PARSON Rs50
Something tells me that even an extra Man of God couldn't bring sense to the desperate situation in crumbling Fardapur...
The Ajanta Caves
Still, the Ajanta caves were worth a visit, even if they aren't as spectacular as those at Ellora. Ajanta's main appeal are the paintings inside the caves, which are all Buddhist; they predate the Ellora caves, having been built between 250 BC and 650 AD. Although the paintings are faded they are quite spectacular, and the cool shade offered by the caves creates a beautiful and atmospheric viewing chamber.
As an added bonus, the caves are in a pretty little setting on a bend in a river (which was, unfortunately, almost totally dried up when we visited), and we spent a couple of very pleasant hours wandering around randomly, avoiding the touts and soaking up the heat, desperately trying to put off the return to the hotel for as long as possible. Needless to say, we didn't stay in Fardapur any longer than necessary, and soon I was on my way north to Mandu, home to yet more amazing religious architecture.