Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Nasik: Pandavleni Caves

This was a quick stopover on the return trip to Mumbai - the caves are around 8 km outside Nasik, on the Nasik-Mumbai highway.
Parked in a clearing, then started walking up the steps to the hillock. In the early morning, the weather was bracingly chill, and the steps aren't steep enough to be painful - but still good enough to make you take a rest stop or two on the way.

About two thousand years old, Pandavleni Caves are quite similar to a lot of other Buddhist caves found around Maharashtra - with the stark difference of having, in spite of a Hanuman temple (or at least, a mural), absolutely NO monkeys.

Monkeys are an inescapable fact of any Maharashtrian tourist spot, even those located on islands like Elephanta... you have a choice of the red-faced macaques (who are noisy, boisterous, aggressive, greedy, and aren't above grabbing anything that looks like food or scaring you into dropping it with hoots, screeches, screams and the occasional stinging slap) and the calmer, more elegant black-faced langurs.
Maybe we were too early, or this was off season, or something... because this place looks like prime monkey habitat, so it was quite surprising to find none.

The place is peaceful, quiet, cool, and not very crowded; the caves themselves, around 30, aren't as grand or well-preserved as Elephanta or Ajanta but still pretty interesting.

The high point was walking into a darkened cavern and hearing the haunting tone of a bansuri floating out of the main altar. It was being played by a tall, bearded man - he didn't look like a priest, but more like a musician who enjoyed the atmosphere - and the acoustics. The sound filled the cavern, end to end, and pure, smooth, and perfect.
That sound gave the caves their character for us, fixed it in memory.

Every time I hear a bansuri played again, I'm going to remember a silent, dark space, cool rock on all sides, illuminated by a brilliant white square of light from the entrance at the far end, and, half-hidden in the shadows all around, calm stone faces watching impassively, as they always have for centuries...

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