Exploring India's Ellora Caves

Exploring India's Ellora Caves

One of India's must-sees are the 34 caves in Aurangabad, cut completely out of rock.

In January, 2014, I was fortunate enough to study abroad in India under the direction of two CSULB professors, Dr. Norbert Schürer and Prof. Tim Keirn. One of the most memorable experiences during this trip was seeing the Ellora Caves in Aurangabad. A huge tourist site, the 34 caves were cut out of rock to create Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu temples and monasteries, and were built between the sixth and ninth centuries.

On my trip there had been extremely hot weather, but the drive up to the caves was comfortable enough in our little van, passing by fields of mustard seed.

The heat was uncomfortable, and I remember feeling in a sort of heat-induced relaxed state; excited, but definitely less sociable and outwardly peppy. The day before we had been to the Ajanta caves, where we saw multiple caves with a guide explaining each and every thing we saw; at the Ellora caves, however, we proceeded on our own in groups, deciding to regroup after less than an hour or so.

I can’t remember the exact number of the first cave we went to, but I remember the two enormous elephants inside of its entrance, and going into the separate alcoves and marveling at the various stone statues and carvings. It was interesting being able to draw the parallels between the caves at Ajanta and the ones at Ellora, and silently recognizing what was Buddhist and what was Hindu, which was really all I knew how to do on my own. I kind of wandered off on my own often, not too far from a friendly face from the trip, but with enough distance that I could look at everything at my own pace and really enjoy what I was seeing.

When we gathered together again, we stopped quickly for some popsicles at a stand outside the caves to cool down from the heat, and the sugar helped wake me up a little bit before we continued on further away to Cave 16, one of the famous Hindu caves of Ellora that was carved from top to bottom out of one single rock. We were given a few hours’ time to explore, and like before, I wandered off a little on my own – not exactly the smartest thing for the youngest woman on the trip to do, but it was hard not to want to get away from the bustle of the groups’ agenda and see things by myself for once.

It was absolutely breathtaking walking up the steps to the mosque and fully realizing how much time and effort went into building this particular cave, let alone the countless others built out of the mountain’s rock that surrounded Cave 16. I loved running my fingers along the edges of the carved walls, and looking down at the different people walking below and wondering if this was a holy place for them, or just another stop on the World Heritage Sites Grand Tour.

A few Indian families and men asked for some pictures (not an uncommon request for a white woman tourist, as I’d come to realize), which I awkwardly posed for. I didn't notice until later that my lips and teeth were stained bright red from my popsicle I had finished off earlier.

The sun was bright and emanating so much heat, but escaping into the sides of the cave, I found it was much cooler. I climbed up to a solitary spot, where bats were hanging in corners and screeching every few minutes, reminding me that this was their holy place, now.

It was just me and no one else in the dark recesses of a cave, with idols I couldn’t name or recognize carved out of cool mountain rock, with a view of the whole Cave 16 from above. The stench of bat guano was not enough to ruin the feeling of peace I could feel run through me as I looked down at people posing for pictures, couples laughing, groups of young Indian men walking fast and excitedly, pointing at all the elephants and enjoying some inside joke. It was nice to be able to enjoy a piece of India’s history alone. Content in my solitude, I climbed back down, wondering if anyone from the group would run into me and force themselves into my personal exploration, and hoping I could think of some way to avoid them.

Around the perimeter of the caves was an open walkway carved into the mountain, with enormous idols carved into the walls. I saw a few of the CSULB college kids, all broken up into twos and threes across the cave taking pictures, some laughing. A few waved from across the way, but didn’t come over, and kept on exploring with each other. I felt comforted in the fact they didn’t feel the need to come join me.

After deflecting a gaggle of Indian boys’ endless photograph requests, I ran into Soo, a member of my group, going the opposite direction of me. I noticed she was also by herself.

“You exploring alone, too?” I said.

“Yeah,” Soo replied with a smile. “I love you guys, but sometimes we all just need some time to be without each other. And this is my time.”

We laughed and walked past one another. I looked at the idol on the wall in front of me, and I had no idea what it might have represented. It was definitely Hindu, but was it a God? Was it Vishnu? What era was this cave from again? I had no real idea. But I didn’t mind being alone and without a mile-a-minute talking guide, not exactly knowing where I was going or what I was looking at.

I guess I really like not knowing.

Want to study abroad in India this upcoming January 2016? Learn more about the upcoming trip by looking at the program here.

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A Country, Divided

Hate will only fuel hate

With the latest school shootings, election investigations, and the Time's Up and #MeToo movements flooding social media and the news outlets, it's almost impossible to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The people of our country are divided over personal beliefs, as usual, but have now insisted on using social media to belittle each other. While this is not new, each day I find new things people are complaining about on Facebook, especially the gun laws and problems with the NRA. While strict gun laws mean nothing to a country full of hatred, promoting and fighting for your rights with a heart full of hate will not make anything better for us.

It's one thing to support gun rights, but it's another to attack someone for wanting something different. All you have is an opinion. What you have to say is not fact, and it doesn't matter how many stats you find on the NRA's website to prove your point. Attacking students who watched their classmates die in front of them does not make you a great citizen because you're "protecting your rights." You sound like a jerk fighting with a 14 year old who is grieving.

I'm not writing this as a call to action, or to voice my opinion, because my opinions don't matter. In our country today, it seems like the only opinions that matter are those who are the rich, or those who are in support with our government. Anyone who goes against them are deemed liars and "wrong."

I'm glad that those who have wronged women are being punished. I'm glad that kids are finding their voices and are refusing to be silent. But if you fight with a CHILD, and tell them that their opinion doesn't matter, who ever told you yours did? Who made you feel like you were above everyone else because you support a big corporation, or a big government power? Hate to break it to you, but that's what they want. You're a dollar sign.

So the next time you log onto Facebook, Twitter, or whatever, think before you write a hateful post to your "friend" because you don't agree. Think before you yell at a child you've never met for using their freedom of speech and freedom to act, the same right that you're fighting for. Just because you're on opposing sides, doesn't mean you have to hate each other. Violence equals violence, and as of right now, I see no end.

Cover Image Credit: Sherry Boas

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Are Adults Using Children To Further Their Political Agenda?

They're smarter than kids, and it shows.

Since the national student walkout on March 14, there has been an increased sense of "pride" in the children of the United States.

Adults and politicians praise students for standing up for what they believe, even though these same children are too young to vote for those exact things that they believe in. Rolling Stone wrote an article that criticizes adult Americans for doing nothing since the Parkland mass shooting that killed 17. Articles like these are more than common lately - children are being worshipped while adults take the full blame for gun violence and the lack of change.

I, however, want to offer a new perspective. Columnist Megan McArdle wrote an opinion post titled "The student walkout said more about adults than kids," and it challenged me to think out of the box and offer a new opinion regarding this upcoming generation of students. (Give her article a read because it's really thought-provoking!)

When the walkout took place, not everyone participated. There were schools that fully supported it, but many threatened to punish students for leaving class. My sister's high school didn't organize a walkout, but many students still decided to participate on their own. The media, of course, highlighted the schools that had hundreds of students marching on school property, waving signs and chanting for change.

More importantly, the walkout symbolized a new era of student's voice. Never before had so many underage children stood up for what they believed in. But was it really what they wanted? Had every single one of the thousands of students nationwide been educated on gun usage, firearm statistics, and the actual definition of a mass shooting? Or had their parents, teachers, and the media just told them what to believe?

If children started protesting against the drinking age, how would the adults respond? They'd probably disagree and put down the protests. It would make media headlines for a day or two and then dissolve into nothing. What if 12-year-olds demanded the right to drive cars? Ridiculous, the adults would say. Children's opinions rarely matter because their knowledge and experience are weak compared to that of their superiors.

BUT, when a child stands up for something that the adults are also passionate about, all of sudden, that child is "wise beyond years" and "more mature than most." It would seem, then, that the adults are the ones shaping children and controlling what they support.

This isn't a new concept, of course. Adults are smarter than children, in my opinion, and you'd be dumb to argue against that. And yet, people are basically worshipping the walkout students for organizing such a huge event on their own, except it wasn't on their own. The entire walkout depended on the support and aid of adult teachers, parents, and organizations. Adults spread the word of the event via Facebook, Twitter, news outlets, and text messages. Adults provided security at the schools during the walkouts. Adults showed up to video the event and provide news coverage. Without adults, the walkout on March 14 would have been nothing. It wouldn't have happened.

This wouldn't even be a problem if people weren't blaming adults for being retroactive in regards to gun control. But they are. Liberals are saying that children are more grown-up than most adults, simply because they decided to skip school for 17 minutes. Yes, there are certainly children who really do want gun control, but I have a bad feeling that the majority of them participated in the walkout because they felt pressured by their parents, teachers, and peers. The adults were in full control; the students were just puppets.

If we're going to let kids walk out of the classroom, lose quality learning time, and march for what they're "passionate" about, we better be prepared for it to happen again with issues that are more childish.

Imagine if these same kids organized a walkout to protest the length of the American school day - would they be so smart and mature then?

On a side note, the walkout is going to do nothing politically. The adults have government control, and they'll do what they want. Stay in school, kids, because your opinion does not have an influence, no matter how much mom and dad says it does.

Cover Image Credit: Wikimedia

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