Early in the morning we take off for Ajanta
with our steady driver Takrit.
Steve and Takrit talk throughout the two hour trip
and I gaze out the window, sketching details of life along the road,
feeling surprisingly relaxed for being in a car in India
(usually a terrifying experience ! )
Takrit drops us off at the parking lot and we line up to ride the buses
that take everyone to the entrance of this World Heritage site -
twenty-six caves lining the edge of a remote gorge -
carved and painted between 200 and 500 AD -
most of the art created during an intense twenty year period and then abandoned
as the looming chaos of war enveloped it all.
A flowering of painting and sculpture from long ago.
We begin to explore . . .
The cave walls are painted exquisitely with court scenes
and stories of the Buddha's lives,
but the spaces are so dark, the images so severely damaged,
just fragments remain.
My eyes are straining as I try to make out the details with binoculars and a flashlight.
Finally I settle into a corner of a deep inner chamber
that has one electric light on the large Buddha statue.
His hands are intact, not broken or damaged,
and powerfully expressive.
As I sketch Indian families gather one after another to be photographed
in front of the huge sculpture . . .
We move along through the caves,
trying to get a sense of the spaces, and the lives lived within them.
Did Buddhist monks practice here ?
Who were the artists ? Who were the patrons ?
How did it come so quickly to an end ?
At the last cave I find a small spot to sit and gaze
on the long stretched out body of the Buddha . . .
I'm in a narrow space, with people filing by
and a guard nearby yelling "No flash ! No flash!"
Even so I'm feeling settled and happy being with this quiet resting form.
A man stops to tell me about his connection with vipassana meditation
and the centers worldwide. I turn to him and say,
"Sounds like what the world needs ! "
I move a few feet down and begin another drawing -
Now the guard is telling me I have to move on - finish up quickly.
As he stands there waiting impatiently he remarks,
"Don't you have a camera ?!"
On the drive back at the end of the day . . .