Several people we’d met during our travels had suggested we stop in Nashik on our way to Varanasi. A welcome break to our 32-hour train journey. Nashik has a bathing ghat where the Kumbh Mela is held every twelve years and in addition, Buddhist caves dating back from 1st century BC.
On the river Godavari, Nashik is one of the four locations of the Khumbh Mela – a Hindu gathering of holy men that occurs every three years. (ie.e. every 12 years in Nashik). It’s attended by literally millions who come to bathe in the holy waters.
For the most part, Nashik is the usual noisy, polluted, concrete Indian city, but Premgit and Sandhya recommended a guest house near to the ghat that was much less hectic. I don’t think we would have found it on our own. The hotel was adequate and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful. In fact, we found everybody helpful from the rickshaw driver to the passerby.
The hotel even produced a map of the city with the major sites listed in English, although the town doesn’t see many Western tourists. We didn’t see a single one during our brief stay; Indian pilgrims aplenty.
The following morning we set off to see the caves in Pandoleni, 18 km out of town. The hotel manager recommended we take the bus which, along with other city buses, stopped at a traffic circle just outside the hotel every 15 minutes. Sounded simple and a lot cheaper than an auto rickshaw. But the bus signs were all in Marathi (the language of Maharashtra). A young man also waiting for a bus offered to help. There were plenty of buses, but almost an hour went by with no bus for Pandoleni. I was doubting the poor man’s ability to read buses even in his own language when finally one drew up. By this time others knew what we wanted and there was an outcry of “Pandoleni!” There was a stampede. We managed to push our way on, and stood for most of the 30-minute journey, squeezed in beside schoolgirls. After asking us all kinds of questions, they let us know where to get off.
It was hot by the time we arrived and our energy was lagging. Looking up the side of a steep hill, we saw the caves. Somehow I’d imagined we’d just get off the bus and walk straight into them. No such luck. Fortified by a cup of chai from a stall at the base, we started off. Thoughts of the Jain temple in Gujarat with its 3,500 steps loomed. On the way, we had our picture taken with the very friendly and enthusiastic people of Nashik, visiting the caves for the day.
We were relieved it didn’t take as long as we’d expected. There were to 23 caves along a ridge, many with simple interiors for the monks, a stone bench for sleeping, nothing else.
Other caves had elaborate entrances with intricately carved Buddhas, still in astonishingly good condition considering they were over 2,000 years old. Unlike other monuments, the statues had not been defaced by the Moguls.
These caves weren’t as grand or extensive as the more famous caves of Ellora and Ajunta, but they were well worth the effort. And the lack of tourist commercialism and throng of visitors was refreshing, as was the air. All in all, it was a pleasant trip into the countryside, and we decided to fork out the rupees for a rickshaw for a more convenient ride back into town. Over a thali at a restaurant close to the hotel, Gerard edited his pictures.