It isn’t always fun
Aurangabad (India), December 28th 2010

It doesn’t happy often that we book a tour to visit a sight. But now we did. The Ajanta caves, one of the important Buddhist monuments in the world, aren’t easily reached by public transport. That’s why we decided to pay a little bit more and book a tour at the Indian Tourist Development Corporation, an state of India run organisation that offers accommodation and tours in many touristy parts of the country. At 08.15 in the morning we are present at their office to wait for the bus. The planned time of departure is 08.30 am, but we eventually leave at 09.15; a delay of 45 minutes.

And that’s annoying, especially when you know that the time that we can spend at the caves is already very limited, due to the long travelling time. The ride from Aurangabad to the caves takes two and a half hours one way. And because the planning mentions that we will be back in Aurangabad at around 5.30pm, the time at the caves is, due to the delay, decreased form 4 hours to three hours and fifteen minutes. But we learned a lot last three years of travelling. We decided not to be irritated by the way the Indians handle these kinds of daytrips and we will see what happens.

One of the beautiful temples at the Ellora caves

We are indeed two and a half hours on the road when we reach the vicinity of the Ajanta caves. We are very surprised when the bus driver stops the bus at one of the small restaurants along the road; its time for a meal. Some people grumble a little bit, but nobody starts a discussion with the tour guide. Probably because they know that complaining has no use in India. Here, the customer isn’t king and service is often unheard of. After half an hour, the driver gets on his seat again and proceeds with the short remaining journey to the caves. When we arrive, we immediately notice that it is busy; very busy. But that isn’t surprising, because it is Boxing Day, which falls in the middle of the Indian winter holidays. But, we are still not there. It is another four kilometres to the caves, and because of the fact that private vehicles are not permitted on the remaining part of the road to the caves, we have to take a shuttle bus. And that is what concerns us, because the Indians are not very strong in handling these kinds of processes where many people are involved. And indeed, when we arrive at the small bus station for the shuttle buses, the line is wide and long. The shuttle buses are organised by the MTDC, the Maharashtra Tourist Development Corporation, named after the state in where Ajanta is located. The loading and unloading of the buses goes provokingly slow, also because some people don’t have the decency to let people out first. We also notice that we, all the passengers of our tour bus, are involved in a scam of the tour organisation. The tour guide collected already in the bus on the way to the caves the entree fee for the caves (250/10 for foreigners/Indians) and the fee for the pollution free shuttle bus which is an amazingly 40 Rupees per person (return), for both foreigners and Indians. And that is four times higher that the entrance fee to the caves for the Indians! But when waiting at the platform, we first notice that the old buses from the 1970s are absolutely not pollution free. It is almost impossible to see what colour they have due to the fumes they emit. But what we can see is the official price for the shuttle bus, which is presented on a notice board; 14 Rupees per person (return) and not the 40 Rupees collected by the tour guide. His profit is easily calculated: 40 passengers times 26 Rupees is 1040 Rupees (= € 18) and that is a lot in a country where 250 million people (25% of the population) subsist on less than 20 Rupees per day. “Incredible India” is what we cynically say to each other, referring to the slogan of the Indian Ministry of Tourism that is world widely used to promote India as a perfect holiday destination.

Local tourists at the Ajanta caves
We eventually reach the ticket office at 1.00pm and that’s also the time that we start exploring the caves. But exploring is not the right word for what we do. We are in a queue for most of the time because of the huge crowds. And when we eventually enter a cave, the time we get is only limited and we have to use our elbows the Indian way to get close to the main sights. At 3 pm, two hours after we entered, we leave the caves disillusioned. We had to be back at the bus again at 3.30pm for the bus ride back to Aurangabad. But getting back to the bus isn’t that easy. Again, there is a huge line for the shuttle buses, and because some richer Indians skip the queue by bribing themselves into the shuttle bus, we don’t proceed very fast. It is amazing to see how to bus crew accept bribes to let people jump the queue, while the other Indians are standing in the queue watching the bribing process from a distance, knowing that nothing can be done. Corruption is widespread and generally accepted in India. You won’t come far if you are a man of principles.

But ok, we stay in the line and wait for our turn, as many honest Indians do. We arrive at 4pm at the bus, but have to wait till 5pm before we leave. The tour guide wasn’t very clear about the place where we should meet again, resulting in some passengers being lost for a while. But at five we leave, and short after most passengers recline their seats for a short nap. We look outside, watch the sun going down, and think: it isn’t always fun.

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