On a late April afternoon on 1819, Captain John Smith, who was an officer of the famous Madras regiment of the Royal British Army, went on a hunting trip near the city of Aurangabad. While running behind a tiger, Captain Smith discovered himself at the edge of a very deep ravine. On his opposite side he noticed arches which looked like old caves. Wondering what was inside, he along with some of his fellow officers went inside ad this led to the discovery of the Ajanta caves.
After more than two centuries, history will be repeated as another Smith visits Ajanta caves and stands at the edge of the same ravine to observe and view this piece of history. The great great grandson of Captain John Smith, Retired Colonel Martin Smith will be visiting the Ajanta caves, and will be able to retrace the steps of his ancestors.
“Until very recently, we had absolutely no idea that it was our ancestor who had discovered the Ajanta caves. About two years ago, we received a letter from India from someone researching the Ajanta caves to confirm if we were the descendants of Captain John Smith. We were really fascinated,” said 74-year-old Margaret Smith, the wife and travel companion of Martin Smith to Ajanta. The dynamic couple has been touring India since the last three weeks are hailing from the small town of Norfolk, in United Kingdom.
There are 32 caves in Ajanta which stand out distinctively in the forest like region and there are more than 800 ancient Buddhist caves located in the state of Maharashtra which hold a number of sculptures, murals as well as boast some architectural splendor.
These caves were successfully excavated by the British people during the period from 2nd century BC to 6th century AD. The caves look like a horseshoe-shaped bend of the rock surface. The Buddhist monks used to treat these caves as their homes and each of these caves are connected to the Waghora stream through a flight of steps. These are one of the most preferred tourist hotspots in Maharashtra.
Margaret said, “Unfortunately, this has not been one of the stories that is passed on within the family from one generation to another. It was a long long time ago. Ours is a military family, with my husband Martin, his father and grandfather all having served in the army. All we knew is that Martin’s great great grandfather was also in the army.” Captain Smith was also known as ‘Tiger Smith’ because he was known to hunt down many of the man eating tigers.
The Smiths spend the whole night touring Mumbai, and then they left for Aurangabad. They visited the Ajanta caves on the next day and they returned to the financial capital of our nation on February 28. The Maharashtra government has been taking various initiatives to make the visit of Margaret and Martin Smith’s visit very memorable.
The tourism department has made Aurangabad office aware about the visit of these special guests, and the officials would be ready to receive the Smiths and give them a tour of the place. Along with this, the tourism departmenthas also planned a gala dinner for them when they return back to Mumbai.
Margaret said, “We were very surprised. I think they are really welcoming us very well.”
featured image © Robert Preston