Trip to Ajanta & Ellora Caves
Ajanta & Ellora Caves are the symbol of the architectural intellect of early Indians. It is also a pilgrimage spot, exploration site and an important tourism destination. Each cave stands out with its uniqueness and bold structure that defines the craftsmanship of the ancient age making it the strongest and largest cave of all. The proud part of this archaeological site is both caves are listed under UNESCO World Heritage Site. A complete tour of these caves is the most of having the knowledge of delicate and skilful carving of interior and exteriors.
Ajanta & Ellora Caves exist on the wishlist of many travellers. Since we didn’t want your research to be exhausting, we decided to jot down all you need to know before you plan a trip to Ajanta & Ellora Caves from Mumbai.
Travel & Accommodation
The cheapest and convenient way to reach Aurangabad is via railways. Aurangabad has rail connectivity with major cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Nagpur, and Pune. If you are coming from the Northern part of India, you can opt for the Jalgaon railway station. Aurangabad is also very well connected by road from Mumbai. The frequency of buses is quite high, and you can get a bus as early as 5:00 am. Aurangabad is also connected by Air.
From Mumbai, I took 12071 Jan Shatabdi Express leaving from Dadar at 02:00 PM which will reach Aurangabad around 08:10 PM.
To avoid wasting travel time, I prefer to stay in the central location and Zostel Aurangabad is the best option. Zostel Aurangabad is located around 3.5 kms from Aurangabad Railway station. The charges for the stay at Zostel are INR 499 per night for a bed in a dormitory. But I prefer to have my own space, so took a private suite which cost me INR 2015 per night.
Day One: The Rock Cut Indian Marvel
Once you reach Aurangabad, check-in to your hotel. Make a small bag with must have things, because one needs to walk a lot to explore the place to its fullest and prefer to wear a slip-on shoe. You must remove shoes before entering caves. You need to start your day as early as possible in order to beat the crowd and hence I started my day at 05:00 AM from my hotel. It took me 4 hrs to reach Ajanta Caves due to a bad road. Roundway it took me 10 hrs only travelling. But if things get better the distance can be easily covered within 2 hrs one way.
If you are travelling in a private car you must take a halt at Hotel Sai Milan Ajanta for breakfast & lunch. It’s a pocket friendly place very close to Ajanta Caves. Must try Masala Omlet with Roti and Non-Veg Chicken Meal. For all chai lovers, you will love this place.
Around 05:30 AM first bus leaves for Ajanta Caves from Aurangabad Central Bus Stop. For returning to Aurangabad from Ajanta Caves, you have come back to the Parking and wait for the bus going toward Aurangabad.
State Transport Buses and Private Vehicles are only allowed till the parking. From there everyone has to take a shuttle to reach the main caves, it will charge you INR 20 one-way.
Now let’s take about Ajanta Caves.
Ajanta Caves have always been recognized as the gems that represent Indian history and the impressive artistry that existed in the foregone era. The Ajanta caves, like the temples of Khajuraho, were “lost” for centuries until an Englishman discovered them in the mid-19th century during his hunting spree. They are all Buddhist and known more for their paintings — which were largely destroyed by water damage. But what remains is impressive enough to make these caves as remarkable as those at Ellora but in a different way.
These magnetic caves got their name from a nearby village Ajanta. In total there are 30 caves including the unfinished ones. Archaeological Survey of India has described it as ‘the finest surviving examples of Indian art, especially painting’. The location of this place provides a calm and composed environment due to which the Buddhist monks used to meditate at these secluded places. Chinese Buddhist travellers such as Fa Hien and Hiuen Tsang have also mentioned the Ajanta Caves in their memoirs (memoirs - a historical account or biography written from personal knowledge)
There are chaityagrihas and viharas and a tall Buddha statue in the cave. It is one among the several masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, with depictions of the Jataka tales and figures of the Buddha. Ajanta Caves are an example of some of the finest paintings and sculptures ever recorded in Indian history. When exploring this archaeological gemstone, don’t miss to visit Caves 1, 2 & 4.
Cave 1: This is one of the most popular caves in Ajanta, as all the paintings are authentic. The grand doorway is adorned with Bodhisattva murals and the sidewalls depict two important phases of Buddha’s life (the moment before his enlightenment and when he turned himself into many images)
Cave 2: This cave’s main highlight is its ceiling, which has intricated abstract designs of devils, birds, fruits, and flowers.
Cave 4: This is one of the largest monasteries in Ajanta and still sparks the magic, despite being an incomplete creation.
It takes around 2-3 hours to explore the caves to their fullest. Peace, serenity or natural bliss, whatever you may need, vacation is gifted by these marvels, the Ajanta Caves.
I would recommend one to climb the hill which is exactly opposite to the caves and go till the farthest end. From there one can enjoy the breathtaking views of Ajanta caves and the Saptakunda Waterfall. The waterfall has 7 levels of individual circular small ponds via which water flows before it reaches the Waghora river beneath.
Opening Hours and Entry Charges:
Entry charges: INR 40 per person (For Indians)
Timings: 08:00AM to 06:00PM (Except Monday)
Go Beyond: Ajanta Viewpoint
Within 30 mins drive from Ajanta Caves Parking Space, there is Ajanta Viewpoint. The view of the caves of Ajanta lining the dry gorge from this point is astounding. The same panorama teems with an abundance of greenery covering the hills dotted with waterfalls during the monsoons. The river flowing through the gorge at the foot of the caves is called Waghora for the plenty of tigers that roamed around the river (Wagh means Tiger) in ancient times.
The steps descending down from the viewpoint winding through the dry forest area are well built. Midway we reached a rocky terrain that offered a closer view of the caves and Satkund on the extreme left beyond cave 28 which is an exceptional waterfall of seven cascades that flows to form the Waghora river.
Earlier tourists used to walk from Ajanta Viewpoint to the caves but due to few wild animals sighted around in the walking path in the past few years. This route is not used anymore.
Himroo Fabrics/Factory: Offbeat Attraction in Aurangabad
Himroo is a fabric made of silk and cotton, which is grown locally in Aurangabad. Himroo was brought to Aurangabad in the reign of Mohammad Tughlaq, when he had shifted his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad, Aurangabad. The word himroo originated from the Persian word Hum-ruh which means 'similar'. Himroo is a replication of Kinkhwab, which was woven with pure gold and silver threads in the olden days, and was meant for the royal families.
Himroo uses Persian designs and is very characteristic and distinctive in appearance. Himroo from Aurangabad is in demand for its unique style and design. Some historians believe that Himroo was the innovation of local craftsmen with very little Persian influence. Himroo is woven near Delhi Gate and Zaffar Gate neighbourhood in Aurangabad.
With basic training, modernized tools and equipment as well as meticulous planning, Aurangabad’s weavers too can diversify and reclaim the market. However, a true lover of the art continues to insist on the woven magic created by human hands.
Day Two: The Rock Cut Indian Marvel
I would recommend hiring a rickshaw (3 seater motor vehicle), if you go hard on negotiation it will cost you INR 1000 for one full day. Before moving out of the hotel remember to complete the check-out process. Zostel Management usually allows their guest to keep luggage on the premises. So please leave the heavy bag at the hotel. Make a light bag with must have things and wear a slip-on shoe.
You need to start your day as early as possible in order to beat the crowd and hence I started my day at 07:00 AM from my hotel. It took me 40 mins to reach Ellora Caves and another 30 minutes for a breakfast at Hotel Kailash next to the entry gate.
Unlike the pothole and cratered road to the Ajanta caves from Aurangabad, the drive to the Ellora caves is surprisingly smooth. Apart from a couple of Paithani sari looms and accompanying shops where these gorgeous saris with an intricate weave are sold, there is nothing of interest on the tree-lined road.
Exploring Ellora Caves
Dating back to 5th-10th-century C.E, Ellora caves are divided into 3 parts- Hindu Caves, Jain Caves and Buddhist Caves. Unlike Ajanta Caves, Ellora is believed to be visited by enthused travellers and royal personages. Locally named, Verul Leni, Ellora Caves is located on Aurangabad- Chalisgaon road, 30 km away from Aurangabad city. The cave is the largest single monolithic excavation in the world. One of the interesting parts of Ellora is the caves were built out of the volcanic basaltic formation of Maharashtra, also known as the Deccan Trap. As you move ahead to explore the caves, you’ll come across a glimpse of channels through which volcanic lava once flowed. The lava further gave rise to horizontal flows with vesicular traps beds.
Ellora was once the trade route connecting the western ports of the Arabian Sea like Kalyan, Chemula and island cities like Paithan, Ter and others. Ellora was excavated in three different forms- Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism, dated from 6th-7th century AD to 11th-12th AD. Presently, there are 100 caves, out of which 34 fall under famous tourist spots. Caves 1-12 belong to Buddhists, 13-29 to Brahmanical and 30-34 to Jain.
To explore Ellora Caves, you need a good amount of time. The artistic expression and architectural splendour are worth excavating. If you love investing time in exploring ancient art, then visit Cave no 10, 16, 21 and 32. These caves give a clear glimpse of Buddhism, Brahmanism and Jainism art.
There are many more interesting facts that shouldn’t be missed to be known:
Buddhist Caves: Comprising of 12 caves, they were built during 550-750 AD. Each cave has a sculpture of Lord Buddha.
Hindu Caves: Comprising of 13-29 caves, they were built during 600-875 AD. Tourists exploring these caves will find sculptures of Apsaras.
Jain Caves: Comprising of 30-34 caves, they were built during 800 AD to 1000 AD and comprises images depicting Jain lords.
Kailasa temple (Cave 16) is the largest single monolithic rock excavation in the world. Kailash Temple also happens to be an important pilgrimage spot for the followers of Lord Shiva. The gopurams of this architectural marvel signify Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva
It takes around 2 hours to explore the caves to their fullest.
Ellora Caves have one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world - I would recommend one to go towards caves 25 from there one can enjoy the breath-taking views of Ellora Waterfall.
It is the sheer beauty that mesmerises. So even a waterfall not much high or not much broad or not so majestic might be among the most beautiful. That’s the reason why a column of water falling right from the top of the Ellora caves at Aurangabad in Maharashtra has been termed as one of the most wonderful waterfalls in the world.
Opening Hours and Entry Charges:
Entry charges: INR 25 per person (For Indians)
Timings: 06:00 AM to 05:00 PM (Except Tuesday)
Tomb of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb
Quite in keeping with his austere tastes, Aurangzeb’s tomb in Khuldabad is a plain, brilliantly whitewashed structure with a large, arcaded courtyard in a typical mix of Islamic and Rajasthani architecture. In striking contrast with the tombs of his forefathers, this has few embellishments save a modest dome or two and minarets. A red signboard reads, Tomb of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgeer. It is within the compound of the Dargah Syed Zainuddin Shirazi, and the pathway leading to the inconspicuous entrance is lined with a couple of shops selling flowers, perfumeries and other offerings. Facing it, on the other side of the road, is the white tomb of Hazrat Khwaja Shaikh Burhanuddin Gareeb. This is not the kind of tomb where you expect the Mughal emperor who held sway for the longest period — 50 years — to be interred. Khuldabad is 24 kms from Aurangabad, and several Sufi saints lived here.
Built on a 200-meter high conical hill, it was one of the most powerful forts of the medieval Deccan. It is considered to be one of the seven wonders of Maharashtra and you shouldn’t give it a miss.
The defence system that made Daulatabad virtually impregnable comprises fortifications with double and even triple rows of massive walls. In addition, there are ingeniously built mazes with a complex arrangement of entryways and deep rock-cut moats and trenches which can be crossed only at one point, over a drawbridge. The defence mechanism of rock-cut subterranean passages is unbelievable.
The fort is one the most complex and intricate forts of Deccan, having the honour of the capital of Yadavas for over a century (1187-1294), capital of India during the Tughlaq period (1328), Capital of Nizamshahis of Ahmednagar (1607 A.D).
Interesting facts that shouldn’t be missed to be known
Hathi Haud: measures 47.75 m in length, 46.75 m in width and 6.61 m in depth.
Bharat Mata temple: Measures 87.14 m EW and 72.80 m NS with two openings to the east and north.
Chand Minar: Built by Sultan Alau-ud-din-Bahmani (Sultan Ahmed Shah 2) in AD 1447, height 70 m and circumference 21 m at the base.
Andheri: A serpentine dark passage used as a defence mechanism that was never conquered.
Baradari: Built in A.D 1636 perhaps for Shah Jahan's visit (A.D 1627-1658) consisting of 13 halls. The building was the favourite summer residence of Emperor Shah Jahan and his son Alamgir Aurangzeb
Chini Mahal: The thought provoking Chini Mahal is all that remains of Chini Mahal, which is ironically known as the Chinese Mahal. This blue tiled palace was used by Aurangzeb to imprison the last king of Golconda, Abdul Hasan Tana Shah until his death. Now in ruins, the palace was once covered with blue stones, and that's why it was called the Chini Mahal. Chini Mahal marks the entrance of the Daulatabad Fort.
Mendha Cannon: The cannon with the ram’s head is called Mendha Tope as Mendha means ram and tope means cannon in Marathi and one look at the beautiful rear end of the cannon which is shaped in the form of a ram’s head will make you ‘baa bleat’ with the agreement.
It takes around 2 hours to explore the entry fort. Trek to the top of the fort to catch an aerial view of the Daulatabad City and Return and
Opening Hours and Entry Charges:
Entry charges: INR 25 per person (For Indian)
Timings: 06:00AM to 05:00PM
Taj Of Deccan: Bibi Ka Maqbara
Bibi Ka Maqbara draws its inspiration from the famous Taj Mahal of Agra built by none other than Prince Azam Shah’s grandfather, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Azam Shah intended to build a monument that would rival the Taj Mahal. Unfortunately, he lacked the treasury his grandfather had access to, as well as the skilled labour the treasury bought, resulting in a poor copy of the latter. Even so, Bibi Ka Maqbara is an architectural wonder with intricate designs, carved motifs, an imposing structure and beautifully landscaped Mughal-style gardens. Due to its strong resemblance to the Taj Mahal, it is lovingly called the “Taj of the Deccan”.
Goodbye Aurangabad - See you later
Before saying a final goodbye to the city do try Mustafa Dum Biryani – they serve Veg, Chicken and Mutton Biryani. I loved their Chicken Biryani after such an amazing biryani you need a mouth freshener, so you must try Meetha Pan from the famous pan shop of Aurangabad Tara Pan. Both the places are located within the walking distance from Zostel.
For Back Home Journey – 17058 Devagiri Express leaving from Aurangabad at 11:20 PM which will reach Mumbai around 07:00 AM.
Best Time To Visit
June to March is the best time to visit Ajanta & Ellora Caves due to the pleasant weather.
From June to September (monsoon) the region receives an average to plenty of rain showers, which make the exploration experience a delight. But as stated before, the activity involves long walking and outdoor activities, which might not be easier when you are drenched. It is better to avoid monsoon season unless you are on a photography trip. Monsoon washes out the caves and makes the place more fresh and bright in photographs. The inner side of the caves remains unchanged throughout the year.
While during the months of November to February the temperature drops moderately. The weather is pleasing, seldom rains and lesser humid during winter. These reasons make the place easier to be scaled during winter. November to February is the peak tourism time in this region. The only downside is that you can find a large crowd in the heritage sites, especially during weekends and holidays.
Summer months (March to May) can get hot especially in the daytime. So, try to avoid this season if you’re planning a visit. Dehydration chances are high. Since you have to do a lot of walking and exploration, it is harder to scale the place in summer.
Differences Between Ajanta & Ellora Caves
Ajanta and Ellora Caves, though are often addressed as one, have some differences:
Distance: Both the caves are 100 km away from each other. Ajanta Caves is 104 km from Aurangabad, while Ellora Caves is 29 km away from Aurangabad.
Shape: Ajanta Caves are carved in a horse-shoe shaped rock. Ellora Caves are scattered randomly.
Construction period: Ajanta Caves were built in the period between 200 BCE and 680 CE. On the other hand, Ellora Caves are way younger and were built between 5th and 10th century
Purpose of creation: Ajanta Caves has viharas and Buddhist monasteries. Ellora Caves consists of religious centres for Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain.
Funded by: Funds for the construction of Ajanta Caves were provided by various rulers, mainly Vakataka Dynasty and Satvahana Dynasty. Ellora Caves were majorly built under the rule of Chalukya, Kalachuri and Rashtrakuta rulers.
Make a small bag with must have things, because one needs to walk a lot to explore the place to its fullest and prefer to wear a slip-on shoe. You must remove shoes before entering caves.
Both caves have been touristy so generally, they are very crowded, so I would advise you to reach as early as possible if you don’t want to ruin your photographs. There is no ATM at Ajanta so carry enough cash with you.
Don’t forget to hire a tour guide as a one to one attention is exactly what you will need for a wonderful, unforgettable experience. Authorized Tour Guide at Ajanta will cost you Rs. 1800 and at Ellora will cost you INR 50 for a group of 1-9 people. You have to ask for them at the ticket counter.
Though the guide books are loaded with enough facts and figures for each Ajanta cave history you may not be able to locate the exact spot of importance. Most of the caves are pitch dark and you would need a torch to spot the Ajanta paintings and the stories painted on the walls and ceilings which the guide can easily walkthrough. For guide books don’t pay more than INR 40 even if the printed price is INR 100.
These caves are better seen in person than merely read about. The enormity and grandness of this heritage sites makes it one of those few destinations in the world you must visit before you die. Don’t miss on this wonder for anything. The mystical charm of these caves will have you zapped.
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