Aurangabad’s famous Ellora Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stand testimony to religious harmony in ancient India.
This famous rock-cut cave complex was built 1,500 years ago, somewhere between the 6th and 10th century and features 34 fascinating, well-preserved caves spread over a stretch of two kilometres. Carved out of volcanic basaltic formation known as ‘Deccan Trap,’ these caves represent the Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain religions.
While every corner of this complex is beautiful, there are certain things to do to complete the Ellora experience. Here are our recommendations:
- Gaze at the 15ft preaching Buddha in the Vishwakarma Cave
The Buddhist caves (1-12) were one of the first to be carved at Ellora. While most of these contain viharas or Buddhist prayer halls, the Vishwakarma or Carpenter’s cave is the most popular one. This vihara contains eight prayer cells and a 15ft statue of Buddha sitting in a teaching pose. The vaulted ceiling mimics wooden ribbed roofs, and there are a number of other south Indian icons and motifs such as apsaras and monks.
- Visit the Kailasanatha temple in Cave 16
Cave 16 is well-known as the world’s biggest single monolithic excavation. One of the 17 Hindu caves, this one features the amazing Kailasa temple, a multi-storied complex and engineering marvel that was built to represent Lord Shiva’s abode (Mount Kailash) by King Krishna I. This massive structure is twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens and has beautiful monolithic pillars and 10 immense panels that depict Lord Vishnu’s 10 avatars. For a breath-taking view of the beautiful temple complex, hike the south of the complex to reach the top perimeter.
- Go next door to see the 10 avatars of Vishnu at Cave 15
Known locally as ‘Verul Leni,’ the Ellora caves are one of the largest monastic-temple complexes in the world that have been hewn from rock. Cave 15 contains the Dashavatara temple depicting the ten avatars of the Hindu God Vishnu along with other reliefs such as Shiva and Parvati’s marriage, dancing Shiva, Garuda, etc.
- Explore the five Jain Caves
Located 1km to the north of Cave 29, the Jain caves at Ellora are numbered 30 to 34 and stand a little away from the Hindu and Buddhist caves. However, the small number and comparatively smaller size of the Jain caves says nothing about the beauty and art depicted in here. Known for having the highest number of artworks, the detailed paintings on the walls and ceilings look magnificent.
Cave 30 (Chhota Kailasa) and Cave 32 (Indra Sabha) are the most visited ones among the Jain temples with elaborate carvings and panels. You can either walk to the Jain caves or take a bus from the main entrance.
- Attend the Ellora Festival
If you wish to get more out of your Ellora caves visit, plan your trip in March when the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) organises the remarkable Ellora festival which features the best talent in Indian classical dance and music which attract participants and visitors from all over the country.
Watching the beautiful performances against the backdrop of the magnificent caves is an unmissable experience, sure to delight your Instagram gallery.
- Shop for traditional souvenirs
Visit the open-air markets near Ellora and pick up locally-made paintings of the various Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain Gods as a beautiful souvenir. You can also shop for accessories, clothes, and footwear at these vibrant markets.
From intricate Bidri silver inlay artifacts and handcrafted Buddha sculptures to Paithani saris and Himroo shawls, Ellora is a small yet power-packed treasure trove for shoppers.
- Refuel at the MTDC Restaurant
Trekking through the many caves may be an unforgettable experience, but it can also get tiring, especially on a hot day. The MTDC restaurant and bar located inside the temple complex serves as a convenient option where you can tuck into a variety of Indian food and wash it down with some beer. There are also several counters and food stalls by the road (dhabas) where you can get juices, snacks, and fresh meals.
The food in Aurangabad has an unmissable influence of Hyderabadi and North Indian cuisine as the place was ruled by the Nizams and Mughals in history. Kebabs and Nawabi biryani are popular dishes, but the one dish that you should try here is the ‘Naan Qalia’ – a meat dish prepared using special spices and herbs.
- Try your hand at activities in Ellora
The Deccan plateau presents plenty of opportunities for sports and activities. Located at the entrance of the caves, Hotel Kailas arranges a number of activities like paragliding for groups. Other options include cycling, trekking, and hiking. Plan in advance so you have enough time to explore the caves and spend some time exploring athleisure options in the area.
For lovers of history and architecture, the Ellora Caves are a must-visit destination. A trip here gives you the chance to admire some of the most stunning Indian architecture and art of the past that has been immortalised in stone for the world to see.
- Location: On the Aurangabad-Chalisgaon road, about 30km from Aurangabad and 300km from Mumbai.
- How to Reach: The nearest airport is Aurangabad, which has daily flights to and from major cities; Aurangabad Railway Station is the closest, and is well-connected to several Indian cities; buses, taxis, and even rickshaws are available regularly from Aurangabad city. The Maharashtra State Tourism Corporation (MTDC) Bus Service is regular and dependable. There are also transport options from Mumbai, Nasik, Pune, Shirdi, Ahmedabad, etc. (Check updated travel information in the light of the Covid situation)