Incredible India! is the country’s tag line for a reason. India never ceases to amaze, both in positive ways and negative ways ways. However, when it comes to sights the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Ajanta and Ellora Caves stand out as a must-sees. Before visiting I never knew “rock-cut architecture” would be something worth seeing, but these caves, dating back as far as the 2nd century BCE and beyond, are amazing.
The 30 masterfully carved Buddhist caves at Ajanta also include paintings and sculptures. The Archaeological Survey of India describes the caves as “the finest surviving examples of Indian art, particularly painting.” The paintings depict Buddhist history, specifically the Jataka tales, which are the previous lives of the Buddha both in human and animal form.
It is hard to capture the vibrant colors and details of the paintings in Ajanta Caves, but they have stood the test of time.
More impressive than the paintings were the detailed carvings, considering the tools they must have had in the 2nd century. The elaborate artwork carved into columns throughout the caves were not only excellent examples of a highly localized style only found in a few places around Ajanta including the Ellora caves, but beautiful examples of Buddhist art.
An elaborately carved column at the Ajanta Caves.
Having highlighted the vibrant paintings and detailed carvings, the most astounding aspect of both the Ajanta and Ellora caves is the sheer size of the cavernous chambers that were carved out of into the cliffs. While many people remain puzzled by the pyramids, I want to know how monks with primitive tools created masterpieces such as these:
The awe-inspiring cave 26 at Ajanta, could easily monopolize your entire visit.
The unrivaled hallmark cave at Ellora is the Mt. Kailashnath Temple, built to resemble Mt. Kailash the home of Lord Shiva, it was carved from one single piece of rock making it the world’s largest single-rock sculpture.
Unlike the Ajanta Caves, which is all Buddhist, the 34 caves at Ellora are Jain, Hindu and Buddhist. The jaw-dropping Mt. Kailashnath Temple (Cave 16) is your greeting to the site. You could spend hours examining the details of the multi-storied Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva with it’s many alcoves, galleries and courtyards. However, don’t miss the other 33 caves with their breathtaking stone work and fascinating history.
The first cave to be executed in Ellora was Hindu cave 29, known as Dhumar Lena.
These few pictures and tidbits of history pale in comparison to experiencing these sites first hand. The rock shrines of Ajanta and Ellora are massive tributes to their respective religions and a must-visit for cultural and historical buffs. However, I find it hard to imagine that there is anyone that these caves wouldn’t impress.
WHEN YOU GO:
-Plan on two days, it is difficult, some would say impossible to visit both sites in one day. Save yourself the stress and plan on at least two separate days for each cave. Ajanta is most easily accessed from Jalgaon and Ellora is closest to Aurangabad. If you plan to just visit one, make the 34 caves at Ellora your choice.
-No tripods are allowed, if you want interior pictures of the caves you will need to ask for permission in writing weeks in advance of your trip from the Archaeological Survey of India in Aurangabad.
-Bring plenty of water and be ready to walk, come prepared for a full day of sightseeing, which includes lots of walking so wear comfortable shoes and bring water.