“It was a long cherished, well planned, minutely researched and wonderfully traveled holiday experience at Ajanta and Ellora in January 2013. The murals and sculptures of these two famous World Heritage Sites are just unbelievably beautiful and surprising! What a rich and extraordinary culture and craftsman India had, when these rock cut cave temples were constructed during second and seventh century, just by a tool like chisel and hammer. The paintings at Ajanta even some 1500 years later are a pleasing treat to the eyes and extremely wonderful. Built on Basalt, there are 26 rock cut temples (total 31, some are not in watchable condition) that depict the epic story of Buddha and are magnificently sculptured which attract millions of traveler from around the world. These caves are either of Mahayana tradition (literally meaning superior) or of Hinayana tradition (inferior) and are Chaityas (Prayer Hall with a Stupa) or Viharas (Monastery). The world largest free standing monolith (carved from top from a single living rock), Kailashnath Temple at cave 16 Ellora, representing the celebration of thunderous power reflecting the fearsome dance of Shiva, is an architectural wonder that took more than 100 years to complete by Rashtrakutta dynasty in 760 CE and still stands high as one of the finest and most renowned monument of ancient India. The city of Aurangabad (the then named Khirki), is itself a representation of history with so many historical connections. It was a dream destination of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb who founded the city in 1610. He spent last two decades of his life here and dies in 1707 and was buried in nearby Khuldabad. In 1679, Aurangzebs son built a replica of the Taj Mahal, the Bibi Ka Maqbara, also called as the Mini Taj and the Taj of the Deccan, in tribute to his mother Begam Rabia Durani, just at a cost of INR 7 lacs while the Taj Mahal at Agra was built at a cost of INR 320 lacs. We have also been to the historic and gigantic Daulatabad Fort and visited Bharatmata temple inside the fort courtyard. The Grishneshwar Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is one of the famous Jyotirlingas nearby. We were also pleasantly surprised at Siddrarth Garden, by its sprawling landscape, exotic animals and a toy train for the kids. All in all, it was a wonderful destination with family, with so much to explore and so much to enjoy!
Food, sight-seeing and shopping: The food at Aurangabad is a mix of Mughal and typical Maharashtrian style of combo! We liked very much the food during our stay at Hotel Panchvati and its Tangdi Kebab and Saoji Chicken are just awesome..! There are plenty of good restaurants all over the not-so-big-city, Bhoj (veg only) near Bharad Ganesh Mandir, Thatt Baat (at Adalat Road), Naivedya on Jalna Road and Swad at Osmanpura to name a few. We have tasted samosas and kachories of Gayatri Chaat Bhandar at Gulmandi and are really delicious and is a must have. You can also try out Pan at Tara Pan centre of Osmanpura for a traditional experience.
There are plenty of tourist attractions all over the city. Take a ricksaw to explore some thirteen gates (from a total of around 54) in the City of Gates and the important and architecturally most appealing are Makai Gate (east), Delhi Gate (north), Paithan Gate (south) and Khas Gate (west). There are two all inclusive daily tours operated by MTDC and ITDC and is best to opt for. Day one is for Ajanta caves (106km from Aurangabad) and costs 450 rupees per person while day two is for Daulatabad Fort (also known as Deogiri Fort), Ellora Caves (locally known as Verul Leni), Bibi ka Maqbara and Panchakki for a cost of 300 rupees per person. Remember Ajanta and Ellora are closed for tourists on Monday and Tuesday respectively. In Ajanta, visit the caves in this order 17-16-10-6-4-1 and cover during first half of the day as the caves are east facing. You should have powerful torch as its dark inside the caves and avoid shoes with lace as you require putting on and off quite frequently. Though all caves at Ajanta depicts the story of Buddha, Ellora caves represent three faiths Cave 1-12 in the south (Buddhist oldest in the lot from 500-750 CE), Cave 13-29 in the middle (Hindu from 500-870 CE) and Cave 30-34 in north (Jain 800-1000 CE). Kailashnath Temple, worlds largest free standing monolith, at Cave 16 is the main attraction in Ellora. Go there in July/ August to find a natural waterfall right above cave 12 at Ellora and the view is spectacular while it gushes the water in the gorge!
You can pick up some local, traditional and ethnic Himroo and Mishroo shawls, bedcover and Paithani sarees at Paithani Weaving Centre, New Aurangabad (opposite MGM CIDCO) or from Aurangabad Himroo Industry, Zaffer Gate Mondha Road. Plenty of small and traditional memento of Bidri Pottery and many more curios at small shops near Ajanta cave parking bay. Be aware of bargain!
Activities & things to do: Well, nothing much to do in the city of the Tourism Capital of Maharashtra. Just Relax... explore the history at the caves, spend an evening at Bibi ka Maqbara and possibly unwind at the sprawling lawns at Siddarth Garden and Zoo. You can visit nearby Salim Ali Lake and Bird Sanctuary or have a cab to explore Paithan (56km), Lonar Crater (60km) or Gautala Wildlife Sanctuary (70km) if you have specific interests.
Travel tips, How to reach, travel warnings etc: Have powerful torch as the caves are quite dark inside. Photography with flash/ tripod is not allowed. Avoid shoes with lace for frequent on and off. Cover Ajanta during first half as the caves are east facing. Have sufficient water and food at the parking bay of Ajanta as nothing is available at the cave upstairs. Be aware of honey bee caves around as at times they get annoyed.
Aurangabad is well connected with the rest of the country in all three ways Air, Rail and Road and you could search on internet that suits your needs. We travelled from Mumbai and found the following is the best option.
17057 Devagiri Express Daily Mumbai (CSTM) 21.05 Aurangabad (AWB) 04.05, 12 stops, 7 hours, 274km, 3AC Rs.503. 17618 Tapovan Express Daily AWB 14.35 CSTM 22.05, 12 stops, 7 hour 30 minutes, CC Rs.403
Ajanta & Ellora Info
- State: Maharashtra
- Famous for/as: Heritage
Located near the city of Aurangabad in Maharashtra, the Ajanta-Ellora Caves are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Ajanta and Ellora Caves are two different tourist destinations, which are often mentioned together. The reason behind this is that both are rock-cut cave monuments, which feature beautiful paintings and sculptures.
The Ajanta Caves are located 107 km away from Aurangabad city, just outside the village of Ajanta. This complex comprises 29 rock-cut cave monuments, which date back to around 2nd century BC. Construction of the caves was done in two phases, the first group of caves was built around 200 BC, while the second group was built in 600 AD.
Nestled in the semi-arid Sahayadri Hills above the Waghur River, the caves at Ajanta are famous for beautiful paintings and sculptures that depict tales of Jatakas. Built using only hammer and chisel, these caves served as secluded retreats for Buddhist monks, who performed their rituals in the chaityas and viharas of these caves.
The artwork in the caves comprises well preserved wall paintings of Boddhisattva, Padmapani and Avalokiteshvar. On 28th April 1819, these caves were rediscovered by a British officer, John Smith. His name along with the date is still faintly visible on the wall of Cave 9.
Located 30 km from the city of Aurangabad, the Ellora cave complex is an archaeological site, which was built by the Rashtrakuta rulers. The cave complex comprises of 34 caves that were hewn out of solid rocks of the Charanandri Hills. Built between the 5th and 10th centuries, these caves are monasteries for Buddhists as well as temples for Hindus and Jains.
A symbol of religious harmony of that time, the Ellora complex includes 12 Buddhist, 17 Hindu and 5 Jain caves. Caves 1 to 12 are Buddhist monasteries, chaityas and viharas, while caves 13 to 29 are the Hindu temples. Dating back to the 9th and 10th century, caves 30 to 34 are the Jain temples.
Every year in Aurangabad, the Ajanta-Ellora Festival is organised for paying tribute to the legendary caves of Ellora, Ajanta and other historical possessions of India. This grand ceremony is attended by the greatest artists of Indian art and culture. The cultural event includes performances in classical and folk dancing, singing and instrumental music. Earlier the venue for this festival was Kailash Temple of Ellora Caves; however, it has now been shifted to Soneri Mahal, which is a historical palace in the city.
From the weather point of view, the best time to visit the Ajanta Caves is during monsoon season, when the sound of the Waghur River can be heard in the caves. Tourists can also visit these caves during the winter season. On the other hand, the ideal time to visit Ellora Caves is after the end of the monsoon. June through February is also considered good for planning a trip to the Ellora Caves.