In my last post I shared our visit to the Ajanta Temple Cave complex in central India. In this post I will cover the Ellora Caves and the Daulatabad Fortress. The Ellora Caves are about 105 km (60 miles) north of Aurangabad (which is about 217 miles northeast of Mumbai).
As outstanding as the Ajanta Caves are, the Ellora Caves, which are carved out of solid rock, are even more stunning. While they don’t have the ancient temperas (paintings) seen in Ajanta, the magnificence of the structures and intricacies of the carvings—formed and shaped with rudimentary tools out of a rock escarpment is truly an amazing sight. These temples, monasteries and chapels were carved over five centuries starting with the Buddhist caves around 600 AD. There are 34 caves in all. The monks were clearly master stone masons.
The “granddaddy” structure is the Hindu Kailasa temple, which is the largest and grandest structure of the Ellora complex and the world’s largest monolithic structure. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It took 7,000 laborers about 150 years to create this magnificent temple.
Although very few do it, it is worth hiking up behind the temple to look down on the structure from above and to get a better feel how this temple emerged from a cliff side of rock (go to the right of the temple entrance and hike up the hill). Imagine taking a hammer and chisel and starting to chip away at the hard ground, and having to precisely carve to create this masterpiece – one mistake and the structure would have to be redesigned – there is no forgiveness working in the solid rock.
Practical Information: There are Buddhist, Hindu and Jain Cave groupings within the complex. We started at the north end (Jain caves) and worked our way south (Hindu caves are in the middle and Buddhist caves are in the southern grouping). The caves stretch over a 2 kilometer (about 1.2 mile) length of rock escarpment, so be prepared for some walking. You can have your driver drop you off at the north end and work your way south on foot. The main car park is near the Kailasa Temple, in the middle of your route. Guides are available if desired. The Ellora Caves are closed on Tuesday, so plan your visit accordingly.
This fortress can be seen right off the road on the way to the Ajanta Caves. Since the Ajanta caves are closer to Aurangabad, it’s probably best to visit this Fortress on the same day as the Ajanta caves. The Fortress dates back to the 1100’s and was continually developed over the next several centuries.
One of the most fun things we did was to go through a literal “bat cave” on the way to the top. This is a long tunnel (perhaps 50 yards or more length) that is completely dark (bring a flashlight) and the thought of knowing that there are thousands (no joke) of bats hanging right over your head was an experience!
Bring a hat unless you want to take a chance on getting bat dung in your hair! You definitely hear the thousands of bats and near the entrance you can see them in the little light that is available. This tunnel is not for the faint of heart.The Fortress covers a huge area and can be best appreciated from climbing up to the top structure that sits on the highest point encircled by the walls – the walls spread out in each direction for miles.
Reference: Lonely Planet Guide to India.