Ellora Cave Temples

The World Heritage Sites of Ajanta and Ellora Caves – Part II

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.

Known as Cave 32, this is a Jain temple at the northern end of the Ellora complex.

Known as Cave 32, this is a Jain temple at the northern end of the Ellora complex.

Cave 15, a Hindu temple.

Cave 15, a Hindu temple.

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.

The entrance to the Kailasa Temple.

The entrance to the Kailasa Temple.

Kailasa Temple from the courtyard.

Kailasa Temple from the courtyard.

One more view of Kailasa Temple - the people around the base give an indication of the enormous size.

One more view of Kailasa Temple – the people around the base give an indication of the enormous size.

A detail of Kailasa Temple showing some of the original paint decorations.

A detail of Kailasa Temple showing some of the original paint decorations.

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.

A view of the Kailasa Temple from above - imagine just a rock hillside and starting to hammer and chisel away at the rock with this beautiful structure in mind.

A view of the Kailasa Temple from above – imagine just a rock hillside and starting to hammer and chisel away at the rock with this beautiful structure in mind.

A closer look at Kailasa Temple from above.

A closer look at Kailasa Temple from above.

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.

Daulatabad Fortress

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 gated entrances to Daulatabad Fortress.

One of the gated entrances to Daulatabad Fortress.

A minaret at Daulatabad Fortress.

A minaret at Daulatabad Fortress.

A deep moat - another defensive feature inside the Fortress.

A deep moat – another defensive feature inside the Fortress.

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!

The entrance to the "dark passage" which is long, winding and full of bats. It was purposely designed to confuse enemies seeking to take the fort.

The entrance to the “dark passage” which is long, winding and full of bats. It was purposely designed to confuse enemies seeking to take the fort.

A few of the bats visible just inside the entrance to the dark passage.

A few of the bats visible just inside the entrance to the dark passage.

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.

After surviving the dark passage - we're hiking up to the top of the Fortress. Some of the extensive walls and defensive fortifications are visible in this image.

After surviving the dark passage – we’re hiking up to the top of the Fortress. Some of the extensive walls and defensive fortifications are visible in this image.

Reference: Lonely Planet Guide to India.

The World Heritage Sites of Ajanta and Ellora Caves – Part I

Although we didn’t know it at the time, we saved some of the best sights in India for the last part of our trip. From the desert city of Jaisalmer we drove back to Jodhpur and then flew to Aurangabad (via an overnight connection in Mumbai). Aurangabad is about 217 miles northeast of Mumbai.

Aurangabad is the gateway to the world-renowned Ajanta and Ellora Caves – both of which are incredible ancient temple complexes.

A road scene on our way to Ajanta.

A road scene on our way to Ajanta.

The two temple complexes are very different. The Ajanta Caves are largely carved INTO rock, the Ellora Temples are carved OUT OF rock.

A view of the path to the Ajanta Caves - you can see how they are carved into the rock face. Some entrances are more elaborately carved than others.

A view of the path to the Ajanta Caves – you can see how they are carved into the rock face. Some entrances are more elaborately carved than others.

This post will focus on the Ajanta Caves, which were part of a Buddhist monastery complex. The oldest caves date back to the 2nd century BC, and additional ones continued to be hewn out of the rock until the 6th century AD.

My mother-in-law getting a ride from porters up to the caves.

My mother-in-law getting a ride from porters up to the caves.

When the temples at Ellora were emerging from the rock, Ajanta began to decline and was eventually forgotten until the 1800’s when it was discovered by chance by a British hunting party. The paintings (actually temperas, which use pigment with a binding substance like egg yolks) are amazing, but are mostly kept in very low illumination to keep them from fading and being further destroyed.

An example of the cave paintings.

An example of the cave paintings.

There are about 30 caves, most of which are accessible, they are numbered and are more or less in order as you visit them. We visited about 10 of the caves. There are plaques (in English) outside each cave that provide some information, and then you are free to wander inside.

An example of the plaques outside each cave.

An example of the plaques outside each cave.

Interior view of Cave #1 with its tempera decorations. Amazing to think that these paintings are almost 2,000 years old.

Interior view of Cave #1 with its tempera decorations. Amazing to think that these paintings are almost 2,000 years old.

Interior view of Cave #2.

Interior view of Cave #2.

A large Buddha in Cave #6.

A large Buddha in Cave #6.

Exterior view of Cave #17.

Exterior view of Cave #17.

The 'Sleeping Buddha' in Cave #26.

The ‘Sleeping Buddha’ in Cave #26.

The incredible interior of Cave #26. Remember, all this was carved out of solid rock.

The incredible interior of Cave #26. Remember, all this was carved out of solid rock.

One other view in Cave #26.

One other view in Cave #26.

Cave #24 - unfinished, giving a feel for the work required to carve just one of these beautiful temples.

Cave #24 – unfinished, giving a feel for the work required to carve just one of these beautiful temples.

In some caves there are guards present, to ward off flash photographs and to ensure the safety of the old paintings. The caves are in a horseshoe shape around a bend in a river. To get an overlook of the area, hike up to the viewing point at the bend of the river.

A view of some of the Ajanta caves from the hill above the river. Similar to the view the British hunting party would have seen.

A view of some of the Ajanta caves from the hill above the river. Similar to the view the British hunting party would have seen.

You’ll also see some waterfalls and lakes in the distance. What a stunning setting for the Ajanta Caves!

Practical Information: We hired a taxi to take us to the Ajanta Caves for the day. The driver waited patiently for us and returned us to our hotel that afternoon. The cost was about $20 US. The Ajanta Caves are about 105 km (60 miles) north of Aurangabad and the Ellora Caves are only about 30 km (18 miles) north of Aurangabad. Both sights could probably be visited in one very long day; however, to allow sufficient time, we visited them separately on two consecutive days. We were able to combine a visit Daulatabad Fortress the same day as the Ellora Caves, which was well worth the stop (I will cover both of these locations in my next post).