World Heritage Sites in 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).