The Ajanta Caves are a vast network of thirty rock carved caves which lie approximately 100 km north east of Aurangabad, Maharashtra. The architecture and art to be found in this incredible place, where ancient Buddhists lived, trained and worshipped, have great cultural and religious significance. Read on to learn more about the history and tips on how to visit Ajanta Caves in India.
History of Ajanta Caves
The ancient temple caves of Ajanta are set into a 250 ft cliff face that towers above a horseshoe shaped gorge carved by the Waghur River. Lush greenery and the dense Deccan forest are constantly trying to reclaim this historic and stunning cave complex. Happily, UNESCO and the Architectural Survey of India are working hard to preserve these examples of ancient Indian and Buddhist art. They have lit the caves beautifully and have helpfully highlighted all the most impressive and significant pieces of art.
The caves are a mix of Chaityas (prayer halls) and Viharas (monasteries) and the artefacts found here link the early caves to the Satavahana dynasty and the later caves to the Vakataka period of rule.
The first caves are from the 2nd and 3rd centuries BC and are simply carved with little decoration. There are domestic premises where the monks lived and trained and a prayer hall with a stupa where Buddha’s remains are meant to lie. The focus of the artistry is on recounting the life of Buddha and praying before unadorned Stupas (shrines).
Buddhist religion and culture continued to evolve throughout the years and the next phase of caves represent those changes. They were constructed during the 5th and 6th centuries AD and these later temples are more elaborate and represent the progression of the Buddhist religion to worshipping statues of Buddha, celebrating Bodhisattvas (beings on the road to divinity) and telling allegorical stories.
The condition of the many warmly colourful wall paintings which depict Buddha’s life is amazing when you consider how old they are. The vast number of detailed statues are similarly well preserved.
The paintings at Ajanta are special because they are the origin of Buddhist art in India. One of the 6th century paintings, of a sensuous Buddha holding a lotus flower, is one of the finest in India
As Hinduism became more popular in India the Buddhist caves were abandoned and forgotten. They were hidden for eons by the forest and discovered by a British man, John Smith, during a tiger hunting party in 1819.
In 1948 restoration began and paths were laid to allow people to discover these fabulous treasures for themselves.
Highlights of Ajanta Caves
View point of Ajanta Caves
Our trip to visit Ajanta Caves started with a 30 minute walk to the temples. This wonderful view point looks down on Ajanta Caves meaning you walk through the complex from the end and exit through the main entrance.
If you are heading to Ajanta Caves wihout a tour using this route but want a guide to take you round, please note they are only available for hire at the main entrance. If you are taking a private tour from Aurangabad, it is well-worth asking if they will include this into the itinerary.
Cave 1 | Ajanta Caves
When you begin your exploration of the Ajanta Caves through the main entrance, Cave 1 is the first that you will discover. It is a grand cave with an imposing and impressive façade. The art in Cave 1 has a strong royal theme with the emphasis on Kingship.
The sheer number of relief carvings and friezes takes a visitor’s breath away. There is a simply stunning number of beautiful images to enjoy and absorb.
The Jakata Tales are the vast collection of stories about the lives of Buddha and they appear many times throughout Ajanta. In Cave 1 it his royal life that is depicted in gorgeous detail.
Ornate bulls, elephants and lions guard the cave entrance and the jaw dropping figures of two Bodhisattvas greet you as you enter the Buddhist shrine.
Cave 2 | Ajanta Caves
The theme of this 5th century is the powerful female. Just like in Cave 1, the designer was determined to cover every available surface with creativity.
Many of the carvings are in celebration of Hariti, the Buddhist goddess of fertility. Divine symbols, animals and all kinds of flora and fauna are painted, carved and etched.
I found the fresco of school children particularly heart-warming. They are either listening intently to their teacher or being distracted by something more exciting out of our view, very much like young people in every classroom that has ever been.
Cave 9 | Ajanta Caves
Cave 9 is the oldest chaityagriha dating back to 1st century BC and belongs to Hinayana sect of Buddhism.
The nave flanked by side aisles is separated by a row of 23 pillars and a stupa. The pillars and ceilings are decorated with paintings of Buddha and floral art and the walls depict Lord Buddha, groups of votaries and a procession of devotees towards a stupa, the object of worship.
The detail of the paintings are impressive and mesmerising that they have lasted to modern day times.
Cave 16 | Ajanta Caves
Tucked into the middle of this intricate maze is Cave 16. Stone stairs test the legs as you climb up to a cave and the elephants sitting proudly on either side of the cave entrance are a welcome sight. Cave 16 has been deemed ‘crucial’ by historians as it influenced both the architecture and chronology of the rest of the caves.
More Jataka Tales are told on the wall of this Vihara. The monks who resided here lived amongst murals and sculptures that describe the miracles of Sravasti (the town where Buddha defeated heretics with eight days of magic) and the Bodhisattva elephant who sacrificed its flesh to feed the starving.
Cave 17 | Ajanta Caves
The paintings, architecture and engravings in Cave 17 are iconic and are the reason that the Ajanta caves have become so famous.
It is a Viraha dwelling and is blessed with the most detailed and lavish designs of all the caves. It is a real joy to spend a couple of hours feeling astonished at the talent of our Indian ancestors.
Numerous unique pillar designs, an artfully constructed shrine, the bold murals and breath-taking etchings of Indian myths and deities are given more light by larger windows.
The theme is human virtue, and this is perhaps why so much love and effort has been bestowed on Cave 17. Shipwrecks, couples drinking wine together and ardent lovers are amongst the 30 murals. They narrate the lives of the people walking the earth in ancient times which make them both beautiful and of historical importance.
AJANTA CAVES | TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
How to get to Ajanta Caves
- Aurangabad is the closest city to visit Ajanta caves and can be reached directly by air from Mumbai, New Delhi, Udaipur and Jaipur. alternatively, you can fly to Jalgoan from Mumbai which is situated closer to Ajanta Caves.
- Many tourists will hire a local taxi to take them the 103km to the Ajanta Caves from Aurangabad.
- If you are travelling around India by train, then Jalgaon is the nearest railway station. Taxis can be hired to take you the 96km from there.
- Buses to the cave entrance cost INR 122 and can be caught from the Aurangabad Central Bus station. To get to the caves themselves, another bus must be caught from near the shops at stall at the entrance. It will cost INR 16 and it will be busy and hot!
Cost to enter Ajanta Caves
Indian visitors are charged INR 50 and international tourists must pay INR 600. Children under 15 years old are free.
Tickets can be purchased on site but there are often long queues, especially at weekends. Take cash as the credit cad machine isn’t always in good working order.
A small fee is expected should you wish to take photographs. Make sure you follow any rules surrounding the use of flash.
Opening times of Ajanta Caves
The caves are open between 9am and 5pm. We recommend arriving early as there is lots to see. The caves are open every day other than Monday.
Best time to visit Ajanta Caves
June to September is a great time to visit the caves. This is the middle and just after the monsoon, so the temperature is not as hot and humid.
The rains also make the forest surrounding the caves lush and dramatic and unexpected and thrilling waterfall make exploration even more fun.
October to March is also a good time to take a trip but this is peak season so expect to queue.
Tours for Ajanta Caves
It is possible to do Ajanta and Ellora Caves in one day as I did. We flew straight into Aurangabad very early but it does make for a long day and each site deserves longer than our allowed. Here are some trips to consider from Aurangabad;
- Ajanta Caves – Guided Tour – Day Trip from Aurangabad
- Ajanta Caves – Private Tour – Day Trip from Aurangabad
- Ajanta & Ellora Caves and more – Private Tour – 2 Day Trips from Aurangabad
- Ajanta & Ellora Tour with Daulatabad Fort and Aurangabad City (3 Nights 4 Days in 4-star hotels)
Where to stay for Ajanta Caves
There are limited options to stay very close to Ajanta Caves, there are some cheap bungalows but it depends on your expectations. you may look at to stay at Jalgon or Aurangabad if that is where you are arriving into by transport.
Arriving into Jalgaon
BEST REVIEWS – Neelam Residency is close to the airport and train station. This family-run hotel is has a 24-hour front desk and each room comes with a desk and a flat-screen TV, private bathroom with a shower and free toiletries. Restaurant serves home-cooked food!
Arriving into Aurangabad
BUDGET – Click Hotel Aurangabad is a fantastic 2-star hotel with restaurant, gym and 24-hour front desk. Each room has a desk, flat-screen TV, private bathroom and air conditioning. Located 14km from Aurangabad airport.
MID-RANGE – Fern Residency Aurangabad is a 4-star hotel with a large swimming pool and restaurant serving Indian and International cuisine. Luxurious rooms have LCD TV, air conditioning, desk and an en suite bathroom fitted with free toiletries. Located 3 km from Aurangabad Airport and 7 km from Aurangabad Railway Station.
LUXURY – Vivanta Aurangabad is a stunning 5-star hotel set in landscaped gardens. Hotel offers an outdoor pool, running track, spa, fitness centre, restaurant and bar. Spacious ooms have private balconies overlooking garden or pool, air conditioning, satellite TV, en suite bathrooms with bathtub and shower facilities. Located 9km from Aurangabad Airport and 8km to the train tation.
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