How to visit Ajanta Caves | Ancient Buddhist Temples

by Vanessa Wanders Miles

The Ajanta Caves are a vast network of thirty rock-carved caves that lie approximately 100 km northeast 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.


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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 represents 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 in 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.

Visit Ajanta Caves + Highlights


The viewpoint of Ajanta Caves

Our trip to visit Ajanta Caves started with a 30-minute walk to the temples. This wonderful viewpoint 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 without a tour using this route but want a guide to take you around, 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 in the itinerary.

CLICK FOR A MAP OF AJANTA CAVES


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 an 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 a vast collection of stories about the lives of Buddha and they appear many times throughout Ajanta. In Cave 1 his royal life 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 the 1st century BC and belongs to the 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 is impressive and mesmerising 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 is 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, 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 among 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.


FAQs for visiting Ajanta Caves


How can I visit 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 the stall at the entrance. It will cost INR 16 and it will be busy and hot!

What is the entry fee for 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 card 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.


What are the opening times of Ajanta Caves?

The caves are open between 9 am and 5 pm. We recommend arriving early as there is a lot to see. The caves are open every day other than Monday.


What is the 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.


What are the best Ajanta Caves tours?

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 we allowed. Here are some tours to consider from Aurangabad;


What are the best places to stay near 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 staying 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 has a 24-hour front desk and each room comes with a desk and a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom with a shower, and free toiletries. The restaurant serves home-cooked food!


Arriving into Aurangabad

BUDGET – Click Hotel Aurangabad is a fantastic 2-star hotel with a 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-RANGEFern 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, a 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. The hotel offers an outdoor pool, running track, spa, fitness centre, restaurant, and bar. Spacious rooms have private balconies overlooking the garden or pool, air conditioning, satellite TV, and en-suite bathrooms with bathtub and shower facilities. Located 9km from Aurangabad Airport and 8km from the train station.

Useful links for your Ajanta trip

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2 comments

nisaac01 25th August 2020 - 11:32 am

I love caves, I went to some in Sri Lanka and Mumbai but these are amazing. Thanks for sharing!

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Vanessa 25th November 2020 - 11:23 am

Glad you like the itinerary for 2 days in Prague! The brewery was very welcome after a full day on my feet seeing the city… and yes, the Czech craft beer is awesome!

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