Ellora Caves: The 6th Century Rock Cut Temple Wonder - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!
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Friday, December 10, 2021

Ellora Caves: The 6th Century Rock Cut Temple Wonder

Gorgeous Kailasa temple of Ellora Caves, Maharashtra

Let me start off by telling you that photos and videos hardly do justice to this place. Even up close, you have to do many 360 degree circumambulations and many top, side, interior and exterior views to grasp a small percentage of its artistic and scientific beauty. Such is the aura of this place that you will simply gape in wonder at its gorgeous monstrosity.  
    
Carpenter's cave at Cave 10, Ellora Caves

It’s excavation engineering and architecture was so advanced for that era and quite possibly even in today’s time that many experts are floating theories of extra-terrestrials coming to lend their advanced technology to us humans in the 6th century to help build these cave temples. Every bit of this 6th century rock cut temple wonder evokes reactions of awe, wonder and disbelief. It deservedly holds the title of UNESCO World Heritage site, but its architecture is so magnificent that I don’t know why it is not listed as one of the seven wonders of the world.

Intricate carvings on the lower deck walls of Kailasa temple, Ellora Caves     
    
It is one of the largest rock-cut monastery-temple cave complexes in the world. I am talking about one of India’s richest heritage destinations – Ellora Caves that is located near Aurangabad in the state of Maharashtra. One can also see it in the back side of the twenty rupee Indian rupee currency note. It is best to base yourself at one of the Aurangabad hotels and explore this entire region that is so full of rich history, heritage and culture 
   
     
    
Dating from the 6th century CE, this UNESCO World heritage site houses monuments and artwork dedicated to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. It’s rich architecture, stunning sculptures, gorgeous carvings and inhuman excavation capabilities make it one of India’s best cultural heritage sites. Along with the 2200 year old cave wonder called Ajanta Caves, the name ‘Ajanta Ellora’ is synonymous with rich cultural heritage of India. Both these cave temples, insanely beautiful in their own right, are part of each visitor’s travel itinerary. While Ajanta is more famous for its paintings and frescoes, Ellora is popular for its sculptures, carvings and monstrosity in engineering.
   
Admiring the view of Ellora Caves Kailasa temple - one of the top wonders of the world     
    
The main highlight at Ellora Caves happens to be Cave 16 or the Kailasa temple. This chariot shaped monument dedicated to Lord Shiva, is the largest single monolithic rock excavation in the world. While Kailasa temple can keep you dumbfounded for hours, each of the 34 caves of Ellora have magic in them that will blow your mind. Be it their sheer size, gorgeous sculptures, engineering, architecture or storytelling, each of these 34 caves of Ellora offer something of interest to its visitor. 
   
The magnificent Kailasa temple at Ellora Caves, Maharashtra     
    
Ancient volcanic activity created multi-layered basalt formations, known as the Deccan traps. It is these rocky outcrops in the Western Ghats that became the starting point for the architects of Ellora. Ellora caves were built across various time periods by different dynasties. The Hindu caves came first (550 to 600 CE), then came the Buddhist caves (600 to 730 CE) and then finally some more Hindu and Jain caves (730 to 950 CE).
   
Inside the Jain temples of Ellora     
    
When you are at Ellora, getting ready to explore, you can explore the caves by chronological order, by sequential order and like I prefer by the time of the day as the sun shines on different caves at different times of the day.    
   
     
    
If you are starting right after an early breakfast, you should try and do the Hindu and Buddhist temples first as the sun shines on them in the early hours of the morning. Keep Kailasa temple or Cave 16 for 11 AM through 2 pm as that is when the overhead sun illuminates the entire temple area. And finally, keep the Jain temples for post lunch.
   
The top view of Kailasa temple, Ellora     
     
If you wish to explore the caves properly, it will take you a full day to explore and do be prepared to walk a lot and climb many flights of stairs. You can either break for lunch before visiting Kailasa temple or go right after. Don’t miss the opportunity to see Kailasa temple from the top of the hill. This view will help you appreciate the gargantuan task of the excavation as this entire temple was chiselled top down from a mountain.     
   
Lord Shiva and Parvati - Cave 15, Ellora Caves      
     
Most people spend a lot of time at Kailasa temple as it is the most magnificent with a free-standing multi-level temple structure that covers an area twice the size of the Parthenon in Athens. Carved out of a single piece of mountain from top to down, Kailasa temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva is considered a ‘wonder of the world’ among rock-cut monuments.

Mahisasura Mardini Statue at Ellora Caves, Aurangabad

But, there are other temples that are equally beautiful, but in a slightly different way. For example, there is

1) Cave 15 or the Dashavatara temple, that is known for its large sculptural panels that include the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu, death of demon king Hiranayakashipu, Gangadhara, marriage of Shiva and Parvati, Markandeya, Garuda, dancing Shiva, Andhakasura and more.

Shiva Parvati marriage - Cave 15, Ellora Caves

2) Cave 21 or the Rameshwar temple, that is famous for its carvings depicting goddess Parvati’s pursuit of Shiva, Parvati and Shiva at leisure, Parvati’s wedding to Shiva, dancing Shiva, Sapta Matrika, Goddess Durga and Goddess Ganga and Yamuna amongst others.

Parvati and Shiva at leisure - Rameshwar temple, Cave 21, Ellora

3) Caves 5, 10, 11 and 12, that are architecturally important Buddhist caves. Cave 10, also known as the Carpenter’s cave, is a multi-storied building with a cathedral like stupa hall and a 15 foot statue of Buddha seated in a preaching pose. Various levels of this cave feature large sculptures of male and female deities, such as Tara, Avalokiteshwara, Maitreya, Majusri and more. Caves 11 and 12 are famous for the mandalas carved into the walls and Bodhisattva-related iconography, belonging to Vajrayana Buddhism.

The inner shrine at Kailasa temple, Ellora

4) Caves 30, 32 and 33, that are smaller than the Buddhist and Hindu caves, but are known for their detailed carvings and gorgeous sculptures. Cave 30 or Chotta Kailasa, Cave 32 or Indra Sabha and Cave 33 or Jagannatha Sabha are adorned with beautiful carvings and hold historical significance about active worship by the Jain community.
   
Stunning carvings on Kailasha temple, Ellora caves, Maharashtra     
    
Ellora caves is that kind of a place where photographs, videos, audio guides, tour guides and written literature hardly do justice to its true persona. It has to be seen up close and in person for one to be mesmerized by it and to gaze in disbelief at its aura, size, beauty and sheer feat of engineering.
   
     
    
Ellora caves is the pride of India and if I were to say, it is the pride of humanity too as it is the kind of monument that makes us dream big and one that makes us believe in the impossible. This 6th century rock cut temple wonder certainly features in my list of the ‘Seven wonders of the world’ and I wouldn’t even battle an eyelid before recommending this UNESCO World Heritage Site with multiple thumbs up. Along with the nearby Ajanta caves (which is another UNESCO World heritage site), they are home to some of India’s richest cave temple architecture.
   
Gorgeous carving on the walls of the Hindu caves at Ellora, Maharashtra     
    
Ellora Caves Ticket Fees:

The fee for Indians and SAARC nationals is INR 40 per person. The fee for foreign nationals is INR 600 per person. Do remember to carry your original ID Card (passport for foreign nationals) and cash.

Izi.Travel have great audio guides that you can download on to your smartphone and play at every cave. This audio guide is free of cost.

Government approved tour guides are available at Ellora Caves. Prices would depend on group size and duration.

Shiva as Natarajar - Cave 15, Ellora Caves    
    
Ellora Caves Timings:

Ellora caves is usually open from sunrise to sunset (6 AM to 6 PM). However, timings might differ during the winter months when the days are shorter.

Ellora caves is closed every Tuesday.    
   
Ellora Caves Kailasa Temple at a glance
  
Must Visit Caves at Ellora:     
    
1) Cave Number 16 or Kailasa Temple

2) Cave Number 10 or Carpenter’s Cave

3) Cave Number 15

4) Cave Number 21 – Rameshwar Temple

5) Cave Number 31, 32 and 33 – the Jain temples
   
Parvati's wedding to Shiva, Rameshwar temple, Cave 21, Ellora
 
How to reach here:     
    
The nearest airport, railway station and bus station would be Aurangabad. It is well connected with the rest of the country.

Aurangabad airport is about 7 kms from the city center and about 25 kms from Ellora caves. Aurangabad railway station and bus station are in the city center and are about 20 kms from Ellora Caves.

One can either take a bus from Aurangabad to Ellora Caves or hire a cab or auto rickshaw to commute between Aurangabad and Ellora Caves.
   
Dancing Shiva, Cave 21, Ellora
  
Things to keep in mind while visiting Ellora Caves:     
    
1) Ellora caves is spread across a fairly large area. So be prepared to walk a lot and also climb a few flight of stairs.

2) Sunglasses, a hat or cap, sunscreen, good pair of walking shoes, a bottle of water and a nutritious snack should be on your person at all times.

3) Do opt for an audio guide or a government approved guide to understand the full history of this magnificent place. Else, Ellora caves will feel just like a bunch of rocks to you.

Kailasa Temple, Ellora - a side view

4) The best way to explore Ellora caves would be to start as soon as they open the site. Have a comfortable breakfast and visit all the sites where the sun is shining (the Hindu and the Buddhist caves). Keep Cave 16 or Kailasa temple for between 12 noon and 2 pm as that is when the sun shines on this gorgeous structure. You could either have lunch before exploring Kailasa temple or afterwards. I would recommend exploring post an early lunch as that will allow you to experience this majestic temple at peace. After exploring Kailasa temple, take the bus towards the Jain temples. The setting sun makes these caves look better in the second half of the day.

5) Carry your ID card (passports for foreign nationals) and local currency (in cash) with you at all times.

6) Carry a torch or flashlight with you to see the paintings and frescoes in the dark areas of the caves.
   
Parshvanatha guarded by Yaksha Dhanendra with his 7 hoods - Cave 31, Ellora
 
Best season to visit:     
    
Summers can get oppressively hot here and can be avoided unless you wish for some solitude. Monsoons are the most charming as that is when the terrain is lush green and the waterfalls are in full flow. However, you would need to carry an umbrella or rain wear to handle the heavy monsoon rains.

The best and the most popular season to visit Ellora caves would be the post monsoon months between October through February. The days are brighter, the temperatures are comfortable and there will be hardly any rain. However, this is also the main tourist season. So, if you opt for this season, do be prepared to jostle amongst lots of fellow visitors.    
   
Gomteshwara statue - Cave 31, Ellora

Where to stay:     
    
There are simple hotels and guest houses near Ellora caves if you wish to stay close to the location.

If you don’t mind driving the 20 km distance from Aurangabad, you will find everything from luxury hotels, AirBnB, guest houses, budget hotels, hostels and more in the city of Aurangabad. I suggest using aggregators like Cozycozy, which not only offer you the best diversity in terms of property and price, but they also offer you the greatest access to the airport and easy access to the other tourist attractions.
   
Jain statue at Cave 33, Ellora Caves
 
Where to eat:     
    
There are a whole bunch of restaurants around Ellora Caves that serve simple and traditional Maharashtrian meals. While these places are great to eat at when you are exploring Ellora Caves, the better options are all in Aurangabad. My personal favourites are:

1) Bhoj Thali restaurant at Central Bus stand in Samarth nagar– that serves the best vegetarian thali meal in the whole of Aurangabad. The Thali is a mix of Rajasthani and Gujarati cuisine.

2) Gayatri Chaat bhandaar at Gulmandi for some delicious Halwayi foods like Kachori, Samosa, Aloo wada and Moong bhajiya.

3) Lucky juice centre at Paithangate for milk shakes, juices and faloodas, and

4) Tara paan centre at Usmanpura for one of Aurangabad’s famous paans
   
Lord Varaha killing Hiraniyakashyap - Cave 15, Ellora Caves
 
Other nearby tourist attractions:     
   
1) Ajanta Caves: The 2200 year old rock cave wonder that is also a UNESCO world heritage site 

2) Daulatabad Fort: A 12th century fort city that prides itself on its virtually impregnable defence system and that stands tall even today   
   
3) Bibi-Ka-Maqbara: A 17th century monument that looks like a mini Taj mahal and that was built by Prince Azam Shah, son of Emperor Aurangzeb as a loving tribute to his mother   
   
4) Panch Chakki: A religious tourist spot and a medieval water mill

5) Aurangzeb’s Tomb: The simple resting place of the last strong Mughal Emperor



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