I don’t have a travel bucket list of UNESCO heritage sites to visit. But I realise that 2014 is certainly my year of travelling to these sites! If you have followed my narratives on Sri Lanka a few months ago, there were many UNESCO heritage sites in that island and we covered a number of them during our 1-week stay there. And then when I mapped out my plans for Maharastra visits, once again, UNESCO heritage sites were featured in my itinerary :-)
The state of Maharashtra is indeed very proud of their rich heritage in the form of cave temples – Ajanta and Ellora. Ellora Caves are known for their sculptures of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism whereas the Ajanta Caves are noted for their Buddhist-influenced fresco paintings.
The Ajanta Caves were excavated from 200 BC to 650 AD. When Buddhism went into decline, Ajanta Caves were abandoned until it was sighted and discovered by a British hunting party in 1819. From then on, this hidden wealth of fine arts was made known to the world.
These caves are cut out into the steep face of a deep rock gorge. Steps seen in the pictures below were built by the Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI), and some of the columns are actually built by ASI to further support the caves which are already precarious due to water erosion and earth movements over the centuries.
Flash photography are not allowed in some of the caves especially the ones closer to the entrance of the site – Caves No. 1 and 2. This is to prevent the fresco paintings from destroyed by camera flashes Photos below were taken with my Samsung Note 3 phone with no flash. Hope you are able to see the paintings.
There are altogether 27 caves in Ajanta site and they are labelled as Number 1, 2, 3, and so on. But visitors would not enter all of them because some are unfinished (and ASI is still researching them) or as the guide would say “Cave number blah, blah, is not important” :-) I took a number photos of these ancient caves but if you ask me which photo is from which cave number – I wouldn’t be able to tell you, sorry! :-)
Nevertheless, here are some the images I took..
How do I get to Ajanta Caves
Ajanta Caves are located about 100 kilometres from Aurangabad city. Estimated time from Aurangabad to the caves is about 2 hours’ drive.
I hired a private car and driver through my budget hotel in Aurangabad and the cost was INR2,500 for a day. This is inclusive of the return-trip transportation and fuel. The driver would also wait for you while you explore the caves. Toll charges, however, is borne by the customer. If I recall correctly, the toll charge was INR20.
The other thing to watch out for is that the driver should not ask you to pay for the carpark fee of INR40. When we arrived at the visitor’s carpark area, the parking attendant requested for the fee and my driver requested me to pay. I disagreed and reminded him that it should be his cost.
Opening hours of Ajanta Caves heritage site
It’s open daily (9.00am-5.00pm) except MONDAY.
If you like archaelogical sites or ancient ruins, then give yourself 3 hours or so to explore the Caves. It’s really worth the visit!
Upon arrival at the Caves
Once you arrive at the visitor’s carpark area, you will be met by many touts. These touts are either the shopkeepers or guides. The shopkeepers remind you of their shop numbers so that you will stop on your return back to the carpark after the tour. And the guides are there to offer their services to help you explore the heritage site.
From the carpark, you will walk through an arcade of shops, and then to the shuttle buses waiting to transport you closer to the caves site. There are 2 types of shuttle buses: AC or non-AC. To me, it doesn’t make any difference because it’s only a short ride but you have to pay a small fare. I can’t remember how much it was but my guide paid for me first (and I included it later when I paid him for his tour services plus tip).
Once you alight from the shuttle bus, you will buy the entrance ticket of INR 250 (for foreigners) from the ticket booth, and then proceed with your exploration.
A gentle reminder…
The weather is hot at the site, so it’s a good idea to bring water with you. Lots of water. Or you can buy a bottle of water from the cafetaria next to the ticket booth.
No toilet facilities are available at the site, so it’s best to visit the toilet first before heading out to explore. Toilets are located near the ticket booth area too.
When exploring the caves, you may have to remove your shoes. So please wear comfortable footwear, easy to remove and slip in as you walk from one cave to another.
Word of Advice
There are many touts out there asking if you would like to hire a guide. Initially I didn’t want to hire a guide but I was lucky to come across one who wasn’t pushy, spoke good English, and quite knowledgeable to give me facts and insights about the Caves. He has had been working with a Japanese professor in researching these caves for several years…or so he claimed.
I reckon it’s OK to hire a guide so that you will have a better appreciation of the caves. But size up the individual first, negotiate the price, listen to your instincts (I have never relied so much on my instincts until I started solo travelling!) and be street-smart. And if all seem fairly reasonable, then proceed and enjoy the tour!