Aurangabad Diaries: A Travelogue-cum-guide to the Ellora Caves of India

The sleeper bus dropped us off at Baba Petrol Pump, a bus stop in Aurangabad at 7.15 AM. It was an eight hours long journey but we were not complaining! For both of us it was our first tryst with a ‘sleeper bus’ and the ‘luxury service’ received in reality exceeded our expectation.

Blessed by Amazon.in, we had received a couple of Yatra.com discount vouchers. Using those we booked ourselves a decent hotel in Aurangabad, but, the location turned out to be quite a distance away from both the MSRTC bus stand and the Aurangabad Railway Station.

Enroute to our hotel, the auto-driver tried his best to convince us that we couldn’t survive an Aurangabad trip solely on public transport. Our fragile muscles would be overwhelmed with fatigue if we take the local bus. So we must consider his proposal of hiring him and the AC vehicle proposed by him for the trip to Ellora and the other attractions around Aurangabad.

Thank God we had clearly chalked out a plan and done proper research way before we left our home in Mumbai. There was no dearth of touts in the city.

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In picture: Ellora Cave 16

REACHING ELLORA CAVES FROM AURANGABAD

Dumping our luggage in the hotel room in Osmanpura, we left for the Great Ellora exploration at 8.30 AM. We took an auto from Osmanpura which dropped us off at Aurangabad MSRTC bus stand for INR 60. On reaching the bus stand, we were welcomed by ambitious touts yelling “Pune Pune”, “Nasik Nasik”, almost running after us in hopes of transporting us to places we did not intend to go.

The overzealousness of the tribe can easily scare and confuse a solo female traveller or any foreigner.

The bus stand was dirty and chaotic. We ran like a headless chicken asking officials at every freaking counter the whereabouts of local buses which crosses the way to Ellora caves. The responses did nothing to reduce our confusion as each person we asked provided a different answer! Its bus number 4, replied one, whereas the other pointed us to the plush AC tourist bus even when we insisted we were not interested in it.

Numerous red coloured gigantic state buses stood on either side of the shady bus stand. Some were empty whereas others were getting filled up gradually. Since the responses we got from the counter did not help us, we approached a driver seated in the bus and asked him directly if the bus can drop us to Ellora caves. He answered in the affirmative and we hopped in.

Ellora cave 7- 6
In picture: Ellora cave 7

Practical Information

Autos: Autos can be hired for a daytrip to Ellora caves, Daulatabad Fort, Khuladabad (Aurangzeb’s Tomb). They charge somewhere around INR 700 for the daytrip. They try to fit in as many places possible in a single day. Almost all auto drivers try to sell their ‘sightseeing tour’ services to everyone they meet and are pretty persuasive. Autos are found extensively in the city and they can be hired from any point, any street. Don’t worry– the auto-drivers would find you before you find them!

Private Car+driver: I have no personal experience in this but I believe they can be arranged via the reception desk of your accommodation (just like it works in the rest of India).

Tourist Bus: There are clean, AC tourist buses leaving Aurangabad MSRTC bus stand for Ellora caves. These buses try to fit in some other spots like Daulatabad Fort and Bibi-ka-Maqbara in a daytrip and they are supposed to provide 1 guide for the entire lot.

Local Buses: There are several buses which leave Aurangabad bus stand and travel to other cities. Most of these buses travel via the Ellora Caves route. The charge is INR 39 per seat from Aurangabad bus stand to Ellora caves. The buses are unclean but punctual. Tourists generally avoid these so it’s a good way of observing local lives. We took the Chalisgaon bound bus. It took 45 minutes to reach the Ellora Caves.

The local bus journey to Ellora

When we boarded the bus at 9 AM, only the centrally positioned seats in the last row were vacant. To our left sat a mother and child to our right were two young lads. I tried to chat with the mother-daughter duo but language was a barrier. In between their Marathi and my Hindi information got lost somewhere!

A while later, the ladies boarded off and an elderly man filled in the vacancy. He communicated to us the bus was “Chalisgaon” bound. In the meantime, the co-passengers to our right joined in the conversation. The ones sitting in the front seat: an old lady and some middle aged men joined the party too. We were ‘the tourists’ and they were the locals. Some of them spoke proper Hindi and played guide as the bus crossed the Daulatabad fort and Khuladabad. It was clear that tourists don’t travel in local bus often and the lovely locals were quite excited to help us know their place better.

By the time the Ellora Caves stoppage was reached, half of the passengers had joined in our conversation and the ladies were already giving us a goodbye smile!

And we travel by local transport for moments like this!

Ellora cave 17 - 6

Fell for a tout trap

An auto driver took us from the point where the bus dropped us to the gates of Ellora caves for INR 10 each. It was just 5 minutes walking distance and we had Google maps with us, so I honestly have no idea why we took the auto. Probably we didn’t want to walk along a highway and we were too desperate to reach the caves early in order to avoid a sea of heads.

Food near Ellora

We were almost starving ourselves and thriving on biscuits since the morning in an attempt to beat the crowds. We arrived at around 9.45 AM and saw a few shacks around the gates of the Ellora cave complex. Most of them were selling food and others were selling items like selfie sticks, balloons, toys etc. Yawning locals were pulling up the shutters. This gave us some relief: people don’t arrive here this early.

The foods available at these counters were pavbhaji, poha, misaalpav, idli, vadapav, samosa pav and sometimes puri-bhaji. Most of these are typical Maharashtrian food. I (Tania) am a very slow eater and wasting precious time eating my favourite food can cost us our exclusive chance of viewing the caves crowd-free. So I chose the type of food which I can have while on the go. Though our bong hearts yearned for puri-bhaji (a.k.a luchi-torkari) the husband settled for vadapavs and I got some samosa pavs for myself.

Practical Information And Some Word Of Advice

Please note all these counters are on the road outside the cave complex and they are not hygienic. Inside the cave complex you may occasionally come across a fruit seller or mineral water bottle seller, but they are rare. So fill your tummy before entering the gates or carry dry foods like us. Also stock up sufficient water. Find a bin to drop the wastes; if you fail to find the bin keep the wrappers in your pocket or bags.

Treat the caves the way you would like your home to be treated by guests: DO NOT LITTER.
Do not litter. Do not litter. Do not litter.

Ellora cave 29- 30

ELLORA CAVES – GET READY TO TIME TRAVEL

Location: Maharashtra, India
Status: UNESCO World Heritage Site
Ticket: INR 30 for Indians. Extra charge if you want to carry video cameras.

Time: Sunrise – Sunset ( Closed every Tuesday)
Basic bathroom facility is available in front of cave 16 (entrance).
Important Caves- 2,5,10,11,12,14,15,16,21,29,30,32,33

The History And Geography

The Ellora caves are an example of what mankind can do with a hammer and chisel. They comprise of 34 caves in total, stretching for 2 kilometres in North-South direction along the slopes of the Sahayadri mountains. The caves were hewn out of the basalt rocks which are popularly known in this region as the ‘Deccan Trap’. These types of rocks formed by lava flow are generally ideal for sculpting since, they are soft during exhumation but exposure to environment hardens them up.

The noteworthy fact about the Ellora Caves is that they house caves which served as both living quarters and shrines of three religions- Buddhism, Hunduism and Jainism. The co-existence of all the caves side by side reflects religious tolerance of a bygone era. Unfortunately, these exquisitely built caves lack proper evidence in form of inscription, so the history of the caves is fuzzy.

Buddhist Caves: Cave 1 – Cave 12 (600 – 800 AD)
Hindu Caves: Cave 13 – Cave 29 (600 – 900 AD)
Jain Caves: Cave 30 – Cave 34 (800 – 1000 AD)

The Kalachuris of Mahishmati and the Chalukyas of Badamis are considered to have had an active role in establishing the cave temples 1 – 10 and 21. The construction of cave 11, 12 and all the Hindu caves excepting cave 21 is attributed to the Rashtrakutas. The only inscription was found in cave 15 which related these caves to Rashtrakuta Dantidurga. The Jain cave temples are considered to be the newest by observing the change in style and by deciphering whatever little inscription was found in them. The Yadavas of Deogiri, who are popular for providing patronage to Jainism might have planned and funded the Jain cave temples construction.

There is a lot of debate among the history experts regarding the accuracy of this information and chronology of cave construction.

Aesthetics – Sculpture and Architecture

To call the Ellora caves ‘caves’ will be an utter insult to the brilliant artistry of ancient India. It is unimaginable how such intricate designs were chiselled out of mere rocks. We were fascinated that sculptures with minute details depicting stories from the Jatakas and religious scriptures on the walls of the cave temples stand strong even to this day. Climate change, weathering, exposure to a crowd of people — nothing could take their glory away.

Imagine a rock carved in such a way so as to build a three-storeyed building. What marvel of an architect could have planned and executed that so flawlessly without access to modern technology!

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The Mapping Of The Caves & Transportation

The entry point to the cave premises is in front of cave 16, the Kailasha cave, the most popular and awe-inspiring one. The road to the right (with respect to a person standing facing cave 16) takes you to caves 1-15 and the road to the left, to caves 17-28.

In order to go to cave 29-34, we had to return back to the entry point of cave 16 and take a bus from there. In about 5 minutes we reached a bifurcation point. One route from this point leads to cave 29 which must be covered on foot, and the other to cave 30-34. The bus continued rolling on the route to cave 30-34.

While returning from cave 30-34, the same bus dropped us off at the intersection point to reach cave 29.

On our way back from cave 29, we waited for the next bus from cave 30-34 to stop at the intersection and take us back to the gates of Ellora caves.

How this bus works?

There is no bus to visit caves 1- 28 and these are only accessible on foot. Caves 29-34 are about one kilometre away from cave 16, though it is a walking distance for some, many will prefer the luxury of the bus to save energy and time.
One bus continually plies in this route making to and fro trips from the gates to cave 30-34 premises. The tickets can be obtained from the person sitting with a table opposite to cave 16, almost adjacent to the garden railings. It takes around INR 22 for a to and fro trip including a break for cave 29.
The bus generally waits at cave 30-34 premises for sometimes before starting the return trip. One can get down at the intersection point and walk up to cave 29, then come all the way back to the intersection point to catch a return bus back to the gates.

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Ellora caves map at the gate.

Our Journey

We studied the map at the broad gate of Ellora caves and moved forward.

The entry ticket was INR 30 for adult Indians. We were allowed to carry our DSLR camera inside free of cost. However additional money needs to be paid in order to carry movie camera and shoot in the Ellora Cave premises. We found some people offering guide services in front of the ticket counter.

We did not hire a guide but we got ourselves a guidebook for INR 60 from a seller selling them right under the shade of a tree in front of Kailash cave(cave no.16), the cave which is adjacent to the gates.

We were happy to find very few visitors. So our marathon race to reach the caves early finally paid off.

The Buddhist Caves
These caves are categorised into viharas and chaityas. Viharas are the place where the Buddhist monks lived, worshipped and did daily chores whereas chaityas are assembly halls.

Cave 1

The directions to the caves are well marked with white ink on the broad streets of the Ellora caves complex. We turned to the right (south) of cave 16 and followed the markings until we reached cave 1. Cave 1 can be considered as the southern terminal end of the entire cave complex. To reach it, one has to cross all caves 1-16 in the reverse order.

As we read in the guidebooks, cave 1, was not an impressive one. It was the simplest and smallest vihara; some guidebooks say it may have served as a granary.

There are 8 cells in this cave, 4 on the rear wall and 4 on the right wall.

Ellora cave 1 - 2
Ellora cave 1- Central hall

And an incomplete cell adjacent to the right wall outside the cave.

Ellora cave 1 - 1
Ellora cave 1- Facade (Notice the unfinished cell on the right)

The facade of the cave is unimpressive but there are some interesting holes on the left wall of the cave. It is believed these holes were made on a much later date and they were used to tie ropes by slipping a rope in through one hole and taking it out through another!

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Ellora cave 1- Holes on the wall
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Ellora cave 1- View from inside the cave

Cave 2

Cave 2 is adjacent to cave 1. The doorway is guarded by two massive Bodhisattvas.

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Ellora cave 2- Bodhisattva

Inside the cave we found a hypostyle wall flanked by twelve pillars.

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Ellora cave 2- Central Hall
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Ellora cave 2- Central Hall

The cushioned pillars have carvings belonging to Buddhist pantheons.

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Ellora Cave 2- Pillar Details

We found this awesome embellishment on the inside walls of the right window. It represents the seated Buddha.

Ellora cave 2- 6 The left window on the cave facade, the side two walls
Ellora cave 2- Seated Buddha flanked by Bodhisattva

The central shrine consists of Lord Buddha seated on a lion throne in Bhadrasana pose.

Ellora cave 2- 19 Buddha seated in Bhadrasana pose in lionthrone
Ellora cave 2- Shrine

The tale of how Lord Buddha created trees by just planting a toothpick in the ground or how he created the jewel lake are famously known as the Miracles of Shravasti. In this cave we found Miracles of Shravasti finely chiselled on the volcanic rocks.

Ellora cave 2- 23 Miracles of Sravasti - Surrounded by Budhhas
Ellora cave 2- Miracles of Shravasti

On the walls of the cave we found giant sculptures of seated Lord Buddha surrounded by flying dwarfs and Bodhisattvas.

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Ellora cave 2- Walls with seated Buddhas
Ellora cave 2- 33 Buddha seated in Bradsana with feet down. Flying dwarfs
Ellora cave 2- Seated Buddha

Here we see an incomplete sculpture of Buddha.

Ellora cave 2- 12 incomplete
Ellora cave 2- Incomplete sculpture

Cave 3

Not much literature exists about this cave. We did not photograph it as it seemed really tiny, dark and nothing fancy or different about it. The sculptures inside the cave were mostly incomplete. Figures from Miracles of Shravasti, Bodhisattvas and seated Buddha were the common sculptures here.

Cave 4

Cave 4 is unfinished and not well maintained. It is almost in ruins and it looked like a part of it had already collapsed. We did not venture in as there were signs of maintenance work under progress.

Ellora cave 4- 1
Ellora cave 4- Facade
Ellora cave 4- 2
Ellora cave 4- Facade

Cave 5

This is one unique cave in Ellora and the largest vihara. What make it unique are the parallel running end to end low rock-cut benches.

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Ellora cave 5 – Central Hall
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Ellora cave 5- Central hall with rock cut benches.

The consensus is that cave 5 was used as an assembly hall for dining purpose or for carrying out regular religious practices. We have been to the Buddhist monasteries in Himalayas a ton of times and I have seen monks practice religious rituals exactly in the same settings as I found carved out here!

The main shrine has a seated Buddha with Bodhisattvas on both his sides and flying figures around him. Due to the darkness, we were unable to take a close picture of the main shrine.

Ellora cave 5- 9
Ellora cave 5- Writer standing in front of the shrine

Cave 6

I will be honest here; cave no.6-9 had us all confused. It was very difficult to map which is what. To make the situation worse, the construction is such that one cave lead to the path of another.

I have tried my best to be as accurate as I can, but forgive me if I go wrong somewhere!

This was the entrance to cave 6.

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Ellora Cave 6 – Way to enter.

The seated Buddha with Bodhisattvas on his either sides is found in the main shrine.

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Ellora Cave 6- Main Shrine

The sculpture of Tara (in the picture) and Mahamayuri is what sets this cave apart. Mahamayuri is a Goddess of learning, though I felt it is Tara who strikes a remarkable resemblance with the Hindu Goddess of learning – Saraswati.

Ellora cave 6- 5 Tara
Ellora cave 6 – Tara

Cave 7

In the guidebooks cave 7 is mentioned as a passage to cave 8. We mistakenly thought of it as a passage to cave 9. The cave is mostly unadorned but it may have a couple of unfinished sculptures of Tara and Mahamayuri (which we missed noticing).

Ellora cave 9- 7
Ellora cave 7

Cave 8

Now what I have gathered is that cave 8 is the downstairs of cave 7 in the present day Ellora caves. Its sanctum is detached from the rear wall to make way for a circumambulatory passage encircling the shrine.

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Ellora cave 8 – Main shrine 
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Ellora cave 8 – Sculpture

The inside of cave 8 is dark; the circumambulatory passage is pitch dark. There are cells attached to the two walls.

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Ellora Cave 8- The circumambulatory passage
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Ellora cave 8- View from the cave

Cave 9

The upper facade of cave 9 has elaborate carvings of the seated Buddha and various other significant characters in Buddhism. Our eyes were overwhelmed with all the detailed carvings.

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Ellora cave 9 – Facade
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Ellora cave 9- Detailed artwork.

In the shrine beyond the cushioned columns was the usual seated Buddha. On the nearby walls were eloquent carvings of female attendants. The picture I took came very bad, even though there was sufficient light. The presence of too many strangers severely staring at my camera and questioning if I am a pro photographer or just a girl pretending to be one (which is true) made me nervous I guess.

Ellora cave 9- 1
Ellora cave 9- Main shrine

Unfortunately we just couldn’t find out any ‘lower facade’ to cave 9. I doubt if it exists. So I asked the husband to go to the lower level via cave 7,8 and take some cool photos of me standing stupidly in front of the historic grandeur.

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Ellora cave 7 , 8, 9

Cave 10 (Vishwakarma Cave)

The double-storeyed cave was moderately crowded when we entered, though by the time we finished exploring, the crowd had left. It is one of the popular caves in Ellora and the only chaitya cave among all the Buddhist caves.

The facade and courtyard of this cave is massive both qualitatively and quantitatively. Wild animals like elephants were carved out of the rocks to form the frieze of the primary entrance passage. The cave facade is heavily decorated with carvings of sexual couples.

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Ellora cave 10 – Facade
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Ellora cave 10- Facade
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Ellora cave 10 – Detailed Artwork

What makes cave 10 stands out is the ceiling of its central hall. We were left in total awe on entering the hall. The ceiling has arched ribs carved out of solid rock mimicking wooden ribbed vaults.

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Ellora cave 10 – Central Hall with arched ribs
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Ellora cave 10 – Central Hall with arched ribs

The imposing 27 feet tall stone made Buddha seated in the middle of this hall is softly illuminated by the natural light that pours in from the window on top of the entrance door. When the crowd left, the surroundings felt surreal.

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Ellora cave 10- Central Buddha 

The lintel was decorated by panels of seated Buddha.

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Ellora cave 10 – Lintel details

A flight of steps took us up to the top floor balcony.

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Ellora cave 10 – Staircase
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Ellora cave 10 – Staircase Landing
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Ellora cave 10- View of outside from top floor

The surroundings of the window and opening through which the natural light enters the hall had been widely decorated with detailed sculpting of male, female figures and architectural patterns.

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Ellora cave 10- Level two
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Ellora cave 10- Level two
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Ellora cave 10- Level two
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Ellora cave 10- Level two

Cave 11

We were so thankful to get this cave crowd free. The cave is three storeyed. The gigantic size of the cave and the spacious courtyard itself makes it one of the most fascinating ancient structures of the World. We can’t believe our luck when we got all this space to ourselves!

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Ellora cave 11- Facade 
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Ellora cave 11- Facade 
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Ellora cave 11- Facade 

It’s really hard to call this edifice a ‘cave’. I don’t know why it’s not a wonder of the world.

The pillars of this cave are rather simple and not embellished by fancy images. The flooring of the second and third level is smoother compared to its counterpart in level one.

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Ellora cave 11- Lower level corridor
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Ellora cave 11- Lower level corridor

We found humble patterns on the pillars of the third level.

The shrine on second storey has a seated Buddha with folded legs and right hand touching Earth. This is popularly known as the ‘Earth touching Buddha’, whereas, the shrine on third storey has a seated Buddha with legs down.

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Ellora cave 11- Second storey shrine
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Ellora cave 11- Third Storey Shrine

We also noticed channels cut in the rock surface of the floor to drain out water.

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Ellora cave 11- Rock cut drainage channels
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Ellora cave 11- Rock cut drainage channels

The interior halls on all three floors were as imposing as I imagined them to be with intricately carved out decorative panels. But due to lack of proper light, images of the interior couldn’t be properly captured.

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Ellora cave 11- Interior of hall
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Ellora cave 11- Porch
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Ellora cave 11- Porch

Cave 12 (Teen Thal)

The facade of the three storeyed cave 12 is as impressive as that of cave 11.

Ellora cave 12- floor 1- 1
Ellora cave 12- Facade
Ellora cave 12- floor 1- 2
Ellora cave 12- Facade

The cistern chamber is to the left of the entry passage to cave 12.

Ellora cave 12- floor 1- 5
Ellora cave 12- Cistern chamber

There are several panels on the first level of the cave with intricately carved out figures of the Buddhist pantheon. The most notable among these is the centrally seated Buddha surrounded by eight Bodhisattvas.

Ellora cave 12- floor 1- 9
Ellora cave 12- Seated Buddha surrounded by Bodhisattva
Ellora cave 12- floor 1- 11
Ellora cave 12- Wall carvings

 

 

 

 

 

There is a middle floor in between first and second levels. This little space is a storehouse of awe inspiring artistry. We saw on its wall panels an impression of Avalokiteshwara in a seated position with Jambala to his right and Tara to his left.

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Ellora cave 12- Avalokiteshwar with Jambala and Tara

The stone lotus on the ceiling blooms gracefully.

Ellora cave 11- middle floor- 8
Ellora cave 12- Ceiling Carving

We found a rock cut seated Buddha with Avalokiteshwara and Vajrapani.

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Ellora cave 12- Middle floor

Curious holes of different shape were made on the floor. We are searching for an explanation for these.

Ellora cave 11- middle floor- 3
Ellora cave 12- Floor sculpture
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Ellora cave 12- Floor sculpture

In the second level the entry to the main hall is flanked by a seated Bodhisattva on the right wall in company of four females.

Ellora cave 12- floor 2- 3 Seated Bodhisattva on right wall in the company of four females
Ellora cave 12- Seated Bodhisattva

On the left wall is seated Rakta Avalokiteshwar with Bhrikuti and Tara.

Ellora cave 12- floor 2- 2 Rakta Avalokiteswar with Bhrikuti and Tara
Ellora cave 12- Rakht Avalokiteshwar with Bhrikuti and Tara

The shrine is proudly guarded by Avalokiteshwara and Vajrapani. They stand on a lotus as they guard the shrine.

Ellora cave 12- floor 2- 4 Shrine guarded by Avalokiteshwara and Vajrapani
Ellora cave 12- Second level shrine

Please keep your eyes open to find out inscriptions on the pillar near the entrance of this hall. We got to know about its existence only after returning back!

A seated Buddha on one end of the veranda welcomed us on the topmost level of this cave. It was just a trailer to what we were going to witness in the hall. The pillared hall has striking carvings of Buddha carved on almost all its walls.

Ellora cave 12- floor 3- 2
Ellora cave 12- Third level porch
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Ellora cave 12- Third level hall

The rear wall both left and right around the shrine has 7 chiselled meditating Buddha. These are thought to represent the seven historical Buddha.

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Ellora cave 12- Third level hall
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Ellora cave 12- Third level hall

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshwar and Vajrapani guard the door to the shrine. The adjacent walls to the shrine have seated female Bodhisattvas engraved over them.

Ellora cave 12- floor 3- 15
Ellora cave 12- Third level hall- Female Bodhisattva
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Ellora cave 12- Third level hall- Shrine guards

We could not photograph the shrine area as it was not sufficiently lit up.

Here are some of the photos of the sculptures inside the grand hall of third level.

Ellora cave 12- floor 3- 6
Ellora cave 12- Third level hall
Ellora cave 12- floor 3- 20
Ellora cave 12- Third level hall
Ellora cave 12- floor 3- 21
Ellora cave 12- Third level hall

The Hindu Caves

Cave 13

It was nothing more than a hole in the rock. The cave is incomplete and some argue it probably served as a granary.

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Ellora cave 13- Facade

Cave 14

The sculpture details of cave 14 overwhelmed our visual senses. We still cannot fathom how thousands of years back in time humans created such fine features out of rock faces without the aid of any technology.

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Ellora cave 14 – Facade

The illustrations on the panels of this cave are obviously different from those of cave 1-12 owing to the fact that this is a Hindu cave.

Surrounding the shrine of this cave is a circumambulatory passage. On one of the walls of this passage Saptamatrika is found clearly engraved.

Ellora 14- 13
Ellora cave 14- Saptamatrika

Saptamatrika are the seven mothers and they are identified by their mounts. The Brahmani has goose, Vaishnavi has Garuda, Maheshwari has bull, Indrani has elephant, Kumari has peacock, Varahi has boar, Chamunda has a jackal. They all have babies with them.

The Saptamatrika are attended by Virbhadra to the left and Lord Ganesha, Goddess Kali and a skeleton to the right. The skeleton is representative of ‘kaal’ or time.

The panel which comes next to the Saptamatrika is Andhakasuravadha. Here the Bhairav avatar of Lord Shiva is portrayed. He is seen here killing the demon Andhaka as Parvati and Ganesha rest at his feet. A little dwarf gives company to the party.

Ellora 14- 11 Andhakasuravadha
Ellora cave 14- Andhakasuravadha

In the next panel Ravana is found trying to shake Mount Kailasha, the abode of Shiva and Parvati. Ravana struggles to shake the home of Shiva with all his legs and ten heads; Shiva responds to this by putting just one of his legs down. Parvati is seen romancing here with her husband Lord Shiva.

Ellora 14- 15 Ravana shaking kailasha
Ellora cave 14- Ravana Shaking Kailash

Another panel to the right of Ravana shaking Kailasha depicts the dancing Shiva. Parvati is seen standing near his leg. In the sky Agni, Brahma and Vishnu roam with their vahana.

Ellora 14- 17 Dancing shiva
Ellora cave 14- Nataraj (Dancing Shiva)

Scenes from Mount Kailasha are depicted on the next panel. Shiva and Parvati sit on Mount Kailasha with Ganesha. They are attended by several others. On the lower panel the bull is representative of Nandi.

Ellora 14- 19 Shiv Parvati playing chausar
Ellora cave 14- Shiva and Parvati on Mount Kailasha

On the left wall of the aisle we found illustrations of Varaha. The curl under his right foot is supposed to represent underwater forces, which he is trying to calm down in his attempt to save the Earth Goddess.

Ellora 14- 8 Varaha
Ellora cave 14- Varaha

The panel beside Varaha presents a seated Vishnu and Laxmi, attended by many females.

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Ellora cave 14 – Wall details

Goddess Durga is found on both the left and right panels of the aisle near the entrance door. Mounted on her lion, the Goddess is ready to kill the buffalo demon. Sculptures of Durga are found abundantly in this cave — sometimes on the panels, sometimes on the pillar; sometimes complete and sometimes incomplete.

Ellora 14- 6 Durga left wall
Ellora cave 14 – Durga on left wall
Ellora 14- 21 Durga right wall
Ellora cave 14 – Durga on right wall

The central shrine is devoid of any idol. Historians say that it is highly possible that the central deity of the cave used to be Goddess Durga. This was later misplaced either by an accident or on purpose. The cave clearly worships the Hindu female divine characters.

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Ellora cave 14 – Durga

Mysterious pits on the floor were found in this cave. These could be attributed to ancient religious rituals.

Ellora 14- 9 floor pits
Ellora cave 14 – Floor pits

Cave 15 (Das Avatar or ten incarnations of Vishnu)

The gorgeous cave 15 completely prepared us for the upcoming cave 16. A flight of steps led us to the courtyard of the massive double storeyed cave 15.

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Ellora cave 15 – Facade
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Ellora cave 15 – Facade

The arresting mandapa centrally positioned in the open courtyard has many tales to tell. Some wish to refer this as the Nandi mandapa, others call it the dancing hall. The exact nature of the mandapa cannot be ascertained; what remains with us are theories. The outer walls of the mandapa are well decorated with carvings of male and female figures. The ornamental windows make it more beautiful.

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Ellora cave 15 – Mandapa
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Ellora cave 15 – Mandapa
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Ellora cave 15 – Mandapa window details
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Ellora cave 15 – Mandapa Windows

The second floor of this cave has a rich portrayal of several Hindu mythological characters and stories.

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Ellora cave 15 
Ellora cave 15- 30
Ellora cave 15 
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Ellora cave 15 – Hall

On the pillars of the second floor there are carvings of Buddha images along with Tara. Due to these engravings and the fact that the cave closely resembles cave 11 and 12, experts are of the opinion that this cave might have been a newly constructed Buddhist vihara which was later transformed into a Hindu cave.

The story of Hiranyakasipu is depicted on the left wall of the hall on second floor. The legend is that demon Hiranyakasipu pleased the Gods and he was successful in getting the boon of immortality that he cannot be destroyed either indoor or outdoor, either by beast or by men, either during daytime or night. But Lord Vishnu took form of a half beast half man and killed the demon on a “veranda”, or porch, which is a surface neither outdoor nor indoor, during dusk which is considered neither day nor night.

Ellora cave 15- 37 Hiranyakasipu 2
Ellora cave 15 – Hiranyakashyipu
Ellora cave 15- 38 Hiranyakasipu
Ellora cave 15 – Hiranyakashyipu

This panel describes the Trivikrama of Vishnu.

Ellora cave 15- 39 Trivikrama
Ellora cave 15 – Trivikrama

The next panel is attributed to Varaha.

Ellora cave 15- 40 Varaha
Ellora cave 15 – Varaha

The brilliant story of Gajendra being saved by Vishnu when he prayed to him; the reclining Vishnu creating the universe with his companion Lakhsmi; Lord Krishna — an incarnation of Vishnu — saving the villagers from the angry Indra, make up the contents of the consecutive panels. I was so lost in appreciating the perseverance that must have went into recreating these stories on rocks that I forgot to take pictures.

The corner panel on the right rear wall describes Tripurantaka. It shows Shiva riding a chariot driven by Brahma. The tale is all about how Shiva destroyed the three demon cities with a single arrow, the only way to destroy them.

Ellora cave 15- 41 Tripurantaka
Ellora cave 15 – Tripurantaka

The panel adjacent to Tripurantaka represents Shiva emerging from Lingam. Awe struck by the infinite size of the lingam, Brahma and Vishnu offer him their praise. Initially Brahma had the task of finding the upper end of the lingam and Vishnu took the responsibility of finding the lower end; however both of them failed.

Ellora cave 15- 42 Shiva emerging from Lingam
Ellora cave 15 – Shiva emerging from lingam

Elaborate couples on pillar brackets adorn the pillars around the central shrine.

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Ellora cave 15 – Couples on pillar brackets.
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Ellora cave 15 – Couples on pillar brackets.

The shrine consists of the lingam.

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Ellora cave 15 – Shrine

Cave 16 (Kailash Cave – The most important and the most stunning cave)

King Krishna I is credited with the construction of the Kailasha cave- the world’s largest monolithic structure. The grandeur of this cave overshadows all others. It will forever be the finest thing that man has created with a chisel and hammer.

Its sheer size and heavy artwork took a toll on our confidence, and we hardly consider ourselves able enough to document such fine detailed work of expertise.

The facade of the cave itself speaks of what can be expected inside it. The wall of the fort-styled facade flaunts carved images of Naga-Nagin, the various avatars of VishnuTrivikrama, Varaha, Narasimha and the river Goddess.

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Ellora cave 16 – Facade
Ellora cave 16- 3 Nag Nagin Varaha Trivikrama Narasimha
Ellora cave 16 – Facade

The left side is dominated by images of Kartikeya, Agni, Vayu and the dancing Shiva.

In the main entrance to the courtyard dwarapalas guard Gajalaxmi. The panels surrounding dwarapalas portrays battling Goddess Durga, Ganesha, Vishnu and so many others that it is really hard to remember.

Ellora cave 16- 5 Gajalaxmi flanked by dwarapalas on either side main entrance to kailash complex
Ellora cave 16 – Gajalaxmi

The entire entrance panel is richly carved with figures from the Hindu pantheon. The Narasimham avatar of Vishnu is the most eye catching one here. Meditating Vishnu is found on many panels of the temple exterior.

Ellora cave 16- 10 Sculpture on the exterior wall of teh main temple - Narasimha
Ellora cave 16 – Narasimham avatar of Vishnu
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Ellora cave 16 – Wall sculpture
Ellora cave 16- 6 Sculptural panel at the entrance to the kailasha temple
Ellora cave 16 – Wall sculpture

The most striking structure in this entire cave temple is the intricately designed tall pillar and the free standing rock cut elephant on the courtyard. A pillar and an elephant stand on each side of the central entrance.

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Ellora cave 16 – Pillar
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Ellora cave 16 – Pillar
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Ellora cave 16 – Elephant Sculpture

The exterior of the main temple within this cave is also adorned by minute carvings of scenes from Ramayana like the Samudramanthan. It occupies a vast area on the panel. On a large panel we again found a huge effigy of Ravana shaking Kailasha.

Ellora cave 16- 19 Sculptural panel on the main temple exterior Samudramanthan and other Ramayana panels
Ellora cave 16 – Samudramanthan from Ramayana
Ellora cave 16- 22 Ravana shaking Kailasha
Ellora cave 16 – Ravana shaking Kailash

All around the central shrine’s plinth huge beasts like elephants and lions are sculptured.

Ellora cave 16- 20 Plinth detail
Ellora cave 16 – Beasts on the plinth
Ellora cave 16- 29 various huge beasts are carved all around the shrine's high plinth or platform including elephants lions
Ellora cave 16 – Beasts on the plinth
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Ellora cave 16 – Beasts on the plinth
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Ellora cave 16 – Beasts on the plinth
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Ellora cave 16 – Beasts on the plinth

Cloisters surround the central courtyard of the cave.

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Ellora cave 16 – Courtyard and cloisters
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Ellora cave 16 – Courtyard and cloisters

On the south walls of it are 12 panels. Starting from the entrance going inwards the panels depict the following:
1. Goddess Annapurna
2. Vishnu
3. Krishna incarnation of Lord Vishnu
4. Boar incarnation of Lord Vishnu
5. Vishnu riding sun bird Garuda
6. Vishnu as Trivikrama
7. Krishna incarnation of Lord Vishnu lifting Mount Govardhana
8. Sheshayivishnu

Ellora cave 16- 40 In the South Gallery - Vishnu on the Serpent Seshasayi Vishnu
Ellora cave 16 – Sheshayivishnu

9. Narasimham avatar of Vishnu
10. Demon Ravana trying to lift the Lingam
11. Lord Shiva
12. The half man and half woman avatar of Lord Shiva

On the eastern walls there are 19 panels dominated by several avatars of Lord Shiva. Starting from south going towards north the panels depicts the following:
1. Shiva
2. Shiva and Parvati– The lotus pond scene
3. Shiva and Parvati
4. Shiva
5. Nataraj avatar of Shiva
6. Bhikshatana Shiva
7. Shiva
8. Shiva
9. Brahma
10. Shiva
11. Harihara
12. The descent of Ganges from Shiva’s jata
13. Vishnu
14. Shiva emerging from Lingam in the act of rescuing his bhakt (followerfrom Yama (God of death)

Ellora cave 16- 53 In the East gallery - Siva emerging from lingam rescues Markandeya from Yama

Ellora cave 16 – Shiva emerging from lingam to save bhakht from Yama

15. Lakulisa Shiva
16. Seated Shiva and Parvati in Kailash
17. Tripurantaka (Shiva)
18. Andhakasuravada (Shiva)

Ellora cave 16- 52 In the East gallery - Siva killing Andhaka Andhakasuravadha
Ellora cave 16 – Andhakasuravadha

19. Marriage scene of Shiva and Parvati

The 12 panels on the northern walls moving from east to west are-
1. Markandeya is rescued from Yama by Shiva.
2. Heroes of the epic Ramayana, Ram and Lakshman worship Shiva.
3. Shiva and Parvati sitting in Kailash, on the lower panel nandi (the bull) is standing.

Ellora cave 16- 54 In the North Gallery - Siva and Parvati playing chaupat
Ellora cave 16 – Shiva and Parvati

4. Shiva is sitting with a veena in his hand alongside Parvati. On the lower panel is nandi (the bull).
5. An incomplete impression of Ravana shaking Kailasha.
6. Kubera– The Lord of wealth.
7. Seated Parvati and Shiva.
8. Shiva.
9-11. Seated Shiva and Parvati in various postures.

Ellora cave 16- 57 seated shiva and parvati 1
Ellora cave 16 – Shiva and Parvati

12. Ravana offering his heads to Shiva.

Ellora cave 16- 59 Ravana offering 9 of his heads to Shiva
Ellora cave 16 – Ravana offering his heads to Shiva

When we were completely done exploring the entire courtyard and checking out the galleries on all sides, we climbed the steps up to reach the main temple. It was extremely crowded and most of the domestic tourists worship and offer puja at this particular shrine. Removal of shoes was mandatory.

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Ellora cave 16 – Shrine temple

Taking a photograph in the crowd was extremely difficult. But we anyways found our quite corners in the terrace path around the main shrine walls.

Faint lights lit the interiors of the main shrine. Dwarapalas guard the garbhagriha where a huge lingam rests.

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Ellora cave 16 – Interior of the main temple
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Ellora cave 16 – Main shrine- The Lingam

The interiors has well grooved sculptures and half worn painted ceilings, but photographing them was almost impossible due to low light.

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Ellora cave 16 – Interiors of the main temple.
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Ellora cave 16 – Interiors of the main temple.

On the terrace around the main shrine have many other sub shrines. These are not popular with the religious folk so expect them to be quite empty. With bated breaths we appreciated the delicate works of the artists and photographed the lower level from the upper level.

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Ellora cave 16 – Subshrines 
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Ellora cave 16 – Sculptures around subshrines
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Ellora cave 16 – Patterns on walls around subshrines
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Ellora cave 16 – View of the pillar from the top of the temple
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Ellora cave 16 – View of the cloisters from the top of the temple

From the veranda the entry point flanked by the garden was visible. Sadly we couldn’t enjoy the view as much as we would have liked to since the place had turned into a selfie spot.

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Ellora cave 16 – Veranda with view

Cave 17

Cave 17 is quite a distance away from cave 16. The road to it was pretty scenic. We visited during the advent of monsoon when greenery was in full swing. More than the cave I admired the little trail between the grasses which took us to the caves.

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Way to cave 17.
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Way to cave 17.

The facade of cave 17.

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Ellora cave 17 – facade

The female figures on the pillars are the most noteworthy in this cave. The central shrine consists of the shivling.

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Ellora cave 17 – Female figures on pillars and the shrine

On the left and right wall of the cave there is one panel each with effigies of Mahishasurmardhini and Ganesha eating ladoo in the company of dwarfs.

Cave 18

A brisk walk through patches of greenery brought us to cave 18. Absolutely no literature was available on this cave.

It has a simple facade and a simple pillared hall. The central shrine is occupied by a shivling.

Ellora Cave 18- 1
Ellora cave 18 – Facade

Cave 19

The main shrine of cave 19 also houses a shivling. The pillared hall consists of a panel on Lakulisa and Kirtimukha. The doorway to the shrine is flanked by Dwarapalas.

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Ellora Cave 19 – Facade

There are two entrances to the cave, identified as cave 19A and cave 19B. The facade and entry to cave 19A was shut for some reason.

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Ellora Cave 19 – Facade
Ellora cave 19- 2
Ellora Cave 19 

Cave 20

I went up the flight of steps to check cave 20 and the husband remained in the premises of cave 21 and took two snaps of me climbing up. We were too tired and we still had 14 more caves to check.

Ellora cave 20- 1
Ellora cave 20 – Facade

Cave 20 is also a simple cave with a central lingam flanked by dwarapalas. Some ruined impressions on walls remained which must have been sculptures. The lower cave has a basic hall, which was probably used as living quarter with veranda.

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Ellora Cave 20

Cave 21 (Ramesvara Cave)

The impressive facade of cave 21 has a ‘Nandipitha’- a shrine for the bull Nandi. The pitha is very well decorated with patterns and rich imaginations carved everywhere around it.

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Ellora Cave 21 – Facade
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Ellora Cave 21 – Nandipitha
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Ellora Cave 21 – Nandipitha

On the left and right wall, outside the veranda are two sculptures of river Goddess Ganga and Yamuna.

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Ellora Cave 21 – Sculpture of river Goddess Ganga
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Ellora Cave 21 – Ganga

The cave is adorned by pillars with curvy female brackets.

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Ellora Cave 21 – Curvy female figures
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Ellora Cave 21 – Pillar brackets

The left wall portrays the details of ShivaParvati marriage, popularly known as Kalyanasundaramurti. On another panel Mahishasur Mardhini and Ravana shaking Kailasha are clearly engraved.

Ellora cave 21- 8 ravana shaking mount kailash
Ellora Cave 21 – Ravana shaking Kailash
Ellora cave 21- 9 Mahisasurmardhini and Kalyanasundaramurti (detail)-marriage of shiv and parvati
Ellora Cave 21 – Kalyanasundaramurti and Goddess Durga

On the right wall the seven mothers- Saptamatrikas are carved out in detail. On an adjacent panel, 3 skeletons are found. Two of them are supposed to represent Kala and Kali– The male and female versions of the forces of time. They are usually associated with fierce violence, death and corpses.

Ellora cave 21- 15 Saptamatrika
Ellora Cave 21 – Saptamatrika
Ellora cave 21- 12 Kala and kali
Ellora Cave 21 – kala and kali
Ellora cave 21- 14 Kala and kali3
Ellora Cave 21 – kala and kali

Dwarapalas are present on the two sides of the door to shrine. A shivling rules the shrine. There is a circumambulatory passage around the shrine.

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Ellora Cave 21 – Dwarapalas

Cave 22

The nandimandapa welcomed us in cave 22. It is centrally positioned in the small courtyard. To the left are the detailed model of Saptamatrika and the skeletons representing the force of time. Further into the cave, images of dwarapalas could be found.

Ellora cave 22- 1
Ellora Cave 22- Facade

Around the main shrine which is dedicated to Lord Shiva, we found his family members — Parvati, Saraswati, Lakhshmi and Kartikeyya.

Cave 23

The cave is extremely underrated in all guidebooks and the sparse information I received made me believe that entering the cave is not worth it. Though the cave is mostly in ruins and much of the important artistry is broken and eroded, I wish I could have reconsidered my decision.

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Way to cave 23
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Ellora Cave 23

This cave has 8 shrines with lingams. In shrine 7 there is a very unique sculpture on the walls, it is called Maheshmurti. I don’t remember coming across it in other caves. Shrine 6 houses Illika Torana

Cave 24

The cave consists of a group of 5 shrines with a lingam in each of them. Sculpted Ganesha, Lakulisha and river goddess Ganga are engraved in 3 panels of the wall.

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Ellora Cave 24- Facade

The veranda of the cave and the flight of steps to reach a shrine within the cave were taken over by modern day couples and people enjoying an afternoon nap. We felt odd and intrusive in that setting so just photographed the facade and returned back on the trail.

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Ellora Cave 24 – The water bottle and bag of the person enjoying afternoon nap.

Cave 25

The courtyard of the cave flaunts an eroded Nandipitha. The left side of the Veranda has tiny carvings of standing Saptamatrika and an elaborate panel of Kubera.

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Way to Ellora cave 25
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Ellora cave 25 – Facade

The ceiling of the pillared hall has a lotus medallion.

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Ellora Cave 25 – Lotus Medallion 

Near the shrine the ceiling has a striking sculpture of the Sun chariot, which, unfortunately, we missed seeing.

Cave 26

Just like the rest of the caves, this cave is also devoted to Shiva and the shrine has a lingam. The door to the shrine is flanked by dwarapalas. Some of the sculptures of figures of the Hindu pantheon are found inside the cave but most of them are broken or missing.

Ellora cave 26- 1
Ellora Cave 26 – Facade

Cave 27

The location of cave 27 is beautiful, particularly in the monsoon season. A waterfall gorges down over the cave opening and forms a seasonal pool popularly known as “Sita-ki-nahani”. The waterfall was still there when we visited but it wasn’t as vigorous as it is expected to become midway into monsoon. The entry to the cave is through a wafer thin passage.

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View around Ellora cave 27.
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Dangerous and non functional way to reach Ellora cave 29
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Waterfall around Ellora cave 27-29
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Ellora cave 27- Facade

The veranda of this cave is richly embellished with carvings of Varaha, Mahishasurmardini, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Balaram, Subhadra, Jagannath and Sheshayi Vishnu. The main hall is as simple as anyone could imagine. The shrine meant to hold the shivalinga is attended by dwarapalas.

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Ellora Cave 27- Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva(left); Balaram, Subhadra, Jagannath (right)

Cave 28

The modern day form of cave 28 appeared to us as a tiny opening in the cliff. We believe most of the cave has eroded and what remains is too treacherous to explore. The way from cave 27 to cave 28 is blocked by some boulders. The ‘way’ is anyways almost nonexistent. It moves through a passage exactly behind the waterfalls.

Ellora cave 28- 1

Cave 29 (Dumar Lena)

Cave 29 is visible from cave 27 and the ‘path’ which takes us to cave 28 also takes us to cave 29; however, it is an unsafe way and it had been blocked by some boulders to stop accidents. So we walked all the way back to cave 16 and took a bus from there.

Ellora cave 29- 3
Proper way to reach Ellora cave 29

This is the only cave which can be entered from three sides. Each entrance is guarded by a couple of lions.

Ellora cave 29- 30
Fantastic view of cave 27 and cave 26 from cave 29 compound

 

 

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Ellora cave 29 – facade
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Ellora cave 29 – Lions guarding
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Ellora cave 29 – Lions guarding

We went in through the western entrance. On the interior wall of the cave to the right of the western entrance (facing the cave) is the chiselled out version of RavananugrahamurtiRavana shaking Mount Kailasha.

Ellora cave 29- 8 ravana shaking kailasha
Ellora cave 29 – Ravana shaking Kailash

On the left panel is the Andhakasuravadha avatar of Lord Shiva.

Ellora cave 29- 9 andhakasuravadha
Ellora cave 29 – Andhakasuravadha

The northern entrance to the cave is also flanked by seated lions. One of the panels here is ornamented by the dancing ShivaNataraja. The other one has Lakulisa.

Ellora cave 29- 20 Nataraj
Ellora cave 29 –  Nataraja

The northern entrance does not enjoy any open space. It is in very close proximity with the next chunk of rock. Bats fly around this area. On lifting my head up, I saw the sky – a mere slit between two rock walls. I(Tania) walked through this stinky (bat shit?) narrow alley and I would be lying if I said it didn’t give me goosebumps.

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Ellora cave 29- Northern entrance
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Ellora cave 29- Northern entrance
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Ellora cave 29- The sky as seen from the ground

The southern entrance of the cave is very scenic as from here cave 28,27,26,25 are visible along with the waterfalls and the stream “Sita-ki-nahani”. The walls around this entrance are enhanced with panels of ShivaParvati scenes. One of them shows the marriage known as Kalyanasundaramurti and the other one shows “Shiva and Parvati playing Chausar”.

Ellora cave 29- 11 kalyanasundaramurti
Ellora cave 29- Kalyanasundaramurti
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Ellora cave 29- View of cave 28,27 and 26
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Ellora cave 29- View of Sita-ki-Nahani

In front of the southern and northern gates of the cave are two mysterious sculpted depressions.

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Ellora cave 29- Sculpted depressions

The sanctum is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It has a lingam protected by dwarapalas.

Ellora cave 29- 27 Dwarapalas
Ellora cave 29- Sanctum guarded by dwarapalas

The Jaina Caves

Cave 30 (Chota Kailash)

Cave 30-34 are all Jain caves. This cave is referred to as “Chota Kailash”. We missed seeing this incomplete cave as a result of sheer confusion. The overnight journey, the constant walking with limited food and water and an overwhelming amount of information definitely affected our minds.

We later realised the area marked to house cave 30-34 had two caves missing from it — the two which we missed. Proper directions to reach these two caves were not given. If you plan to visit, please do thorough research and rely only upon that.

Cave 30 has two parts. The one which is farthest from caves 31,32 and 33 is the one which is often referred to as “Chota Kailash”. Though incomplete the architecture and style of this cave closely resembles that of cave 16.

The entrance flanks three huge rock hewn images of Mahavira on one side and a sculpture of Goddess Chakreshvari seated on her vahana Garuda on the other. The entrance to the front porch has chiselled out dancing figures on its walls. These dancing figures are assumed to be influenced by Nataraja– Dancing Shiva. A lotus medallion on the ceiling stares down upon the visitors. Dwarapalas guard the doorway.

Inside the hypostyle hall, the walls are embellished by impressions of seated and standing Jinas including Parsvanath– the 23rd Tirthankara.

Seated Mahavira in the company of Tirthankaras, Jinas and many other flying celestials, rule the main shrine.

There is a right wing of this cave on the walls of which several other stories from Jain mythology are engraved. Tales of Bahubali, Parsvanath, Ambika are some of them.

The portion of cave 30 which is closer to caves 31,32,33 is majorly unfinished. The most noticeable is the triple layered lotus medallion on both the interior ceiling and the exterior roof of the cave temple.

Cave 31

Cave 31 is unimpressive and incomplete. From the facade it seemed completely tucked under a cliff. It is a small cave with carvings of seated Jinas and Parsvanath on its walls.

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Ellora cave 31- Facade
Ellora cave 31- 3
Ellora cave 31- Facade

Cave 32 (Indra Sabha)

There are so many shrines in this double storeyed cave that it’s hard to keep track. The architecture and design of this cave felt a bit complex to a layman’s mind like mine.

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Ellora cave 32- Facade

To the right of the main entrance of the cave was another cave, which I assume is a part of cave 32. The ceiling of the cave flaunts a much eroded lotus medallion. On the left wall of the interiors of this cave is a well sculpted story portraying “Kamatha’s attack on Parsvanath”. Nagins are seen here protecting Parsvanath with their hood.  To the opposite panel, on the right wall “Penance of Bahubali” is depicted.

On the left rear wall, Sarvanubhuti sits upon his mount, the elephant, with one leg upon a long stemmed lotus. Four parrots eat fruits from the tree shading Sarvanubhuti.  On the right rear wall, Ambika sits upon her mount, the lion, with one leg upon a lotus flower. On her lap is a child and she is under the shade of the mango tree. Between the left and right rear wall is the shrine dedicated to Mahavira.

On entering the main gateway to cave 32, a strikingly designed pavilion housing a Chaumukha with seated Tirthankaras seeks our attention. The exterior walls of the pavilion have been painstakingly carved with fine designs.

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Ellora cave 32 – Pavilion
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Ellora cave 32 – Chaumukha

A pillar and a giant elephant adorn the main courtyard. This is where the similarity of this cave with cave 16 is apparent.

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Ellora cave 32 – Sculpted Elephant
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Ellora cave 32 – Sculpted Elephant

The two shrines to the left of the pavilion are dedicated to Mahavira and one is dedicated to a seated Jina. The two shrines to the right of the pavilion are dedicated to seated Jinas. Almost all the shrines are flanked by detailed sculptures of Bahubali, Ambika, Sarvanubhuti and Kamatha’s attack on Parsvanath.

The main shrine on the ground floor of the cave is occupied by a seated Tirthankara. The hall is comparatively simple without much decoration.

The staircase which took us to the second storey was extremely steep. People suffering from vertigo may feel a minor sting of fear while climbing down.

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Ellora cave 32 – Staircase

Life sized sculptures of characters of the Jain pantheon adorned the hall. The first one whom we noticed was the huge idol of Sarvanabhuti.

Ellora cave 32- 20 sarvanubhuti
Ellora cave 32 – Sarvanubhuti

On the opposite end of this corridor is Ambika seated on her mount lion. The face of the lion is missing though.

Ellora cave 32- 36 Ambika
Ellora cave 32 – Ambika

The entire hall is beautified by stunning giant sculptures of seated Tirthankaras. The pillars had intricate motifs all over them.

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Ellora cave 32 – Second Level Hall
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Ellora cave 32 – Pillars
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Ellora cave 32 – Pillars

The central ceiling of the hall has a lotus medallion.

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Ellora cave 32 – Lotus Medallion

The shrine is dominated by a seated Jina.

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Ellora cave 32 – Shrine

On the left and right panel of the door to the shrine are two huge models of Parsvanath and Bahubali.

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Ellora cave 32 – Penance of Bahubali
Ellora cave 32- 33
Ellora cave 32 – Temptations of Parsvanath

The uniqueness of this cave lies in its murals. The remains of murals and paintings on the ceilings and walls of this cave is eye catching. Even a layman could easily spot them!

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Ellora cave 32 – Colourful Murals
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Ellora cave 32 – Central hall upstairs
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Ellora cave 32 – Painted pillars and ceilings

There are two more shrines on this floor to the left and right of the main hall. These shrines and the halls attached to them can be reached via a passage in the main hall of the second storey. These side shrines and attached halls bear similarities with usual Jain sculptures but the paintings on the rock faces are better preserved here than any other cave of Ellora.

We missed going to these parts of the cave as the passage was blocked for some reason.

Cave 33 (Jagannath Sabha)

This is another cave which is highly underrated in most of the cheap guidebooks. This cave is two storeyed with extremely well detailed artistry all over it. Figures of seated Tirthankaras, Parsvanath, Bahubali, Ambika and Sarvanubhuti dominate the lower level and paintings in comparatively good condition are found across its upper level.

Ellora cave 33- 1
Ellora cave 33 – Facade
Ellora cave 33- 6
Ellora cave 32 – Sculpted Pillars
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Ellora cave 33
Ellora cave 33- 8
Ellora cave 33 – Shrine
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Ellora cave 32 – Don’t mind my face look at the lotus ceiling
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Ellora cave 33 – Subshrine

The only drawback is that, since the inside of the cave is very dark, photographic possibilities are limited.

Cave 34

Pillar details of this cave make it unique. Sculptures of Jain deities are engraved all around its walls.

RETURN TRIP TO AURANGABAD CITY FROM ELLORA CAVES BY MSRTC (STATE) BUS

When at 5.30 PM we came out of the cave premises, we saw the entire locality has come alive. The vendors were yelling, the shops which were sleepy in the morning were in full swing action in the evening. The atmosphere quite felt like a village fair.

We boarded a MSRTC bus going to Aurangabad and the journey took around 45 minutes. Unlike the onward journey, this time we did not get a seat. All the seats were full with locals and as expected they were very surprised to find ‘tourists’ travelling alongside them in a local bus in standing mode. The bus ride was pretty smooth without any obstruction or jams. The return ride cost us INR 38 per head.

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CROWD DISTRIBUTION IN THE ELLORA CAVES AND HOW TO AVOID IT

Cave 10,11,12,14,15,16,21,29,30,32,33 are considered to be the important ones, owing to their grandeur. Of all these, cave 16 is the most important and striking one.

The internet is full of information on how footfall in Ellora caves exceeds that in the Ajanta caves. The proximity of Ellora to the larger towns is thought to be the reason behind this. But, what we deduced from our experience is that cave 16 (Kailasha cave) in Ellora is the one and only cave which receives the mad rush.

Though Ellora caves are visited by architecture enthusiasts, art and sculpture enthusiasts and travel enthusiasts, most of the visitors here are domestic tourists who are interested in ticking off a place on their bucket list or having a relaxed weekend away from the city. This group of people don’t do proper research and rely on the information conveyed to them from the hotel authorities or by their car driver or from the autorickshaw drivers whom they hire for sightseeing! So most of the time they end up visiting only cave 16.

These people generally cover many sights in and around Aurangabad in a single day and arrive in Ellora caves late, generally in the afternoon.

The others who are better informed choose to visit all the important caves. The visitors who hire a guide tend to check out all the important caves.

Some people are too lazy to walk and drop many of the important caves from their list even after having proper information; others are people who have health issues (aged people) and are not fit enough to walk and climb up steps.

Though the Jaina group of caves are at a terminal end of the premise, they receive a healthy bit of crowd due to the bus service from the main gate of the Ellora caves. A boon for people who are not fit to walk the long distance or just want to save time, or maybe both!

During this trip we reached at 10 AM and explored the cave sequentially, from 1 to 34. The next time we go we would try to reach at sunrise (opening time of the caves) and explore the important caves first (since the rush rises as the day progress) and then the less important ones.

We travelled during the early monsoon season and though there were little spells of rainfall it never created any nuisance. Rather, the rain brought down the temperature, increased the greenery and made the weather very comfortable. So much of walking would have been impossible otherwise.

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Still have some questions? Please let me help you with the answers! Drop the questions in the comment box!

***Happy Journey***

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59 thoughts on “Aurangabad Diaries: A Travelogue-cum-guide to the Ellora Caves of India

    1. If you follow the usual guidelines you will be just fine. 🙂 The Himalayan part of India is extremely safe (unless there is a political unrest). Delhi – Rajasthan- Varanasi belt which is very popular with foreigners are filled with touts.

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  1. Wow I have never seen any cave like that with such great details. I particularly love cave 2 and all its carvings. I will have to make a stop here if I ever visit India!

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  2. This reminds me something from an Indiana Jones movie 🙂 What an interesting and intriguing place to visit. I love caves, history and temples and I would just love to wander around exploring. I have been to India in years but I have always wanted to go back and explore more. I am definitely pinning this to my Indian board.

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  3. This is an incredible post! Wow! I am super impressed with the time you took to create it. I would love to see this in person. I really love the fact that the three religions were able to coexist back in the day; completely unheard of to this day, unfortunately. I have now added this place to a “must visit!”

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    1. It’s great to hear you loved reading my post Laura. The co-existence of three religions all together is really inspirational! Glad to know you have added Ellora to your list! 🙂

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  4. I am so amazed how much you know. I didn’t know about these caves before reading this. It is very informative, you should be a guide there. It is sad when people litter. It is a problem on touristic sites in Norway too. 😧

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    1. Heading to Norway is a dream of mine. I have only seen photos and videos of Norway and I already know its such a beautiful place! These caves are not getting their fair share of popularity I believe. So it’s not your fault that you never heard about the place before. I wish I could be a guide there. 🙂

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  5. Holy cow! This is quite the post! I had no idea that there were so many caves in Ellora! They’re on my list to hopefully see when I’m in India for the first time in March. I loved cave 6 (even if it’s not a main one) and cave 10. That central Buddha statue is stunning.

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    1. Yes cave 10 is one of it’s kind. 🙂 And yes there are 34 caves in Ellora and you better keep one whole day (if not more) reserved for it. I assume you will visit the Ajanta caves too? I will publish my Ajanta guide article soon. 🙂

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  6. Wow, it sounds like you had quite the journey. I would have been so frustrated with the bus situation and getting different answers from everyone. That can be so draining when you really want to get somewhere. Luckily you found a driver that said, Yes! 🙂 The photos are amazing and I can really see how grand this place was. It’s also great that the rain helped bring down the temperatures.

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  7. I’ve never seen anything like these caves before. And the caves are so amazingly well preserved and maintained that it must feel like you are stepping back into time. Well done on getting there early enough to avoid the big crowds. I must admit the facades of some of them had me stunned, but the central hall in Cave 10 amazed me. Seriously, I must have stared at the images for a couple of minutes just imagining how they were designed and built. But then at the same time, the intricate small details of some of the carvings were also stunning. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. The Ajanta & Ellora caves are indeed the pride of India. We were lost in time when we were there. It is a pity that many of these fascinating structures and paintings have become victims of the ravages of time, but even then whatever is surviving is a glorious testimony to the skill of bygone artists and sculptors.

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  9. Woow! You sure have a lot of patience girl! Reading your post brought back memories from my visit to Ellora from about two decades ago. The caves are sure an enigma. No wonder there are stories and speculation that it might be built by aliens 🙂

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  10. Pleasantly surprised to read that the monsoon season didn’t interrupt the trip! As with so many sites, getting their early is perhaps key to getting these amazing images- with no crowds in view! These caves are like walking through history, well worth the trip.

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  11. I was awestruck when I visited Ellora caves. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I studied the small details across the caves complex. I believe it should be listed as one of the 7 wonders of the world. Your blog justifies the wonder that this place is. It makes me want to go back. It is that kind of a place.

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  12. You really made me want to go to the Ellora caves badly. I can relate to your bus travel experience from the local bus and I am glad you have added the commute option information in details. The caves themselves are one of a kind!

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  13. India is our next destination for this summer vacation so this post helps a lot. We don’t have this kind of caves in my country so I think we will spend 1-2 days at Ellora caves. The scenery as in your pictures looks amazing. Thanks for your post!

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    1. I am so happy to read this. From which country are you? These is another set of caves called Ajanta caves in the same region, they are grand for the paintings and these caves are older than Ellora. You must make time for that too. My article on Ajanta is unfinished but I am trying to get it done by next week!

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  14. Wow you weren’t lying when you said it was a long post haha. Props to you for having so much information about this place!! I had no idea there were caves like this in India, but traveling through during a monsoon would be both scary and exciting at the same time. Looks like a blast!

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    1. Haha no I wasn’t lying 😀 ! Scooping out the information was time consuming, but it’s worth the effort. I think early monsoon or late monsoon will be okay. Middle of the monsoon may be scary!

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  15. The Ellora Caves in India are incredible. Your guide is very in depth and there is so much to see, I think 1 day would not be enough to appreciate them fully. Your photos are wonderful, I think the Ellora Caves should be just as popular as the Taj Mahal!

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    1. Honestly I don’t know why they do not share equal status! It’s plain injustice. Yes, 1 day is almost not sufficient if you want to explore all the nooks and corners of the complex, but it is possible if you arrive when the gates open and leave when gates close. Not to mention both mentally and physically it would be draining!

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  16. A very interesting article. The artwork above the Erolla Cave 9 is amazing! Can only think how long that took to make! Some of the architecture is also very impressive! The views outside of the caves are breathtaking! Nice read with great photos!

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      1. I feel privileged to be connected with you. 🙂 And yes, littering the streets is a big problem in India, the problem lies with the domestic tourists not the international ones, foreigners who visit India are very well behaved!

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      2. This is nice to hear Tania. I know when we visit places we want to show respect to the people by being on our best behavior so they look forward to us. It sounds like you are the same way and we bet there are people that see the respect you show and follow your lead!!! We look forward to reading more of your travels so please stay safe.

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  17. Wow! This is a very long and comprehensive post. I feel as though I’ve already visited Ellora Caves! I really wanted to go when I visited India a couple of years ago but we didn’t have enough time and money. I think the area is so fantastic to explore. What’s the tourist price to enter?

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  18. I think you’ve covered every cave, and in so much detail here, wow! I’ve never been to India, just seen some amazing photos. If I ever do go, these Ellora Caves would be high on the list of places to see. So much detailing on the caves, I can only imagine the level of workmanship that went into it!

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