Cave 16, 30 and 34: a grand tour of Ellora Caves, Aurangabad

In the last five-seven years, I have seen more of Netflix, Amazon Prime and other OTT than sunrises and sunsets. No no, I am not complaining. After a long day of work that ends pretty late at night, one needs to unwind with some more content. But then, on vacations, whenever I do end up watching a sunrise, it becomes special. Every trivial thing that happens in the wee hours of the morning becomes eventful. And my mind records everything like a film that can later be produced as evidence of good times. 🙂

Quite recently, I witnessed a similar sunrise in Aurangabad when I woke up a little before 5 am, got ready, and spent some time with the swings in our resort before showing up at the entrance gate of Ellora caves, a World UNESCO Heritage site.

Ellora caves are one of the largest rock-cut Hindu temple cave complexes in the world with over 100 caves. Out of these 100, there are only 34 caves that are open to the public. Out of these, caves number, 1 to 12 are Buddhist Caves, caves number 13 to 29 are Hindu caves, and the rest caves number 30 to 34 are Jain caves. At an entry ticket of 40 INR (for Indians), it’s a loot. Treat for eyes and therapy for the soul, Ellora caves must be on the itinerary of every traveller, willing to explore India.

Cave no. #16, the Kailasa Temple of Mahadev

The first cave, opposite the entrance gate, is cave number 16, the magnificent Kailasa temple. Considered one of the most extraordinary cave temples in the world, the entire temple has been designed from one single rock. Oh yes, one single rock.

As you enter the caves, gods bless you. You take a left turn & witness the magnificence of Kailasa temple for the first time – with victory towers, panels of Ramayana and Mahabharata, elephants and huge arcades. Towards the left, you see carvings from Shiva Purana while on the right side of the temple, you see glimpses of Vishnu Purana.

Do hire a guide. They tell stories and talk about people and gods in a way that by the time he/ she would finish, you would see ‘god’ in them.

At multiple places in the cave temple, you would feel lighter and more emotional. And if you think you are a tough cookie, try visiting the temple early mornings under the softer sun, and amidst the calmer silence. And then tell me how did it make you feel.

My favourite part of the temple is the place that has the carving depicting Lord Shiva doing the ‘tandav’ dance with his third eye open. And then next to it, the milder/ kinder version of the god trying to help someone in the time of need.

I am usually an anxious person. I bet you know that about me by now. 😀 I stress and worry all the time. Nothing escapes my eyes or mind. And sometimes which is a minimum of four times a week, I obsess about stuff on a loop. When I left the cave temple after spending two hours that morning, I left with the lighter, calmer version of myself. Before crossing the exit, I looked back one more time, and chanted, “Har Har Mahadev”

Cave no. #30, Chota Kailasha, the Jain Cave

From cave no. 16, you can either take a right towards caves 17 to 29 and explore the rest of the Hindu caves. Or you can take a left to explore the Buddhist caves from #1 to #12. As we had planned to visit Ajanta caves which are largely Buddhist caves, during the rest of the day, we took the right.

It was 8 am and people had started to come to Ellora caves, but most of the crowd was centred in and around Kailasa temple. As our spirits were high, Shivam, Anupriya and I decided to explore the rest on our own – in pin-drop silence. As we moved from one cave to another, it started to feel less divine and more eerie. There was just nobody around. Just a few warning signs here and there, dried-up wells and rocks ready to roll down, straight on your head. My mind started conjuring stories of hungry hyenas, man-eating leopards and jackals. I don’t like the thought of a hyena. And hence, we took an about turn after reaching cave 29.

By the way, cave 29 is absolutely artistic, and a must-visit. Pin it on your itinerary.

We came back to where we started from – the Kailasha temple, cave no. 16.

Our guide recommended us to take the bus to explore the Jain caves which is how we reached cave no. 30. Designed after the Kailasa temple, cave 30 is famously called as Chota Kailasa. You can see glimpses of Dravidian architecture inside the cave – with pillars, rock-cut elephants, 22 seated Tirthankaras and Mahavira seated on his Lion throne in the shrine. Some of us took turns sitting on the steps to the shrine and clicking photographs. Not a great thing to do. But then don’t we all act ‘spoilt’ sometimes?

Cave #34: the majestic end to our visit to Ellora

The bus dropped us at the site where we could explore all five Jain caves from cave #30 to cave #34. We had 45 mins. to ourselves and years’ worth of treasure to explore, absorb and remember. Cave 34 was the last stop to this short but splendid visit to Ellora caves, which is why it’s special.

By the time we reached cave 34, the heat became unbearable. Aurangabad really shines bright in the summers of May. Or shall I say that it burns in May! 😀 I know what you are thinking. Who goes to Aurangabad in the middle of May? Well, you know who. Travel has no bars. And corporate junkies like us don’t always have the luxury to match our vacations with seasons. We travel when we can even if that means travelling to warmer places in summers and get burnt like a bread toast.

Cave 34, being the last of the Jain caves, remains special. The cave has a small shrine like most Jain caves. You may bow your head, close your eyes and offer a little prayer. Who knows, it might just get answered.

By the way, cave 34 can be accessed via an opening in cave 33. Does that mean anything? Can’t say. You might want to discover it yourself when you visit Ellora caves in any of the coming years.

And when you do, leave us a little comment & let us know how it was.

Till then, stay safe. And keep travelling!

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