Visiting the stupendous Ajanta Caves

I made a trip to the Ajanta caves one year after my visit to the astounding Ellora caves. Although geographic proximity and common theme of these places suggests to include them into one itinerary, I’m glad I took time to settle my thoughts and sort my impressions out. It allowed me to take a fresh look at the Ajanta caves, as they rightfully deserve. The two places have absolutely different vibes: while the Ellora caves inevitably astound a visitor with its grandeur, a cosy valley of Ajanta, shaped like a horseshoe, offers one a more intimate, personal approach and perhaps even a silent dialogue through the centuries.

The Ajanta caves were created over a time span of 7 centuries (from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD), representing three forms of the fine arts: architecture, sculpture and painting. It’s the ancient pictorial tales from Buddha’s lives and rebirths that the caves are predominantly famous for. Devotees were expected to walk through the halls and “read” the pictures, which were meant to explain Buddha’s teachings.  It’s hard to imagine that all of these paintings are 1500 to over 2000 years old – the majority of them were destroyed over the centuries, of course, but the remaining ones are surprisingly vivid and realistic.

The main colors of the paintings included red, yellow and brown ochre, blue of the lapis lazuli and green of the terra verde (or green earth) pigment. Also, a variety of colors were obtained from crushed and ground pebbles mixed with the juice of local vegetables, and then with glue.

The site was hidden inside a thick jungle until the beginning of the 19th century, when an English officer John K. Smith accidentally rediscovered the caves while hunting tigers. Carved on the side of the stony cliff, the caves could be accessed from the bottom of the gorge by ladders or stairways. At the moment they are conveniently connected by a walkable path. There are 30 Buddhist caves in the Ajanta complex, which were basically meant for living, learning and worshipping. Caves number 1, 2, 4, 6-10,17, 19 and 26 are among the most notable ones. The sculptures, murals and ceiling paintings are to be savoured slowly, one by one.

The Ajanta Caves photos

The Ajanta complex is undoubtedly a place of natural beauty – no wonder the ancient artisans selected it to get their creative juices flowing.

Ajanta caves

Lush greenery, rock-cut caves and a scenic U-shaped gorge on the river Waghur make a beautiful combination

At the attempt of crossing the bridge we were attacked by a large vicious monkey. Two young boys were trying to protect us, but all in vain. When finally one of the uniformed guardian arrived, the monkey disappeared in no time – I supposed he knew what was coming next 🙂

Ajanta caves

A bridge over the river

I’ve read a lot of intimidating crowds at the Ajanta caves. However, my experience was different. Yes, there were other visitors, but most of the time it was only me and the ancient stone, paintings, carved facades and sculptures. Perhaps the season made the difference – I went in  the end of the monsoon, and it did rain a bit now and then. Also, I deliberately went early in the morning to be one of the first visitors.

Ajanta caves

Ajanta and me

Ajanta caves

Amazing intricacy of the carvings on a pillar. Hard to believe the ancient artisans had nothing but chisels to tame the hard rocks

Ajanta caves

A scenic pathway

No flash photography is allowed inside the caves, due to the obvious reasons, and the paintings and sculptures are only faintly lit with special lights not to ruin them. In spite of the low light setting and its limited capabilities, I think my poor little camera has done a fairly decent job. Here is Bodhisattva Padmapani from the Cave 1, for example:

Ajanta caves Bodhisattva Padmapani

Bodhisattva Padmapani

Ajanta caves

Stone carvings on the porch

The blue of the lapis lazuli stands out on the painting.

Ajanta caves

Floral designs on the ceiling

Ajanta caves

Of people and elephants

Ajanta caves

One of the most well preserved designs

Ajanta caves

Ajanta caves

A group sculpture

Ajanta caves

Eternal peace

Ajanta caves

Taking a break after visiting a number of caves. See the spectacular view behind my back? The view in front of me is no less impressive. I really enjoyed every moment in this place

Ajanta caves

It seems no place I visit goes without elephant motifs 🙂

Ajanta caves

Lord Buddha in different forms

Ajanta caves

🙂

Ajanta caves

Ajanta caves

Teh stupa in cave 19.

Ajanta caves

A fragment of the chaitya (prayer hall)

A cosy nook on the way back from the Ajanta caves

They really take lots of efforts to keep the site clean, beautiful and pollution free (the vehicles are parked quite far from the place)

How to reach the Ajanta caves

Located 104 km away from Aurangabad, the Ajanta complex is easy to reach from the city. Local buses are available from the bus stands of Aurangabad, and the cost of travelling one way is as low as Rs 120 (approximately $2). Tickets are sold on board. Alternatively, one can go for an air conditioned touristic bus, but I’m not sure about the price. I went on this journey in the end of the monsoon, when the nature was thriving, and  the trip from Aurangabad to the Ajanta caves was very spectacular. Juicy green gardens and fields were a pleasure to look at, as well as the beautiful hilly area.

Local buses stop at the Ajanta bus stand, 4 km away from the caves.  There you’re supposed to walk through a maze of souvenir shops and small eateries to the bus stand for the shuttle buses. It’s a bit challenging to get through the souvenir market with all the “come-to-see-my-shop” from the locals  traders, but not impossible 🙂 The shuttle buses are rather frequent and the journey doesn’t take more than 10-15 minutes.

Ajanta caves ticket costs

Entry fee to the Ajanta caves is 30 Rs for Indian visitors and 500 Rs for foreign nationals. Kids under the age of 15 visit the site for free. There are no additional charges for still photography.

Ajanta caves travel tips 

  1. Come earl in  the morning to avoid the crowds (the complex is open from 9.00 am to 5.30 pm).
  2. The Ajanta caves are closed every Monday.
  3. Make sure you have a pair of comfortable shoes – exploring the site involves lots of walking and climbing countless stairs.
  4. Flash photography is not allowed, so make sure your camera can handle the low light settings.
  5. The souvenir sellers are rather insisting, but don’t hesitate to say a strict “no,thanks” in case you’re not interested in buying “crystals from the caves”, jewellery, fridge magnets, elephant statues and what not.
  6. If you’d like to know more of each cave, you may want to hire a certified guide to show you around.

You may also like

Read on the Ajanta caves on other blogs:

Ajanta caves: where all the fine arts converge on My Favourite Things

Solo Backpacking to Ajanta caves on Solo Backpacker

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6 thoughts on “Visiting the stupendous Ajanta Caves

  1. That’s astonishing. Did the artists start from caves already existing, or did they carve into the rock from scratch I wonder? Seems astonishing that it was lost and only discovered by accident too, but I daresay that’s why it survived.

    • The caves were cut out of the rock and used as living space and prayer halls. And yes, it’s beautifully preserved because it was lost in the jungles for several centuries. Similar caves on the Elephanta island near Mumbai were badly damaged by the Portuguese colonisers and the locals as well.

      Thanks for stopping by, little dragonfly, it’s always great to see you here on IndiaPalette 🙂

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