A Day Trip to Ellora Caves from Aurangabad, India
People often say it’s the journey, rather than the destination, where the magic of travel truly lays. That’s not always the case in India. Sure, pushing your way onto crowded buses and trains and then being uncomfortable for a couple of hours probably sounds fun, but after the 10th time (probably less, depending on your tolerance) you’ll start to wish for something easier. Luckily the day trip to Ellora Caves from Aurangabad is about as easy as it gets. You jump on a bus, see some sights along the way and then explore Ellora Caves, a UNESCO world heritage site of great architectural significance. Join me as I take a stress-free tour of Ellora Caves and some other sights close to Aurangabad.
Bibi Ka Maqbara
At around 8 am I made my way to the pick-up point (I took the government tour — more on that later though) and was soon on a half-full bus headed for the outskirts of Aurangabad. The first stop was at the Bibi Ka Maqbara, a tomb which looks like the Taj Mahal only way less impressive. I wrote a whole post on the Bibi Ka Maqbara so I won’t go into too much detail here!
The next stop on the Ellora Caves tour was the sprawling Daulatabad Fort. You pass through an old gate close to the car park and from there you walk through various fort ruins until the path starts trending upwards. It gets steep as you near the top of the hill and it was an exhausting thing to do in 40-degree heat. Daulatabad Fort was built in the 14th century and parts of it are well preserved. It’s not the most amazing fort you’ll see in India (try Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh for those) but it’s a cool place to explore for those of us who are into historical architecture.
After Daulatabad Fort we stopped off for lunch and then at a temple. I’m pretty sure it was a temple — it was so hot outside that I (and three quarters of the other passengers) decided to chill out in the bus for an extra 30 minutes. The last stop on the Ellora Caves tour was, predictably, the Ellora Caves. This collection of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain cave temples were built over a large period of time (around 600 – 1000 AD) and are said to represent religious harmony. There are apparently over 100 caves in the area but only 34 are open to the public. It’ll take you a couple of hours to see them all and I had a fair crack at it. I ended up seeing almost all of them, but a damaged track meant it was hard to get to the last few, and I didn’t need much of an excuse to give up early and get back to the bus!
Cave 16 / Kailasa Temple
The most impressive of the temples at Ellora is easily Cave 16 (Kailasa Temple), which is the first one you’ll come to after buying your ticket. This temple was cut from the top down from a single rock (the largest structure to be built this way) — it’s an incredible piece of craftsmanship that must have taken a really long time to complete. I met a couple of local guys who showed me around and told me some stories relating to the various carvings found throughout the temple (which I’ve now almost completely forgotten). It started to become too much like a guided tour (which I tend to dislike) and I figured they’d eventually ask me for money, so I slipped away and explored the rest by myself. I came back after visiting the other caves and just sat for a while — it’s a special place to spend some time.
The Outer Caves
Cave 16 gets all the plaudits (and most of the foot traffic) but there is a lot more to explore. A dusty trail leads to cave temples in both directions — some are tiny and bit boring (probably really old though, which is cool) and some are large and full of immaculate carvings. It’s a good idea to see as much as you can and luckily the government run tour that I took gives you ample time to see it all. I won’t go into much detail about these caves as I don’t remember much, and I hate doing research, so you can just look at some photos instead.
The Ajanta Caves Tour: The Details
- How much does it cost? The tour I took cost 215 INR ($3). This obviously doesn’t include the entry tickets. For foreigners it’ll cost 200 INR each for the Bibi Ka Maqbara and Daulatabad Fort and 500 INR for Ellora Caves.
- Where does the tour leave from? You can join the tour at the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) Holiday Resort in Aurangabad (it’s close to the train station). It also stops at the central bus station on its way out of town. You can also take different tours or arrange for a private car / driver, which would be a good idea if you have four people.
- What about Ajanta Caves? The other set of famous cave temples is a lot further from Aurangabad and unless you’re hiring a car and driver you won’t be able to see both in a day (it probably isn’t the best idea even if you hire a car and driver). You can also take a government run tour to Ajanta Caves from Aurangabad.
What’s Aurangabad like?
Aurangabad is a pleasant enough place to spend a few days and there are a few decent hotels and restaurants close to the train station. I usually try and stay close to train stations / bus stations in these kind of cities as I’m only passing through and it makes it a lot easier when arriving / leaving. There are plenty of rough hotels close to train stations in India but check out booking.com and you’ll find some decent ones.
Are you planning a day trip to Ajanta Caves? Let me know in the comments below!