Tourism on the rocks: Cave trail around Maharashtra

Recently, in a bid to boost India’s tourism, the Union Ministry of Tourism announced plans to focus on 50 tourist circuits. With the upcoming holiday season, the guide chalked out a cave trail that celebrates our home state’s finest sites

Kanheri (Built: Between 3 BCE and 11 AD) Of the several ancient caves that Mumbai is home to (most of which are in derelict conditions) Kanheri Caves still attracts a batch of nature lovers.

Tourists marvel at the stone structures at Ellora. Pic/AFP

Set in one of the greenest environs in the city at Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the entire complex has about 109 Buddhist caves.

Ajanta Caves

Distance from Borivali station: 1 km (approximate)

Kanheri Caves
Kanheri Caves in Sanjay Gandhi National Park

Karla (Built: Between 60-40 BCE and 4 AD)
Known for being the site of the largest chaityagriha in India, Karla showcases 16 rock-cut excavations that are linked to Hinayana Buddhism, while three are connected to Mahayana Buddhism. The other nearest centre of great Buddhist activity is Bhaja, which is 8 km south of Karla.
Distance from Mumbai: 95 kms (approximate)

Bhaja (Built: Between 3 BCE and 2 AD)
Consisting of 22 excavations, this site includes an impressive chaityagriha made from a wooden prototype. With its focus on Hinayana Buddhism, one can also spot monk’s quarters and ruins of a cemetery as well.
Distance from Mumbai: 95 kms (approximate)

Bedse (Built: Between 1 BCE and 2 AD)
The Bedse Caves are home to a beautiful stupa in a prayer hall and a monastry too. Located near Pune, these caves have several forts in the vicinity too.
Distance from Mumbai: 109 kms (approximate)

Pandulena (Built: Between 2 BCE and 2 AD )
These caves were built with patronage from different kingdoms. This group of 24 caves have inscriptions that are still legible. The name of the caves can be misleading as they have nothing to do with the Pandavas of Mahabharata.
Distance from Mumbai: 158 kms (approximate)

Ellora (Built: Between 6-7 AD and 11-12 AD)
Unlike Ajanta, the Ellora caves are a mix of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples. One of the temples, the Kailasnath temple, was said to have been built after 2,00,000 tonnes of rock had been removed in carving for almost 100 years.
Distance from Mumbai: 351 kms (approximate)

Ajanta (Built: Between 2 BCE and 6 AD)
Located 100 kms form Aurangabad, the Ajanta Caves have been awarded with UNESCO World Heritage Site tag, and were first discovered in 1819 AD. There are approximately 30 caves at the site. Most of the artworks and sculptures centre on Buddhism.
Distance from mumbai: 450 kms (approximate)

Did you know?
Kondana (or Kondane) Caves near Karjat is home to rock-cut caves that are approximately 2,200 years old. The distinct difference here is that unlike other sculptures where the artist’s name never find mention here, you will spot a human head with a decorative headgear, next to which was etched in Mauryan Brahmi script: ‘Made by Balaka, the disciple of Kanha.’

Elephanta Caves
Elephanta Caves. Pic/Shadab Khan

Caves of Mumbai
A physical reminder of Mumbai’s ancient history are the numerous caves located in the northern region of the city. These caves include Kanheri Caves, Mahakali Caves and the Jogeshwari Caves, which served as a sort of college for priests. Also a part of the list are the Mandapeshwar Caves, which have seen various invasions including one by the Portuguese. These caves are dedicated to the worship of Hindu deity, Shiva. Another set of caves, housed off the coast of the city are the Elephanta Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that are home to some of the biggest stone sculptures in the world.

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