At heights that tower as tall as the mountains and strong as their stones, beautiful ancient structures and unbelievably made temples are carved into the rocks in humongous sizes. Its lively, ancient atmosphere beckons you for an adventure, and an adventure is what you will get at the Ellora caves.
Located in the Aurangabad district and tagged with a UNESCO logo, the Ellora temples are one of India’s most known rock-cut structures carved out of an entire mountain by just using a hammer and chisel during the 600 to 1000 A.D. It’s almost impossible to believe that mere humans without any sort of technology could build such complex buildings and intricate sculptures with so little yet done so brilliantly.
For those who are curious about visiting this mysterious place and want to know all about it before heading there, this Ellora caves travel guide takes you on a short information tour about what caves to visit and how you should travel to make the best of it.
Travelers hoping to visit Ajanta caves can read all about it here.
Can you explore Ajanta and Ellora in one day?
While you can technically visit Ajanta and Ellora in one day, it’s advisable not to do so. For one, the walks are tough. Ajanta is located on a cliff side full of stairways that lead from one cave to another.
You can’t visit the caves in Ajanta without climbing said stairs and that is if you are not planning to hike down an entire forest of a mountain first to get there. After all this, to go and walk the entire of Ellora is a big stretch and one that will have your legs begging for you to stop (yes, even for the healthiest of walkers).
So it’s best to divide your adventure cave trip into two days. This way, you can take your time exploring all of Ajanta’s 26 caves with plenty of time in your hands and take the strength in your legs the next day to Ellora to explore every designed nook and corner.
Another factor to consider is distance. If you’re staying in Aurangabad Maharashtra, Ajanta is 3 hours away while Ellora is 35 minutes. Note that the caves close at 6pm. This doesn’t give you much time to explore the breathtaking beauty of the architecture these places have to offer and you’ll find yourself hurrying through the archeological sites only to end up disappointed of not being able to thoroughly experience them.
So to make the best of your trip, it’s best to take your time and split the activity into two days.
Ellora caves architecture
The difference between Ajanta and Ellora is that Ellora is the epitome of sculpture work while Ajanta is a myriad of ancient paintings. The Ellora sculptures and complexes were made between the 6th and 9th centuries and the designs across the caves depict three religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.
No matter which cave you visit, Ellora showcases itself as an extraordinary work of true skill, stunning art, and genius architecture with a beauty that words can never describe and one that can only be experienced by visiting it.
The sculptures of Ellora caves, as well as its buildings, also give its visitors a window into a life that was lived thousands of years ago. Other than stonework of mythical gods, the caves also have a humungous dining hall, prayer rooms, living quarters, and an intricate water canal system that provided drinking water or ablution pools to the monks and pilgrims that visited these areas.
Guide to seeing the structures
The first complex that comes into view as you walk up the slope to the caves is the all-famous Cave 16, aka the Kailasa Temple but it’s advised not to enter this complex first. It’s usually packed with a crowd as everyone heads there initially and not to mention that this is the last stop, even before the viewpoint which gives a fantastic site of the temple from above.
So it’s best to start at Cave 10. This way you’ll also be walking towards cave 1 via a series of steps and staircases. This will allow you to the caves as it was built in their proper timeline while saving the best for last. So to see these structures in their intended way and make the best of them, start at:
Cave 10 – The Carpenter’s Cave
Ellora’s cave 10 is like a structure that came right out of a Tomb Raider movie. Black birds fly dramatically around the grey-colored stone, inviting you to unravel the story behind the stunning complex.
This cave boasts a spectacular exterior as well as an interior that is sectioned off and built into two levels which can be accessed by a set of stairs. Since this cave had a lack of light, monks and Buddhists would chant their prayers loudly as they entered the cave.
This sound would reflect off the pillars of the cave and echo back, letting them know just where they stand. Let out an “om” while standing in front of the giant stupa and you’ll hear your voice reflect back to you in a deep, almost musical, tone.
The cave is also one big complex with multiple rooms, meditation areas, and sculptures that depict family, children, and the upcoming generations.
This certain cave also unfolds a phenomenon in March, as per one of the guides at Ellora. The sunrays hit the cave through the window on the upper floor and fall exactly on just the Buddha’s face, enlightening him in the darkness of the room.
Cave 5 – Buddhist dining hall
An enormous vast room with a dozen pillars and multiple nooks carved with Buddhist statues, this cave is thought to be the dining hall for the Buddhas. The whole room stretches 117 feet deep and 58 feet wide. The roof is supported by 24 designed pillars.
Two low stone benches line the expanse of the room and it’s due to these benches that the cave is speculated to be a dining hall or act as some sort of low table for studying for young monks.
The cave has a shrine carved at the back which holds the statue of a seated Buddha with attendants. You will also see other multiple carvings on the nooks in this cave. One of them is the Bodhisattva Padmapani (the Buddha of compassion), attended by two small female figures with headdresses resembling royal crowns.
Cave 12 (Teen Tal) – The Monastery Living Quarters
A three-story building tucked in between two mountain walls is what is known to be the monastery living quarters. The interior of this ancient building is a gallery of stonework with deities adorning the walls.
The second floor of this complex is a vast hall measuring 118 feet long and 34 feet wide. The third floor is where you can see an array of sculpture work lining each wall like a gallery showcasing the craftsman’s skills. It holds the most detailed sculptures of Buddhas in various postures and mudras.
Teen Tal’s interior lacks light so remember to carry a torch with you when exploring the place.
As you make your way from cave 1 to Cave 16, there is a path to the right that slopes up towards the mountain top. This path gives you an incredible view of the ever-famous Kailasa Temple in all its magnificence and glory.
Visiting Ellora isn’t complete without making your way here. From this aerial view, you get to see the Kailasa Temple spread before you in its stunning architecture and imposing size. The top of this temple is decorated with detailed work of lotuses, flowers, and what seems like a chariot ready to be pulled by tigers.
Cave 16 – The famous Kailasa Temple
If you search for Ellora on google, the hundreds of images that pop up are of the astonishing Kailasa temple or Kailash Temple built in the 6th century.
The temple is grand, detailed, and humongous and is the biggest monolithic structure in the world, even bigger than the Parthenon in Athens. Its surrounded by the towering mountain that it was carved out of, making it look like a sanctuary that belongs in a fantasy land rather than the human realm.
It’s one of the most remarkable and impressive cave temples on the planet featuring life-size elephants and carvings of various Hindu deities on entire walls. It’s said to have taken 200 years and 8000 laborers to finish this marvel with multiple prayer rooms including an extremely detailed prayer hall with a shrine and multiple levels with separate rooms and intricate doorways.
Tips to Remember
Carry a torchlight – a lot of interiors of these caves are dark and to properly see the cleverness as well as the beauty of the carvings, you need a strong torchlight/flashlight to take with you.
Break your trip – You might be feeling enthusiastic about visiting both Ajanta and Ellora in one day but that’s a tough call seeing as both places have lots of climbing to do with Ajanta being more strenuous. It’s better to break the trip in two so you can get plenty of time to explore both places thoroughly and enjoy your trip.
Carry water bottles with you – Ellora caves are situated on a mountain top and this place retains its ancient time without modern development which means there are no stalls selling edibles. Carry a bottle of water with you to sip from. A tank of cold drinking water is placed here at Ellora so having a bottle to refill will surely help.