Must Visit Caves in India
Cave exploration is an activity that is different from the normal, highly active adventure sports or outdoor activities. But nevertheless, it is an activity that is highly interesting for those who love to explore the unknown, delve into the historical past and have a heart sturdy enough to deal with deep, dark, confined spaces.
India is a country with a grand, illustrious past and has a rich cultural heritage which is best displayed through its various buildings, majestic forts, architecturally beautiful palaces, historical sites and monuments. Along with these structures, the caves of India are definitely a window to our glorious past and display the skilled art, craftsmanship and spirituality of our ancestors.
Listed below are a few most magnificent and renowned caves from the many caves around different regions of India.
Ajanta And Ellora Caves, Maharashtra
The rock-cut caves of Ajanta and Ellora in Maharashtra are tucked away in the Sahyadris and at one point in time these fascinating caves were the shelter for various hermits from different religions. While Ajanta is a group of 29 ancient Buddhist caves, Ellora has 34 caves which are a mix of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist. The Ajanta caves showcase beautiful paintings and sculptures of the rich bygone era, while the Ellora caves are most admired for their exquisite architecture. The caves comprise of the Kailash Temple, Maitreya Buddha and lots of designs depicting humans, birds and devils and have been recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The best time to visit would be from November to February, when the weather is extremely pleasant.
Timings : Ajanta caves are open on all days, except Mondays ( 9 am to 9.30 pm)
Ellora Caves are open all days, except Tuesdays (6 am to 6 pm).
How to reach : The Aurangabad Airport is the nearest, if one wishes to travel by air and the nearest Railway Station is at Jalgaon. One can travel to the caves by taxi from these locations or opt for the State run buses.
Elephanta Caves, Maharashtra
Also known as Gharapuri, the Elephanta Caves which are located on Elephanta Island at a distance of about 7 kms from Mumbai, is one of the most popular caves in India and a great tourist attraction in Mumbai. These comprise of 7 rock-cut caves which have beautiful carvings depicting religious art form, especially some astounding sculptures of Lord Shiva in various forms like Vamadeva, Nataraja, Kalyanasundara etc. This has been created by carving out rock, creating pillars or columns, the internal spaces and the images. The Elephanta island is a protected monument area as per the directive of UNESCO and the caves are declared as a World Heritage Site.
Timings : Open daily from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm daily, except Mondays.
How to reach : One has to travel to the Gateway Of India in Mumbai, from where they will be ferried across to the island. People travelling by air can fly in to Mumbai, which is the closest airport. Trains to Mumbai are available from most cities across the country. Regular buses, both state run as well as private buses, to Mumbai, are available from several cities across India. Bagh Caves, Madhya Pradesh
These caves are a group of 9 rock cut structures, situated in the Vindhya slopes in Bagh town, about 97 km from Dhar town, in Madhya Pradesh. These caves are not exactly natural, but are samples of Indian rock-cut architecture and based on the lines of Buddhism. All the caves are ‘viharas’ or resting places of monks. Of the nine caves, only five have endured and continued to exist and exhibit beautiful mural paintings and carvings by famous artists and sculptors. The best time to visit Bagh caves is during the winter season from October to March, when the weather is much cooler.
Timings : Open 24 hrs on all days
How to reach : As there is no direct connectivity to Bagh Caves, tourists can take a flight to Indore, which is the closest airport. From here, one can take a bus or taxi to the caves which is at a distance of about 161 kms. One can also travel by train to the railway station at Indore. Private taxis and buses too are available to the caves from Indore.
Bhimbetka Caves, Madhya Pradesh
The thrilling Bhimbetka caves are located inside the beautiful environs of Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary in Raisena district in Madhya Pradesh. According to folklore, these caves were used as a shelter by the Pandavas while in exile and the name Bhimbetka was conferred upon these caves as it was the ‘sitting place of Bhim’. The caves have intricate rock carvings and the paintings within the cave depict the various stages through human evolution and history. Some of the common paintings and carvings found here are of deers, bison, tigers, figures of Yakshas, magical sky chariots, tree gods etc. These caves again, are declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The best time to visit Bhimbetka caves is from October to March as the climate is very cool and pleasant. If up to it one can also visit during the monsoons from July to September.
Timings : Open throughout the year during day time.
How to reach : The nearest airport is at Bhopal which is well connected with several major cities of India. The railway junction at Bhopal is the closest and has good rail connectivity with many cities. Regular buses and taxis to Bhopal are available from close by cities as well as to the caves.
Udayagiri And Khandagiri Caves, Odisha
Situated near the city of Bhubaneswar in Odisha, these caves are located on two adjacent hills called Udayagiri and Khandagiri. Formerly known as Katak or Cuttack Caves, these structures are partially natural and partly artificial caves which have a great religious, historical and archaeological significance. Udayagiri, meaning ‘Sunrise Hill’, has 18 caves, while Khandagiri, meaning ‘Broken Hills’ has 15 caves, most of which were supposedly carved out as residential spaces for Jain monks during the reign of King Kharavela. The caves are beautiful and have elaborate carvings and embellishments, depicting figures of women playing musical instruments, elephants, athletes, wild animals, etc and reflect the Jain culture and heritage.
Timings : Sunrise to Sunset
How to reach : Bhubaneswar Airport is the closest, at 10 kms, to the caves and is well connected to several major cities across the country. If travelling by train, the Bhubaneswar Railway Station is the closest at 6 km. Regular buses are available to Bhubaneswar from several near by cities like Puri, Cuttack etc.
Tabo Caves, Himachal Pradesh
The Tabo Caves are located at the top of the Tabo monastery in the Lahau and Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh. The monastery is believed to be over a thousand years old. Carved out of the hills, the caves were believed to be used for meditation by the Buddhist monks as well as a shelter during winters. Some big caves may have been used as assembly or prayer halls, while the small ones for resting or dwelling by the monks. In fact, some of the caves still have colourful flags within, indicating that the caves are used for the purpose of meditation. The best time to visit Tabo Caves would be from May to September, during summer as the weather in Tabo is very unpredictable and may quickly change from sunny to cloudy to heavy snowfall.
Timings : One can visit the caves on all days from 8 am to 5 pm.
How to reach : The nearest airport to Spiti is at Kullu. From here one can hire a cab to Spiti. The closest railway station is at Shimla, from where one can take a cab, jeep or bus to Spiti. Certain buses are available to Spiti from near by hill stations but one has to check if the roads to Spiti are closed due to any weather hazard.
Undavalli Caves, Andhra Pradesh
The Undavalli caves are located at a distance of about 6 km from the city of Vijayawada, on the banks of the river Krishna, in Undavalli of Guntur district, in the state of Andhra Pradesh. This astounding example of 7th century Indian rock-cut architecture is one of the centrally protected monuments of national importance. These caves which were used as rest houses by Buddhist monks, are dedicated to Ananth Padmanabha and Lord Narasimha. Carved out of solid sandstone on a hillside, there caves are many in number and the largest, most famous one has four stories and a huge statue of Lord Vishnu in a reclining posture, which was carved out from a single granite block. Several of the other shrines are dedicated to the Hindu Gods, Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu, Lord Brahma and some have sculptures related only to Buddhism. Best time to visit these caves is from October to February, during the winters.
Timings : 9am to 6 pm
How to reach : The nearest airport and railway station is at Vijayawada. From here one can take a taxi or bus to the caves. State run government buses are available too.
Mawsmai Caves, Meghalaya
Meghalaya is the wonderful state from where cave explorations actually commenced. This destination is full of intriguing, natural caves and is visited by several cave explorers every year. One of the most exciting caves in this city are the Mawsmai Caves which are located about 6 km from Chherapunjee. Though these caves are very long, only 150 metres is open for the public while the rest of the caves are closed. These limestone, stalactite and stalagmite caves, have innumerable forms, shapes and sizes and are the only caves in Meghalaya that are lit enough for tourists to enjoy the natural formations. What makes the cave thrilling is that while at some places, the passage to go through is wide enough, in some other places, it is practically impossible to pass through unless one crawls and travels on all fours. While one can visit this attraction right through the year, it is important to be properly equipped to handle the continuous rain and slippery terrain in the region.
Timings : 9.30 am to 5.30 pm
How to reach : The nearest airport and railway station is at Guwahati, which is well connected to various cities across the country. From here one can travel by taxi or bus to Shillong and then again in the same way from Shillong to Cherrapunjee. Private as well as State-run buses from Shillong are available for travel too.
Picture Credits : Tripadvisor, Traveldglobe.com, Cpr Environmental Education Centre Chennai, Undividedtravel.com, Trover.com, holidayiq.com, Vallabhaneniprakhyath.Blogspot.com, Turisto.in