On the first day, my plan was to visit the famous Ellora caves, it is situated 29 km northwest from the Aurangabad city. There are multiple transport options available for reaching Ellora; private cab shared vehicles or state transport bus. As I looking to optimize my budget and travelling solo, so I decided to take the cheapest option.
After having breakfast, I went to the main bus stand of Aurangabad. There are frequent buses to Ellora caves as it on a national highway and after 40 minutes of the journey, I reached Ellora at 9.30 am. On the way, I could see the Daulatabad fort sitting a hilltop which I visited on a later day. After reaching Ellora, I took a ticket from the booking counter. I also bought two guidebooks from Archeological Survey of India (ASI) on Ellora and Ajanta as I wanted to learn the more about the history, architecture of these man-made wonders. For the group travellers, there are a few ASI authenticated guides who charge 1600 for the whole group.
Ellora caves have a unique place in the history of our human civilization and are living embodiment of the religious tolerance that was characteristic of ancient India. This monastic temple complex represents the work of successive Buddhist, Hindu and Jain religions, dating from 600 to 1000 CE period. There are total 34 caves, 1-12 caves are Buddhist, 13-29 are of Hindu tradition and 30-34 are Jain caves.
I decided to start from the famous Kailasha temple (cave no. 16 ), largest monolithic rock-cut temple and its name derives from a sculpture of Ravana shaking the mount of Kailasha, the abode of Lord Shiva. Though the main temple was excavated by Rashtrakuta king Krishna 1, one can find the influence of Chalukya and Pallava styles on the temple architecture. It was a such an awe-inspiring structure both in scale and detail, that it took me around 1.5 hours to visit the whole temple complex.
From the entrance, I could see a huge rockscreen with carvings and a two-storeyed Gopuram. Most of deities on the left side of the U-shaped courtyard are Shivaite and on the right side, there are depictions of Dashavatara of Lord Vishnu. There are three sections of the temple, a Nandi shrine, a sixteen pillared Mandapa and the main sanctuary having Shiva Linga. There are intricately carved panels on the walls of the temple depicting scenes from Ramayana (right side) and Mahabharata (left side). A large cubical column with an intricate design in the courtyard, known as the Dhajastambha, is an iconic monument. I have downloaded a few Youtube guide videos beforehand which helped me the make meaning out of the rock structures I was seeing for the first time.
The Buddhist caves were next on my list, these were rather simple in its architecture as compared to Kailash Temple but it sure takes you to ancient times when these Buddhist monasteries were the cradle of knowledge, meditation and culture. Both Hinayana and Mahayana caves are here, two major categories of Buddhist faith.
After completing the Buddhist caves, it was 2.00 p.m. on my watch and I was feeling exhausted. So, I took a break and went to MTDC restaurant for lunch. After lunch, I took a shuttle to visit the Jain caves as it were 2 km away from the entrance. After visiting the Jain caves, it was time to return to my base camp Aurangabad so I took a shared cab.