Trip Route: Chennai - Pune - Shirdi- Aurangabad - Ellora - Ajanta - Lonar - Pune - Chennai
We started to Pune on 20-Feb-15 (Friday) later in the evening and reached Pune by 00:00 hours. We had our pre-booked cab (Somdev Cabs) ready to pick us up. The actual plan was Aurangabad, Ajanta and Ellora. At airport, we re-planned to visit Shirdi and then towards Aurangabad. We started towards Shirdi and reached around 4 AM. Our car was parked near the temple and there are lot of private parking near the temple. For the biggest surprise, we were well closer to the queue for the first dharshan of the day and had good dharshan by 5:30 AM and were out by then. This was totally unplanned and the visit was too short for us to realize how quick it all happened, whereas, many plan for days and wait for ours for the dharshan.
We started towards Aurangabad by 6:15 and checked-in to hotel Panchavati around 9 AM. We had booked this hotel after collecting details from TripAdvisor and booked through MakeMyTrip. This was a budget hotel, but, surprisingly, it had great cleanliness, service and spacious rooms. It had hot water as well early in the morning and later in the evenings too. We got the rooms at great price, incomparable to such comfort across many cities in India. A definitely, good place to stay. The hotel was also closer to the station road, which was good for an evening walk after tiresome visits to Ellora and Ajanta.
After refreshing and having breakfast at the hotel restaurant itself, we started to Ellora on day-1. Ellora is close to 33 kms from Aurangabad and roads are quite bad. It take little more than an hour to reach Ellora. These caves are spread across but one can reach these different complexes by car (entry ticket is Rs.10 for Indian but higher for foreign visitors). Cave no 1 to 12 are devoted to Buddhism; 13 to 29 to Hinduism and 30 to 34 to Jainism. As you enter, you could see cave.16, the Kailasha temple, an example how great the Indian sculptors have been. It is suggested you walk to extreme right and start with cave 1. First 5 caves (1 to 5), gives you an idea how difficult it was to create these caves and the era of using sunlight alone for everything can be evidenced.
The most important cave in the Buddhist set is cave 10. The grand pillars and the acoustic brilliance of this cave is just more than amazing. There is a big Buddha statue and one can feel great vibrations in this cave. The echoes of "Om" just resonate for few seconds and is a must-feel experience. This is 2-storeyed cave and one may want to spend close to 30 minutes in this cave. Caves 11 and 12 are multi-storeyed and one can imagine how they had designed the roofs, flooring and pillars in multi-storyed caves so many decades back.
Cave-15 is known as Dasavathara cave and the sculptures of dasavatharam is seen with amazing piece of brilliance and expressions in first floor of this cave. There is big nandi as well, which had lost its legs, pedestal and horns, thanks to the demolitions across years.
Cave-16 is the Kailasha temple - a monolithic rock cut temple, which excavated from top to bottom. They say that this cave was excavated and sculpted by ten generations of people across 200 years. The 2 giant pillars standing alone and elephants are great to see. This cave also had 3-D carvings of Yaksha hanging from the ceiling, which is very rare. This also has some paintings, which is not so common in Ellora caves. We can see three gopuras behind, couple of them unfinished and one is finished.
Caves 17 to 20 are mostly unfinished and more demolished. Cave 21 has some great sculptures. The one that catches attention is that of skeletal sculpture, with great focus to the the curves and expressions. Caves 22 to 27 are similar to this between 17 and 20. The path to Caves 28 to 34 was cut-off and we had to take de-tour by cab.
Cave 29 was also a massive piece of history and has enormous sculptures. The height from which the cave has been sculpted is more than amazing and this cave has various chambers.
Caves 31-34 of Jainism are located around 1 km from the rest of the caves and advised to reach out by car. There are small eateries near this set of caves. This caves has some great monolithic sculptures. This is two-storeyed. One gets to enter into cave 33 and gets to cover all 4 caves together.
Ellora caves are closed on Tuesdays. It takes close to 5-6 hours if one wants to visit all the caves. If you want to spend time only at important caves and rush through the rest of them, 4 hours should be more than sufficient.
Important to note: There are no great hotels or restaurants to eat. There are no toilets too as you go across caves. Carry enough water, snacks, biscuits and may be chocolates too. Carry sunglass, caps and some good slip-ons/shoes (to avoid your legs getting hurt). Also, carry a torch with you as the caves would be dark in some places.
A set of lunatic people, set a beehive loose and we had to run back to the cab to be safe. We heard that the bees sting so much and even the watchman was running. So, take care, if you get to see bees around, better move out immediately and get into a safe location - definitely not inside any cave !!
We also visited one of the Jyothirlingas near to Ellora. A Couple of kms ahead of Ellora, is the Ghrishneswar Temple, one of twelve Jyotirlingas of India, and a Swaymbhu. Leave the mobiles and cameras in the cab itself as they are not allowed inside the temple. There are shops, which provide locker facility. Men must remove their top clothes before entering. One gets to touch and pray with the linga in this temple, which is not common in South India.
We reached back to the hotel, refreshed and took a walk on the station road. We had some good dinner at Hotel Tandoor, 1 km from hotel Panchavati. On way back, we packed, required snacks, cakes, biscuits for the next day visit to Ajanta.
Ajanta is about 107 km from the city of Aurangabad and takes about two hours by road (cab) as the quality of road is not very good. From the parking area, one has to do a 6-km ride by MTDC operated buses. Its a 10-min ride, which means, if you get an option and stand and travel, better prefer it rather than waiting for the next bus to be full. AC buses charge Rs.20/- one way to the caves or back and non-AC Rs 15/-. One needs to queue up for the Caves Visitor ticket and light ticket and queue up again for the return bus ride ticket. Ajanta has 26 caves, some of which are unfinished. Carry a torch as well with you and flash photography is not allowed inside the caves. Ensure you buy the entry tickets as well as the 'light charges' (Rs 5/- for upto 20 people), which would be checked randomly. There are drinking water fountains all around (once every 4-5 caves), but, no food is available. So, make sure you pack enough snacks when going to Ajanta. There is also a small marketplace near the parking and a MTDC restaurant close to the ticket counter.
One really does not need a guide in this place, if you have read enough about Ajanta caves. If not, just going into dark and not knowing what it is, does not bring any meaning and sense to your trip. So, bargain and get a guide with you for important caves. It is useful to buy a booklet for Rs.100/- sold at the entrance. The book has good explanations about the caves. Tickets are to be purchased at the counter near the MTDC restaurant.
Ajanta caves is closed on Monday. Dholis and porter service are available in Ajanta. One has to climb close to 100 steep steps to start the comfortable journey of visiting Ajanta. Ajanta caves are all on a single hill - horse-shoe shaped. The caves are closer when compared to Ellora. Ajanta is fully dedicated to Buddhism and is known for paintings rather than sculptures, unlike Ellora.
Cave 1 is one of the best of the bunch there. A guide would make more sense for you to understand the expressions, the cause and the background of the paintings. For most of the caves in Ajanta, one has to leave the footwear outside. So, better plan to go with slip-ons to Ajanta. The place is quite clean and tidy. The floral and fauna paintings are great across the caves and imagining this was done centuries back is just amazing and exciting.
Caves 1, 2, 9, 10, 17, 19 and 26 are most important ones as far as Ajanta paintings are concerned. One can plan to spend 3-4 hours in Ajanta. One way journey from Aurangabad easily takes 2 hour and 30 minutes. Hence, 5 hours lost in travel, means, you cannot visit any other place on the same day. Cave 26 has the Lord Buddha in Nirvana position and this place is similar to Cave 10 of Ellora. This is a great place to meditate.
The MTDC restaurant at Ajanta serves tasty food at a more-than-regular price. But, getting food after an arduous day is much better than travelling back 2 1/2 hours for food to Aurangabad ! So, avail the opportunity to feed your stomach @ MTDC restaurant. There are shops at the parking area for buying any souvenirs, and remember you can bargain at 1/5 - 1/6th of the price they quote.
Back to Aurangabad around 8 PM, we went to the hotel Great Sagar, known for Mugal food - veg and non-veg are being served here and the food is of high quality at normal price. This restaurant is a must-visit in Aurangabad and don't miss Qubani as your dessert. This is made of dried Apricots.
After a great sleep, we started our journey to Lonar. Not to mention the great breakfast we had on day 2 and 3 @ the Idly-Wada-Dosa center near to our hotel. We had some great Idlys, cut-dosas and tea.
LONAR is a crater lake, one amongst the three in the planet; other two -> one in Siberia and other in Oregon state of US. So, this makes the place a must-visit. Lonar Lake is a saltwater lake at Lonar Maharashtra, which was created by a meteor hitting the Earth. This lake is both saline and alkaline in nature, which is uncommon. The waters is surrounded by thick forest hosting wild monkeys (Langur) and birds like Stork, Flamingos, Crane, Mynas, peacocks and ducks. The shores of the lake hosts few temples as well, a Hanuman temple, Daityasudan, temple and few more to name.
We reached Lonar around 11:30 AM, after starting around 8 AM. One needs to go through Jalna and Sultanpura. You can sight MTDC resort on the left side and in 100m, we get the view point to view the lake. We trekked down the hill from the entry opposite to MTDC, which quite steep and slippery. We first reached a Hanuman temple, located on the right side of the path way down - the slopes of the crater !
Then, we started to trek around the lake through the forest. First time in a real forest with no guide and none around the lake was quite fearsome and daring for this bunch of people ! :). We restricted ourselves to be closeby and took some good snaps. Slowly and steadily, we got our breathe as we saw couple of ladies walking to the temple on the other side of the lake. We could site lots of water birds and Langur monkeys. After close to an hour of exciting and eventful walk, we reached the temple on the other side - the Kamalja Devi Temple.
It was quite a place to visit once in life time. The trek back to the top of the crater was quite steep and took 20 minutes of sweating climb to be back to the top. Earlier, we had asked our cab driver to come to this point to pick us back, which is close to 2 kms from the MTDC resort. We made our way back to MTDC for food, based on our experience at Ajanta, and we were not disappointed. We sticked to a simple menu of Jeera rice, dhal, aloo, papad and curd and was a great to savour after the trek.
Lonar crater lake is a must-visit for everyone who likes an experience with difference. The approach is a demanding one from Aurangabad, however, its worth it. One more important info to share is that there are great green grapevines on the way to Lonar after crossing Jalna. They sell grapes as cheap as Rs.40-50 per kg fresh from the farm and ensure you stock them up as much as want. They were too good until we came back to Chennai !
Please one can combine in this or we missed ! -> We did not see anything in Aurangabad - Daulatabad Fort, Bhul Bhulaiya, Aurangabad Caves, Bibi ka Maqbara and Panchakki are places to visit in Aurangabad. We thought of either doing these or Lonar, and decided to visit Lonar, which was a great experience and no so common among travellers.