The Cave paintings of Ajanta are the most admired place to visit in India for the Indian Art lovers. Along-with the caves of Ellora (Read here: A Solo Backpacker’s Day at Ellora Caves), the cave paintings in Ajanta are included in the World Heritage Site List by UNESCO. The paintings dates back from 200 Century BC to 5th Century CE and still preserved in excellent conditions.
Location: Ajanta is located in Aurangabad District of Maharashtra, on the main highway between Aurangabad and Jalgaon, 104 kms away from Aurangabad and 59 kms away from Jalgaon. The distance between Ajanta and Ellora Caves is approx. 100 kms. Ajanta caves are the part of small hills in the area, 4 kms from the main highway.
How to Reach Ajanta?
By Road: Ajanta is easily accessible from Aurangabad as well as from Jalgaon. In local language, it is famous as Ajanta Leni (Leni stands for caves). Frequent public buses are available from the bus stands of Aurangabad as well as from Jalgaon. You can also use a hired cab/taxi from Aurangabad or Jalgaon.
The road journey from Aurangabad to Ajanta is very scenic. Initially, the bus moves along the fertile plane for 25-30 kms and after that it is a hilly terrain upto Ajanta.
By Train: There is no railway station in Ajanta. The nearest Railway station is Jalgaon. It is a major Railway Station on Delhi-Mumbai and on Kolkata-Nagpur-Mumbai Railway Line. Plenty of trains are available from all over India to Jalgaon.
Another good option to reach via Aurangabad Railway Station. Outside the railway station, lots of shared auto-rickshaws are available to the government bus stand.
After leaving a train at Aurangabad or Jalgaon, you can easily get a public bus from the government bus stand.
By Flight: Nearest Airport is in Aurangabad, that is about 15 kms away from the main city of Aurangabad. You can hire a direct taxi to Ajanta from the airport itself. Otherwise, go to the government bus stand for the cheaper option.
From Ajanta Bus Stand to Ajanta Caves: The public buses and private taxis drop you near the parking lot closer to the highway. Caves are still 4 kms away from that place. Just walk towards the market from the taxi stand. That market has lots of food joints and other shops, where you can buy souvenir, handicrafts items, paintings’ replicas, food, water etc.
After passing the market, there is a bus stand for the shuttle buses. The shuttle buses operate between the market and the caves at frequent intervals. They charge INR 7 for non-AC shuttle bus and INR 15 for AC shuttle buses. The journey time is not more than 10 minutes, so board any bus that you get first. Lots of people travel in standing mode in those overcrowded buses. But it doesn’t matter for 10 minutes journey. I didn’t see anybody covering that 4 kms distance by a walk. The shuttle buses drop near the ticket counter of the caves.
Ticket Charges: The admission ticket to Ajanta is INR10 for Indian Nationals and INR 250 for foreign nationals same as other UNESO Heritage Sites in India. There are free admissions for children of 15 years of age and below. Many of the caves at Ajanta do not have proper lighting inside to prevent the degradation of the paintings’ colour. To see the paintings in Cave 1, 2 , 16 and 17, you have to buy a ticket of Rs. 5 as a lighting fee. One ticket is approved for a group of people upto 20 persons. It is highly advisable to buy the lighting fee, even if you are alone, to avoid any disappointment later.
Be sure to have a good guide, because I wasn’t able to sight most famous paintings in the absence of a guide. This is the only reason, I will go back to Ajanta again with a good guide.
Video camera fee is INR 25 and for outside use only. Still photography is free of charge. Inside the caves, be careful and click pictures without flashes. Flashes are not allowed to prevent the degradation of paintings by the reaction of light.
The Caves at Ajanta: These 2000 years old caves at Ajanta are set in a horseshoe shaped valley covered with lots of trees. They were hidden inside a dense forest until accidentally rediscovered by a British hunter , John Smith, in 1819. There were local people already using the caves for prayers with a small fire, when he arrived. The caves were carved out in to the side of a cliff along the river gorge. There is a paved pathway running across the cliff over the U-shaped river gorge to reach at the caves now, but in the past, they could be only accessible by individual ladders or stairs from the bottom of the river gorge.
While walking on the pathway outside, they look like the simple caves carved out in the hill, but once you enter inside, the sheer size of the caves leaves you speechless. There are huge rooms inside the caves with many pillars, excellent carvings and wall paintings.
They are beautiful, really beautiful. But can you consider them as caves? No, they aren’t just caves, they are entire rooms with many pillars and carvings of deities. Depending on which cave you are in, they are carved by people who followed one of the following faiths: Jain, Hindu or Buddhism. All of them are fantastic. The whole ambience tempts you to click more and more pictures, but you can’t use flashes inside the caves and darkness doesn’t allow to click the good pictures. The only option is to have a good camera, that enables you to click some good pictures in low lights without flash.
There are total 30 caves in Ajanta, numbered 1 to 28, according to their place along the path, beginning at the entrance. Two caves 9A and 15A were still hidden under rubble, when numbering was done. All caves were basically designed to use for three purposes: Living, Education and Worship. So, out of these 30 caves, Cave 9, Cave 10, Cave 19, Cave 26 and Cave 29 are the chaitya-grihas and the rest are monasteries.
The most famous caves in Ajanta are Cave 1, Cave 2, Cave 16, Cave 17, Cave 19 and Cave 26. Cave 1 has the most famous paintings of Ajanta. Cave 1 is basically a monastery (vihara) filled with wall murals, sculptures and ceiling paintings dated back to 5th century. The most renowned murals of this cave as well as whole of Ajanta are paintings of two Bodhisattva, Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Vajrapani) and Bodhisattva Padmapani. To the right of main door is painting of Vajrapani and to the left is the painting of Padmapani. An important thing is that if you don’t aware of this fact and don’t have a guide, you can miss it in the darkness. I missed both the images 🙁 .
Cave 2 is another impressive vihara with remarkable painted ceilings, murals and carvings. There are murals depicting the birth of Budhha emerging from under his mother’s arm, 1000 Buddhas, Dancing girls before the king etc. Cave 16 is another spectacular 5th century vihara. Cave 17 is a beautiful caves containing best preserved paintings and murals in Ajanta. The murals are basically dominated by Jatakas stories including worship of Buddha, preaching of Buddha, with paintings of geese etc.
All paintings at Ajanta show heavy religious influence and centre around Buddha, Bodhisattvas, incidents from the life of Buddha and the Jatakas. The paintings are executed on a ground of mud-plaster in the tempera technique.
Lost to the elements for over a thousand years, Ajanta’s exquisite paintings were in danger of being permanently damaged after their discovery. Apart from water seepage through the rocks and insects eating into the fibrous base of the ancient paintings, yogis had started dwelling inside and visitors kept touching the painted surfaces. Restoration efforts have continued at Ajanta. With experience and the advancement of conservation techniques, methods are constantly reviewed, and new measures taken to preserve the paintings, which remain vulnerable to water seepage and the heavy tourist inflow. High Imaging Camera is used to capture finer details of the paintings and the part which are destroyed / faded are restored.
Viewpoint: In front of the horse-shoe shaped caves, there is a viewpoint across the river on a hill-top. It provides a spectacular and panoramic view of Ajanta Caves.
I spent around four hours there. The Ajanta caves are really stunning and well worth the day-trip.