From Elephanta and Ellora to Kanheri and Karla, the state is scattered with ancient, art-filled caves. Here’s a quick guide to the caves, other sites worth seeing in the neighbourhood and places to eat. To get tickets for monuments in India, visit BookMyShow.

Ajanta

Some of the grandest Buddhist art can be found at this UNESCO world heritage site (pictured above), which is about 100 km from Aurangabad. The cave cluster was built in two phases: second century BCE onwards and later, in the fifth and sixth centuries CE. The carved chaityas and terrific frescoes depicting scenes from Buddhist legends like the Jataka Tales are among the things to see here.
Open 9am to 9.30pm; Monday closed.

Getting there: Ajanta is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Aurangabad.

Book tickets here.

Ellora - monuments in India

Ellora

Just 30 km from Aurangabad, Ellora is a cluster of about 100 caves of which 34 are open to the public. Carved out of basalt rock cliffs, Ellora, a UNESCO world heritage site, was built between 600 and 1000 CE. Significantly, the caves were built by Buddhists, Jains and Hindu, suggesting “the spirit of tolerance that was characteristic of ancient India”, according to UNESCO. If you have just a few hours on hand, visit cave 16, which contains the Kailasa temple, a massive edifice cut from a single rock and dedicated to Shiva. Other notable sites include cave 10, the Visvakarma cave, a Buddhist prayer hall; cave 21, the Ramesvar cave, which contains carvings of Shiva and Parvati; and the Jain caves 32, 33 and 34.
Open 6am to 6pm; Tuesday closed.

Getting there: Ellora is less than an hour by road from Aurangabad.

Book tickets here.

Aurangabad caves - monuments in India

Aurangabad Caves

This is a cluster of 12 Buddhist caves that were built from the second or third century CE to seventh century CE. They’re not as grand as their neighbours in Ajanta and Ellora but they contain some lovely sculptural reliefs of Buddhist deities like Tara and Avalokitesvara.
Open 9am to 5pm.

Getting there: The caves are just a half-hour drive from Aurangabad and close to Bibi ka Maqbara.

Book tickets here.

Elephanta - monuments in India

Elephanta

A popular day trip among tourists in Mumbai is a visit to Elephanta island, an hour-long boat ride from Gateway of India. The island, which received electricity only this year, was known as Gharapuri in ancient times and got the name Elephanta from a large stone elephant that was found at the place. Those who’ve visited Rani Baug (the zoo) or its neighbour the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum would have seen the elephant standing right next to the museum. The chief attraction of Elephanta, which is a UNESCO world heritage site, is the first cave. This contains the famous three-headed Shiva sculpture depicting three moods, anger, calm and love, as well as other panels of sculpture.
Open 9.30am to 5.30pm; Monday closed.

Getting there: To get to Elephanta, take a ferry from the Gateway of India. The ride takes an hour.

Book tickets here.

Kanheri cave - monuments in India

Kanheri

One of the attractions of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, aside from the flora and the forest’s elusive leopards, is the cluster of Kanheri caves. The caves, numbering 109, were fashioned by Buddhists out of the forest’s basalt hill as far back as the third century BCE. While most of the caves are viharas (monasteries), some are chaityas (prayer halls). These are lined with carved pillars and contain stupas. The cave cluster was a popular pitstop for travelling Buddhists as it was close to historic ports such as Sopara, now the suburb of Nallasopara, which has an ancient stupa of its own. Today the caves are popular among local history enthusiasts, hikers – and canoodling couples.
Open 9am to 5pm; Monday closed.

Getting there: The caves are inside Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the entrance to which is a ten-minute walk from the east side of Borivali station.

Book tickets here.

Karla - monuments in India

Karla

The set of 16 caves near Lonavala, in between Mumbai and Pune, dates back to the second century BCE. Of these, the most noteworthy is cave number 8, a well-preserved chaitya (prayer hall), which is the largest of its kind in India. The hall has an arched ceiling, intricately carved pillars and a stupa at the end.
Open daily, 8.30am to 6pm.

Getting there: Karla is under 30 minutes by road from Lonavala.

Book tickets here.

Bhaja - monuments in India

Bhaja

Just 5 km from Karla is Bhaja in Maval taluka near Pune, an area famous for producing Mumbai’s dabbawallas. Built between the third century BCE and second century CE, the 22 Buddhist caves have chaityas, viharas and even a cemetery with stupas containing relics of monks who died there. The most significant site is cave 12, a chaitya with an arresting horseshoe-shaped entrance.
Open daily, 8am to 6pm.

Getting there: Bhaja is a 25-minute drive from Lonavala.

Book tickets here.

Pandulena - monuments in India

Pandulena

Pandulena, also known as Pandavleni, is a set of 24 caves near Nashik built between the third century BCE and fourth century CE under the patronage of the Satavahana rulers. The most significant cave is number 18, a chaitya (prayer hall), which has an elaborately carved façade.
Open daily, 8.30am to 5.30pm.

Getting there: Pandulena is a 20-minute drive from Nashik.

Book tickets here.

Shivneri, Junnar caves - monuments in India

Cave Temples and Inscriptions in Junnar

The hills around Junnar are filled with ancient Buddhist caves carved from between the third century BCE to third century CE. There are about 200 excavations divided into four sets based on their locations: Tuljalena, Manmodi, Shivneri and Lenyadri.
Open daily.

Getting there: Junnar is about three hours by road from Pune.

Book tickets here.

WHAT ELSE TO SEE
If you’re in Aurangabad for Ajanta and Ellora or in the Lonavala area to visit Karla and Bhaja, here’s some other stuff to check out.

Around Aurangabad
Most travellers camp at Aurangabad while visiting the Ajanta and Ellora caves. There’s more to see in the area such as Bibi-ka-Maqbara. The seventeenth century tomb of Rabia-ul-Daurani, Aurangzeb’s wife, was modelled on the Taj Mahal. It’s not as grand as the Taj but still quite beautiful. Just 3 km from Ellora is Khuldabad, a place of religious significance as it contains the tombs of the Muslim saints Burhan-ud-din and Zain-ud-din. It also has the tombs of Aurangzeb, his son Azam Shah and the dargah of Malik Ambar, the sixteenth century Siddi mercenary and minister in the Ahmadnagar Sultanate. On the way to Ellora is Daulatabad Fort, a massive fort that was the seat of Delhi sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq in the fourteenth century when he moved his capital here. The fort itself was built by Yadava kings in the twelfth century.

Sunil’s Celebrity Wax Museum
Under 30 minutes from Karla and Bhaja caves is this modest wax museum in Lonavala run by Sunil Kandalloor. He started it in 2009 to give those who can’t afford to visit Madame Tussaud’s in London the experience of a wax museum. Here you can click selfies with statues of Narendra Modi, Gandhi, Anna Hazare, Saddam Hussein and AR Rahman among others.

WHERE TO EAT
Where to fuel before and after cave spotting.

Around Aurangabad

MTDC
If you’re at Ajanta, get a bite at the MTDC restaurant right outside the cave complex. They serve veg and non veg Indian food and, thankfully for hot and parched visitors, cold beer.
Ajanata caves.

Vrindavan
Near Ellora, there’s Vrindavan, a vegetarian joint that does a decent thali.
Ellora caves.

Bhoj
The popular vegetarian joint serves a sumptuous thali.
Nirala Bazar, Aurangabad.

Kream N Krunch
Expect quality multi-cuisine grub, including fusion Indian items, sandwiches, pasta, pizza, North Indian mains, sizzlers, Chinese, thick shakes and juices.
Akashwani, Aurangabad.

Thaat Baat
The vegetarian joint dishes out mean Rajasthani, Gujarati and Maharashtrian thalis.
Nirala Bazar, Aurangabad.

Tandoor
Go here for North Indian kebabs and curries and Indian Chinese.
Usmanpura, Aurangabad.

Lattitude
If you’re keen on a posh setting, get a table at this restaurant at the Vivanta by Taj. The multi-cuisine menu lists Indian food, European items, sandwiches, pizza, pasta and Maharashtrian specialties.
Rauza Baugh, CIDCO, Aurangabad.

Around Lonavala

Ram Krishna
The restaurant is known for its South Indian breakfast. They also dish out North Indian curries and tandoori items, snacks like pav bhaji and booze.
Mumbai-Pune road.

Cream Centre
The chain of veg restaurants is rightfully famous for chhole bhature. If you’ve had it too many times, try the chaat, North Indian sabzis, paratha, pizza and cheesy Mexican.
Triose Plaza, Amby Valley Road.

Sheetal da Dhaba
The airy restaurant and bar offers a great view and an extensive menu of North Indian and Chinese food.
Karla.

Hotel Chandralok
Regulars rave about the restaurant’s homely Gujarati thali.
Near the bus stand, Lonavala.

Kamat’s
Like all Kamat’s restaurants, this one turns out competent South Indian items like dosa, uttapam and idli, chaat, North Indian veggies and veg Chinese.
Mumbai-Pune road.

Cooper’s
If you’re visiting Karla or Bhaja, take a detour into Lonavala town just to buy chocolate fudge and chikki from this institution.
Lonavala.