All You Need to Know About a Visit to the Incredible Ajanta Caves

Ajanta Caves in the Maharashtra state of India are a group of 30 Buddhist caves dating back to as early as the 2nd century BC. The caves are carved out on a horseshoe-shaped precipice extending over half a km overlooking a narrow gorge through which Waghora river streams. The caves were rediscovered by a British officer named John Smith in 1819 on his tiger hunt expedition when he accidentally spotted the arch of the highest cave no 10.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ajanta tops the list of Aurangabad tourist places and is situated at a distance of 96 km from Aurangabad city. The caves are said to be inhabited by the Buddhist monks for living and meditation purposes. The caves exemplary of remarkable rock cave architecture are amongst the most beautiful caves in India and are a reminiscence of our visit to the Badami caves temples in the Karnataka state of India.

Intended to spend more time at Ajanta we started early morning. Unfortunately, an accident blocked the road ahead leaving the vehicles stranded 5 km before the caves. We were informed that it would take around 3 hours for clearance which would mean we will be left with very less time to explore the caves.

Ajanta Viewpoint

When we thought the return was inevitable our driver came up with an alternative route of Ajanta viewpoint. Reaching the caves would require a 20 minutes trek. We instantly agreed as it would save our day though it came for the price of extra bucks payable to the driver.

Within 15 minutes we were at the viewpoint. The view of the caves of Ajanta lining the dry gorge from this point is astounding. The same panorama teems with an abundance of greenery covering the hills dotted with waterfalls during the monsoons. The river flowing through the gorge at the foot of the caves is called Waghora for the plenty of tigers which roamed around the river (Wagh means Tiger) in ancient times.

Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India

The location of the caves conjures up an image of the ancient times when the caves were a retreat for the Buddhist monks. Amidst the plenitude of verdant nature and wildlife skirted by the gushing Waghora river in absolute seclusion from the mundane life, the caves with beautifully carved sculptures definitely provided for a serene aura for peaceful contemplation of life.

The steps descending down from the view point winding through the dry forest area are well built. Midway we reached a rocky terrain which offered a closer view of the caves and Satkund on the extreme left beyond the cave 28 which is an exceptional waterfall of seven cascades which flows to form the Waghora river.

Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India

From here another set of stairs descended to a bridge running over the gorge. There are several porters available here to carry your luggage several of them even offered to carry our kiddo. We ignored and moved ahead.

The first cave you reach from here is the cave no 9. There is a small ticket counter here where we bought our tickets. But this counter does not always have the tickets as this is not the main entrance and you may need to walk to the cave 1 to issue tickets. The caves are sporadically located at different levels of the scarp. In older times each of the caves are said to have a separate set of stairs leading down to the gorge.

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The guides are government appointment and pricey with no room for negotiation. The guide regaled us through loads of Ajanta caves information with frequent breaks. Though the guided Ajanta cave tour was very informative and interesting we refrained from using guides at Ellora and Daulabad Fort on the next day. Instead, we bought some guide books from the ticket counters which are cheaper and of better quality than the ones sold by the hawkers outside attractions.

Guide: Why or Why not?

1. Though the guide books are loaded with enough facts and figures for each Ajanta cave history you may not be able to locate the exact spot of importance. Most of the caves are pitch dark and you would need a torch to spot the Ajanta paintings and the stories painted on the walls and ceilings which the guide can easily walk through.

Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India

2. We wouldn’t have been able to cover all the caves with the speed our guide ran us through even after taking breaks. If you are in short of time guide can quickly walk you through the important and noteworthy caves.

3. Again there is definitely a difference on how you interpret the Ajanta cave paintings or designs with guide books compared to the explanation provided by learned guides.

Sculptures and Buddhist Caves Ajanta

Out of the 30 Buddhist caves, five are Chaityas or prayer halls and remaining are Viharas or monasteries. Chaityas have a nave leading upto to a stupa which has a base and dome crowned with harmika. Earlier Chaityas followed aniconism whereas the ones built later as in Cave 19 pictured below houses a statue of Buddha carved on the stupa.

Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India

Viharas are halls flanked by small meditation rooms where the monks were believed to reside and the shrines house colossal sculptures of Buddha.

Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India

Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India

Magnificent of all – Cave 26

This cave turned out to be very impressive. The decorations on lofty facade consist figures predominantly of Buddha with meticulous details.

Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India

A colossal figure of Buddha reclining on a couch on the inner left wall.

Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India

The last figure on right has the smallest sculpture of Buddha featured in the crown as shown in the inlaid picture.

Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India

Several graceful sculptures depicting scenes from the life of Buddha.

Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India

Cave Paintings

Apart from the remarkable sculptures, caves have rich paintings which can be found in caves of 1, 2, 16 and 17. The walls of these caves have wonderful stories painted from the life of Buddha and cultures and traditions of a bygone era.

Paintings of Bodhisattvas Padmapani and Vajrapani on either side of the Buddha in Cave 1 are the most famous Ajanta paintings.

Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India

Simhala’s conquest of Srilanka painted in Cave 17

Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India

The ceilings are decorated with remarkable paintings in amazing patterns woven with flowers, plants, fruits, birds and animals.
Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India
Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India

Most of the colors used in the painting were locally found like red and yellow ochre, green, lime, gypsum, lamp black but the lapis lazuli which contributes to the bright blue colors of the paintings in Cave 2 were imported from Persia.

Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India

Few of the caves are unfinished like that of cave 24, 29 or 3 which aided in studying the course of cave sculpting. Some of the caves were unearthed much later like Cave 30 which stands between the cave 15 and 16.

Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India

Renovation and excavation work is an ongoing process. Some of the pillars our guide pointed out are not carved out of stone but built out of concrete.

Ajanta Caves Maharashtra India

MTDC Canteen

There are water taps at frequent intervals which are safe to drink. Bottled water are available in the MTDC canteen further down from the cave 1 or the main entrance. One can have lunch or snacks in the canteen the food is good though the prices are little high.

The private vehicles to caves are allowed only until a junction some 4 km before the caves. From here you need to board a bus shuttle which will transport you to the main entrance of the caves. Tickets can be bought onboard.
The caves are open from 9 am to 5.30 pm and are closed on Mondays.

Have you visited the Ajanta Caves, what was your favorite part?

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29 Comment

  1. What an incredible site this place is. I found your description extremely interesting and the photos are absolutely fascinating. The design and detail are just amazing. This is a place I would love to visit and see for myself one day.

    1. mm GOBeyondBounds says: Reply

      Thanks, Nicole. The caves are compelling indeed and definitely, a must visit.

  2. These caves are truely impressive! I cannot believe the formations and carvings they are unreal! Beautiful

  3. Been there, done that. All i can say is that the Ajanta Cave complex is a must visit UNESCO site in India. However, I feel the place would have deeper meaning and significance if the tour is done with a guide. Which we unfortunately didn’t opt for.Our loss entirely.

  4. Wow! I saw the title and had an idea in my mind of what those very, very old caves would look like. I could not have been more surprised by the detail and the ornate spaces. What a treasure for the world! We always travel with the kids and this would certainly be an eye opening experience for them as well.

  5. This is one of the greatest things I have seen. Even the view from above and outside the caves is breathtaking. But to be inside those old temples would be an awe inspiring experience for sure.

    1. mm GOBeyondBounds says: Reply

      It is Jennifer, an awe-inspiring experience indeed 🙂

  6. Jen says: Reply

    This is incredibly rich in history. It is something I would certainly see if given the chance. I would also go with a tour guide to make sure that I wouldn’t miss anything. Definitely an amazing experience!

    1. mm GOBeyondBounds says: Reply

      Exactly, if you are looking for an ultimate guide through each and every detail of caves then guide is definitely a must

  7. Shane Prather says: Reply

    These ancient caves are so ornate and unique. Love that you were able to capture photos despite how dark it was. Sounds like an educated guide is the way to go for the ultimate experience.

    1. mm GOBeyondBounds says: Reply

      Agree with you Shane but it depends on how much detailed experience you are looking for. Many people there explored caves with guide books.

  8. Great post. I will certainly go there during monsoons, since I expect a lot more greenery and cool winds. The climbing takes some energy. How much do the guides charge roughly ?

    1. mm GOBeyondBounds says: Reply

      Yeah, it’s going to be completely different scene during Monsoons 😉 The guides have fixed rate assigned by the government which 1300+ which sounds reasonable for Ajanta if you want to go in detail and understand every cave. But not for Ellora and Daulatabad Fort. Ellora has many similarities with Ajanta in half of the caves.

      1. Yes. INR 1,300 seems reasonable but getting to know every cave in detail could be boring for me 😉 LOL !!! Thank you for a great post.

        1. mm GOBeyondBounds says: Reply

          You can always ask the guide to walk you through the important caves. That works too 🙂

  9. I never heard of Ajanta Caves before. It’s good to learn about these caves and it’s historical facts. As a one of the UNESCO’s heritage site, this is worth a visit. Thanks for sharing!

    1. mm GOBeyondBounds says: Reply

      There is so much to understand and learn of the history of art and architecture here. Definitely, a must visit.

  10. Monika says: Reply

    I have never heard of these caves before. Seem fascinating ! Hope to go there one day

  11. I constantly seek out UNESCO sites especially natural ones. This is such an interesting site and the level of detail is something that you wouldn’t believe could be real. The caves are truly astounding and I would love to visit it myself someday!

  12. So impressive. I would love to visit all caves, though #26 seems the most impressive. The lying buddha reminds me so much of Bangkok (without all the gold). Love to explore such places and learn about the history in a great way.

  13. Ha says: Reply

    Love your post! It’s so informative and detailed. Also, the cave looks so stunning. I would love to visit there and see things with my eyes.

  14. When I was in Mumbai, I planned to visit Ajanta Caves with friends but somehow we could never make it! Can’t wait to visit there someday and explore the world-class heritage site!

  15. These caves are amazing! I can’t believe I’ve never heard of them. I would want to go and see them all for myself, especially magnificent cave 26. And I think I’d definitely want the extra info from a guide.

  16. Fantastic description and the photographs are mind-blowing too!

    I visited them when I was a kid and have no recollection of the same. Your post makes me want to go again.


  17. Tatum Skipper says: Reply

    These caves look like they have many hidden stories to tell. It is hard for me to go anywhere on a guided tour though because I don’t like spending forever in a place where doesn’t need to be. I could however spend a lot of time here!

  18. Ami says: Reply

    From the time I have read of them (that is when I was a kid) I have been wanting to visit these caves. For some reason they have been eluding me and now with your post, I feel that they are really calling out to me. I have to make it there. Loved the low light pics.

  19. Tarah says: Reply

    Glad that you mentioned going with or without a tour guide! It is always a tough decision, but sometimes it’s the best way to make sure you get to see everything and really get to learn about the area. I would love to go here one day!

  20. Ajanta caves have always fascinated me and now your post has again increased my curiosity. They are magnificent and those painted ceilings are real WOW! I have visited one of a Buddhist cave in Tabo. It too was awesome and there were too lot of steps to climb.

  21. Bhusha says: Reply

    Ajanta is a place where I could just live! Each and every fresco there talks to me! I’m so emotionally attached to this place. I did a study of the clothing in the frescoes and there’s an hour long talk that I gave and its in Youtube as well!

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